Blackness Castle

Introduction

From magnificent city landmarks to mysterious ruins, Scotland is renowned for its iconic castles. Whether you are looking to explore the largest in the country, follow a regional trail or seek out those hidden gems, there is plenty of history to uncover as each castle has a fascinating tale to tell.

Excitement, adventure and mystery all make up the world of Scottish Castles. For centuries the inhabitants of Scotland have been building fortifications and strongholds of one kind or another. It was long before magnificent castles sprung up, their glorious towers reaching for the heavens. It seems that anyone who could afford this sort of protection for their families and forces made sure that they had it. It had been estimated that there were once about 3,000 castles in Scotland and plenty of evidence remains to suggest this is true.

Of course, these buildings differed in size, conditions and purpose, yet they all served a very real purpose. Many of these have disappeared over time and others have become crumbling ruins, but whatever their condition, they stand as a silent witness to times gone by. These remarkable buildings that dominate Scotland’s landscape reveal tales of treachery, romance, war and peace.

It is hardly surprising that many of Scotland’s castles are associated with ghosts, apparitions and strange noises — they have histories in some cases stretching back over 600 years. Blackness Castle has such a reputation! It is considered to be one of the most haunted castles in Scotland.

Ghost Apparition and Paranormal Activities

There is no guide for this castle, so the exact function of each room remains a mystery. Still there are lots of fans who want to explore the history behind this most well-known castle.

In the late 1990s, a lady visitor, with her two young sons, felt adventurous enough to climb the winding stone staircase of the tower. Suddenly there appeared before her a knight. He was suited in armor, in full dress uniform, so to say. The apparition took umbrage at her temerity. She claimed it chased her angrily from the tower. She didn’t say, though, whether it was brandishing its sword as it clanked after her. Probably, she was too busy trying to stay out of its mail-fisted reach.

Blackness Castle also has plenty of things that went bump in the night.

A group of ardent fans of paranormal phenomena once spent a night at the tower. They chose an auspicious occasion for the sleep-over, Halloween. However, they didn’t get to do much sleeping. The whole night through, they were kept awake by the constant noise of furniture being scraped and banged across the stone floor of the room beneath them. At last, one of them plucked up the courage to investigate.

He ventured into the room which had sounded like a furniture-movers convention having a late-night show-and-tell session. There was nothing out of place. There wasn’t even a noise when he went to check. So he went back to his companions. The noises started again. He didn’t feel the need to investigate again. Obviously the ghost furniture-movers preferred to do their work unseen.

Perhaps, someday someone with high technology equipment that can see through thick stone walls may be able to find out exactly what kind of furniture these phantom movers were so busy with. A lady said that she was startled to see a knight in armour in the tower. She further claimed that the knight chased her from the tower. Other people who have stayed in the tower have claimed that they have inexplicably heard objects moving about during the night.

Architecture

The castle comprises a curtain wall, with integrated north and south towers, and a separate central tower in the courtyard. To the south-west, a defensive spur forms the main entrance, while a water gate to the north-west gives access to the 19th century pier. Outside the walls are 19th century soldier’s barracks and officer’s quarters.

Originally of three storeys, the small North, or Stem, Tower was reduced to two storeys in 1693. The upper chamber had a fireplace, while the lower chamber was a pit prison. Accessed only from a trap-door above, this chamber has a drain opening to the sea, which washes in at high tide.

The South, or Stern, Tower dates largely from the mid 16th century, possibly replacing an earlier hall block. On the south wall, the 16th century stonework was added onto the battlements of the 15th century curtain wall, leaving the pattern of alternating low and high sections «fossilised» in the wall. The tower is built over the thick-walled artillery positions in the basement, which defend the south and east approaches, and have similarities with the contemporary «blockhouse» at Dunbar Castle, further along the coast. The gunloops in the basement are up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) across at the mouth. The South Tower provided the main accommodation in the castle, with chambers in the north-west wing, and a large hall on the upper storey. This hall was subdivided during the castle’s time as an ammunition depot, although it has since been reinstated. In the 17th century, the large south-facing window was in use as a gun emplacement.

The tower is built over the thick-walled artillery positions in the basement, which defend the south and east approaches, and have similarities with the contemporary «blockhouse» at Dunbar Castle, further along the coast.

The gunloops in the basement are up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) across at the mouth. The South Tower provided the main accommodation in the castle, with chambers in the north-west wing, and a large hall on the upper storey. This hall was subdivided during the castle’s time as an ammunition depot, although it has since been reinstated. In the 17th century, the large south-facing window was in use as a gun emplacement.

The five-storey Central Tower, or «main mast», was built in the 15th century and heightened in the 16th. It measures around 11×9.8m (36×32 feet), and the walls are 2.3m (7.5 feet) thick at the base.

Each storey contains a single large room with a fireplace, a garderobe or privy, and numerous chambers within the walls. The storeys were originally linked by a narrow spiral stair, until a larger stair tower was constructed at the east corner in the 17th century. The castle’s more important prisoners were held here. Men such as Cardinal Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews and James V’s ambassador to France, and Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, regent of Scotland in the 1520s, would have had a reasonably high standard of living, including their own servants, while in prison.

The basement is vaulted, and the roof is also built on a stone vault. The parapet was rebuilt in the 20th century, although the course of projecting corbels on which is stands is original. Outside the tower is a well.

The 16th century forework, or «spur», which provides additional protection for the main gate, is largely the work of Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, and contains numerous defensive features. Originally a rock ditch ran in front of the entrance, and was crossed by a drawbridge. The original 1693 yett, a latticed iron gate, is still in place. Once through the entrance, any attacker would have had to negotiate a dog-leg passage, exposing his back to fire from the caponier. Part of this passage was also exposed to attack from the parapet walk on the upper storey. In the late 17th century, the spur was heightened, and gun batteries added above.

Since the castle’s restoration, it has been open to the public as a historic monument. The buildings of the castle stand empty, although there is a small exhibition in the former barracks outside. The castle has been used as a filming location in several productions, including Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990), Bob Carruthers 1996 film The Bruce, a BBC/A&E television miniseries of Ivanhoe (1997), and the science-fiction film Doomsday (2008).

History

Blackness is recorded as early as 1200. It continually served as a port to the royal burgh of Linlithgow. Although there is no record of a defence there, it is most likely that some form of fortification existed to protect the port and its storage areas as many expensive goods were imported and exported for the nearby Linlithgow Palace.

In the 1440s, during the reign of King James II (1430-1460), Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Sir George Crichton, decided to «build a ship that could not sink». His plan was to build a fortress on the shore of the Firth of Forth which resembled a war ship. It originally consisted of a curtain wall which included two towers, the north or ‘stem’ tower, and the south or ‘stern’ tower, which enveloped the main central structure known as the ‘main mast’ or ‘prison tower’. From the waters of the Forth, any advancing ship unfamiliar with the area would think the castle was a formidable ship moored at Blackness.

It is obvious that Blackness was never destined as a peaceful lordly residence; its enduring roles were those of garrison fortress and state prison. Likened to a ship from its shape and location no wonder that it has been a place of defence from when it was built in the 1440s until after World War I.

Originally built by the Crichtons, it was gifted to the Crown in 1453 and used as a State Prison until 1707; as a Garrison until 1870 and then as an ammunition depot until 1912, when it was placed into care.

The Blackness Castle strengthened in the 16th century as an artillery fortress and was besieged by Cromwell in 1650.

One of the many folk imprisoned here, the list includes Cardinal Beaton, Lord Ochiltree, John Welsh and Adam Blackadder, who complained that the dungeon was ‘full of paddocks (frogs) and toads’.

The stature of the prisoners, and prospected prisoners, shows the importance of Blackness Castle as a high standard prison. The inmates were not under tight security, in fact they were not even under lock and key for the whole day. They were permitted to leave up to three mile from the castle each day, and at night they would return to comfortable lodgings in the main and south towers. They had many of the privileges they would enjoy at home. Sir James Ogilvie of Inverquharity was imprisoned at Blackness for a period in 1585 and brought his wife and four servants along with him.

The lowlier prisoners were not so fortunate. They were kept in the basement dungeon of the north tower. This was a dismall, cramped area with no bedding or seating area. There was no latrine, but the room’s low location on the water’s edge and an iron grate allowed the sea to ‘slop out’ the cell twice each day. The room would flood with up to two feet of sea water. It must have been a horrific place to find yourself in.

After the Treaty of Union 1707 Blackness was no longer an official state prison. A small garrison was retained there and kept the castle in good repair. It was used as a military base and for ammunition storage during the French Revolutionary Wars and again in 1850s as Napoleon III threatened to invade. By 1912, the castle had been handed over from the military to Office of Works to be preserved as an ancient monument. Before again reparations could be carried out, war broke out yet again. It was used as for ammunition storage during the First World War. It was finally abandoned by the military and renovations were carried out during the 1920′s and 30′s.

In conclusion, one must admit that you can’t get rid of the feeling that you meet something strange and weird when in the Castle. It’s also doubtless that Blackness Castle is well-worth visiting not only because of it. It has educational value as well, for such great names and places in the world history as Oliver Cromwell, the Firth of Forth, King James II, King James VI, Mary Queen of Scots, Sir George Crichton, Sir James Hamilton are connected with the history of Castle’s existence.

Social site for Scotland “Scotster” shares the opinions of different visitors of this Castle which prove its unique existence. Here they are:

Visitor

Impression

Teresa H

This is amazing Tam. I get butterflies in my stomach when I see these pictures. I wonder why? Hummmm. These are just incredible. Thanks for sharing this.

Ethel M: Dreaming of home

Thank you so much for sharing this. I didn’t know there was such a castle. Simply beautiful.

Ben D: English not British

I was down at Blackness just last week. Nice little corner of the Central Belt. Great for wading birds when the tide is out.

Cheryl L

Thanks for sharing the history of this amazing castle. I had no idea there was such a castle. I will definitely put this on my «must see» list of places to visit when I am in your neck-of-the-woods. The pics were great as well. Look forward to seeing more!

Jan S: Full of Scottish Pride!

Living on the opposite side of the Forth I have a lovely view of Blackness Castle with the Pentlands beyond it.

Annette G

My aunt mentioned this castle just this evening… Weird!

Julie K: «Just say Julie»

I would never ever want to be stuck in ‘the basement dungeon» LOL scary with water coming in: Again Thanks Tam! Great info!