I love a castle adventure, the older (and spookier) the better. Whilst a lot of Scotland’s visitors head straight to the well maintained structures of Edinburgh and Stirling Castle, it’s my opinion that the best gems are to be found crumbling in the woods and coastlines, nature wearing them away like old pinnacles out at sea.
East Lothian is brimming with dilapidated old ruins from times gone by; an easy drive from the city, but hidden enough to warrant a full day out. Most of these come with their own little stories, each telling of a sad spirit who’s not quite managed to move on yet. And then there’s Yester Castle, in a league of its own, purportedly risen from the underworld by the hands of a warlock, aided by the Devil and a team of hobgoblins.
Who owns Yester Castle?
Now lying in ruin on the edge of of the privately owned Yester Estate, Yester Castle was abandoned in the 14th century in favour of the newly-built Yester House. The land it sits on was owned by Italian Composer Gian Carlo Menotti, and records and sketches indicate that the fortress has been lying in a state of disrepair since the 1600s. Menotti handed ownership over to his son, Chip, who sold it in 2013.
Can you visit Yester Castle
The outer grounds of Yester Castle can be visited via the two routes mentioned below. However, in October 2021, a series of Tweets went out about theft of the castle’s stonework. Police appealed for any witnesses to come forward with information. Despite being abandoned, the spooky ruins are legally protected as a nationally important monument under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, and the increased removal of supporting stones has prompted them to close the castle to the public.
Who built Yester Castle – the Wizard of Yester
The original construction of Yester Castle was thought to have been carried out by the Laird of Yester in the 13th century. Looped by a small river and resting on a steep-sided peninsula, its location would have been ideal for its defense.
Fast forward in time and his grandson (Hugo de Giffard) inherited the castle and developed most of what we know of the building today. With rumours circulating that Giffard made a habit of dabbling with spirits and black magic, the ‘wizard’ constructed a subterranean Goblin Ha’ (Goblin Hall), much of which is still intact.
It’s said that the hall and stairs leading down to it were built by an army of goblins, summoned by the sorcerer to aid in the construction to of a great space where he could carry out his rituals.
How do I walk to Yester Castle
The easiest way to get to Yester Castle is via the Castle Park Golf Club (be sure to get permission from the club first). Keeping to the dyke at the right, follow the perimeter of the golf course until you reach a (sometimes boggy) gap in the fencing. Once across, the path will veer off to the left and up a steep embankment that brings you to the castle.
In preparation for our visit, we’d read a good number of blogs that told us to begin our trip from nearby Gifford Village. Unless you’re up for a long (muddy) trek, I strongly advise you don’t bother with this route. With an entire day to waste, we enjoyed the adventure, but the path was rarely signposted and we ended up on the wrong side of the river (resulting in a make-shift bridge building attempt to avoid the long double back).
Following construction, the Gifford keep was illegally occupied by the English in 1308 (they loved a castle takeover, eh?). Between 1306-1329, King Robert the Bruce was pretty much done with the English having their way with our buildings and set a policy of making castles ‘unserviceable’ to the them. As a result, the Scots stormed Yester Castle, it was re-taken, and partially demolished.
Yester Castle Tour
We accessed the Goblin Ha’ via a small tunnel in the side of the hill that the castle sits atop of. It took us a while to find this, with the entranceway tucked in neatly along the path to the left side of the castle mound (if you’re coming from the golf course).
At only 1.3 meters tall, visitors must hunch down to enter the initial passageway that leads to the great hall. The space would have originally been split over two levels, the remnants of which can still be found in two gated entrance-ways at the far end. Even with the light from the grates, the well-preserved chamber is still incredibly dark and we needed torches to explore the spaces properly.
Feeling brave? There’s more! At the north-east corner of the hall is a steep stone stairway with an arched roof that slopes further underground. The aptly named, Devils Hole, is impossible to navigate without a torch and is a rickety and somewhat steep decent to what is believed to be a cavern for collecting water (now blocked by rubble). I’d be lying if there wasn’t a slightly sinister (and claustrophobic) feel to the tight passageway.
Want to hear the spookiest bit? As we ascended back into the main Goblin Hall, we took the opportunity to capture some of the sinister graffiti splashed onto the walls and gather a few last photos of the room. Our DSLR snapped away happily at the eastern wall, and the western wall, but when Simon pointed his camera at the northern interior wall (the one where you’ll find 2 holes, left and right, where the beams for the floor above would have rested), the camera refused to snap. Was it just a result of the poor lighting? Perhaps! But we all love a good ghost story? Right?