Tantallon Castle and Scott

Scott's 1808 poem 'Marmion' inspired tourists to flock to Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle in East Lothian is the last of the grand medieval castles. Set high on a cliff edge and featuring a massive red sandstone curtain wall, the castle was home to the Red Douglas dynasty.

Scott's swirling description of Tantallon, in the 1808 poem 'Marmion', brought many tourists to see its wild, high vantage point over the sea.

Scott writes of the three mullets – the heraldic word for stars – and the bloody heart of the Douglas crest. The heart symbolised the Douglas family from 1329 when, as he lay dying, Robert the Bruce asked Sir James Douglas to take his heart on crusade. When James was killed in battle in Spain, Bruce’s heart was recovered and buried at Melrose Abbey.

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Listen to ‘Tantallon’s Dizzy Steep’

Walter Scott’s description of dizzying, storm-embattled Tantallon Castle.

Read ‘Tantallon’s Dizzy Steep’

I said, Tantallon's dizzy steep
Hung o'er the margin of the deep.

Many a rude tower and rampart there
Repelled the insult of the air,
Which, when the tempest vexed the sky,
Half breeze, half spray, came whistling by.

Above the rest, a turret square
Did o'er its Gothic entrance bear,
Of sculpture rude, a stony shield;
The bloody heart was in the field,
And in the chief three mullets stood,
The cognisance of Douglas blood.

The turret held a narrow stair,
Which, mounted, gave you access where
A parapet's embattled row
Did seaward round the castle go.

Sometimes in dizzy steps descending,
Sometimes in narrow circuit bending,
Sometimes in platform broad extending,
Its varying circle did combine
Bulwark, and bartisan, and line,
And bastion, tower, and vantage-coign:
Above the booming ocean leant
The far projecting battlement;
The billows burst in ceaseless flow
Upon the precipice below.

Where'er Tantallon faced the land,
Gateworks and walls were strongly manned;
No need upon the sea-girt side;
The steepy rock, and frantic tide,
Approach of human step denied;
And thus these lines, and ramparts rude,
Were left in deepest solitude.

Sir Walter Scott - Celebrating 250 Years

In 2021-22, Scotland celebrates the 250th anniversary of one of its most famous sons, Sir Walter Scott. This online exhibition and audio trail of his legacies is part of the celebrations.

'Tantallon's Dizzy Step' has been performed by Edinburgh actor Gavin Paul, who is looking forward to visiting some of these important historical sights.