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Macduff's Castle, East Wemyss

A Scheduled Monument in Buckhaven, Methil and Wemyss Villages, Fife

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Latitude: 56.1626 / 56°9'45"N

Longitude: -3.0577 / 3°3'27"W

OS Eastings: 334408

OS Northings: 697158

OS Grid: NT344971

Mapcode National: GBR 2F.HP0T

Mapcode Global: WH7SV.0C7K

Entry Name: Macduff's Castle, East Wemyss

Scheduled Date: 6 December 2022

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13759

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Wemyss

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: Buckhaven, Methil and Wemyss Villages

Traditional County: Fife


The monument comprises the remains of Macduff's Castle, a medieval courtyard castle with later additions. The monument is located on a sandstone cliff above Wemyss Caves, Fife, overlooking the Firth of Forth.  


The monument is a medieval courtyard castle that survives as upstanding structures, wall footings, masonry tumble and buried remains. The most prominent element is the southwest tower which dates to the first half of the 16th century. It is built of ashlar masonry and survives to four storeys in height. The ground floor is vaulted and there is a projecting round stair tower at the northeast angle. The northeast tower dates to the 14th century but was mostly demolished in 1967 and now survives as an overgrown mound of rubble. Between the remains of the two towers is a linking range of buildings, orientated northeast-southwest, which contained the entrance into the courtyard. Although now very fragmentary a small section of this range survives to first storey level where it meets the southwest tower. 

A further range of buildings extends seaward from the southwest tower and there is an enclosing wall to the north, west and south. There would have been a further range of buildings along the inside of the northern stretch of this enclosure, now reduced to foundations. The western wall is punctuated by wide mouthed gunloops and in the southwest corner is a small circular tower which would have originally been mirrored by another in the northeast corner. 

The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The top 300mm of all modern paths and the above ground elements of any fences are specifically excluded from the scheduled area. 

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17): 

a.   The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as a medieval (AD1000 – 1500) and post-medieval (AD1500 – 1600) castle. In particular, it adds to our understanding of the development of castellated architecture and the siting of castles in the landscape.

b.   The monument retains structural, architectural and other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, the southwest tower survives almost to wall head height and retains important architectural features such as a gunloop and projecting circular stair tower. The outer enclosure wall is significant as it demonstrates the impact of firearms on castle design. There is also significant potential for the preservation of buried features and deposits dating to medieval and later phases of occupation.   

d.   The monument is a particularly good example of a multi-period castle which shares similarities in its development to other castles of a similar date.  It is therefore an important representative example of this monument type.

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, the study of the architectural details would contribute to our understanding of Scottish castle architecture; archaeological research could establish the earliest phases of occupation at the site; historical research could provide a better understanding of its phases of construction and its later use.

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to today's landscape and our understanding of the historic landscape. In particular, it provides a powerful physical reminder of the area's medieval and post-medieval past. The monument can also be studied alongside other castles in the area, as well as Wemyss Caves and nearby quarry remains to better understand their relationship. 

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument is a good example of a multi period courtyard castle. There are major phases of development during the late 14th century, 16th century and late 16th/early 17th centuries.  Castles are a fortified building or complex of buildings mainly constructed during the medieval period. Castles could remain in use for an extended period of time and were administrative and economic centres as well as the fortified residences of societal elites. Castles were often expanded or remodelled to accommodate changes in function, technology, architectural style and ownership.  

There is the potential that an earlier fortification belonging to the MacDuff earls of Fife may have existed at the site. However, the earliest identifiable phase of occupation is the northeast tower which was constructed in the late 14th century. Although this tower is now extremely fragmentary, earlier descriptions indicate that it was a gate tower with vaulted transe at ground floor level. This suggests that this was a gate tower, with the castle planned with a courtyard from the outset. The upper floors of this tower were accessed from a first-floor doorway with the first floor taken up by a great hall spanned by a barrel-vaulted roof. In the 15th century this was converted into a kitchen and the ground floor entrance gate passage was likely to have been blocked when the access arrangements were remodelled in the first half of the 16th century with the addition of the southwest tower and a linking gate range. These changes are characteristic of 16th century developments in Scottish castle architecture where there was a trend to bring the main buildings of a castle together to form an impressive frontage with a central gateway. A similar development can also be seen at St Andrews Castle (scheduled monument SM90259 ) and Ravenscraig Castle (scheduled monument SM90244), both in Fife.

The 16th century range joining the two towers was of two stories above a vaulted ground floor which contained the main entrance. Evidence shows that this range had a timber gabled roof which sat behind a crenelated and corbelled wall walk along the front elevation. Drawings by Alexander Archer show that this range had collapsed by 1838. The 16th century tower house contained apartments and bedrooms. The range extending from its south-eastern side was likely a bakehouse and brewery. The range of buildings to the northeast may have been used as a stable block and workshops. A circular dovecote contemporary with the castle existed on the foreshore but was lost to coastal erosion in the late 20th century. The enclosure wall and ranges of buildings to the northeast and southwest are likely to date from the late 16th to early 17th century. We know the castle was habitable until at least into the late 17th century when Lady Jean Wemyss sent a letter requesting for her children to stay there should plague break out in Edinburgh. 

The castle has several defensive architectural features such as the enclosing wall with wide mouthed gunloops for small cannon which are typical of the 16th century. At the southwest end of this wall, a small tower survives with gunloops to the north and east. Above the ground floor door in the southwest tower there is a defensive opening. Below this is the space for an armorial plaque of the Colville family, this was removed and is now at Wemyss Castle (listed building LB16709). 

There is high potential for the survival of important archaeological remains below the present ground surface. We can expect structural remains such as traces of earlier fortifications and ancillary buildings to survive. Such remains can enhance our knowledge of the layout and phasing of the castle. The archaeological remains may include pits and middens along with artefacts and environmental information that can help us better understand the daily domestic life of the inhabitants, their society, economy and trading contacts.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

The monument is located in a defensive position on a sandstone cliff overlooking the Firth of Forth with unimpeded views of the surrounding area. The castle, clearly visible from land and sea, would have been an impressive statement of power. Castles have a wide distribution in Scotland and are a common monument type. Macduff's Castle is one of a number of castles and elite residences found along the Fife coast. To the southwest is West Wemyss house dating to the 16th century (Listed Building LB16671; 3.5km) and Wemyss Castle (Listed Building LB16709; 2.5km) which was also constructed in several phases over the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. St Andrews Castle (scheduled monument SM90259) and Ravenscraig Castle (scheduled monument SM90244), Kirkcaldy, are also examples of impressive, coastal castles in Fife where towers were linked by an impressive gatehouse range.   

Evidence suggests the monument exploited the nearby Wemyss Caves (scheduled monument SM817). Pottery dating from the 13th-15th centuries has been found during archaeological excavation at Court Cave, while Doo Cave has been interpreted as a Dovecot for the castle and Well Cave, which could have served as a source of fresh water, was accessed from the castle via a 'postern' - small side entrance - and external stair. There are quarry remains and evidence of consolidation of the foreshore to the northeast which are thought to relate to the construction of the castle (Canmore ID 72437). 

There is the potential to study the monument in relation to other castles along the Fife coast and Scotland more broadly as well as its relationship to other nearby features such as the quarry remains. This could help us to better understand the monuments construction, relationship to other fortifications and their development over time. Studying features such as the Wemyss Caves and their associated archaeology can tell us about how the monument made use of and expanded its influence in the surrounding landscape.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The monument is traditionally associated with the MacDuff family who were Mormaers and Earls of Fife between the 11th and 14th centuries, although it is likely that name, Macduff's Castle, was applied much later when the castle ceased to be a residence. Before then documentary sources and maps indicate that it was names after the barony, Easter Wemyss.  In the 14th century the castle and lands of Easter Wemyss appears to have been owned by the Wemyss family. The Wemyss family name comes from the geographic area of Wemyss, the name meaning place of caves in Scots Gaelic. This area is well known for caves along the coast, including those in the immediate area. 

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 53974 (accessed on 12/07/2022).

MacGibbon D and Ross T (1887) Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, vol. 4. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press, 1990. (accessed on 25/07/2022) (accessed via‌_domestic_architecture‌_scotland4.pdf ).

Archer A (1838) 'Macduffs Castle, from the north-east (18/9/1838)' in the Collection of Papers of Alexander Archer, artist, Edinburgh Scotland. Available at

SCAPE (2017) MacDuff's Castle (accessed on 25/07/2022) (accessed via


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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