Fast Castle, Berwickshire
4 miles North West of Coldingham, near Dowlaw Farm
Near TD14 5TY
Fast castle, a ruinous sea-fortress perched on a jutting cliff 70 feet above the sea, occupies a plateau dating back to the Iron Age. Defended by steep cliffs on all sides, access to the castle was by a drawbridge across a twenty-four feet wide chasm. In its heyday this virtually impregnable castle comprised a courtyard and keep, surrounded by curtain wall with towers and a barbican. A cave at the foot of the cliffs may have acted as an access to the interior of the castle by its inhabitants and later by smugglers who hung lights from its walls to entice ship masters to thinking they had arrived into safe harbour only to be guided onto rocks & their cargo plundered.
Access to the castle is quite a treck from the Dowlaw Farm so good footwear is essential. There is a signpost for Fast Castle from the farm following the path towards the sea. Eventually your walk through the bracken and heather will bring the ruins into sight, but do not underestimate the distance as this can be misleading. The walk back is far harder being uphill.
Arriving at the castle brings you to a wooden chain bridge to the castle with the sea crashing far below. The walk to the castle is very much worth the effort as this isolated location upon which the castle is perched, surrounded by sheer cliffs to the sea below is simply stunning.
Although the castle is in ruins and the stunning site is small, its history is rich and extensive.
~ History ~
1346 ~ Following the Battle of Neville Cross, during which King David II of Scotland is captured by King Edward III, the castle is captured by the English who use it as a base to pillage the surrounding countryside.
1402 ~ George Dunbar, Earl of March, captures Fast Castle following the English victory at the Battle of Nisbet. An English garrision is installed with William Clifford as its governor.
1403 ~ William Clifford is keeper of the strategically important Berwick Castle on behalf of the Earl of Northumberland. Following the rebellion of the Earl's son, Henry 'Hotspur' Percy, against the King of England, William refuses to hand over Berwick Castle to the King unless certain conditions are met. These include payment to the soldiers, the possession of the goods of Henry Percy, who had been killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury, and the guardianship of Henry Percy's son during his minority. These conditions are agreed together with a pardon from the King.
King Henry IV includes a further demand of his own, that if the traitor known as William Serle, responsible for the rumours that the usurped King Richard II is still alive, come into William's custody or power, he must hand be handed over. William duly hands William Serle over to the King.
1404 ~ King Henry IV sends William Clifford an order to give up Fast castle to the King's son, John of Lancaster, warden of the East Marches, governor of Berwick and constable of England.
1405 ~ Berwick is attacked by the Scots led by the Earl of Mar, who inflicts severe damage to its defences. John of Lancaster, from his castle at Warkworth, through the Privy council issues a request to the King "that the sea should be guarded so that the town of Berwick and Fast Castle can be safely supplied with food. The Earl of Mar has been active in these waters doing great harm". John's letter also describes that the garrison at Fast Castle are near the point of desertion due to low morale, lack of food, not being paid and being constantly ambushed by bands of Scottish troops who steal what provisions they have. Unfortunately, his requests are ignored.
1410 ~ During a surprise attack on the castle by the Scots, the son of the Earl of Dunbar recaptures the castle with a hundred followers, imprisoning the governor Thomas Holden who had performed 'many evil deeds in Lothian by sea and land' against the Scots.
In retaliation for the loss of both Fast and Jedburgh Castles, the English under Sir Robert Umfraville sail up the Forth and capture fourteen Scottish ships and their cargos.
1419 ~ The new Scots governor of Fast Castle William Haliburton seizes Wark Castle from the English. Unfortunately, the Scots leave the rope ladders they had used to scale the castle walls still hanging, so whilst they are inside negotiating the surrender of the castle, the English who had been driven from the castle, return and using the Scots own rope ladders, surprise and overpower them, retaking the castle. No prisoners are taken. All "twenty three gallant Scots" are beheaded and their bodies thrown over the castle walls together with their rope ladders.
1429 ~ William Drax, Prior of nearby Colidingham together with Alexander Home, devise a plan to rob James Colstoun of two thousand merks which are to be delivered to the English King as part of the Scots £40,000 ransom payment for return of their King, James VI.
James Colstoun as Scottish ambassador, accompanied by "six trusty men of the realm are attacked by several men on stout horses, who inflict upon the bearers many wounds, and carry off the bags which contain the treasure, to a strong citadel nigh at hand, called Fast Castle".
1433 ~ Gilbert and Thomas Lumsden are recorded as being the free tenants of Fast Castle, which means they hold the castle free of having to provide service for the castle.
1438 ~ Gilbert receives £6 in payment for holding the castle during time of war.
1488 ~ Patrick Home is confirmed in a charter by King James III 'of Fast Castle. King James petition to the Pope to acquire the revenues of nearby Coldingham Priory to the Crown instead of the Homes. An Act of Parliament is passed that anyone obstructing this will be guilty of treason. This in turn angers the Homes and their powerful allies the Hepburns, who ally themselves to the King's enemies who support the King's son to replace him on the throne. The King responds by sending a herald to Fast Castle to summon the Homes to answer for their opposition. A few months later King James III is killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn, where the Homes and the Hepburns are in the vanguard of the rebel army led by the King's son and future King James IV.
Following the King's coronation, the Homes power and wealth are increased, including Alexander Home becoming Lord Home and made Great Chamberlain of Scotland for life, two years later.
1497 ~ A peace treaty between England and Scotland is concluded with "Sir Patrick Home of Fast Castell, knight" as one of the Scottish ambassadors.
1500 ~ Sir Robert Ker, King James principal cupbearer, master of artillery and warden of the middle march, is brutally murdered at a meeting by three Englishmen. He is stabbed in the back by a lance by one before being finished off by the other two. Whilst two make good their escape one, known as Lilburn, is caught and given up to the Scots. He is imprisoned at Fast Castle where he remains until his death.
One of Lilburn's murderous companions known as John 'the Bastard' Heron is sought by both King James in Scotland and his brother-in-law King Henry in England. Despite this he is never caught, so King Henry delivers John Heron's brother, Sir William Heron, to King James. He too is imprisoned in Fast Castle.
1503 - Margaret Tudor, the fourteen-year-old daughter of the English King Henry VII, stays overnight at the castle on her way to Edinburgh for her marriage to King James IV of Scotland, seventeen years her senior.
In the meantime, King James removes his illegitimate children and his latest mistress from Stirling Castle, which she had made her home, but was now part of Margaret Tudor's marriage settlement. The King sends a sum of twenty-eight shillings "to the lard of Fastcastellis man that brocht tithings furth of England".
1509 ~ Sir Andrew Ker, son of the murdered Robert Ker, finally discovers the whereabouts of one of the murderers who escaped punishment for his father's death. He pays for two of his tenants "of the family of Tates" to cross the Scottish Border, find the murderer known as Starhed and kill him. They go further than that and cut of his head and return it to Andrew Ker, who places it on public display in Edinburgh.
1513 ~ Following the Scots defeat and the death of King James IV at the Battle of Flodden, in which numerous Homes are killed, a power struggle ensues which sees the castle destroyed and Alexander Home executed.
1515 ~ Lord Home plays a key role in the appointment of a new Regency, John, the exiled fourth duke of Albany, who is next in line of succession. He is invited back from France but upon landing at Dumbarton is less than appreciative of Home's efforts. Lord Home subsequently changes his allegiance to Queen Margaret and her new husband Archibald Douglas.
The Queen is forced to give up her children into Albany's custody, so Lord Home develops a plan to help her recover them and aid their escape to England, into her brother's protection, King Henry VIII.
The Queen, once more pregnant, flees to Linlithgow Palace to await the birth and Lord Home to meet her "with forty hardy and well striking fellows" to make good her escape. Suspicious, Albany orders Home to surrender his castles, including Fast Castle which is severely damaged as a result.
Lord Home is induced to meet Albany but is immediately arrested and imprisoned at Edinburgh Castle. He however manages to escape with the castles Governor, his brother-in-law.
1516 ~ Lord Home makes his peace with Albany promising to cease his intrigues with the English King. This is short lived, and he soon renews his plotting with the English, and causes havoc along the Scottish Borders.
He and his brother William, feeling overconfident, rashly ride into Edinburgh where they are arrested. Both are executed and their heads placed above the Tolbooth in Edinburgh for the next four years. The Home titles, lands and castles are forfeit to the Scottish Crown. Fast castle is awarded to Albany's trusted agent, De la Bastie.
1517 ~ The Home's lay a trap for De la Bastie and in revenge for the execution of Lord Home, brutally murder the King's agent.
Sir David Home makes clear his message to the King by beheading De la Bastie, tying his head by his long hair to his saddle and riding to market as a prize.
1518 ~ David Homes the younger is made Prior of Coldingham, within his family's lands near Fast Castle. It is believed a monastic life will protect him from Albany and the Homes enemies. He is captured in an ambush and killed by his own brother-in-law, James Hepburn.
1521 - The castle is rebuilt when the Home estates are restored to George Homes, 4th Lord Home, the following year.
1527 - The English retake the castle during the "Rough Wooing" prompted by demands by Henry VIII that his son, the future Edward VI (aged 10) should marry Mary Queen of Scots (aged 5). The Scottish Parliament reject the proposition.
1542 ~ In response to growing tensions with England, King James V issues an order to Sir Robert Logan to instal enough men in Fast Castle
"for suir keeping tharof in this tyme of truble fra Inglismen".
1547 - The castle is once more captured by the English.
1549 ~ Alexander, the 5th Lord Home, leads a daring capture of Fast Castle from the English. He orders local farmers and their workers to supply provisions for the garrison. This causes significant hardship for the local Scots as the English had previously laid waste to the Scottish Borders during the "rough wooing" conflict. However, "sum gentilmen" having disguised themselves as the bringers of much needed supplies to the isolated garrison, once across the drawbridge "they suddenly, by a sign given, set upon the keepers of the gates, slue them, and before the other Englishmen could be assembled, possessed the other places, weapons, and artillery of the castel".
1566 - Mary Queen of Scots stays at the castle.
1567 - With Queen Mary imprisoned at Loch Levan Castle, Queen Elizabeth despatches Sir Nicolas Throckmorton to negotiate her release on the condition she gives up Lord Bothwell. On route Sir Nicolas stays at Fast Castle and later reports it `fitter to lodge prisoners than folks at lybertye'.
Queen Mary is forced to abdicate. Five days later her one-year-old son is crowned King James VI. The Earl of Moray is appointed Regent.
1568 ~ Mary escapes her captivity at Loch Levan Castle. The following day the Regent of Scotland pays a messenger boy sixteen shillings to deliver a letter to Lord Home at Fast Castle concerning her escape.
Ten days later Alexander Home leads a victorious force against the deposed Queen at the Battle of Langside, where he suffers wounds in the face and leg. Those who supported Mary are captured and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. Sir William Scott is detained at Fast Castle
1570 - The rising of Catholic Barons of England in support of Mary are forced to flee across the Border into Scotland where Lord Home of Fast Castle provides support to the rebels, placing Fast Castle on a footing for an expected siege. Queen Elizabeth believes the castle is to be used to allow the rebels to escape by sea to the safety of the Western Isles, so she sends forth an army to capture Lord Homes Castles. Fast Castle's garrison of ten men surrender without a shot being fired once faced with an English army numbering 2,000 soldiers. The keys are handed over by Lady Home's servant to the English.
1582 - The castle passes to the Logans by marriage but after their involvement in the Gowrie conspiracy, when James VI (aged 8) is abducted by the Earls of Mar and Gowrie, the castle is forfeited, and Logan charged with high treason.
1606 - Logan dies and his remaining estates are forfeited.
1609 - Logan's corpse is dug up and put on trial.
1871 - The ruinous castle is further damaged by lightening.