High Atop Castle Rock

Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of this historic city. Located atop an extinct volcano, in the heart of Old Town, the fortress stands as a stark reminder Scotland’s more turbulent times, when wars were fought between countries and even between clans.

Touted as Scotland’s most visited landmark, Edinburgh Castle draws in more than a million visitors a year. We made our way to the top of the Royal Mile to explore this ancient castle and learn about its place in Scottish history.

Here are additional photos from our time

within the castle compound.

Looking toward the Firth of Forth, east of Edinburgh.

There has been a royal castle on this rock since the reign of King David I, in the 12th century. Most of the castle’s original structures were destroyed in the 16th century during the Lang Siege, due to artillery bombardment, with the exception of Saint Margaret’s Chapel, the Royal Palace and the Great Hall.

Stained glass window and huge painting in the Great Hall.

We spent time wandering in the castle prisons, where the somber energy was heightened by dark shadows and the interesting play of light in stone passageways and long, dormitory style rooms. There was a sacredness present there, that told of survival rather than captivity, and life rather than death. Some of my favorite photos of the castle were taken in the prison.

Hammocks strung above narrow cots.

I love the light finding its way through these shuttered windows. It symbolizes hope to me.

Although the prisons could be considered depressing, I found a resilient beauty in them. The stone chambers would have provided unyielding barriers to the men within, however, their souls were not contained. We viewed etchings and carvings the prisoners made on wooden doors and upon the stone walls themselves. The creative pictures were vital reminders of home and life and hope.

The One O’Clock Gun is fired every day, except Sunday, at precisely 1:00. It is a time signal, fired for the ships in the harbor, since 1861.

There is a castle tea house in the compound, where I enjoyed a cup of hot lemon grass and ginger tea.

We enjoyed our time on Castle Rock. The views of the city are amazing. I stood peering over the battlements, and imagined what Edinburgh looked like in the centuries past. Remove the cars and buses, and much of it probably looked the same as it currently does. I felt the solidness and permanence of this stronghold and my Scottish blood rejoiced.

The statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace were added to the gatehouse entrance in 1929. They stand as silent sentinels, defenders of Scotland’s freedoms. I feel the castle itself is a sentinel, watching over the city from atop its stony perch, a grounding force for Edinburgh’s residents and visitors. Long may it stand.

Exploring Edinburgh Castle

The focus of our second, and final, day in Edinburgh was the castle perched solidly atop volcanic rock, high above the sprawling city. The weather was decidedly Scottish…cool and drizzly, with periods of light rain. We weren’t deterred. Donning hoodie jackets over warm layers, we set out on the day’s adventures.

Here are the highlights of our explorations:

Edinburgh Castle has existed in varying degrees of size and fortification since the second century AD. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving structure in the castle complex, and also the oldest in Edinburgh. Most of the other buildings have been destroyed during bombardments and rebuilt.

Our tour guide, Robby, was knowledgeable and guided us expertly around the castle grounds, telling stories and sharing interesting facts.

Looking out over the battlements, toward the Firth of Forth. The castle is at the top of the Royal Mile, in the heart of the Old City. Edinburgh’s New City stretches out toward the water.

And looking to the west.

The stone structures comprising the castle are beautiful. The castle grounds spiral upward by way of cobbled courtyards and streets. The former royal residences are at the peak, where they were most protected. Today the castle house’s numerous museums and exhibitions and it is one of the most visited sites in the world.

The Great Hall.

The Royal dining room, and a sculpture representing the crowning of Robert the Bruce, located in an alcove off of the room containing the Crown Jewels of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny. Photos were not allowed in the Crown Jewels room.

I love the Stone of Destiny, a slab of ordinary looking stone that the kings of Scotland were crowned upon. King Edward I of England took the stone, and for 700 years, it rested beneath the throne of the English monarchy. But it was officially returned to Scotland in 1996.

Group pic in front of the castle.

We walked through a stark recreation of the living conditions in the castle’s prison rooms, where prisoners of war were held. Americans ended up in here as well, when they were captured as enemies against Great Britain. The rooms, while fascinating to explore, held a troubled energy that empathetically created discomfort in my chest. We viewed the original wooden cell doors, where prisoners had scratched words of hope and detailed works of art, including an American flag.

We enjoyed a light lunch in the castle’s tea room, and later shopping on the Royal Mile. However, most of our day was spent within the castle walls, looking, listening, learning. This was not just a tourist stop for us. The history here is part of our history as well.

The Scots are my people. This is my land. My heart dwells here in joy and peace, and embedded in my DNA are characteristics that sprang from this rich and fertile land. I’ve loved every moment spent in Edinburgh.

Tomorrow we head south to Lauder, in the Borders. This area of Scotland has great significance for my family. I am looking forward to visiting Thirlestane Castle again and

sharing that journey with my mom, sisters and niece.

Alexander McCall Smith wrote about Edinburgh: “This is a city of shifting light, of changing sky, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”

I so agree. I love this city. My heart has been pierced by its beauty and energy. Edinburgh, I will be back.

Day 224: Edinburgh Castle

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The focus of today’s first was a visit to Edinburgh Castle, in the heart of Old Town. At the top of the Royal Mile is the gate to the castle. With a sense of awe we passed through that massive gate and entered a different world.

Once through the gate, it’s like being in a small city. A small fortified city. Built upon volcanic rock and overlooking both Old and New Towns, the castle of Edinburgh is an imposing fortress. Some sort of structure has sat atop that hill for more than 2000 years. From its vantage point, the castle has never been taken by force.

We opted to take a guided tour, rather than just wander around. Our tour guide, Jonathan, had a Scottish accent and the look of a Scottish laird with his red hair and beard. It was blustery and cold today so Jonathan sported plaid slacks rather than a kilt.

He expertly guided us through the castle grounds, relating stories and interesting facts. At the highest point, near the great hall and residential quarters, he set us free to explore.

Mindy and I had already spied our next stop…the castle tea room. Harry is good natured about our new obsession with afternoon tea and indulges us. And obsessed we have become. We have a good breakfast early in the day and then we skip lunch and have afternoon tea instead, which traditionally is between 3:00-5:00. We then have a late supper, between 7:30-9:00. We have wholeheartedly adopted the customs of this friendly group of people!

We enjoyed our tea and getting out of the cold wind for a short time. Mindy and Harry left to investigate the Whiskey Experience shop while I chose to remain in the castle.

On my own, I climbed the tower to view the Honours of Scotland, the royal crown, sword and sceptre. Our guide had explained how, in 1707, after England and Scotland united, the Crown Jewels were hidden away in a secured vault until they were rediscovered by Walter Scott in 1818. The pieces are on display now at the castle, along with the Stone of Destiny. Scotland’s first king, David I was crowned sitting on this large chunk of sandstone. All the kings of Scotland have been crowned thus. When Scotland united with England the Stone of Destiny was moved to Westminster and the kings and queens of England have been crowned with the stone beneath their throne. For 700 years the Stone of Destiny remained in England. It was recently returned to Scotland. The Scots will allow the stone to return to England for any future crownings but our guide told us, fiercely, that the stone will never again be away from Scotland for such a long period of time.

I stood before the Stone of Destiny and felt Scotland’s rich heritage so deeply. I wanted to touch the stone, as a way of acknowledging that I too am fulfilling my destiny. Alas, the stone is encased in glass, protected as it should be. It was enough to hear the story and see the stone.

I visited the residential palace and saw the room King James VI of Scotland and I of England was born in. It was a small room for a man who became so important. I also visited the chapel of St. Margaret, which is the oldest building in the castle complex. The original castle was destroyed in the 1300’s and was rebuilt in sections. I stood the longest on a battlement overlooking New Town as it marches down to the water, the Firth of Forth. So many have stood where I stood and looked out over the city during the past 2000 years. I felt such a kinship with the Scots. My ancestors. My people. Nearby a Scottish flag curled around the flag pole, temporarily snarled. I stood and willed it to catch the breeze and unfurl, so I could capture a picture. As I stood, camera ready, the wind picked up. The flag rippled and twisted and patiently, I waited. With a loud snap it untangled and unfurled, flying unfettered above the castle. I captured the image and smiling, wound my way down through the stone passageways to the gate. I didn’t shout it out, but in my heart rang a cry of freedom!

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