On Saturday we travelled to Edinburgh to visit our son. I was inspired by Linda of Occasional Scotland, who posted photographs of the castle brazier and reflected that although she walks by the castle often, she hadn’t been to visit it. So I suggested to my family that we should splash out and go. We could not have chosen a more perfect day: there was a chilly breeze up there, but unrelenting sun and amazing views. I wanted to share our visit with you!
If, as we did, you start out from Waverly Station, there is a beautiful and gentle climb up The Mound and from there to the Royal Mile, which leads you to the esplanade in front of the main entrance to the castle. You cross the moat and the slats of the wooden bridge (not looking down, if you’re me) and pass under a portcullis built into an extremely tall and thick rampart. You then queue for tickets for a bit, and once you’ve got right of entry, you proceed to climb up through what the leaflet calls the Castle Gates:
You soon find yourself coming into a very wide cobbled plaza (probably not the official term for it). It might surprise you to see mature trees growing from the rock. And it also might surprise you that some people actually live in the castle. Below is a photo of the Governor’s House. One of the brass plates says “Private Residence”: according to the official website (link at the end of this post), it’s where the Master Gunner and the Storekeeper live, and is the entryway to the Army Officers’ Mess. Also according to the website, it’s haunted!
We happened to arrive here not long before the 1:00 salute, and watched the Master Gunner (I presume) fire it off. We all waited, and then when it went Bang, we all jumped and went Oh! And then everyone laughed. From here, the cobbles take you gently upwards, and you pass under the innermost gateway, called “Foog’s Gate”.
Once through the gate, you’re on the uppermost level of the castle, high above the city. It is amazing that even up here there are a lot of things growing:
Ahead of you are a number of buildings, including the massive quadrangle where the Scottish Crown Jewels are stored. We queued and went through the exhibition to be able to see the Scottish Crown Jewels. We were particularly interested to see them, as during Cromwell’s reign they were hidden near Aberdeen, first at Dunottar Castle near Stonehaven, and then at Kinneff Church a bit further south. (I visited Kinneff Church with my friend Gay last June.) But I was also interested to see a relatively small building, which stands by itself: St. Margaret’s Chapel. It was built in 1130 by David I of Scotland, and according to Historic Scotland it’s the oldest building in Edinburgh.
The chapel itself is very beautiful, with modern stained glass of some of Scotland’s saints (Columba and Ninian) and Saint Margaret herself.
Who was St. Margaret? According to the Edinburgh Castle website, she was born into the royal family of England in about 1045. After the Norman invasion in 1066, she came to Scotland where she fell in love with, and married, King Malcolm III of Scotland. Margaret was very religious, and well-known for her acts of charity. In 1093, Malcolm and their son Edward were both killed fighting the Normans, and Margaret died of a broken heart. Her youngest son, King David I, built the chapel to her honour in 1130. She was canonised in 1250.
How amazing to think of what Scotland and the world was like in those days – almost everything was covered in forest, and the sea was the main highway. It’s quite incredible what people managed to accomplish, and how erudite and accomplished they were. St. Margaret’s prayer book – copied and illustrated by hand, of course, as she lived more than 300 years before the invention of the printing press – was on display in the chapel, but it was so crowded that I didn’t get to see it.
We enjoyed the views from the top level of the castle – not only looking across the city, but also looking down onto the Dog Cemetery, which you can see below. This is where officers’ pets are buried. One headstone that we were able to read said: “Winkie, dear and faithful friend of Lady Gow and the Governor. Died 1980”.
Coming back down, we had a great view across the Firth of Forth to Fife (try saying that quickly!):
If you want to find out more about Edinburgh Castle, this link will take you to their website, which includes a virtual tour (click on “Tour the Castle”). Thank you Linda, for the nudge to go. It really is a great place and I’ll appreciate it more now when I see it from a distance.