19 Nov 2014
“Let’s buy an apartment over there.” David pointed through the light rain down to Newtown. We were standing on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, which is more Fortress than Royal Residence. Seduced by cheaper-than-London prices, and Edinburgh’s access to the Highlands, he’s been fantasising about buying a place here for a week now. (Note to our parents: don’t panic, you know this happens everywhere we visit)
Back to the sweeping views over the city.
“Let’s synchronise the audio commentaries: one, two, three, go” rugged up against the cold damp rain we continued our exploration of this foreboding castle. Skipping the national war museum we climbed to the Upper Ward through Foogs Gate and started the tour at St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving structure both in the castle and in Edinburgh. It was built in 1124-1153. Coming from a ‘young’ country, I find surviving Medieval structures fascinating. Mons Meg was next, an enormous 15th century siege cannon.
I was looking forward to seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels, which have an interesting history of being hidden for years from the English aggressors, forgotten and lost for years. They were rediscovered in the 19th century and only returned from England in 1996. There was a long-winded exhibition to walk through before reaching the vault room. We had paid for the audio-tour and listened to explanations on our headsets but the exhibition itself had audio that clashed. The audience is expected to read posters of information whilst listening to spoken information. It made for a confusing mess, in my opinion.
We were forbidden to take photographs, so this image is from the castle’s website: Edinburgh Castle
We spent the next few hours exploring inside the castle at a much more enjoyable pace. The Great Hall was the most interesting room, decorated with ancient armory. The Castle was only used as a Royal Residence during times of trouble or uncertainty. We saw a tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James I.
Soon it was time to stop for hot tea and cake before venturing down into the spooky dungeons and Prisons of War. Deep down in the damp dim vaults of the castle, the rooms are set up as they might have been when 1000 men were held captive. Spanish, French and Italian, all crammed into double layers of scruffy hammock beds. I can’t imagine the crowded conditions. Prisoners carved graffiti into timber doors which were on display in one of the rooms. It made interesting reading, they even carved pictures of their war ships from the 1700’s.
In the neighbouring building was a military prison from the 1800’s where solders caught breaking the law would be incarcerated. One guy was in there for three months in solitary confinement for being drunk on duty.
By the time we emerged into the courtyard it was raining and time to go back and enjoy our ridiculously decadent room. That night we had dinner in the Witchery restaurant.