The Castles of Scotland by Martin Coventry | Goblinshead | A comprehensive guide to 4,100 castles, towers, historic houses, stately homes and family lands
The Castles of Scotland by Martin Coventry | Goblinshead | A comprehensive guide to 4,100 castles, towers, historic houses, stately homes and family lands
The ‘Bible of Scottish Castles’…now available!
The ‘Bible of Scottish Castles’…now available! 

Roslin Castle

On a rock in a bend of the River North Esk in the wooded Roslin Glen near Loanhead in Midlothian, Roslin Castle is fantastic partly ruinous old stronghold, formerly a princely residence long held by the powerful Sinclair family, with a hugely impressive entrance over a tall bridge and the famous Rosslyn Chapel just a short walk away.

Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (© Martin Coventry)

Lothians: About 2 miles south of Loanhead, 0.5 miles south east of Roslin village, on minor road south of B7006, at Roslin Castle, a short walk from Rosslyn Chapel.


NT 274628   OS: 66   EH25 9PU

 

OPEN: Accommodation is available in Roslin Castle through the Landmark Trust for holidays for up to seven people.

Web: www.landmarktrust.org.uk

 

The ruinous part of the castle is accessible and there is carparking in Roslin Glen. Short but steep walk up to castle entrance or accessible from Rosslyn Chapel.

Web: Roslin Glen

 

The famous Rosslyn Chapel is a short walk away and is open to the public.

Web: www.rosslynchapel.com

Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (© Martin Coventry)
Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (© Martin Coventry)

In an impressive position on a rock in a bend of the River North Esk in Roslin Glen, this was once a formidable and splendid fortress. Roslin (or Rosslyn) Castle consists of a ruined 14th-century rounded tower, altered and extended with ranges of buildings and towers in the 15th and 16th centuries, some of these complete.

Main tower or keep of Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: ruin of tower/keep (© Martin Coventry)
Drawing of Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: the bridge has gone (MacGibbon and Ross)

It stands on a high bank, surrounded by the River Esk on three sides, and is defended by a wide rock-cut ditch on the only weak side, now approached over a high bridge, one of the most awe-inspiring castle entrances in Scotland. The tower and ranges of buildings were arranged around a courtyard.

Bridge to the entrance of Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: entrance over bridge (© Martin Coventry)
Entrance over a bridge to Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: entrance bridge (© Martin Coventry)

A 16th-century block of five storeys, still mainly entire, is rectangular in plan, with a projecting square tower at one end. The walls are pierced by gunloops

Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (© Martin Coventry)

The three lower floors each have four vaulted chambers, with another in the tower. The main block rooms are reached by a long corridor, and there is a wide scale-and-platt stair from the basement to the top floor. The block contains a kitchen, with a huge fireplace. The hall, on the third floor, has a finely carved fireplace, dated 1597. The third and fourth floors were altered in the 17th century, but have ornamental plaster ceilings. The lower floors are inaccessible because of pigeons.

Kitchen with fireplace of Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: kitchen with fireplace (old postcard)
Bakehouse of Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: bakehouse (old postcard)

A bridge once crossed the river by the castle, part of the arch of which is still visible, and around the atmospheric castle are old walls, an orchard, and an impressive large yew tree, said to be as much as 800 years old.

Remains of bridge by Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: remains of bridge (old postcard)
Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (© Martin Coventry)

‘Roslyin’ is prominently marked on Blaeu’s map of The Lothians, and is depicted in a large enclosed and wooded park. The castle is shown on a hill with the ‘colledg’ to the north, and is called ‘Roslyn C.’.

Rosslyn Chapel and Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle and Rosslyn Chapel (old postcard)

Roslin was the main stronghold of the Sinclair Earls of Orkney and Lords of Shetland, who lived like princes.

Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (old engraving, after Turner)

They held the lands from 12th or 13th century, and during the Wars of Independence, an English army was heavily defeated by the Scots in 1303 near the castle. The Sinclairs fought for Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314, and Sir Henry Sinclair was one of the nobles to add his seal to the Declaration of Arbroath, while Sir William Sinclair, who probably built the tower, was one of the knights who set out on crusade with Robert the Bruce’s heart, and was killed fighting the Moors in Granada in 1330.

Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (© Martin Coventry)

Henry Sinclair was made Earl of Orkney in 1379 by the King of Norway, and he conquered the Faroes, and discovered Greenland and probably the northern part of North America. The 2nd Earl, another Henry, was captured by the English at the Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402, and was Admiral of Scotland. The castle was accidentally burnt in 1452, and the Sinclairs were forced to resign the Earldom of Orkney and were given Ravenscraig in Fife in compensation, along with the Earldom of Caithness.

Etching of Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: the tower by entrance was more complete (Pennant)

The castle was sacked and torched by the Earl of Hertford in 1544, was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots, during a progress in 1563, and was attacked again in 1650 by Monck during Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland. A mob damaged it in 1688. The property passed by marriage to the St Clair-Erskines, who were made Earls of Rosslyn in 1802, still own the castle, and part of it is habitable, and can be rented through the Landmark Trust.

Rosslyn Chapel, near Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: Rosslyn Chapel (© Martin Coventry)

Rosslyn Chapel, intended as a Collegiate Church, was founded by William Sinclair (the spelling St Clair was rarely – if ever – used at this time), Earl of Orkney, in 1446, although work did not start for some years. The chapel is richly carved with Biblical stories, and has the largest number of ‘Green Men’ found in any medieval building. The crypt is pretty creepy, and in the burial vault below 10 of the Earls of Roslin and their kin lie, said to have been laid out in their armour without coffins.

Interior showing pillars and stairs to crypt of Rosslyn Chapel, near Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: Rosslyn Chapel (old postcard)
Lady Chapel of Rosslyn Chapel, near Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: Rosslyn Chapel, Lady Chapel (old postcard)

Ghostly flames were said to be seen here when one of the Sinclairs was about to die. The chapel is also reputedly haunted by the ghost of the apprentice, who carved the famous Apprentice Pillar, and is said to have been murdered by his teacher. The chapel features in the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and part of the movie with Tom Hanks was filmed at the chapel and at the castle in September 2005.

Courtyard of Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: courtyard (old postcard)

The spectre of a dog, killed with its English master after a battle in the glen in 1303, reputedly haunts the castle, and its howling has been reported. There are also stories of a spectre of a black knight on a black horse being seen in the glen. A great treasure is said to be buried within the old castle, and there is reputed to be a ‘White Lady’ who guards it. She can only be woken and the treasure found by blowing a trumpet when standing on the correct step of one of the staircases.

Magnificent yew tree, Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle: impressive yew tree (© Martin Coventry)

Roslin Glen is a very scenic area with the road running through the wooded valley of the River North Esk and with a series of walks through the glen. The glen was the site at one time of Scotland's largest gunpowder mill, then later a carpet factory, and at thatr time the river was quite polluted. The industry is gone and the glen is now home to many birds, such as kingfishers, dippers, bats, woodpeckers, buzzards and wildlife, including otters and badgers.

 

Drawing by Turner: www.tate.org.uk

Etching from 1789: www.britishmuseum.org

Roslin Castle, an impressive, partly ruinous old stronghold on a rock above the River Esk, long held by the Sinlcairs and near the beautiful and intricately carved Rosslyn Chapel Roslin Castle (old postcard)

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