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Dirleton - East Lothian
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Tourist Office
Library, School Road,
North Berwick, East Lothian.

Tel. 01620-892197

Archerfield Estate
© Digitalsport UK

[14th on West Links]
14th West Links, North Berwick
© Digitalsport UK

Archerfield Mansion House in 1998
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Views of Dirleton and Archerfield

  Dirleton Village
By Douglas Seaton
Dirleton Factfile

The historic and picturesque village of Dirleton is situated three miles from North Berwick and forty minutes drive from Edinburgh. To the north, the sandy shores of the Firth of Forth and to the west, the village of Gullane and the famous Muirfield links, home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

Dirleton Parish Kirk

Gullane embraced the whole parish of Dirleton until 1612, that year saw the removal of the parish church to the village of Dirleton. The reason given in an Act of Parliament, 'Golyn was ane decayit place while Dyrleton was a flourishin toun'. Dirleton Church was built in 1612 and the Archerfield Isle was added in 1650 in the first neoclassical style to be used in Scotland.

The Gothic pinnacles were added to the tower in 1836 and the stain glass window depicting St. Francis and The Animals designed by Margaret Chilton was installed in 1936. The church is open to the public and the services are listed near the entrance.

Dirleton Castle

East Lothian has several ruined castles but Dirleton is by far the most impressive. The first castles were built around 1100, introduced by incoming feudal lords from Normandy, Brittany and Flanders. The de Vaux family, who came from Normandy in the 12th century settled first in a manor house at Eilbottle (Archerfield) and then early in the next century relocated to Dirleton where John de Vaux built the yellow sandstone Castle.

In 1298 after a spirited defence, the Castle fell to the army of Edward I under the command of Anthony Beck, the fighting Bishop of Durham. In the reign of Robert the Bruce the Castle was in the possession of the Halliburtons who undertook many alterations including the addition of the draw-bridge and towers.

In 1444, William Halliburton founded a college for priests with their chapel in the grounds of Dirleton Castle.Later the property became the stronghold of the Gowrie family but their ill-fated plot against the monarchy, resulted in James VI confiscating their lands.

" The picturesque village of Dirleton attracts many visitors to the historic Castle, charming old Parish Church and traditional village green. "

The Castle was then bestowed on Sir Thomas Erskine who became Lord Dirleton. In 1631 it was sold to James Maxwell of Innerwick who was created Earl of Dirleton, Lord Fentoun and Elbottle in 1646. During the civil war in the 1640s the Castle was occupied by Moss Troopers but in November 1650 they were forced to surrender to Oliver Cromwell's army under the command of General Monk who bombarded the ramparts into the ruin we see today. After the reinstatement of the Stewarts, Charles II awarded the land to Sir John Nisbet, King's Advocate in 1663. Later the estate fell to William Nisbet Hamilton using the surname of his parents. He abandoned the castle and built the mansion house at Archerfield. The estate then passed through marriage to the Nisbet Hamilton-Ogilvy family whose executors sold it to Jackson Russell in 1922 and then to farmer George Mitchell for 34,000 before the Duke of Hamilton purchased the land in 1962. Dirleton Castle is maintained by Historic Scotland and is open to the public.

[Dirleton Parish Kirk]
[Dirleton Castle]
Dirleton Parish Kirk Dirleton Castle

Fidra Island

Local historian David Berry writes, the island of Fidra is made up of the North and South Dogs (related to the German'dogge' and our 'dog' as a follower or companion) are skerries off the main island and are never connected to the main island at any state of tide. The larger South Dog continues as a treacherous ridge towards Eyebroughy and means boats must stand well out when coming round the SW corner. The smaller North Dog lies under the lighthouse and is almost submerged at spring full tide. The part to the SE that is separated from Fidra proper at high tide is Castle Tarbert (from the gaelic Tarbeairt, an isthmus or portage). Eilbotle (from the Anglian for 'old settlement') was on the nearby shore, which is why the wood has that name.

Only a stave keep, the later chapel and perhaps some small buildings were on the island itself. Just who lived here is a fascinating conundrum because after the Goddodin fell in the 7th century, this must have been a no-man's-land among Angle, Pict, Brython and Viking, with Fidra an important outpost on the coastal sea-routes (easy to get to, big enough to be comfortable & support some livestock, hard to assault). There are stories of 'the race of Congals (from Congalton?) being slaughtered here by Vikings in the 9th century and the hill in Yellowcraig wood was probably another stave fort but less secure that Tarbert. However, no serious archaeology has been done to substantiate any of this. What fascinates me is the mix of origins of local place-names from all their languages, which must mean they all settled--you don't get your name for a place into use just by passing through.

The whole place would have been moved bodily to the present Dirleton when John de Vaux (from Rouen) was given the lands there in the reign of Malcolm IV (1153-1165). He was Steward to Alexander II's household and gifted the now-surplus island and adjoining poorer land to Dryburgh around 1220. Dirleton was built in the mid-1200's. The St Nicholas chapel is therefore probably a later element from this time and the place was almost certainly not referred to as 'Eilbotle'


Thomas Stevenson the youngest son of Robert Stevenson and father of Robert Louis Stevenson built the lighthouse on Fidra in 1885. The lens was made up of a central focal plane surrounded by prisms which refracted light parallel to the centre lens. This produced a beam of light two meters in diameter which was visible at 21 miles.

The lens weighed approximately 3.5 tons and a clockwork machine kept the light revolving for half-an-hour. The flash effect occurred when the lens passes between the viewer and the source of light, this is when the lighthouse appears to flash. The clockwork machine which drove the lighthouse was powered by a large weight descending the tower from top to bottom which kept the machine going for thirty minutes. This had to be wound up every half-hour with a large handle.

Everyday the keepers climbed to the top of the lighthouse and cleaned the glass and reflectors. The light beamed four white flashes every half minute followed by an interval of thirty seconds. It was fuelled by paraffin supplied by James 'Paraffin' Young from his mineral works in West Lothian. The present Fidra light is powered by mains electrcity providing 92,000 candle power and has a visibility of 24 nautical miles.

In 1900 the keepers were two married couples, the Laidlaw's and the Johnston's. They worked on-station for one month, followed by two weeks off at the keeper's cottages at Granton. The relief crew and supplies were delivered by the lighthouse ship 'Pharos' and later the 'Pole Star'.

In 1929, Charles Stevenson and his son D. Alan Stevenson invented the talking beacon which allowed ships to take bearings in thick fog from radio signals transmitted from the lighthouse.

Parish of Dirleton and Gullane Horse Races

The racing ground at Gullane first appears on a Forrest map in 1799 west of the village on an area of land called the Hundred Acres Park and was owned by Rt. Hon Nisbet Hamilton of Dirleton Castle and Archerfield Estate. Events such as the Hunters and Yeomanry Handicap and the Gullane Hurdle Handicap were contested here. Thoroughbred racehorses such as Landcercost and Chanticleer were trained at Stamford Hall under George Dawson. The Dawson brothers born in Gullane were from one of the most successful training families in racing history. William l'Anson of Blink Bonny and Blair Athol fame had his home in Gullane. Unfortunately for the sport, a quarrel in 1890 between a trainer and Nisbet Hamilton the land owner brought training to an end and consequently an end to the racing.

Copyright © Douglas C. Seaton 1994 - 2021, All Rights Reserved.