Yester Castle, East Lothian

Despite the fact that it was once one of the most impressive and important medieval fortresses in south east Scotland, you won’t find Yester Castle in any guidebooks or on many maps. Its romantic ruins sit in wild woodland just a couple of miles outside the pretty town of Gifford, on private land belonging to the later Yester House. Finding the castle is not easy – I parked up on a farm track, walked across some fields, climbed a couple of fences and cut across the corner of a golf course before I spotted the tips of its craggy walls rising above the treetops.

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The approach to Yester Castle

Yester was originally built by one Hugo de Giffard, a 13th Century nobleman who also dabbled in the dark arts. The famous Goblin Ha’, which was reputedly built by a band of hobgoblins, is the only remaining part of his original castle, and also the location of the warlock’s supposed magical experiments. Ever since the castle fell into ruins in the 16th Century, tales of strange sounds and lights emanating from this underground lair have circulated, a result perhaps of de Giffard’s alleged pact with the Devil.

On a grey, drizzly winter day Yester Castle can seem rather forbidding. Slipping and sliding in the leaves and mud as I scrambled up a low rise to reach the ruins, I quickly regretted my totally unsuitable canvas trainers, but it was worth the treacherous climb. At the top sits a tall fragment of ancient masonry, a barrel-vaulted room at the base and some intricately carved moulding towards the top giving a tiny hint of the long-lost grandeur of this once imposing building.

The ruins of Yester Castle

The ruins of Yester Castle

Wandering further through the trees, I suddenly came upon a huge stretch of curtain wall, its grey stonework almost camouflaged amongst the muted colours of the woodland.

The camouflaged curtain wall of Yester Castle

The camouflaged curtain wall of Yester Castle

The wall is still impressive and solid, punctured by just a small arched doorway, but down to my left I spotted a set of stone stairs, inevitably covered at this time of year in slimy brown leaves. At the foot of these stairs lies two dark, iron-grated windows, and beyond them the reason for my visit, the Goblin Ha’.

Stairs down to the Goblin Ha'

Stairs down to the Goblin Ha’

Getting down to the windows without breaking my neck was the next challenge. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but once they did the sharp gothic vaulting of the subterranean chamber below became clear. The Goblin Ha’ is wonderfully spooky from the outside, but I wasn’t going to stop there. I had read somewhere that it was still possible to gain access to the mythical hall. And so I began the search.

Once through the door in the curtain wall I was able to make out the subtle line of a path which curved down the side of the hill. As I followed it I became starkly aware of the huge drop to the gushing river far below. Squelching and sliding precariously along the tiny path I began to wonder whether I wasn’t being slightly foolish, but by then it was too late to turn back. At the end of the path, tucked in at the base of the ruinous corner of the curtain wall, I found a tiny, stone lined doorway, with a low, murky passageway beyond. I took a deep breath, hunched my shoulders and headed in.

The tiny doorway into the Goblin Ha'

The tiny doorway into the Goblin Ha’

The Goblin Ha’ is even more impressive on the inside. The two grated windows give some light, but it is still pretty dark in there, particularly on an overcast winter’s day.

Inside the Goblin Ha'

Inside the Goblin Ha’

It was only when I used my flash to take a couple of photos that I noticed something in the shadows of the blackest corner – a narrow set of stairs descending into the shadows below. Of course, my first thought was how I could get down there to find out what lay at the foot of the stairs. In the absence of a torch, could I somehow use my camera flash to guide my way? Could I edge down in the darkness and then flash away to reveal what lay beneath?

Stairs down into the darkness...

Stairs down into the darkness…

Then the reality of  my situation hit me. I was standing in a dark, reputedly haunted castle cellar in the middle of nowhere. No one knew I was there, and as far as I knew there was no one for miles around. I was considering heading down some dark, wet stairs to find God-knows-what at the bottom. My heart began to pound, Sweat prickled my brow. I glanced around at the desolate, dank hall with its impenetrable shadows and dark corners.

Within seconds I was up the passage, out of the door, and slithering my way back up that muddy path to safety. I blame it on a lifetime of ghost stories and horror movies, combined of course with the unmistakeably creepy atmosphere of the Goblin Ha’. It took me a good few minutes of brisk walking to recover from my overwhelming feeling of cold terror. Yester Castle is certainly extremely magical, but visiting the strange, decidedly spooky Goblin Ha’ is not an experience I will be rushing to repeat, at least not without some sturdy shoes, a torch and a brave companion…

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25 Responses to “Yester Castle, East Lothian”

    • It is absolutely amazing, in a rather scary way!

    • Tommy Taylor Says:

      The stairs from the Goblin Ha’ go nowhere! They just taper out, but there must be an explanation, as they go down a long way, & people did not waste time in these days!? There was no obvious hidden tunnel on the outside, but centuries have passed since the heyday of Yester.

  1. They could have filmed The Hobbit down there!

  2. Oh the envy I’m heaping on your head at the moment! Beautiful documentation.

  3. Love your photo of the stairs down to the Goblin Ha’, and the interior looks fabulous! I’ll definitely be taking a look at this little gem 🙂

  4. And where might one find an account of the legends about de Giffard and the goblins?

  5. The dark corners are always the most fascinating – but I’d want a buddy and good light before heading in too. Beautiful and magical place.

  6. Been before, going again with an aquaintance who practices the dark arts and who is bringing along his ouija board. feel free to join us on 31st December, aimed for midnight, hopefully the new year spirits will be included and we’re not talking about the alcoholic kind!

  7. A wonderful report – just came across this after searching for Yester Castle, having read about it on another blog. I would love to have been with you, but I would have been a total chicken! 🙂 I know the feeling of having to get out of somewhere! Great pics, though. I would love to know the result of the night-time vigil planned by one of your commenters!

    • Yes in fact I just found that other blog post thanks to your tweet! It really is a great place, definitely my most magical find to date. The fact that is so remote, overgrown and hidden just adds to its atmosphere. I never heard how that night-time visit went…should we be worried?!!

      • It sounds amazing, and I’d never even heard about it. Definitely no health & safety there! Yes, that’s a good point….. I hope they survived the night!

      • You MUST check it out – and blog about it of course! The entrance to the Goblin Ha’ is not that easy to find, but there is a kind of mud path that leads down to it through the doorway in the large wall – well worth the effort.

      • I think I’ll have to go! But I’m taking Colin with me (he doesn’t put up with ghouls at any price!)

  8. darrie tighe Says:

    Visited myself last week and went with a friend yesterday, well worth a visit, take a strong torch and wear stout footwear, very slippy, especially the stairwell down to the old dungeons. Very spooky though. 28/5/2015.

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