History in the Making

The Secrets of Edinburgh Castle, Travel Thursday

When I lived in Ireland, my mom came to visit me for a week! It was a jam packed week and we did quite a few things, but one of my favourite parts was our trip to Edinburgh. For anyone who is interested in Royal history or Scottish history (both of which I am), Edinburgh is a fascinating city. Although it has played host to some utterly fantastic events (see: Lord Darnley’s death), it still seemed quite a quiet and peaceful city. We stayed within the Royal Mile. While there is so much more to be explored, we wanted to see pretty much everything on the Mile, and we only had two days! We figured we might as well focus on that rather than running ourselves ragged. On the Tuesday, we walked up the Mile and started with Edinburgh Castle.

The Secrets of Edinburgh Castle

The View

Edinburgh Castle is located on Castle Rock, and overlooks the city. Aside from a few buildings, most can be dated to the sixteenth century. St. Margaret’s Chapel dates back to 1286, and although is quite small is still one of the most impressive existing buildings I’ve seen to date. The Castle was used by the Scottish sovereign until the reign of Charles II- from that point until 1923, it was used a garrison for army troops. It’s pretty incredible to think that Robert the Bruce and Mary, Queen of Scots spent a great deal of time here, and were privy to key historical events. (Although, to them, I suppose it was just their life.)

When you walk up to Edinburgh Castle up the Royal Mile, it is a fairly intimidating site to behold. It is considered the be at the head of the Old Town, and it’s easy to see why. You can look down on the entire city from the Castle, and you have an absolutely beautiful view of the mountains. It’s not difficult to imagine how a fourteenth century monarch would feel in control- attacking this castle would not be an easy feat. Being the Canadian that I am, I was overjoyed when it snowed while we were there! I felt somewhat akin to my Scottish ancestors, though I doubt they had a Columbia jacket….

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle View

Edinburgh Castle Entrance

Those Phonebooths

I hadn’t seen many red phonebooths in Edinburgh prior to this, so I was quite excited! (UK readers, do you think tourists are ridiculous for looking for red phonebooths?? Please be honest). For me, there was something funny about the juxtaposition of a red phonebooth and a 500 year old castle. Must be the historian in me.

Edinburgh Castle Red Telephone Booth

That Chapel

Now for St. Margaret’s Chapel! What’s the big deal you ask? As I mentioned before, the Chapel dates back to 1286. Which means that it is probably the oldest building in Edinburgh. It was built by David I in honour of his mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland. She was an English princess who married Malcolm III of Scotland. She was an incredibly pious woman and dedicated essentially her entire life to religious devotion and works. The chapel is tiny, really. After seeing however many huge cathedrals, this chapel struck me. It might be tiny, but it has heard the prayers of countless Scottish royals.

Edinburgh Castle St Margarets Chapel View

Edinburgh Castle St Margarets Chapel

In the first photo, you can see St. Margaret of Scotland, and in the second, William Wallace. (This might be a bad time to admit that I have not seen Braveheart the entire way through.)

Edinburgh Castle St Margarets Chapel Stained Glass Window 2

Edinburgh Castle St Margarets Chapel Stained Glass Window 1

When you look outside and below the chapel, you actually see a small pet cemetery. The dogs of soldiers are buried here, which I think is a fitting resting place.

Edinburgh Castle St Margarets Chapel Pet Cemetary

That Queen Mary

For those of you that don’t know, Mary, Queen of Scots is one of my favourite historical figures. ( Please see these posts here and here.) Also known as Mary I of Scotland, Mary had a turbulent life- she was the Queen of France until her husband died, and she went back to Scotland. She remarried twice to some fairly questionable men (whole other story, or should I say stories). The big deal with Mary is that she had a strong claim to the English throne. Believe it or not, her cousin Elizabeth I wasn’t overly happy about this, kept her prisoner for almost two decades, and then eventually executed her. (You probably won’t ever look at your cousins the same way again.) Mary gave birth to her son at Edinburgh Castle; you might know him as James VI of Scotland, or James I of England and Ireland. I spent quite a bit of time in Mary’s rooms. This bust was quite alarming…

Edinburgh Castle Mary Queen of Scots

Edinburgh Castle Mary Queen of Scots Chambers 3

Edinburgh Castle Mary Queen of Scots Chambers 2

Edinburgh Castle Mary Queen of Scots Bearings

Edinburgh Castle Mary Queen of Scots Bearings 2

Edinburgh Castle Mary Queen of Scots Ceiling

Edinburgh Castle Mary Queen of Scots Log Remains
I have been to quite a few British forts that still exist in Canada, but it is interesting to see an existing fort in the UK. Our guardhouses certainly do not look like this…

Edinburgh Castle Guardhouse

Overall, Edinburgh Castle was simply lovely. I couldn’t begin to describe how much I enjoyed it. Although the military museum portion didn’t really hold my attention (I’ve never had much interest in it), I could have spent days roaming around the entire Castle. If you don’t have a lot of time in Edinburgh, I would put this at the top of your list. The views are stunning, and there is more history in one place than you could ever hope to see. All of those names that you continuously hear in television, movies, and books were real people that were really living their lives here. Making your way down the Royal Mile is never a bad thing in my opinion.

Edinburgh Castle Me

What has been the most impressive site or attraction that you have visited? Have you been speechless anywhere?

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!


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34 thoughts on “The Secrets of Edinburgh Castle, Travel Thursday”

  • What an interesting and detailed article. I love Scottish history and have great memories of visiting Edinburgh Castle in 2011. Some other sites that have stayed with me were the Vatican and a little Roman ruin in a suburb of Bordeaux, all covered in vines and weeds. So many beautiful historical buildings in the UK and Europe. Here in New Zealand, we’re such a young country and prone to earthquakes. So history is hard to find.

    • I need to make my way to Italy, there is so much to see!! We have some buildings in Canada that date back to the 18th century, but it’s mostly early 19th, and to a medieval history, that is pretty much today haha. What I love about places like Edinburgh Castle and the Tower of London is that there are so many different periods within such a small space!!

  • Looks like good ol’ Scottish weather! It was grey, rainy and cold when I went there! You’ve reminded me – I still haven’t done my Edinburgh Castle post. I’ve so many pictures to share. The Mary Queen of Scots rooms were closed when I was there – thanks for sharing your pictures. I’ve never thought about her regal signature before (MR) and that dark ceiling looks quite oppressive.

    • For a Canadian, it was positively balmy haha! That makes me sad to hear that they were closed, it was very cool to see them. (I was heartbroken that I couldn’t take pictures of her chambers at Holyroodhouse, though, so I totally understand.) I wish that my signature was also simple and bold as Mary’s- that R says it all! I couldn’t imagine giving birth in that room. (Well, I can’t imagine giving birth at all, but especially not in a room that small and dark!)

  • This is so gorgeous!! I love that castle…although to be honest my favourite part is seeing all the views out to the rest of the city!

    Its a shame you went on a day with such a white sky, it becomes stunning in the sun!!

    • Aww, thank you, Josy ??? I love the snow and dark of the winter, so I was okay with it for the first visit (it made everything so dramatic haha) but next visit MUST be properly sunny and bright for me to see everything! We certainly spent more time indoors, I would love to be able to pay more attention to the grounds next time!!

      • Edinburgh is funny like that. I have been a few times when it is all blue skies and stunning AND a few times when it is depressingly drizzly, but it is always gorgeous.

        Hopefully the sun will appear for you next time!

          • Oooh that is a tough one. Maybe Carton Hill because the pillars look amazing whatever the weather.

            I want to say Arthurs seat, but I’ve never made it up there. 🙁

            • I wanted to see Arthurs Seat so badly, but alas, clearly the weather was not in agreement. I’m hoping I can do a proper 5-7 days in Scotland next time I’m there, but at least 3-4 days to get out of the city more! My dream is to make it to the Highlands 🙂

              • I feel your pain! I have used to visit with work, and a few times I woke up SUPER early to try to climb up there before my meetings…but each time I’d try I woke up to rain or fog. 🙁

                I’d love to go to the Highlands too! Although I also really want to explore just south of the boarder in Cumbria as well! There are just so many pretty places!

  • hehehe I jerked to full stop when I read this…
    You haven’t seen Braveheart all the way through!!?
    I have to admit, when I toured the castle, I was a bit disappointed (but not surprised) to see how far the movie deviated from historical events.
    And despite 3 attempts, I’ve never managed to make it through the whole Mile at one go. Those friendly scotch/whiskey shop owners have a way of pulling me in for a “few” free samples and colorful stories.

  • Amazing, amazing. I enjoyed your historical commentary as well as seeing the sights here from your camera lens. I’m fascinated by history–though I don’t study it. I’m curious about the everyday lives of people great and small. Today as I was driving I thought about how a simple cut on the finger could easily lead to death… as romantic as movies sometimes make these times, the realities are much more complex. Thank you for your thoughts and perspective. I want to go to Scotland in the next few years, and this will be a spot on my route for sure.

  • Edinburgh is possibly my favourite city and I always wanted to live and study there. I had one issue- a weird phobia since childhood. I HATE the Scott Monument! It gives me jeebies. Too gothic! I did once face the fear and climb inside it. I couldn’t look at it if I were in it?

  • I’ve got Ireland on my bucket list. I love your photos and I plan on seeing the castle when I’m there. Ypu’ve definitely peaked my interest. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • I used to live in Edinburgh. If I’d known you then we would have done all the non-tourist things. Locals avoid the Royal Mile. We got married there. It was lovely, but it made Neil feel kinda dirty.

    • I can totally see why people avoid it- because we only had two days we concentrated there because it’s easier AND there are so many historical spots in such a small distance. (And I’m trying to see all of the current royal palaces haha) I’m hoping to get back in the next three to five years, so I will be coming to you for recommendations!!!

  • That took me back to a visit there many moons ago. Dank and dark was the day, and the castle cast an imposing view overlooking the city. Lovely post combining the history with your trip too. Interesting read indeed 🙂

    • Thank you, Gary!! I know that as a historian I am more interested in history than most but I think that it is a fantastic trip for everyone!! The maintenance and education at EC is so well done, it’s well worth the trip ?

      • Personally I love history; it has so many lessons nobody seems to consider when they make the same mistakes!! I ought to revisit Edinburgh outside of the dark autumnal rain that fell when I was last there lol

        • I actually prefer the dark/the winter (easier to bundle up than deal with heat) but I would certainly visit again if you can see more!! And no one ever seems to think of history before doing anything ? Chances are, SOMEONE has done what you are doing before!!

          • So with you; if it’s cold you can put something on; if its hot you run out of things to take off! Mind you hot to me is secondary to humidity. I hate that part most. Totally with you on history too. I’ve said it many times in voluntary committees too… “Why don’t we try this?” Troll previous Minutes and chances are it has been tried and documented WHY it was stopped. If you can’t find it documented then maybe you have something!

            • That is entirely how I am hahaha! We get both extremes (40 to -45 C) and I find that it’s much easier to stave off the cold than the heat. And humidity just gets to me! It’s terrible for my arthritis and I just end up feeling like a bump on a log! …. History is SO useful. I sit on several committees and councils, and I am that broken record who asks “When was the last time we tried this and what was the outcome?”. People may roll their eyes but there is value in history!!

              • What really gets my goat is when people think they have just come up with a great idea and seek accolades when you know it’s already been done before. Might be why they never read back through things. Always want to be the one to change and do something “new.” Pretty annoying as that just repeats mistakes…oh my soap box approaching !!!

  • I kick myself because there are so many historical and cultural places that are here in the UK and I haven’t been!!!! Great post!

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