The castell toure and fortalice biggit be Patrik Dowglas of Kilspindie

Kilspindie Castle, Aberlady – not the most exciting ruined castle to visit, and only two definite facts are known about it. Yet it was directly involved in some of the most dramatic episodes in Scotland’s history …

The ruins of Kilspindie Castle stand in the Glebe Field, between the church and Aberlady Bay. They consist mainly of a short stretch of wall with a narrow doorway and a gunloop next to it.

IN OCTOBER 1612, King James VI’s parliament met in Edinburgh. It got through a great deal of business over the course of a few days, including shutting down the parish church at Gullane and ‘translating’ it to Dirleton because it was ‘incommodiously situated beside the seashore’ and ‘continually overblown with sand’.

One of Parliament’s actions was to ratify – that is, give the official stamp of approval to – a charter of February 1611 by which Alexander Lindsay, bishop of Dunkeld, handed possession of the lands of ‘Abirladye’ to ‘his majesty’s trusty and well-beloved councillor, Sir Alexander Hay, knight’.

The bishop’s charter specifically excluded the manse and glebe at Aberlady – the minister’s house and the land that kept his household provided with food – which were set aside for ‘the ministers serving the cure at the kirk’. 

However, it included the estate farm, ‘the mains of Aberlady’, along with ‘lands called the mansion and bakehouse croft adjacent thereto’. It included ‘the teind sheaves of the same’ – the tithe or tenth part of the produce of those lands, consisting mostly of wheat, barley and oats, which would usually be payable to the feudal owner, in this case the bishop.

It included ‘the office of bailiary … with all liberties, privileges, casualties, fees and duties belonging to the said office’, giving Sir Alexander the right to collect the teinds of all the other estates in the parish of Aberlady – those of Luffness, Ballencrieff, Gosford and Spittal – as well as the tends of the crofts belonging to the householders living in the town itself.

And it included ‘the links of Aberlady with all their pertinents, together with the castle tower and fortalice built by Patrick Douglas of Kilspindie upon the north part of the said lands of Aberlady towards the sea’.

The Douglas legacy

This record from 1612, telling us that the castle was built by Patrick Douglas, is actually one of only two definite known facts about the castle. The other is from many years later and tells us that it was built in 1585.

However, that isn’t the start and end of the story. Quite the opposite. As soon as you start trying to figure out who Patrick Douglas was, and how he came to build a tower here, you come to appreciate how a small, quiet place like Aberlady can be caught up in momentous events in Scotland’s history.