Exploring the Edinburgh Castle
The Edinburgh Castle looms over the Scottish capital replete with history and secrets, let us explore what it has to offer
When I first googled the castle, all that I found out was that the Edinburgh Castle is haunted. Pictures of hauntings and scary stories are all over my search history. I hate horror stories and anything got to do with paranormal activity. It’s too spooky and threatens my precious sleep. The decision was quite obvious, skip the castle, there are many others to see in the United Kingdom.
It took our tour planner a lot of time to convince us to change our minds. And thank god we did!
To be very honest, after my very creepy google search spree, I didn’t have the guts to go back and do any research on this castle. I was a complete novice about it. Mary Queen of Scots or Queen Margaret- I was in the dark.
Nothing prepared me of what was going to come.
It was during the bus ride from the Edinburgh Airport to the Edinburgh Waverley Station when it happened. I was admiring the small cottages and the yellow fields beyond, something I had never seen before. It was my first day in the United Kingdom, hence the bus ride from the airport, and I was taking it all in.
As we entered the city, looking about, the bus took a turn and that was when I had an awe-inspiring moment. I looked up and gasped. The enormous Edinburgh Castle was looking down at me from the mountain. And what a lovely site it was!
The castle looked intimidating in all its glory.
I felt stupid to have even considered to let this opportunity go. I was definitely going to explore this castle and explore I did.
After a quick lunch, we made our way to the Grassmarket area of the Old Town of Edinburgh. We climbed up the stairs and the castle got bigger and bigger until we stood right at its massive gates.
Up close to this mighty fortress you can feel the history resonate and tell stories of people who once called this castle home.
Before we explore the castle, clear a common misconception-
Years ago in the 11th century, Scotland had its own monarchy. The King of Scotland Malcom III and his wife Queen Margaret settled in this castle. The English throne in the south was separate. It was not until the Acts of Union in 1707 that the two countries merged together to form Britain under a common Monarch.
We passed the now dry moat and up through the Portcullis Gate, another fortification to protect the Castle. Armed with a map in hand, it was clear that the Castle would probably take a full day to explore closely.
We took a faster tour, exploring some of the important places in about an hour or so (I’m the type of person who loves to spend hours in such places so that was quick for me).
The guards dressed in Kilts also act as guides and are really kind. They told us to make our way to the War Memorial to see the mini change of guards ceremony.
Here on, we began our tour-
The Half Moon Battery
The Half Moon Battery is a set of canons that look over the New Town of Edinburgh. They were installed as a latter fortification to the Castle. From here you can see amazing views of the city down below. From the massive Edinburgh Waverley Station to the busy Princes Street.
Under the Half Moon Battery lies a secret. The David’s Tower once stood on this place and the Battery was added over it. The old Tower was forgotten for centuries after it was destroyed and only found 105 years ago in 1912!
The Mons Meg is the oldest resident of the Edinburgh Castle. It was gifted to James II in 1457 by the Duke Philip of Burgundy.
This huge canon would be fired only a few times a day. It would get overheated quickly due to gunpowder. The Mons Meg has a capacity to fire about 150 Kgs of Gunpowder in a single time and a range on 3.2 kms!
Unfortunately the Mons Meg burst in 1681 whilst firing a salute to the future King James VII.
For 75 years, Mons Meg called England home until 1829 it retuned home convoyed by the cavalry and infantry from the Leith docks.
Ever since then the Mons Meg stands on the castle walls representing its history.
St Margaret’s Chapel
Queen Margaret, the wife of King Malcom Canmore, was the first Queen to live in the Edinburgh Castle. She was a devote Roman Catholic.
After her death in 1093 AD, her son David I built a chapel and named it after her. She was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1250AD.
This Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Scotland. The original arch remains intact. However the stained glass is relatively new.
During the 16th century, the Chapel was converted to a gunpowder storehouse and even bomb proofed. Luckily this tiny little chapel was rediscovered and given the honour it deserves. Couples now get married here and young baby’s christened.
What is funny is that the Chapel is looked after by the St Margaret’s Chapel Guild. This Guild is formed by women whose names are all Margaret!
The War Memorial
The War Memorial building was built to remember the Scottish Soldiers who lost their lives. This beautiful memorial houses old books which record the brave men who went down fighting.
Scottish soldiers who perished in both the World Wars and military campaigns post the wars, are all honoured here. Poppy wreathes remember the numerous lives lost for the country.
The memorial signifies courage, peace, justice and the survival of the spirit.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall was built by James IV in 1511. He didn’t get to enjoy his creation for long passing away two years later.
The moment you step in, your gaze lifts up to the marvellous ceiling. The giant beams in rich brown shade are beautiful and they are wooden!
The arms that line the Hall are also numerous.
What most visitors don’t know is that the Great Hall had a beam installed in its walls which let a person spy over the people in the Hall. This beam was closed up when Mikhail Gorbachev was to visit the castle. He never did make it here though.
Prisons of War
You mustn’t forget and think it was all about the royal pomp. This castle also housed several prisoners. These prisons are now open for people to see.
The first prisoners on the castle were a bunch of french privateers in the 18th centuries. The others were Americans, Polish, Spanish, Italians, Dutch, Irish and Danish.
The life on these prisoners have been put on display for visitors. The hammocks, clothes and the dark dungeon, is all very sinister and cold.
Once a set of prisoners managed to flee from the prisons. They made a hole in the castle walls, one that can be seen even today. What an escape!
Explore other places in the UK: London Hidden In Plain Sight
The Royal Palace
The grandest of places to visit in the Edinburgh Castle is the Royal Palace.
A stark difference from the prisons, the Royal Palace was a place of ease and abundance.
In one of these rooms, Queen Mary of Scots gave birth to James VI. He would later go on to unite the Scottish and the English thrones on his succession through his lineage.
The best room here however is the one that houses the Scottish Crown Jewels. And these crown jewels are on display! Photography however is not permitted.
The Scottish Crown Jewels are called ‘Honours of Scotland’ and are one of the oldest surviving crown jewels in Europe. They were made for James IV and James V. The Crown Jewels were first used for the coronation of Queen Mary of Scots.
After Queen Mary of Scot’s grandson, Charles I was beheaded in London, the jewels were sought after by his successor Oliver Cromwell. They did a good job and hid them successfully from him.
In 1707 after England and Scotland merged by the Acts of Union, the Crown Jewels were kept away in the Crown Room forgotten for a 100 years. They were rediscovered by Sir Walter Scott in 1818.
Another artefact to sit next to the opulent Honours of Scotland is the Stone of Destiny or Stone of Scone used in the coronation of Scottish Monarchs.
The Stone of Destiny was taken to Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. It remained in the Abbey till four Scottish students removed the stone. It was found on the altar of Arbroath Abbey.
The other places to explore are the Regimental Museum and the Queen’s Embroideries. If you are at the Castle around 1 o’clock make sure to listen to the One O’clock Gun fired 6 days of the week since 1861.
That was about all the places I explored inside the castle. I had an excellent time.
Read on to find out about its long history….
The Long History
The history of the Edinburgh castle goes way back millions of years.
This castle stands on a dormant volcano. The hot lava that once poured out from here cooled over time. The glaciers then formed possibly during the ice age and helped cut up this volcanic lava hill into a strategic military base.
Fast forward to the Bronze Age in 900 BC, settlers called this area Castle Rock as home. By the late 1st Century, Castle Rock had a fort on the hill called Din Eidyn. These were the initial beginnings of the future Edinburgh Castle.
In 1018 AD, Malcom II King of Scotland took over the Castle after the Gododdin Empire and the Northumbrians.
The future King, Malcom Canmore III was the first Scottish Monarch to call Edinburgh Castle home.
The mightiness of the Edinburgh Castle can be explained by its history of sieges and conquests. The English captured the fort several times and the Scottish recaptured it back.
New fortifications were added over time to make the castle stronger. One of them was the David’s Tower. This tower was built by David II in 1367 AD. It served as the entrance to the Castle. It stood tall with 3 storeys something to laud in its time. Unfortunately about 200 years later in 1571-3, it was destroyed due to the Jacobite’s Lang Siege and forgotten for centuries.
The Half Moon Battery was built over it. It was rediscovered in 1912.
Over the times many Scottish Monarchs have called Edinburgh Castle home. They made it fit for a Royal Residence. However the last monarch to spend a night in this castle is Charles I before his Scottish Coronation. That was 384 years ago.
In its long line of history, the castle was damaged in the First World War after being hit by German Zeppelin airship bombs. The Edinburgh Castle is made to withstand such arduous times and here is stands over the city for all to see.
The Edinburgh Castle might never welcome the Royal Family for an overnight stay but it definitely welcomes 1 million annual tourists.
On a closing note- it is rather wicked to stand mighty and high over a city for centuries. What secrets would these walls have heard and seen?
Have you been to the Edinburgh Castle? Share your memories in the comments below.