Secrets Below Pitreavie Castle

A bit of imagination is needed here to unravel one of Fife’s secrets. Behind you is Pittencrieff House – this isn’t where our story takes place but it’s of a similar age and style to Pitreavie Castle (seen in the picture). 

The Castle is around 2 miles southwest of here, built in the early 17th century and extensively remodelled in 1885. In the mid-20th century, it served a national need.

Can you guess what was located below the Castle?

  1. A Nuclear Bunker
  2. A Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and NATO command centre 
  3. Scotland’s National Art collection hidden during WW2
Pitreavie castle south elevation
Pitreavie Castle, south elevation.
Fife Cultural Trust (Dunfermline Local Studies) on behalf of Fife Council.

The answer is 2! 

Started in 1615, the house was originally built by Henry Wardlaw, a close ally of King James VI (James I of England).  When James left Scotland to rule Great Britain, Wardlaw was given responsibility to look after Dunfermline. The Battle of Pitreavie was fought nearby, on 20 July 1651, in the English Civil War. 

The house changed hands over the years but lay empty until it was bought by the Air Ministry in 1938. A concrete bunker was built in the basement, serving as the command centre to coordinate World War II operations of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Coastal Command. After the war ended and throughout the Cold War, RAF Pitreavie was the second most important naval headquarters in Britain, with the Royal Naval Reserves and HMS Scotia based there.

A separate building in the grounds was built as the Headquarters of NATO’s North Atlantic Area. But as the threat reduced and budgets were cut, the operational responsibilities were passed to other locations and, in 1996, the base was closed. The underground bunkers were sealed using concrete and the additional buildings removed. 

Today, the castle has been converted into private flats.  

While we may never know what military plans and decisions were made there, we do now know the secret of Pitreavie castle’s basement that lay hidden for so long.

More of the story and historic photos can be found in the links below: 

Pitreavie Castle Combined HQ
Unit History: RAF Pitreavie Castle
Battle of Pitreavie