Highlights of Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is one of the most awe inspiring structures I have ever seen in my entire life. Towering over the city on its throne of stone, it’s easy to imagine the Iron Age warriors defending their forts from invading tribes. The castle was a central part of Scottish history from the Iron Age until the 18th century. It was a site of battle and conquest during the Wars of Independence. The English were able to capture the castle and resided there for a while, but in 1314 it was recaptured in a daring night raid led by Thomas Randolph, nephew of King Robert the Bruce. Since then, it has gone on to house many Scottish monarchs, the Scottish crown jewels, and the military.

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Entrance to Edinburgh Castle.

I woke up bright and early so that I could beat the crowds. I got there a little after opening and there were already a few people milling about, so I knew I had made the right decision. I booked my ticket and audio guide online, which was also a wise decision, as there was a huge line up to buy a ticket. The clouds threatened rain, but ended up breaking up after I actually entered the castle. I actually got amazing weather while I was in the UK for two weeks – it only rained once!

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The entrance to the main castle yard boasts an original portcullis.

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The castle is actually laid out like a giant spiral. You cross through the main entrance, then you’re lead to a second entrance that opens up onto the castle yard. On your left are the fortress walls. The castle boasts amazing views of the city.

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You can see ahead of you that the road keeps winding upwards. If you take the path, you will come across the military buildings, which historically held the Scottish Crown jewels. Now, the buildings house a modern military museum that you can visit.

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If you continue up the road and through the archway, you will enter the heart of the castle. The residential buildings were housed at the very top of the fortress for safety reasons. Contained in these walls are the monarchs’ chambers, dining halls, a square and two chapels.

IMG_1197The most interesting building on castle hill, in my opinion, is St. Margaret’s Chapel. This tiny chapel is on your left when you enter the main castle walls and is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.

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St. Margaret’s Chapel

Margaret was grand niece of Edward the Confessor. She married Malcolm (holla Macbeth) of Shakespeare fame – although it is safe to say that Shakespeare greatly embellished his Scottish play. King Malcolm was killed in Northumberland and 4 days later Margaret died of broken heart on Nov. 16 1093. Body was smuggled out for burial during a siege and her son built this chapel in her honour around 1130. They say she was so pious that “she died every day that she lived”. If that’s not metal, I don’t know what is. Rock on, Margaret.

Stained glass depiction of St. Margaret.

When you exit the chapel, if you take a look over the wall there is a strange little surprise. I thought it was pretty hilarious. It’s Queen Victoria’s dog graveyard. Who would have thought. It’s a pretty stately way to rest in peace though, I gotta say. If only we could all be as blessed as these dogs.

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Queen Victoria’s dog graveyard.

Once I took the dog graveyard in, I continued on the path towards the residential palace. Currently, it houses an exhibit of what the castle would have looked like in the time of King James, as well as a… you guessed it, gift shop. Which I was actually into since I love this kind of history and there were a lot of quirky Mary, Queen of Scots souvenirs. If only the Canadian dollar was better…

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Archway to the residential palace, built in 1615.

It’s kind of ironic that there are a lot of nods to Mary in this castle, as she rarely spent time here. The royals in the 16th century lived at Holyrood House, and Edinburgh Castle was only used in times of emergency or siege.

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The Scottish really knew how to create an impressive ceiling.

This is the ceiling in the “closet” where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI. The fact that this room was a closet is pretty mind blowing, because I know some people who’s entire apartments are the same size at this… “closet”. Oh, to be an ill-fated queen. The birth of James was actually one of the few moments that Mary spent time in this castle, as she lived at Holyrood and found Edinburgh Castle to be somewhat depressing. Also, the story goes that she had a gilded shrine containing St. Margaret’s head brought here to protect her during birth… bitch better have my head, amirite?

So, those were my favourite parts of Edinburgh Castle. There is an exhibit of the dungeons, but it wasn’t a good place to take photos, so I will spare you the details. Even if you don’t want to pay to go in, the castle is extremely gorgeous/impressive/foreboding from all angles and if you’re in the city centre, there’s a pretty good chance you will see it.

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