Ruthven Doocot, Dirleton. Photo: Tom Drysdale
We are very fortunate to have in Dirleton Castle one of the best preserved doocots in Scotland - the Ruthven Doocot.
East Lothian, along with Fife, has one of the best concentrations of surviving doocots in the country, with about a hundred remaining examples. That so many survived may be because it was considered bad luck to destroy them, with a death or misfortune sure to follow. the same year.
Doocots arrived with the Normans and were often built within the grounds of castles (as in Dirleton) and stately homes. Their purpose was to house pigeons or doves to provide a supply of fresh meat throughout the winter months, at a time when refrigeration did not exist to preserve meat, and many farm animals were killed before the winter as it was too costly to feed them. Depending on size, doocots tended to house between 500 and 2,000 birds. But eventually the use of doocots themselves was discontinued as the birds became a nuisance, feeding on crops such as winter wheat.
But while they were in use, the birds were also valued for their eggs and their feathers were used to stuff pillows, as reputedly not only did you sleep soundly but also lived to a ripe of age. The abundant dung could be collected from the doocots and used for fertilizer, to soften leather and as a source of saltpetre for gunpowder.
The Dirleton doocot is a beehive shape with a domed roof. Another common shape was the lectern which was more angular with a roof sloping in one direction usually towards the south - Tantallon has an example of this shape. The Phantassie Doocot at East Linton is a beehive shape with a monopitch roof. Another interesting variant is Lady Kitty’s Doocot in Haddington which is an ornamental eighteenth century style with unusual Gothic detailing.
Look at pictures of numerous doocots using this link
And why not tramp a few muddy fields this winter in search of them?