Friday, 1 March 2013

Fast Castle

I'm not sure where I first saw Fast Castle - probably a reproduction of a 19th century romantic era painting in a discussion of Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermuir, and the dramatic situation and likely stirring history of this guardian of the Forth piqued my interest.

Rev John Thomson, ©National Galleries:


It was to be a while before I visited though. A walk from Dunbar to Tynemouth several years ago took me past a sign to Fast Castle, but I was aiming for Eyemouth for teatime and didn't want the detour. Recently, I returned.

First glimpse:


The castle is smaller than expected, though it extends down a sharp headland for further than first appears. Its situation is quite giddy, a southern Dunottar, a northern Tintagel, but unlike these famous citadels it is dominated to landward by beetling cliffs, and has no beach at its base, nothing but inacessible rocks between it, the sea, and the cliff faces on either side.

At the headland:


The ruins are vestigial, the occasional rotten corner still a couple of stories high. I noticed that there is a rock stack to the south towards St Abbs Head. I had always been under the misapprehension when on St Abbs Head that this distant rock stack was Fast Castle.

View from St Abbs Head - rock stack almost invisible:

Finally, the headland runs out of space with a view up and down the jagged Berwickshire coastline, a lone tanker on the horizon. No 16th century English privateers today.

The end of the headland:


The use and history of Fast Castle is puzzling. Its situation on the entrance to the Forth should have made it a base for repelling English privateers, yet it seems too small for a royal castle. Even as a private, pirate base it seems to be an improbable ediface, as there is no haven for boats on the headland itself, or in the steep, rocky bays on either side. Even an Orcadian would baulk at landing here (though apparently there was a pulley to haul up people and goods, like some Greek mountain monastery). It is overshadowed by north-facing cliffs, and so in a weak position if attacked from the land.

Looking north from the castle:


Yet despite these hardships, the history of Fast Castle shows that not only Queen Mary on the run from her Protestant nobles stayed here, but also the teenage Margaret Tudor on her way to marry James IV.

For me though, the highlight was not the mystery of how the castle was approached from the sea, but the movements in both the rocky bays far below. Careful observation revealed the cause - cream and mottled brown baby seals hauled up on the rocks, with the parents larger and grayer in the water offshore! A fine short walk for a blustery, dark day, ice on the roads, and home to a crackling fire.

2 comments:

blueskyscotland said...

Like the whole coastline around there. St Abb's to Fast Castle coastal walk is a belter too and a fairly hard day.

Robert Craig said...

Have day walked further than that, Dunbar to Eyemouth - was pretty knackering!