Edinburgh Castle! It’s long been a place I’ve wanted to visit, and I was so excited when we arrived in Scotland’s capital. We were staying just off the Royal Mile, so we were walking distance to this critical monument of Scottish history and identity. We were up early on a Saturday morning to get to the castle early. Not just because it’s a popular attraction in Edinburgh, but also because the Fringe Festival was running, and there were crowds everywhere. We were at the gates of the castle before the opening time, but it was already crowded! Luckily we had fast-track passes (due to our purchase with Historic Scotland, more information here if you’re looking to do the same), so we were in straight away!
The first thing we did was admire the views over Edinburgh. Trust me, this was something I could have done all day! It’s no surprising that Castle Rock, on which the castle is built, has been used as a fortress site since at least 100 AD… you can see everything! I particularly liked the views looking out over the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife beyond, as well as back towards Athur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. Stunning!
We set out to explore the castle, starting with the prisons. The castle has actually housed prisoners from 1758 through to World War Two, although not consistently. What I found very interesting was just how many different nationalities were imprisoned in the cells… French, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Danish, Polish, German, and even American! The cells are set up to look authentic for different time periods, and you can even read actual graffiti carved by prisoners, many, many years ago!
We next entered Crown Square to visit the most sacred parts of the castle; The Great Hall, The Royal Palace, St. Margaret’s Chapel, and the Scottish National War Memorial. The Great Hall was first built in 1511 for King James IV. The hall was later converted to a barracks, and its great beauty hidden. However, today its interior is the most striking in the castle. I was quite swept away with the exposed 500-year old wooden beams towering above my head, the bright red of the walls, and the display of weapons everywhere!
The Royal Palace was next, and this is famous for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, King James VI of Scotland and I of England in 1566 (for my visit to Queen Mary’s childhood home, Stirling Castle, please click here). The Royal Palace also houses Scotland’s Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs for hundreds of years. Understandably, you can’t take photos in this part of the castle, but they were certainly a sight to behold! If you keep an eye on the queue from outside the Palace, you should be able to slip in when it’s relatively quite… we had enough time to admire everything!
We next went into the the War Memorial followed by St. Margaret’s Chapel. The chapel was once exclusively used by the royal families of Scotland, and dates to 1130, making it the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh! Whilst the stain-glassed windows are more recent, the decorative arch around the altar is original. It’s hard to believe that this holy place was actually used as a gunpowder store in the fifteenth century, its original importance only rediscovered in 1845!
After one final look out over the city from the Half Moon Battery, we had to move on from Edinburgh Castle, although we could have stayed to visit the National War Museum and Regimental Museums. We only had a day and a half in Edinburgh, and there were many sights we wanted to check out.
However… that’s not the end of our time at Edinburgh Castle! We returned that night for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the reason why I fell in love with the site in the first place! The line to get in was long, but moving very quickly, so we were soon in our seats, a couple of rows back and right in the middle of the parade ground. I wish I had a second set of eyes, because I wanted to look at everything! The Lochiel Marching Drill Team from New Zealand, Jordan Armed Forces, Nepal Army Band, and Hjaltibonhoga Shetland Fiddlers were amongst my favourite performers, but nothing could top the mass pipes and drums at the end of the evening. The atmosphere was rich, reaching its peak when we held each other’s hands and sang Auld Lang Syne. I will never forget the whole evening for as long as I live!