Edinburgh Trip Part Two - Edinburgh Castle
The very minute you arrive in Scotland's capital city always begins with a short stop to admire the wonder that is Edinburgh Castle. Rising out of the volcanic rock the castle is not only one of the most important landmarks of Edinburgh, it also stands as a powerful embodiment our Scottish culture and identity.
During my recent trip to Edinburgh, a visit the castle was at the top of my to-do-list. After checking into my hotel, I quickly glanced at my watch and noticed it was 12.40pm, I needed to make my way up to the castle as quickly as I could. To find out why you will have to keep reading, all will be revealed in a few paragraphs into this post.
Arriving at the castle's Esplanade around 12.50pm, there was no time to admire the panoramic views over the parapets of the esplanade with me ticket in hand I briskly made my way to the main entrance.
The castle itself is a collection of various structures built at various stages of the castle's turbulent history. Standing proudly facing the Esplanade is the castles magnificent Gatehouse, which is the main entrance to the castle complex. Let me tell you an interesting fact about this rather grand entrance. Up until the 1880's the man entrance to Edinburgh Castle consisted of a simple gate. As part of a series of improvements, it was decided that the Castle was in need of a more imposing and much grander entrance. Walking over the bridge to enter the castle you are met by two figures from Scotland's history. To commemorate the 600th anniversary of King Robert the Bruce's death in 1929 two bronze statues of King Robert the Bruce and Sir William Wallace were set in to the façade of the Gatehouse. Sadly I couldn't stop for too long I was in a rush!
Once inside, and with my guidebook in my hand, I started the climb up the steep cobbled streets trying to take in the impressive surroundings as I walked. As I approached Mills Mount Battery I could see a crowd forming and I could see they were just as excited as I was about witnessing an Edinburgh tradition which famously happens everyday except for Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day. Luckily I had arrived in plenty of time, and taking my place in the crowd I prepared my camera to capture what was about to happen. With everyone with their mobile phones and camera up in the air (my camera included), we waited patiently for the clock to strike one o'clock. As much as you can do to prepare yourself, when the One O' Clock Gun gets fired, the noise that fills the air is beyond what anyone expects and the sound of surprise from the crowd is always rather entertaining to hear.
The One O' Clock Gun is now a quite a spectacle which is always a great point of interest for tourists visiting the castle, but its origin had a more practical purpose. In 1861 the One O' Clock Gun was introduced at Edinburgh Castle in order to help shipping in the Firth of Forth. In order to navigate correctly, a ships crew must calibrate the correct time with the position of the sun. So firing the gun at precisely one o'clock this signal can be heard be crews sailing up the Forth. With the sound of the gun still ringing in my ears I then ventured to the highest point of the castle where the oldest structure is situated.
In around 1130 King David built a private chapel which he dedicated to his mother Queen Margaret, who was later canonised in 1250. it is unlikely that the structure we know today was built to stand alone, it may have been part of a larger structure. Much later during the Wars of Scottish Independence, King Robert the Bruce instructed that the castle should be destroyed so that it could not be captured by the English armies. Out of reverence to St Margaret, it was the only structure on the site that was allowed to remain. Located proudly in front of the chapel stands a magnificent relic of the castle's medieval past.
Mons Meg is a colossal siege canon which was forged in the Belgian town of Mons in 1449. Sent as a gift to James II in 1457 by his wife's uncle, the Duke of Burgundy, the canon was at the forefront of military technology. After being in use for over for over a century, Mons Meg role became a more ceremonial one as an advances in canon manufacturing sadly made it obsolete. In its ceremonial role, Mons Meg was fired to celebrate important occasions in Scotland. Sadly in 1681 when being fired to mark the birthday of the Duke of Albany (later to become James VII & II), the barrel of canon was damaged beyond repair and was never fired again. With the threat of the Jacobite rising in Scotland, in 1754 Mons Meg was taken to the taken to the Tower of London. By the 1820, the people of Scotland wanted it back so after a lengthy campaign it was finally returned to Edinburgh Castle in 1829, where it has been one of the main points of interest for people who visit the castle today. The next stop on my whistle stop tour of Edinburgh Castle is what I believe to be was the jewel in its crown.
A short distance away there is a rather impressive enclave filled with the history of the great and the good of Scotland. Crown Square is an open courtyard which is surrounded by the former royal buildings of the Stuarts and the National War Memorial of Scotland.
As you walk into the square you are immediately surrounded by magnificent buildings all around and for me it took a minute or so to decide which building I wanted to visit first. Standing proudly on the north side of the square is the splendid National War Memorial of Scotland. In 1923 the garrison left the castle and the Northern Barracks which stood on the northern side of Crown Square became vacant and this site was soon to be selected as the new memorial site. The architect selected for the new memorial was the great Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer. Working with the very best artistic craftspeople Scotland had to offer, Lorimer created a magnificent monument to those who lost their lives during the First World War. As the years have past, the National War Memorial of Scotland is now a national memorial dedicated to all of those who has lost their lives not only during the First and Second World Wars, it is also a memorial the casualties in all conflicts after 1945 also.
The interior of the Memorial in my opinion is even more beautiful than its exterior. Walking around the Hall of Honour I was really quite emotional as I saw all the names of the battles sculptured into the stone. Just around a year ago I was standing in some of those places during my visit to some the First World War battle sites in France and Belgium and seeing the names really brought the memories of my trip back to me. At the very heart of the memorial is the shrine where a beautiful silver casket sits under a carved oak sculpture of St. Michael both designed by sculptor Alice Meredith Williams. Inside the silver casket is the name of every person who lost their life in the First World War. With this casket located on the highest point in the city of Edinburgh this is the greatest honour Scotland could give to those brave men. Leaving the monument I arrived back in Crown Square, which was principle court of the castle during the time of the Stuarts.
Crown Square as we know it today has many names and may purposes over the centuries. In the 15th century James III, influenced by royal courts of Renaissance Europe, he planned a whole rearrangement of the royal apartments of the Castle which would be centred around a central courtyard which was to be named the Palace Yard. For this grand scheme to happen, ground had to be built up from the volcanic rock. To do this in the 15th century would have been an extremely difficult and treacherous task. Due to the death of James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn, it was the responsibility of his son James IV who took on the responsibility of fulfilling his fathers vision.
Although Edinburgh Castle had been a royal residence from the 11th century, it wasn't until the 16th century that the palace within the castle was the backdrop to its most important event. On the 19th June 1566 in a small room within the palace, Mary Queen of Scots, gave birth to a son. With in the space of 14 months a series of extraordinary events occurred resulting in the crowing of this child as king. After reigning for may years as James VI of Scotland, at the age of 37 he became king of England after the death of Elizabeth I. Taking up residence in his new kingdom, James VI & I left his homeland and the role of Edinburgh Castle as royal residence was greatly diminished.
In 1617, James returned to his birthplace for the first and last time since he left Scotland to celebrate his Scottish Golden Jubilee. In preparation for the kings arrival, a series of renovation and remodelling work took place. It was during this time that many of the rooms we can visit today were created. The Crown Room, which was one of the rooms created at this time was designed to house The Honours of Scotland and it is here we can visit them today.
Located at the top of a well-trodden turnpike staircase, within the former royal apartments is a superb exhibition dedicated to the fascinating history of the oldest crown jewels in Britain. The sceptre and sword of State were both created in Italy during the Renaissance and were gifts from two different Popes. The Crown was refashioned by the goldsmith John Mosman for James V. Using the existing crown and adding and extra 61 ounces of gold and a number of extra gemstones, Mosman created what we see today. In 1996 there was a significant addition to the Honours of Scotland. On the 600th anniversary of its removal from Scotland, the Stone of Destiny was returned and is now on display in the Crown Room.
I could have quite gladly stayed the whole day at Edinburgh Castle but sadly I had to go, there are so many things to see and do in Edinburgh and believe it or not I had a fully planned itinerary before I left so I needed to head off to the next attraction on my list. I can assure you that I will definitely be visiting Edinburgh Castle again, with so much to see and do I will definitely be spending the whole day there the next time. They even have a fantastic gift shop too!
If you would like more information about Edinburgh castle please visit the castles website - https://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk
I really hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy blog post and all the images I took during my visit. In my next instalment about my Edinburgh trip I look forward to telling you all about my trip to Her Majesty the Queen's Official royal residence in Scotland, The Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Thanks for reading!
Hugh at ReClick Photo.