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Dirleton Castle (Scotland)

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Dirleton Castle is a medieval fortress in the village of Dirleton, East Lothian, Scotland. Built in the 13th century by John De Vaux and altered through various phases of conquest and rebuilding throughout the years, today the castle is partially ruined but is maintained as a tourist attraction by Historic Scotland. The name De Vaux also lives on in the village as the nearby Open Arms Hotel has named their brasserie "De Vaux's".

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      17.05.2007 17:42
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      Romantic setting for a wedding!

      I recently visited Scotland for the wedding of a close friend and was delighted to find that she had decided to get married in the grounds of a castle just outside Edinburgh – Dirleton Castle. I hadn’t heard of it before, but knew it was little more than a ruin because we were advised to wear something warm! Despite it being a ruin, however, it is still worth paying a visit to this beautiful setting if you are in the area.

      Location
      The castle can be found in the village of Dirleton (surprise surprise), which is about 25 miles from Edinburgh and two miles from the seaside town of North Berwick. It is well signposted from whichever direction you approach it from by those large brown-coloured signs used for historical sites.

      Background
      The castle was originally built on top of an existing crop of rocks in the late 1200s. During the 1300s, it became the pawn in a battle of wills between the English and the Scots and was forever changing hands, until the Scots finally part destroyed it so that it could no longer be used by the English. It was extensively renovated in the 16th century, only to be turned into ruins again by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. Since then, it has become known more for its beautiful gardens, for which it has apparently earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the longest herbaceous border in the World, rather than the castle. The grounds are now owned by Historic Britain.

      Practicalities
      The castle is open all year round, although it closes at 4.30pm, an hour earlier than usual, during the winter months. Tickets cost £4.50 for adults, £2.25 for children and £3.50 for concessions. However, if you are attending an event in the grounds, entry is free.

      There is a small car park next to the castle, which would be perfectly adequate in normal circumstances. However, when there is a wedding, parking spills out into the village.

      This is not an ideal place for anyone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues. Most parts of the castle need to be approached by relatively steep steps, although there is a walkway up to the main part of the castle. If you want to see more than just views though, it is probably not worth the effort.

      There are NO toilets within the grounds. The only toilets available are in the car park and in the pub on the village green.

      What there is to see
      The castle itself is surprisingly more interesting than it would first appear. There are still some parts of the castle that have a roof. The wedding service was held down in the vaults beneath the original Great Hall, which although sound dark and dingy, were actually very light because windows had been built in at some point. Other parts of the castle worth seeing are the Great Hall, which is now exposed to the elements, although there is a stone buffet table still in place; the original well that provided the castle with water, which is situated inside the castle and the way that the castle has been built into the stone, which can clearly be seen by going to the foot of the garden steps.

      Apart from the castle, there is also a dovecote, which is very picturesque, even if it no longer serves any purpose and, of course, the gardens. The gardens have really been looked after well. Surrounded by a high stone wall, the plants are well protected from the elements and as it was early May when we were there, there were some beautiful flowers on show, particularly the clematis, which really stood out against the stone walls. I also saw some peonies just coming into bud. It was a shame they weren’t any further out really as the couple getting married met in China and the peony is the national flower of China.

      There is a small gift shop, which sells the usual souvenirs – guide books, bookmarks, chocolate, biscuits etc. I would recommend buying a guide book on the way in; there is very little in the way of signs and there are no explanations at all.

      Should I get married at Dirleton Castle?
      I have no intention of getting married, but for anyone that wants a slightly different location, this is a beautiful spot. My friends had their wedding downstairs in the vaults, which had been decorated a la Friends (Ross and Emily) style, with candles, swathes of greenery and white roses. I estimate that there were about 100 people present at the wedding. We then went up to the Great Hall above the vaults for cocktails and canapés, again beautifully decorated with flowers.

      The main problem was that it was freezing. The day was dry, but overcast, and although we had all come relatively prepared for cold, we really needed aran jumpers and they just don’t go with smart dresses and suits! However, for the purpose of photos and memories of a beautiful wedding, I don’t think you could go too far wrong here. Slightly later in the year might be a better bet though; Scotland in May is still none too warm.

      Conclusion
      I really enjoyed my time at the Castle. We had plenty of time to wander around while waiting for the bride to arrive and it really is a beautiful spot. The village of Dirleton itself is also worth having a wander around – there is a cosy pub just opposite the car park that serves hot food. However, there are so many beautiful historic sites to see in Scotland that I am not sure it is worth a special visit unless it happens to be on your way to somewhere else – hence four stars rather than five.

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