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Edinburgh Castle Review
The Castle at Edinburgh at Castlehill
The Castle on the Hill
Edinburgh Castle is a very popular visitor site, as we learned from the extremely long line (the queue) of tourists waiting to purchase tickets to enter and tour this multi-centuries old fortress.
On the day we went to tour the castle, it was overcast and rainy. Not usual weather for July we were told. The castle itself was built on volcanic rock. It is known as Castle Rock. People were living on that site as early as 900 BC.
The castle was dated back to at least the 12th century. It is still maintained by a small military garrison and the "Honours of Scotland" are on display there. They are better known as the Scottish Crown Jewels, the crown, scepter, and sword of state. They are the oldest symbols of royalty in the United Kingdom.
The scepter dates back to 1494. It was a gift from Pope Alexander VI to the Scottish King James IV, the grandfather of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The Sword of State was another gift to King James IV from Pope Julius II in 1507. Pope Julius is also the same pope that commissioned the infamous artist Michelangelo to paint the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The sword's blade is broken in two pieces. The myth surrounding this relates to the Legend that required the bearer to break the sword down into smaller pieces in order to hide it. The broken sword, the crown, and scepter were all placed in a parcel used to sneak them past Oliver Cromwell's army in 1652.
The current crown dates back to 1540 when King James V had it refashioned as the previous crown was damaged.
The most notable part of the castle tour for us was the 12th century St. Margaret's Chapel.
We heard that it is still used today by military officers for wedding ceremonies.
The chapel itself has some very ornate stained glass windows, but it is quite small. I imagine most of the wedding party stands outside. If you did stand outside the chapel, you would be facing the very dominating figure of the infamous Mons Meg. It is a six ton, 15th century cannon that fired 330 pound "gun stones".
St. Margaret's Chapel
Did you know - this Medieval Castle Still Hosts a Contingent of Active Military Personnel?
The castle also boasts the location of the "National War Museum of Scotland". We found several old ledgers located throughout the reception hall that lists every Scot who fought in battle. We are allowed to sort through them to locate ancestors. We saw several other tourists searching through these manuscript replicas for their own ancestors.
At 1 o'clock every day, the onsite active military performs a traditional ceremonial firing of the cannon. The cannon overlooks Princes street and tends to scare the unsuspecting tourist when it is fired. We had the opportunity to watch from the heights of the castle as people on the street scattered and jumped in response to the loud "boom". Oh what fun that was!
We were told that in the old days the firing of the cannon was the official clock time and all the residents would adjust their own clocks to match it.
If you happen to be in Edinburgh during August of each year, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place at the castle. It is a parade of the pipes and drums of the Scottish military. We were too early to witness the Tattoo, but I am sure we would have enjoyed that parade very much.
A Street in Edinburgh
Other Notable Items
The view from the heights of the castle is marvelous. There is a panoramic view of the city of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth (Bay of Forth).
The city itself is quite old. The buildings, statues, and Kirks (Churches) are all built from stone or marble. Most of the streets still show that they were made out of cobblestone.
We walked almost everywhere in the city, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and underground Edinburgh at King Mary's Close. King Mary's Close is a series of hidden streets from the 17th century. The Tour of the Close consisted of walking underground in a medieval street that is covered by the current Royal Mile. It harbors a very interesting set of displays and history with focus on the Black Plague and the strange looking apparatus the doctors wore while treated the victims. Hint: It gives you an idea of where the word "quack" comes from.
July 2017 update:
We had the opportunity to revisit the City of Edinburgh on our second trip to Scotland. This time, we rode the train into the city from Esk Valley station. It was a very nice train ride that deposited us near the main attractions and shops. This trip, in addition to walking and shopping on the main streets, we also visited the Museum of Scotland. This museum is free and HUGE. Plan to spend all day there if you get the chance to see it.
The Greyfriars Bobby Memorial
Let Us Not Forgot Bobby
Lastly, any trip to Edinburgh would not be complete without exploring the Greyfriars Kirkyard, where the legend of Greyfriars Bobby came from.
As the legend goes, John Grey was a night watchman for the Edinburgh Police Department. He and Bobby, a Skye Terrier, were inseparable for two years before John Gray died in 1858.
He was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard. The Legend says that Bobby stayed at his grave site for the next fourteen years. It was rumored that he only left the grave to eat food provided by locals.
In 1857, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh paid for Bobby's dog license to prevent him from being destroyed. Bobby then became the responsibility of the Council. Bobby died 5 years later and is buried in the gate area of Greyfriars Kirkyard. As a dog, he could not be buried in the actual graveyard.
Currently, there is a statue with a fountain dedicated to Bobby on the street near where he is buried. The fountain contains a lower bowl to allow for dogs passing by to be able to drink from this memorial.
I especially enjoyed visiting the memorial and nearby Kirkyard as I had heard the story of Greyfriars Bobby and had seen the Disney movie as a child.
See pictures below:
The Greyfriars Kirkyard
Fun Fact: The Scots did not convert entirely to the metric system. Even though we purchased beverages and petrol by the liter, all the current road signs still use the standard mileage as the distance measurement as opposed to metric kilometers.