Blackness Castle: The Ship that Never Sailed

Blackness Castle: The Ship that Never Sailed

Jump to visiting information for Blackness Castle.

Pretending to be Fort William

I know season one of Outlander came out a long time ago, but humor me. If you can, think back to Jamie and Claire’s dramatic escape from Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. After outwitting Black Jack Randall, the two leave his office and make their way to the battlements of the fort. From there, after a diversion in the form of an explosion in the courtyard, the couple jumps into loch and swims to safety.

Problem is, there is no fort at Fort William anymore.

All that’s left of Fort William nowadays is the foundations and parts of the walls, sitting on the edge of Loch Linnhe. The water in Loch Linnhe gets gradually deeper at Fort William, like the water at a beach. Which is why, in the book, Jamie and Claire escape by climbing over the wall. But, again, sometimes changes are made in order to make for good watching.

Along those lines, a fort was needed to film those scenes. After all, the whole capture and subsequent escape would have proved much less interesting if the heroes of the story had jumped from two-foot-high walls. Instead, they found a contemporary castle with similar battlements and which also enjoyed a position along the water: Blackness Castle.

Blackness Castle
Blackness Castle

History of Blackness Castle

Built in the 1440s by Sir George Crichton, Blackness Castle reflects the oddity of its creator. From the ground, you don’t really see it. But if you go inside and up onto the walls, you will. The castle walls have an odd shape, and the buildings inside where designed to fit inside the unique outline. From the high angle, you can make it out.

The castle looks like a ship. Its bow points out into the Firth of Forth, looming over the water. The walls resemble a hull, the keep a mainmast, and the residence the stern cabins.

The reason behind the interesting shape is really quite beautiful. The lives of the people who lived on and near that promontory were tied inextricably to the water. Crichton designed his castle as an homage to their livelihood. He had it made it to look like a ship from the water, earning it a nickname.

The ship that never sailed.

Blackness Castle ramparts
The ramparts of Blackness Castle, looking out toward the Firth of Forth

A Functioning Castle

The castle served as the port for Linlithgow, supplying the palace there with shipments that arrived via the Firth of Forth. There is even an entrance to the castle courtyard from the water side of the castle. So, sailors could bring their wares directly from the ship and into the safety of the castle courtyard.

Here’s an interesting coincidence for Outlander fans. Blackness Castle served as a prison, much like Fort William.

Blackness came under control of the Crown in 1453, and James VII and II almost immediately set about transitioning the castle into a prison for the nobility. The keep was divided into several apartments, and valuable prisoners were kept under house arrest in furnished apartments. Apartments which had plenty of room for servants to accompany them, so…rough?

Blackness Castle keep
Blackness Castle keep

Decline and Restoration

The castle fell into disrepair. In the 1650s and 1660s, the Crown restored the castle in order to hold the large influx of Covenanting prisoners during the religious conflicts. Later, the castle was used as an armory. During the World War I, UK forces used Blackness Castle with its waterfront loading areas as an ammunition depot for ships stationed in the North Sea.

Today, Blackness Castle is a protected monument and open to the public. It also makes the occasional appearance on TV shows, such as Outlander.

(For the record, at high tide the water in the Firth of Forth would be deep enough for Jamie and Claire to escape Blackness Castle by jumping into the water.)

Forth Bridges
The Forth Bridges, as seen from Blackness Castle

Visiting Blackness Castle

Getting there: Linlithgow is the nearest stopping-off point for those of us bound by public transit. I walked from Linlithgow train station to Blackness Castle, because it was a lovely fall day, but I don’t necessarily recommend doing so. It’s about a four-mile walk, and roughly half of that is along a windy country road with no sidewalks. I ended up hitchhiking the last bit in order to avoid being hit by cars coming up behind me. A safer alternative would be to take the train to Linlithgow, and transfer to a local bus which runs between the town square and the castle every 15 or 20 minutes. Plan your trip here.

Admission: Entrance to the castle is £6 for adults and £3.60 for children. Historic Environment Scotland members go free.

Opening hours: From March to September, the castle is open daily from 9:30 – 5:30. From October to March, the castle is open Saturday to Wednesday from 10 – 4.

Good to know:

  • Historic Environment Scotland maintains Blackness Castle, which is responsible for many of the historic monuments in Scotland. If you’re planning on visiting more than one castle, take a gander at HES memberships. Members receive free admission at all sites, as well as a discount in the book shops and cafes. I cannot recommend it enough – I got my money’s worth, just by visiting two castles!
  • There are some nice picnic areas around Blackness, so make a day of it!
  • I walked from Linlithgow out to Blackness. While I’m all in favor of a nice walk in the fresh air, I don’t recommend this one! The sidewalks disappear about halfway there. After that, it’s just you walking down a rather busy country lane. I very much recommend that you make use of the local bus!

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