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HOME AT FIRST's

ADVENTURE

SCOTLAND

Great Castles of Britain

8th of a series

 Edinburgh Castle

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

AUGUST'S ANNUAL MILITARY TATTOO AT EDINBURGH CASTLE                                   Photo © VisitBritain / Pawel Libera

        The classic castle, like great art, is difficult to define. Ask anyone to describe his or her idealized castle and you may get the same answer you commonly hear for great art: "I know what I like, and I’ll know it when I see it."
        We love castles — of all shapes and sizes and all states of repair. We have our favorites, too, just like we have our favorite music and painters. In this series we present castles we have enjoyed and hope our enthusiasm compels the reader to make their own pilgrimage to these great shrines of history and monuments to imagination.
        In this, our eighth entry of the series, we submit one of Britain's greatest fortresses, protector of the Scottish capital and warehouse for some of Scotland's , and stage for the annual drama known as the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Great Castles of Great Britain.

This UPDATED article first appeared in JUNE, 2007.                                               MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

 

          In a land known for its many castles with rich histories in dramatic settings, Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most visited fortress. But despite Scotland’s tumultuous history, Edinburgh Castle has seen relatively little action, although it did fall to England’s King Edward I (“Hammer of the Scots”) in the siege of 1296, only to be retaken by Robert the Bruce’s daring men in the great war of Scottish Independence in 1314. The castle fell again to the Protestant English (and their anti-Mary Queen of Scots

Entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Photo Mike Mullen © Home At First.
EDINBURGH CASTLE ENTRANCE

Photo Mike Mullen © Home At First

Scottish supporters) in the Long Siege of 1568, and fall a third and final time to the

The castle dominates Edinburgh's skyline, as it has since medieval times. Photo Mike Mullen © Home At First.
EDINBURGH CASTLE DOMINATES THE CITY'S
SKYLINE AS IT HAS SINCE MEDIEVAL TIMES.

Photo Mike Mullen © Home At First

anti-Catholic English and Scottish forces of joint monarchs William & Mary in 1688. With its religious uncertainties, battles for independence, confusion over the Scottish royal lineage, and power struggles and intrigues among jealous Scottish nobility, the castle’s complex history mirrors the political history of Scotland.

          Despite its importance as keeper of Scotland’s most important national symbols and its location atop the nation’s capital city, Edinburgh Castle was not always the seat of Scottish kings or home of its most beloved queen, Mary Queen of Scots, who was born in Linlithgow Palace, and crowned

in Stirling Castle, but who did gave birth to son and future

King James VI of Scotland and King James I of England in a little room in the Royal Apartments at Edinburgh Castle.
          The iconic castle — a key part of
the World Heritage Site of Edinburgh — perched on its great up-thrusting basalt pedestal, looks every bit the part of the impregnable fortress. The castle dominates Edinburgh's skyline, as it has since medieval times. It provides Scotland with its high-tech economy best known for international banking and North Sea oil riches a symbol of timeless strength and security any financial services organization would covet.

          The Scots are nobody’s fools. They recognize the real power of Edinburgh Castle is both symbolic and theatrical. Each year come August they feature the castle as the setting of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a sort of martial Olympics atop the Mt. Olympus of Scotland, with more fireworks than the Fourth of July and more noise than if the Shriners and Hells Angels had a joint motorcycle convention. Sure, the Scots could sell a lot more tickets if

Edinburgh Castle viewed from Princes Street Gardens. Photo courtesy www.britainonview.com.
EDINBURGH CASTLE VIEWED
FROM PRINCES STREET GARDENS.

Photo courtesy www.britainonview.com

Edinburgh comes alive during August with three great annual events: the Military Tattoo at the castle, the Edinburgh Festival, and the Fringe Festival, which take place at venues throughout the city. Here a street juggler performs during the Edinburgh Festival. Photo: www.britainonview.com/Grant Pritchard.jpg
A STREET JUGGLER
PERFORMS DURING
THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL.

Grant Pritchard
Photo courtesy www.britainonview.com

they moved the Tattoo to a football stadium with acres of parking somewhere in the sprawling Edinburgh ’burbs away from congested Auld Reekie there’s no public parking at all at the castle but that would miss the point. The Red Sox need Fenway. King Kong needs the Empire State Building. And the Tattoo needs the Castle.

          Edinburgh comes alive each August with three great events: the Military Tattoo at the castle, and the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe Festival, which take place at venues throughout the city. Because the three events draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Edinburgh in August, tickets to all three events should be ordered months before the date of any specific performance.
          Since 1999 Scotland has been a semi-independent member of the United Kingdom, with its own Parliament meeting down Princes Street a Royal Mile’s distance from the Castle. Symbolic of Scotland’s return to nationhood
was the return from London of the Stone of Destiny,

Scotland’s traditional coronation stone that had been held at

Westminster Abbey since taken by the forces of England’s King Edward I (“Longshanks”) 700 years earlier. The Stone of Destiny now rests in the castle’s Crown Room with the same ancient crown, scepter, and sword that attended the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle in 1543. Guarding the Crown Room, and indeed Edinburgh Castle itself, is a force of Royal Scots Guards still garrisoned at the castle.

          Despite their uniform kilts and Scottish brogues, Edinburgh Castle’s guards are in the service of the queen and the United Kingdom, and continue a centuries-long tradition of the castle as a military installation, as visitors will immediately notice. Outside the castle entrance there are cannons along the ramparts. One modern weapon, the One O’Clock Gun, fires daily (except Sunday) and loudly to help Edinburghers keep watches and clocks accurate. One late-medieval weapon, Mons Meg, is also on display, but no longer heaves 300lb stone cannonballs up to 2 miles from the castle walls as it did between the 15th and 17th centuries. Inside the castle is a treasury of militaria of all kinds, from medieval armor to flags, badges, medals, and citations to the British units that call Edinburgh Castle and Scotland home.
          Not all the castle’s military commemorations are

Kilted guard at Edinburgh Castle. Photo Mike Mullen © Home At First.
KILTED GUARD AT
EDINBURGH CASTLE.

Photo Mike Mullen
© Home At First

Access to medieval Edinburgh Castle is by a steep, cobblestone ramp. Photo Mike Mullen © Home At First.
ACCESS TO MEDIEVAL EDINBURGH CASTLE
IS VIA THIS STEEP, COBBLESTONE RAMP.

Photo Mike Mullen © Home At First

devoted to the Scots. One special exhibit remembers prisoners of war of many nations who were warehoused at Edinburgh Castle, including the crew of John Paul Jones, the honored war admiral of American Independence, whose graffiti and prison art are on display.

          Also on display are one of Edinburgh’s oldest structures, 13th century St. Margaret’s Chapel trendy for intimate weddings and a fine late medieval Great Hall (1511) with its splendid decorated Gothic hammerbeam ceiling. Many visitors, however, prefer the vast exterior views of Edinburgh and north to Fife afforded from the castle’s perch. Other than the city’s

landmark Arthur’s Seat, there’s not a better seat overlooking Edinburgh.


 

IF YOU GO –

TO EDINBURGH CASTLE

  Getting There:
     From Home At First’s
Edinburgh Apartments, the
        castle is within a mile. Walk or take a city bus up
        to Prince’s Street from New Town.
     From Home At First’s
Central Scotland lodgings,
        drive 25-60 minutes (depending upon your start point)
        to the ScotRail train station at Dunblane. Park your car
        (free parking here!) and take the train (operates every
        half-hour most days) for the just-over-one-hour
        journey to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. The lowest
        round-trip fare for this journey is currently £10.
     From Home At First’s
Glasgow Apartments
, take
        the city bus to Glasgow’s Queen Street Station or
        Glasgow Central Station. From either station trains
        operate at least half-hourly to Edinburgh’s Waverley
        Station. The lowest round-trip fare for this journey is
        currently £13.
     From Waverley Station to Edinburgh Castle: it’s a
        walk of just over ½ mile (south from Waverley Station
        on North Bridge St. 200 yards to High Street; west on
        High Street for 800 yards to the castle); or take any of
        Edinburgh’s hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses.

  Opening Times & Admission:
     Edinburgh Castle is Open: April–Sept. 9:30AM-6PM;
        October–March 9:30AM-5PM; Closed Dec. 25-26.
     Admission: £16/adult, £13/seniors 60+, £10/child 5-15.
     Self-Guided Tours: 64-page souvenir guidebook £5;
        or by rented audio device: £3.50/adult, £2.50/seniors 60+,
        £1.50/child 5-15.
 

 


 

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Great Castles of Britain

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