Fear and Lothian – Yester Castle and The Goblin Ha’

If you have a penchant for the dark side of history and love nothing more than scaring yersel’ clean, skite daft, places to visit don’t come any better than Yester Castle in East Lothian. This 13th Century ruin located just outside of the pretty town of Gifford is steeped in folklore with many a spooksome tale attached to its mysterious Goblin Ha’ (Goblin Hall). My trusty sidekick, Helen and I decided to explore …

We arrived at the fairly innocuous Castle Park Golf Club where I had researched that our adventure was to start. Of note are the beautiful Shetland Ponies which roam the course munching the grass and keeping it all trim. We asked one of the groundsmen for directions and he told us to quite simply, follow the perimeter of the course keeping the dyke to our right. So off we trotted …

Shetland ponies at Castle Golf Club

After a short way, you come across a boggy area so mind yer feet and prepare yersel’ by making sure that you have on boots made for walking.

Castle Park Golf Course

After you cross thon bog, a path veers off through the trees to the right. Follow the sound of the wee burn that trickles on by and you’ll find that you emerge onto a hilly section of the course.

Route to Yester Castle, East Lothian

Route to Yester Castle

Keep to your right and head up the hill towards the dyke, then follow it along and down until you see the thicket of trees in front of you. Head onwards and you will see an old, stone bridge which crosses another burn.

Bridge near Yester Castle

Wander over it and lo and behold … Yester Castle emerges through the trees.

Yester CastleYester Castle

Yester Castle: A Brief History

Sir Hugo de Giffard, a baron and guardian of King Alexander III founded the castle in 1267. In the year 1308 it was captured by an invading English army and then razed to the ground afterwards by Robert the Bruce’s forces on the grounds that it was ‘unserviceable.’  Therefore, very little of the original keep remains. In 1547 the castle was battered again during an English siege, and needed a fair bit of reconstruction done to it in the aftermath. The keep is thought to have been abandoned around 1557, when its final occupant William Hay, 5th Baron of Yester relocated to a nearby (and warmer mostlike) townhouse residence.

Yester Castle

As time passed, stone from Yester Castle was pilfered for new houses, and by the 18th century it was in a ruinous state. It is however, considered an example of one of the earliest stone-built castles in Scotland and is of national importance. But after exploring the beginning of the ruins which were undoubtedly fun with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, we really wanted to claim our prize and so, ventured forth in search of the dark allure of the Goblin Ha’ …

The Goblin Ha’

Its founder, Sir Hugh de Giffard – let’s call him Shuggy though (Scots for Hugh) – was quite the learned soul, partial to dabbling in a spot of science and alchemy. As a result of this, rumours spread that he was a powerful warlock, necromancer and practiser of the dark arts. It didn’t help that a scribe of the 14th Century called John de Fordun added more fuel to the gossipy fire by claiming that oor Shuggy had made a pact with Auld Nick the Deil (the Devil) himsel’ and that an army of demons had been summoned to build the Goblin Ha.’ The vault was apparently then used for spell-casting and all manner of arcane rituals. Locals even in this day and age refer to him as The Wizard of Yester. You’ve got tae hand it tae him – that’s quite the reputation there! Eat that Aleister Crowley.

The Goblin Ha'

To get to the Goblin Ha’ from the castle ruins, veer off to your left and you will see the remains of the massive, defensive wall. Look down to your left and you will get your first keek at the gated exterior of the hall. However, we couldn’t access it from this direction as the iron gates are not only locked, but in the case of the lower of the two, rammed with leaves! Therefore, we needed a Plan B …

… so we went through the doorway in the side of the defensive wall.

Yester Castle

Yester Castle

Once through, we noticed a faint path in the leaves which wound – precariously in places – down and around the side of a ravine. Mind how you go here folks!

Hope's Water

Once you’ve followed the curving path all the way around the side of the wall and by the river, prepare to be amazed! Well, I know I was anyway!

Entrance to The Goblin Ha' Entrance to The Goblin Ha'

I See A Darkness

It was at this point that Helen got the fear of the narrow, dark passage ahead and held back, but being a lover of the unknown I had to find out just what was in there. So, equipped with nowt but the torch on my mobile phone (oh, how I wish it had been candlelight!) I stooped to conquer the darkness and emerged into this …

The Goblin Ha', Yester Castle

I’m not going to lie. There’s undoubtedly an atmosphere to the place. Things have happened in this vault. The sense of it is palpable. Some say that they’ve felt a sinister presence here, but for me I felt like I had fallen under its mysterious spell. So, when Helen bravely followed me inside and we found the hidden chamber that I had read about, I was drawn to it like the proverbial moth to a flame … and down into it I journeyed …

Hidden Chamber. The Goblin Ha'

Hidden Chamber, Goblin Ha'

Hidden Chamber, Goblin Ha'

I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t bump into Sir Shug or even arrive at the gateway to Hell which, according to local legend, resides at the bottom of the stairwell. All I could get to at the deepest part of the tunnel were lots of big boulders and rocks, placed there by locals in order to block Hell’s ingress. More sober chroniclers would have it that they were sealing an old well. It was however, completely compelling to venture down into and I was captivated by its dark secrets. However, word of warning, ‘lest ye venture down there. It’s NOT for the claustrophobes amongst us as it’s very narrow and the tunnel also has a low roof what with it being a goblin ha’ and all.

After I had resurfaced from my subterranean exploration and Helen had breathed a sigh of relief that I had made it back up in one piece, we had another look around the main vault and took some photos.

… before heading back from whence we had came.  Helen and Gill – 2  Goblins and Warlocks – 0

How to get there:

Take the A1 out east of Edinburgh until you get to the slip road which takes you to Tranent. Follow the map here which is the quickest way to go via Pencaitland and East Saltoun. Be sure to look out for East Saltoun’s cute Book Nook which is an old, red telephone box and swap your old book for one from its collection.

Ask politely and the kind staff at Castle Park Golf Course will let you cross via the course. Here’s a map though to show you what general direction you should be heading in. Mind and keep to the edges so that you don’t interrupt someone’s game!

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