Scotland Series: Post #4
Edinburgh Castle was one of the points on my bucket list, and now I get to cross it off because I was there! It was such an amazing experience although there were more wars and conflicts than I could handle for one day. Read below for the complete story of our visit.
First Gaze of the Castle
We are visiting Edinburgh Castle today. Beginning of our second day in Scotland, we expertly traced our ways back to Castlehill. After last night’s introduction to witches of Edinburgh and the Bodysnatchers Murders, I became more and more intrigued about the place. I was mostly excited because Edinburgh Castle is my first real-life castle experience. After today, it’s going to be another point off of my bucket list.
Apart from the Castle, we also have several museums in mind to visit. We hoped many of them are still open in this Christmas Eve. I do beg your pardon for my excitement, but this tourist side of me is going to come up here and there throughout the writing process. Still, I refuse to apologise for the length of this entry. Considering the length of the article I wrote about today’s trip, I think I am going to only include the Edinburgh Castle visit in this post and if you like, you can read about our museum walks in the next post.
For me, it was such a good decision to have my travel journal close-by for I can update things immediately after the facts. Scene rolls from last night are rather blurry in my brain right now due to the overwhelming amount of information I have to store. The first post of this journey was rather long and time-consuming as well on the research part. I did not know which parts to leave out or put in because everything is important and interesting. You see, I only needed one night here to realise there is so much about Edinburgh I did not know. The research process on creating each post really helps me in learning more new things.
My impression says that Castlehill is a part of Royal Mile leading up to the castle. There is no one building along the Royal Mile that has no historical account behind it. From when I turned left at Johnson Terrace, a tall-towered building called The Hub greets me. It was built in 1842 as Victoria Hall, housing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I couldn’t possibly fit all tidbits of history of every inch of Royal Mile in one post, but I might make an attempt in the future. I do admit that Royal Mile feels a little bit like home because it reminded me so much of the layout of Yogyakarta’s “Royal Mile” from the Sultan’s palace. Not perfectly similar, but just a tad.
Passing the Witchery by the Castle, a beautifully breathtaking view revealed before my eyes: Edinburgh Castle. The Esplanade to the castle was full of people today. I nearly lost Anne among the crowd if it weren’t for her colourful lollipop. I began to think that she bought it as a high-visibility marker in case we lose sight of each other. Words escaped me as I stare unblinkingly upon the magnificent castle. I did a happy dance the night before (and also some nights after) when no one else was around. This is one more thing off of my bucket list post-Stonehenge.
If Castle Walls Could Talk
Writing this post as I’m reading the background history (or should I say prehistory) of this castle, I did not think it would go as far as Iron Age. The rock where it’s sitting right now is actually a plug of an extinct volcano. I love it how geological context can turn something as simple as a plug to become a damn huge rock where you can put a castle on the top. A “plug” it is, then.
I’m a little bit reluctant to “follow the rule” and also say that definite Bronze-Iron Age settlement was found here. Not because the research is incorrect, but because I have little to no knowledge about the lay of the land. I couldn’t place Dunsapie Hill (Arthur’s Seat), Duddingston, Inveresk, and Traprain Law in correlation to the statement that the rock had been inhabited since Iron Age. There was a campaign in 1988 to 1991 that excavated the castle area. This campaign was the first ever after the last excavation in 1912. Perhaps reading through the report (Driscoll & Yeoman, 1997) may be an advantage for interested parties.
Let’s jump to the Roman period where a map showed a place called Alauna inhabited by the Votadini on the 2nd century. The name Alauna means “rock place”. The castle re-emerged in records by 600 AD as Din Eidyn belonging to King Mynyddog Mwnfawr (MacQuarrie, 2004: 29-30). In 638, the area of Din Eidyn was besieged by the Angles. It was then included as a part of the Kingdom of Northumbria.
In the following centuries, Edinburgh Castle became the seat of royalties during the Medieval period. Battles and fights for thrones adorned the history in this period, including those of Robert the Bruce who then won Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
In the 15th century, the castle functioned more as a fortress where they make armaments and armours. By 1511, Edinburgh also supplied arms to Stirling Castle.
At this time, the royal family preferred to stay at Holyrood Abbey (the other end of Royal Mile), around 1.5 kilometres from the castle. In my opinion, everything governmental, political, and war-related events happened in the following centuries of Edinburgh Castle’s existence, switching its function from the royal seat to a complete fortress.
I can only imagine the unrest happening here—must have been unbearable. The castle also played a role as a prison during both world wars (assuming there ain’t ever gonna be a THIRD).
The Governor's House
Inside the castle, we visited The Governor’s House, built in 1742 as accommodation for the Governor, Storekeeper, and Master Gunner. I don’t recall that we come inside the building, though. The Governor’s House was in use until the late 19th century.
Next up, we visited The Museum of the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I remembered we went inside and looked around. This building was a former drill hall of the Royal Scots in 1900. Next to this museum is the Military Prison a location that’s a little bit hidden from view, tucked away and rather small compared to the domineering New Barracks at the front of it.
The Military Prison was built in 1842 and later was extended in 1880. Inside, we can see where each prisoner was kept and what facilities they were given. This type of prison is considered as the first in Britain that has a separate ablution section, adopting the style of The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia (Historic Environment Scotland, 2012).
I’m not quite sure if the photograph depicts Argyle Battery or the Half Moon Battery. But anyway, as any fortress should have, this castle displays a row of cannons at Half Moon Battery on the eastern side of the castle and These cannons are what’s called The Seven Sisters.
The battery was built on and around the ruins of the huge medieval David’s Tower which collapsed during the Lang Siege of 1571-1573. Argyle Battery is where the One O’Clock Gun is fired from. The tradition of One O’Clock Gun occurs every day except Sunday (I think Good Friday is also an exception? CMIIW) at precisely 13:00 to allow citizens and visitors to check their clocks and watches. The origin started to aid sailing ships in the Firth of Forth to check and reset their chronometers in the days before accurate timepieces were available.
There is a One O’Clock Gun Exhibition at the castle, though we didn’t see it when we visited. This year, the cannon-man-on-duty is still Sergeant James Shannon who’s called Shannon the Cannon. He’s been responsible for firing the cannon since 2005. (Addendum 2014: He died in 2012, source) I must admit something. I never actually hear anything at 13:00 during my stay in Edinburgh. Was it me being ignorant or was I just enveloped with excitement?
Scottish National War Memorial
Our next stop was the Scottish National War Memorial, a grand building in the front of the Crown Square. It was opened in 1927 to commemorate war casualties in both world wars (again, assuming there ain’t ever gonna be a THIRD) and other recent wars where Scotland took part on. We didn’t enter the building. We passed it by through our way to the Crown Square, the bit that’s a little bit older and a lot more interesting.
The Crown Square used to function as the main courtyard for the castle and dates back to the 15th century. Right in front of us stood the Royal Palace, a must-see and must-visit on our list. Do pardon me, because all my photographs failed due to unfriendly weather I had to steal other people’s photograph of the Royal Palace.
We entered the Royal Palace but all of my photographs of the Great Hall were total shite. I won’t even bother putting them up here cause they’re absolute shite. Yes, shite is my favourite word in case you hadn’t figured that out yet. Anne and I then walked over to the Prisons of War exhibition located in what’s called The Vaults. The vaults are what’s supporting the Crown Square between Queen Anne Building and the Great Hall. It was built during the reconstruction ordered by David II (ca. 1356) and served two functions. One part was made as storage and the other part was used as a state prison. In 1651, several vaults were used as soldiers barracks and later in 1757 and 1814, the vault was converted into a prison of war that mostly held French prisoners. Some Caribbean pirates were also held in the vaults. Some prisoners tried to escape in 1811 through a hole in the defences. Only one person managed to actually escape without getting recaptured.
The last bit of our Edinburgh Castle self-tour was Queen Anne Building. History notes that this building was most probably served as kitchens for the Great Hall and/or as the Gunhouse. The present building was made in 1708 and served as barracks and offices of the castle gunners.
The picture accompanying this paragraph is special because it’s Anne herself. Of course, not a queen. But I asked her to pose as queen-like as possible next to the plaque marking the building. I’m not entirely sure why this building is named after Queen Anne.
I am also highly speculating that the Queen mentioned here is Anne, the Queen of Great Britain who reigned from 1702-1707. Nevertheless, I had an inkling that the building is older than the 1700s. No, we didn’t go inside the building and take a look. At this point, we were exhausted, if not overwhelmed, with wars and prisoners and military-themed exhibitions.
We were so done with wars and fights now and were craving food, good food. By the way, as I’m writing this post, I realise that I neglected to photograph the oldest building in the castle, St Margaret’s Chapel that dates back to the 11th century. Perhaps it’s a sign that I should go back to Edinburgh Castle one day? When you’re ready to continue today’s trip with Anne and me, go click that button below for our first museums walk in Edinburgh.
1. Driscoll, S., Yeoman, P. (1997) Excavations within Edinburgh Castle in 1988-91. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland: Edinburgh. ISBN: 0903903121
2. Edinburgh Castle – Military Prison. 2012. Historic Environment Scotland, Statement of Significance.
3. Edinburgh Castle – Queen Anne Building. 2012. Historic Environment Scotland, Statement of Significance
4. Edinburgh Castle – The Vaults. 2012. Historic Environment Scotland, Statement of Significance
5. MacQuarrie, Alan (2004). Medieval Scotland: Kingship and Nation. The History Press.