As you may recall, a month ago, I was ambling around Edinburgh, enjoying the soft weather and the glorious views of a magical city.
We were wandering uphill toward Edinburgh Castle when we passed...
which, as it turns out, is a restaurant and not a shop or museum or tourist attraction. I'm told it's a very popular restaurant. Alas, we did not have a chance to find out.
Eventually, we reached our goal for the day: Edinburgh Castle
Note the stands on the left? That's where thousands sit every night to watch the Tattoo. Personally, I think they look weird, and hope that they're pseudo temporary (the way the traveling Cirque du Soleil "tents" are), and that they come down after the Festival is over.
Coming up the side, it looked like this:
Again... icky stands...
These two fellows guard the entrance through the "main gate".
Once you pass them, you go through the gates, and face a cobbled pathway up the hill. At this point, any illusions you may have harbored about hills not being good defense systems will dwindle away. Try imagining a laden horse struggling up this cobbled road (either bearing a knight in full armor or hauling a wagonload of goods). Heck,they even "paved" the road differently in the middle to make it easier for the horses! You'll see some of that in a minute, but first I got distracted taking pictures through the walls looking OUT.
This slit is great for firing arrows through without exposing yourself to incoming arrows, but it sure would be hard to AIM looking out this way,
It's much easier to see through the camera lens, using it's magic zoom trick:
Okay, I confess, I am a sucker for gorgeous views that demonstrate that I'm on a high hill. I live where we have so little topography that you can draw our topographical maps with lines showing five foot increments!
But c'mon! look at that view! (Yep... off in the distance, you can see the Forth of Firth again.)
Looking the other way, we again see some familiar landmarks.
and yes, I totally used the zoom.
But let's get back to the Castle shall we? We lucked out in our timing, as a guide was just gathering a walking tour as I finished my obligatory scenery shots. He's my source for the cobblestone information.
Just because you made it into the gates doesn't mean the hill isn't still in play. As you can see, we've some climing to do before we get to the main buildings up there. Down here.. there are buildings still in use for the Scottish Armed Forces -- including barracks.
Our guide was a veritable encyclopedia - he knew the dates for the construction of every building there, and for all sorts of significant events. I, alas, did not take notes, and don't recall the details. Those signs in the back ground of the last picture do reveal some of that info, but so does the official site for the castle, and wikipedia.
Edinburgh Castle's history starts in about 600 AD, with the stronghold called Din Eidyn. The defenders there lost to the Angles in 638, when it got the English name of Edinburgh.
The oldest building on the site is a cathedral built in early in the 12th century in honor of Queen Margaret of Scotland, who died in 1093 and was sainted in 1250. You can see it there on the left -- along with the differences in the cobblestone surface of the road we're about to climb.
After a sort of general lecture (including the dates when the gate we'd just entered had been built, and information about the newer buildings (behind me in that picture) housing the Scottish Military, we headed up the hill into the keep.
Again, note that smoother section of cobbles in the center of the road -- it's supposed to make it easier on the horses, and to make the carriages roll more smoothly. Ponder for a moment, what it might feel like riding up that hill in a carriage that does not have nice rubber wheels on it.
Where were we.
Among the historically significant things we saw was the room in which King James of Scotland was born to Mary Queen of Scots in 1566. (Okay, at that point, he was Prince James, but when she fled, he became King). James is important.... but that room wasn't terribly visually interesting -- they've not furnished it as a display, and thus it makes no interesting pictures. In the ante-room, however, I found the mantle over the fireplace to be very interesting:
It's fairly typical, as it turns out. The male and female figures on the sides crop up all over the place While I suppose some would argue that they're Adam and Eve, they seem more pagan than that to me. Either way, we also get the famous Lion and Unicorn, who appear in any number of Scottish Royal places. Why? you may ask? Because the Lion represents England, and the Unicorn represents Scotland. They appear together in places significant to King James IV of Scotland (born right here in Edinburgh Castle)-- who acceded to the throne of England in 1603.
The Castle is home to the Crown, Sword and Scepter of Scotland (also known as the Honours of Scotland). They languished in England until 1707 when Parliament past the act uniting England and Scotland. Thereafter they were brought to the Castle and pretty much locked away for a century. In 1818, Sir Walter Scott was allowed to search the casle for them, and he found them in a chest in the room where they are now housed on display. No pictures are allowed of the Honours -- or of the Stone of Scone (pronounced "scoon"), which is housed beside them.
The Stone is an unprepossessing but highly significant hunk of red sandstone. Every king of scotland since Tara, and (almost?) every monarch of England since 1296, has either sat directly upon the stone, or sat upon a chair/throne under the seat of which rested the stone when he or she was coronated. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996, among much pomp and circumstance. (Later in my trip, I will meet Lord David Penry-Davies, who witnessed the parade which carried the stone up the Royal Mile).
There is a Key to the Castle. I find this endlessly amusing. But they keep it on display. Whenever the reigning monarch comes to the Castle, they present her (or him) with the key. The key is kept on a cord upon which there is also a brass tag engraved with the date of each monarch's visit. The current Queen of England has visited more than a few times during her half-century reign. Two of her tags are legible in this picture -- and since they're strung sequentially, we can tell that she's visited at least six
Also in the hall housing the Key to the Castle are many swords worn by various defenders of the castle over the years. They seem more impressive when I stop to think that these did not start their lives as decorations, but were used in actual defense (and possibly offense), and it is likely that each and every one of them was used in actual battle, where someone was at least seriously injured.
We did stop into the Chapel (a lovely private thing, which can seat about 20 people, and where small weddings are still held). But I had run out of photographing foo (and it wasn't terribly photogenic). But the building in which I was most moved was the Scottish War Memorial.
This is the side view, coming up the hill. It looks more like a cathedral than a memorial, but the stained glass windows are not of saints or events in Jesus' life; they're representatives of the various branches of the Scottish military. When you enter there is a wide hall with large books set on what looks rather like the widest dictionary stand you'll ever see. Each of those books contains a list of the servicemen and women from a given branch and division of the Scottish military who has died in service from the time of the "Great War." Each identifies the fallen soldier's name, rank, hometown, and date and place of death.
I've been to a number of memorials in the U.S. I've walked along that black wall listing the names of all the service men and women who died in Viet Nam. I've walked beside the Korean War memorial, with the haunting statues and wall of names. I've stood in the center of the World War II Memorial. I've never been moved as much as I was standing in this building (where no pictures are allowed - as a matter of respect), turning the pages of one of those red books, and reading the names of those men and women.
There are two books per unit now. The mess in Iraq and Afghanistan have added a lot of names.
Not surprisingly, I was a tad subdued as we left this part of our tour.
We walked back down the royal mile, past St. Giles again .. and returned to the Scotsman to start our next adventure. A night in one of the oldest Castles in Scotland....