The wonders of Hawthornden Castle

Hawthornden Castle is the base of an international writing retreat and I was very privileged to spend the last month there, thanks to the generosity of Mrs Drue Heinz. Here are some pictures to show you what it was like.  These photos are of the castle itself, a warm red sandstone castle built on a rock jutting above the River Esk which meanders through a glaciated gorge and once the home of William Drummond. You can apply to go there too!  But please don’t apply in 2021 as I want to go back!  (Fellows have to wait five years before you re-applying)



Here are the beautiful grounds:


Inside the rooms are beautifully laid out and yet cosy. Pictures of writers crowd the walls.



Fellows are very well looked after and we had a soup and sandwich lunch left outside our door every day. Supper  was a delicious home-cooked meal and I had porridge in a pewter bowl for breakfast.


The view of the Pentland Hills can be seen from various vantage points although I never made it there.  Here is Wallace’s cave upstream on the Esk and Mavis Bank, downstream of Hawthornden.  Such a treasure trove of stories!  I did get to Rosslyn Chapel and to Edinburgh where I loved the National Gallery and did some reading in the Scottish Reference Library and in the Scottish Poetry Library. But the Hawthornden Library is crammed with books and I studied many new and old poets. With very little internet signal and no television there are few distractions except for fun and games with fellow Fellows but only after supper. From 9.30-6.30 there is a rule of silence (but we left each other notes).


Hawthornden is pronounced with the stress on the last syllable.  Very few people locally seem to know where it is and indeed, while walking about, I often felt completely baffled as to my direction and position in the landscape. Hawthornden is a strange pocket in time and place and is built on top of a labyrinth of caves. So many layers!


















About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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7 Responses to The wonders of Hawthornden Castle

  1. mavisgulliver says:

    Sounds wonderful, Becky. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have often wondered what it would be like and you’ve given a very clear picture. I’m tempted.

  2. Go for it, Mavis. The deadline for applications is probably June so you need to get the form and give it all a good think in advance and you need 2 refs so that needs setting up, too!

  3. Loved reading all this Becky – what an experience you had. Your photographs are wonderful – I love the idea of porridge in a pewter bowl too. It sounds like a real retreat and I bet you got lots of writing done. How many of you were there? The rule of silence and the notes made me smile. Thanks for sharing this experience – what with Sri Lanka and this, you have had a brilliant start to building your memories for this year.

  4. Nice to hear from you, Valerie. There were 6 of us that month but sometimes there are 7 and sometimes 5. I was the only poet and the novelists would say ‘Oh, I wrote 2k words today’ or whatever and I tried not to squeak too loudly! Ha ha The whole thing was remarkable but
    I rather hope the rest of my year is quieter!

  5. Caroline D says:

    Lovely blog and it sounds as if you had a productive time. I too was amused about the rule of silence and the notes as a means of communication. I loved the photo of the lunchtime hamper left outside your door. I really must work out how I might manage to get away for a month and apply.

    • Hope you do, Caroline. One bit of advice is maybe don’t apply for the summer as June is over-subscribed because that is the only time the academics can go and the Castle is not used in the July and Aug slot anyway. Just a thought.

  6. E.E. Nobbs says:

    So pleased to see the photos and hear about your adventure, Becky. So much history to be surrounded by!

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