Positioned on a promontory of land guarding the Firth of Forth, Fast Castle has had a colourful history including extended periods of occupation by English forces, embroilment in several attempted coups and later, once abandoned and ruined, was used for smuggling and ship wrecking.
The natural defensive position of Fast Castle, situated on a headland jutting into the Firth of Forth, probably meant it was the site of an Iron Age promontory fort. However the first recorded reference to any defensive structure there comes from the first half of the fourteenth century. At this point we know the castle was occupied by English forces following their victory at the Battle of Neville’s Cross fought near Durham on 17 October 1346. During this battle a Scottish force, invading northern England in support of the French who were suffering at the hands of Edward III, were defeated resulting in the capture of David II of Scotland. Seizing the opportunity afforded by the power vacuum caused by the King's imprisonment, the northern magnates attacked. In conjunction with Edward Balliol (would-be claimant to the Scottish throne), Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland and John Neville invaded the Scottish borders. Fast Castle was taken by them at this time.
The castle remained in English hands even after the Second War of Scottish Independence ended with the Treaty of Berwick in 1357. However in 1410 a force led by Patrick Dunbar, second son of the Earl of March, seized it. Granted as the dowry for the Earl's daughter, Fast Castle became property of the Home family (sometimes referred to as Hume and whose family seat was at Hume Castle). In 1503 they hosted Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII, at Fast Castle as she travelled to Edinburgh for her wedding to James IV.
When Sir Patrick Home died in the early sixteenth century, his son Cuthbert Home succeeded him. But his tenure was short for he was one of the many Scottish nobles slaughtered at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. King James IV of Scotland also died in the battle igniting a power struggle between John Stewart, Duke of Albany and Alexander Home who now owned Fast Castle. Initially appointed as one of the counsellors to the Queen, he initially supported the Duke's quest to become Regent. But once in place the two men soon quarrelled and Alexander prepared Fast Castle for war. In 1515 he devised a plan to capture the young James V and hold him in Fast Castle but his plan failed and he was outlawed. The Duke of Albany attacked Fast Castle, successfully took it and installed his own garrison. A surprise attack by Alexander re-captured the castle but he had insufficient forces to hold it and therefore he slighted it to deny it to the Regent. In October 1516 Alexander was captured and executed.
Fast Castle was rebuilt by George Home in 1521 but the reign of Henry VIII saw regular warfare with England. In particular the Rough Wooing (1543-50) was an attempt (by the English) to force a marriage between Prince Edward (later Edward V) and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. During this war George Home was killed fighting in the Battle of Pinkie (1547) after which his lands, including Fast Castle, were occupied by the English and placed under the command of Sir Thomas Gower, Marshall of Berwick. The castle itself remained in English possession until returned by the Treaty of Norham in June 1551.
The castle was back in the ownership of the Home family by 1566 when they hosted a visit by Mary, Queen of Scots. However her regime soon destabilised resulting in her imprisonment at Lochleven Castle. She escaped and rallied her forces but was defeated at the Battle of Langside and she subsequently fled to England. These events helped prompt a rebellion in northern England - the 'Rising of the North' - led by Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland and Charles Neville, Earl of Westmorland. It seems Lord Home supported them for when the rebellion was suppressed the Earl escaped to Scotland and Elizabeth sent forces to occupy the castle.
Fast Castle was returned to Scottish ownership in 1573 and thereafter passed to Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig, a descendant of Sir Patrick Home. He died in 1606 but he was posthumously implicated in the Gowrie conspiracy - allegedly an attempt to kidnap the King James VI - that had occurred six years earlier. He may well have been guilty as charged for he disposed of many of his lands and estates prior to his death including Fast Castle which was sold to Archibald Douglas of Pittendreich in 1604. George Home, Earl of Dunbar reclaimed the castle for his family in 1606. However, after his death, it was sold to James Arnott. Thereafter it was briefly re-acquired by the Home family until finally sold to Sir John Hall of Dunglas whose family held it until the twentieth century.
With the Union of the Crowns in 1603 the importance of Fast Castle declined and it was allowed to drift into ruin and eventually became a haunt for smugglers. On a more sinister note it was also used by ship wreckers who lit the castle to deceive ships into thinking they had found a safe haven. Instead they were smashed on the rocks, their crews killed and cargoes stolen. It is from this that the current name derives - Fast being a corruption of Faux meaning false.
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Fast Castle occupies a dramatic coastal location. There are only limited masonry remains but the defensive qualities of the site are obvious. The ruins can be accessed by the relatively fit and agile but extreme care must be taken due to sheer drops.
Fast Castle. The castle occupied a promontory of land jutting out into the North Sea.
Fast Castle Layout. Despite its location, the castle was surrounded by a curtain wall. The seaward side had a postern access where steps led down to the water.
Ditch. The castle was separated from the mainland by a ditch cut into the rock. A drawbridge provided access. A concrete causeway has been put in place in recent years.
Fast Castle is situated on Dowlaw Farm. It is accessed from Dowlaw Road, a single track road that connects to the A1107 - take the turning marked Dowlaw. There is a dedicated lay-by for visitors to the castle and the footpath itself is relatively clear (see further detail below).
1. Once you’ve parked the footpath to the castle is sign-posted. Follow the path with the woods to your right and cross a stile:
2. Follow the path:
3. Cross the second stile and then go through the gate in the top right of the picture below:
4. Once through the gate the track splits in two. Head to your right and follow the path to the left of the wall shown below. Keeping the sea to your left and the path now (eventually) leads to Fast Castle.
5. Once at the castle use extreme care if entering the monument itself. As the photo below shows, the steps are eroded and the sloping stone slab is perfectly angled to deposit the unsteady off the cliff-edge!