Ike visits Blackness Castle, Scotland

Jane took Ike with her to visit Blackness Castle, a 15th-century castle in the village of Blackness near Linlithgow. They cycled there along the canal path which runs along the Union Canal. The first thing that caught Ike’s eye was this statue of Dudley the Cat

Dudley is sitting on a plinth on the north side of the Union Canal Basin and is in a similar style to the Greyfriars Bobby sculpture in Edinburgh. The inscription on the plinth reads’ DUDLEY was a much loved cat of canal side resident and local benefactor Liz Burrows. This sculpture by David Annand was erected by Burgh Beautiful Linlithgow using part of her legacy’. Scottish artist David Annand created the cat sculpture and W L Watson of St Andrews carved the grey granite plinth. David Annand also created the Mary, Queen of Scots statue at Linlithgow Palace the ‘Black Bitch’ sculpture in Linlithgow High Street). Ecoss Landscaping undertook the paving work, a curved retaining wall and the positioning of various associated pieces of street furniture including seating, signs and map/interpretation boards.

The canal path was quite busy with cyclists and walkers so Ike and Jane took their time in case and enjoyed watching the boats, and even came across a family of mute swans.

They continued on the canal path until the Forth Bridge could be seen in the distance and then turned off towards Blackness and enjoyed the downhill approach to the village and a short ride along the coastal road from Blackness village to the castle.

South face

Blackness Castle was built by Sir George Crichton in the 1440s. At this time, Blackness was the main port serving the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow. The castle, together with the Crichton lands, passed to James II of Scotland in 1453, and the castle has been Crown property ever since. Sir James Hamilton of Finnart strengthened the castle in the mid-16th century making it one of the most advanced artillery fortifications of its time in Scotland. It was badly damaged during a siege by Oliver Cromwell in 1650.

The castle with its long, narrow shape has been described as ‘the ship that never sailed’ and the towers are named after the areas of a ship – stem, stern, and main mast.

Main Mast Tower

The Main Mast Tower above was built in the 15th century and is the original building in the castle. It was used as a state prison until 1707 (Union of the Parliaments). Low-status prisoners were kept in grim conditions in the pit prison which was accessed from a hatch on the first floor. Middle-status prisoners were kept in more comfortable conditions in the floors above. Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrew’s, was kept as a prisoner here between January and April, 1543.

At the top of the Mast Tower there were magnificent views of the Forth Bridges and Kingdom of Fife.

The Forth Bridge from the top of the Main Mast Tower
View to the west

As the castle was vulnerable from the seaward side, the defences were strengthened. Ike and Jane walked along the caponier to get a closer look at the castle’s defenses. These were improved in the early 16th century and were so impressive that Henry VIIl’s ambassador reported back in 1543 that the castle was “impregnable”:

Ike agrees, these walls do look “impregnable”

The spur defenses can be better seen from the outside, as the stonework changes appearance showing where the improvements have been made. In 1693, the spur protecting the gate was heightened, and the Stern Tower shortened as a base for three heavy guns. Barracks and officers’ quarters were added in the 1870s:

Ike noticed the change in stone colour where the spur defense had been added

Whilst prisoners rotted in their cells, the high-status visitors lived in luxury in the stern tower. Wooden steps were located at the entrance to the tower and allowed easy access. These have long gone and Ike and Jane had to clamber over the rocks to enter the tower. The servants lived in apartments on the ground floor while the more important residents occupied the upper floors, of course.

The Stem Tower was originally built with three storeys, but this was reduced to two storeys in 1693. The upper chamber had a fireplace while the lower chamber was a pit prison.

Stem Tower

The original entrance to the castle was situated on the east side of the castle. This photograph shows the original east side entrance with four defensive gun ports:

You might recognise Blackness Castle because it has been featured in media representations. For example it is used as Captain Jack Randall’s headquarters in Fort William in the Amazon TV series Outlander. It has also featured in the film Mary Queen of Scots (2018), and Outlaw King (2018, as well as in the BBC miniseries Ivanhoe (1997).

Regular readers may find this interactive map interesting. It shows all the places Ike has visited so far on his current adventure with Jane. You can zoom in and click on previous posts, or just have a look around at the lie of the land:

2 Replies to “Ike visits Blackness Castle, Scotland”

  1. The name of the castle certainly describes the misery prisoners would have gone through in the prison pit. Dark, damp and cold.

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