Dunbar Castle

Dunbar Castle replaced a wooden fort in the 12th century and was built using the natural red stone of the area. The castle was pivotal in the power struggle between the Scottish and English and once housed Mary Queen of Scots. It was slighted more than once and has stood in ruins since the 1500s. 

After part of the Dunbar Castle fell into the sea, the site has remained closed to the public. However, there are places nearby that visitors may view the remains of this once mighty castle. If you plan to visit Dunbar in East Lothian, here are some reasons why Dunbar Castle should be on your itinerary.

Visiting Dunbar Castle


The ruins stand overlooking Victoria harbour, and one may find the best view from the grassy bank near the Leisure centre. Accessing the viewing point is relatively simple, and one may reach it via Victoria Street off the High Street in Dunbar. There is free parking at the Leisure centre on Victoria Street.


One may not enter the ruins but may view them from a safe vantage point for free.


Open Castle and harbour: access at all reasonable times. One should take care to view from the exterior as the site is dangerous, especially during bad weather. There are fine coastal walks nearby.

Town House Museum and Gallery: open Apr-Sep, daily 13.00-17.00; winter, Sat & Sun only, 14.00-16.00. Community room to rent.

Location and Access

Castle Gate


East Lothian


At Victorian Harbour, off Victoria Court and Castle Gate

Lothians: In Dunbar, on a minor road north of A1087, on the north shore just west of the harbour, at Dunbar Castle.

Ruin or site NT 678794 OS: 67 

Know Before You Go

  • The ruins of the once-mighty Dunbar Castle are in a poor state after the destruction wrought by the new harbour entrance in the heart of the structure.
  • The precarious nature of the ruins precludes the public from entering the site, but one may view the exterior from the surrounding area. 
  • There are no monuments from the First Battle of Dunbar. However, visitors can find a good view of the terrain from Spot Loan. 
  • There are beautiful coastal walks nearby but visitors should take care to wear the correct footwear. 

History of Dunbar Castle

Dunbar Castle overlooks the harbour from a once-mighty position of power. The castle's site has played an important role in the history of England and Scotland since the iron age. Ownership of Dunbar has changed many times over hundreds of years and reflects historic struggles for power. (Time Line)

-500 BC-332 BC 

Historians speculate that this site's importance was evident as early as the Iron Age, and the Brythonic words 'dyn barr' translates to 'fort of the point.' In Roman times, the Votadini tribe occupied a timber fort that became part of the Kingdom of Northumbria.

-7th Century (Harbour Defence) 

The Anglian Kingdom of Bernicia used the site as a harbour defence. 

-849 BC (King of the Picts) 

Kenneth MacAlpin, King of the Picts and Gaels during Viking raids, owned the castle. 

-1066 AD (Dunbar Granted to Gospatric) 

William the Conqueror seized the English throne, sending the country’s northlands into revolt. Leading nobles such as Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria, were forced to flee. Subsequently, Malcolm III of Scotland accepted Gospatric as a vassal and gave him refuge and estates, including Dunbar. Gospatric directed the first stone fortifications replacing the older motte and bailey wood and earthworks.

-1297 (Capture) 

Gospartrik's descendants held the castle until the 13th century when Edward I captured it. 

-1314 (Refuge) 

Edward II took refuge in the castle after his defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn. From here, he escapes back to England on a fishing vessel. 

-1338 (Castle Attacked)

After the Scottish recaptured the castle, the English attacked. Agness, the Countess of Douglas (Black Agness), defended the castle and held out for six weeks, forcing the English troops to withdraw.

-1457 (Castle Forfeited) 

The castle remained the stronghold of the Earls of Dunbar until George Earl of March forfeited the site. Forces dismantled the castle to prevent an English occupation. Later in the century, the castle was restored by James IV.

-1497-1527 (Modification)

The castle underwent extensive modification and repairs with a gatehouse, new iron window grills, and a western bulwark.

-1537(King's Visit)

James V frequently visited Dunbar Castle to oversee the artillery arrangements.

-1546 (French Aid)

The French sent considerable funds to repair and fortify the castle.

-1548 (Razed)

The Earl of Shrewsbury burned Dunbar Castle in a raid during the Rough Wooing campaign to force an alliance between Mary Queen of Scots and English heir Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.

-1550-1560 (Mary Queen of Scots) 

Marie de guise, James V's widow, upgraded the castle and its fortifications. Her daughter, Mary Queen of Scotts, made regular visits to Dunbar Castle.


Mary arrived at Dunbar Castle with her husband after her secretary David Rizzio was murdered (for which her husband was implicated).

-1567 (Kidnapping) 

James Hepburn Earl of Bothwell allegedly kidnapped Mary and took her from Hailes Castle to Dunbar.

-June 1567 (Surrender) 

After her defeat at the Battle of Langside, Mary surrendered and abdicated in favour of her infant son James. 


Mary rallied her forces yet was defeated at the Battle of Langside. Bothwell fled to Dunbar and was imprisoned in Norway, where he sought aid from Frederick II of Denmark. 

-1567 (Siege) 

Regency forces laid siege to Dunbar Castle. Citizens plundered stones from the site to rebuild the Quayside at Leith. 

-1844 (Further Destroyed) 

The castle never regained its former glory and was further destroyed when building the Victorian harbour. The new entry point of the harbour was once the centre of the medieval castle. 

-1993 (Closed to the Public) 

The surviving portion of the castle was closed to the public as part of it collapsed into the sea.

Dunbar Castle Occupants


  • 678: Historians claim that Saint Wilfrid was imprisoned at Dunbar after his expulsion by Ecgfrith of Northumbria.
  • 1314: Edward II took refuge in the castle after his defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn
  • 1559: Mary of Guise and mother of Queen Mary of Scotts came to Dunbar Castle in fear of the Protestant lords of the congregation who occupied Edinburgh.
  • 1537: King James V frequently visited Dunbar Castle to oversee the artillery arrangements.
  • 1562: Mary Queen of Scotts spent time at Dunbar Castle Mary with Lord John.
  • 1567: James Hepburn Earl of Bothwell kidnapped Mary and took her to Dunbar Castle.

 Images of Dunbar Castle

Dunbar Castle Dunbar Castle Dunbar Castle
Dunbar Castle Dunbar Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Dunbar Castle Q&A

How Big Was Dunbar Castle?

The original castle was massive, and the body of the buildings measured more than 165 feet (50.2 metres) from east to west and more than 210 feet (64 metres) from north to south. The South battery, which historians say was the citadel, is on a perpendicular detached rock, where one may only access from one side of its 72 feet height (21.9 metres). The interior of the citadel measures 54 x 60 feet (916.4 x 18.2 metres) and has an octagonal shape.

Is Dunbar Castle Haunted?

Some say that the ghost of 'Black Aggie' may be in the area on clear nights on the castle’s ruins. However, the castle was not the site of her death, nor is she buried there. Others tell of the ghost of Patrick, the ninth Earl of Dunbar, that walks the ruins. Visitors have reportedly also heard the sound of spectral bagpipes coming from the empty castle rampart.

Does Dunbar Castle Still Exist?

Although once the mightiest castle in Scotland, only ruins of Dunbar Castle remain. The most noticeable feature is the remains of a tower connected to the blockhouse built in the 16th century. Once surrounded by a curtain wall, a courtyard lies buried under the leisure pool in Castle Park. The ruins are an interlayered glimpse of history, and some date back to the 12th century.


Location of Dunbar Castle