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Edinburgh Castle

By Thursday, August 21, 2014 , , , , ,

We left Hamburg bright and early, caught a train to Bremen and flew Ryan Air into Edinburgh. Just after checking into our hotel and running to a Tesco Express, we headed to Princes street for a bite to eat.

Barely after we'd left our hotel, a woman asked us directions to... yep, Princes street! We told her we were going there too, and she came along with us. And while it was pretty awkward and confusing since I wasn't sure what the exact route was or if I should chat with her or just make sure we didn't get lost, it was pretty neat being able to help someone out an hour after arriving!

Just as we arrived at Princes Street, the Edinburgh Castle loomed into view. And loom it does, governing the cityscape and providing a land mark to navigate around (although the Castle Hill is big enough that  you can't exactly pinpoint your position.)

There's been a castle here since at least the 12th century, but people living in the area much earlier. It was used by royalty until the 1603 Union of Crowns when James IV becamse king of both England and Scotland. From there it fell out of favor, mainly being used to garrison troops and other practical purposes.

But from the beginning of the 1800s, Scottish pride and identity began to grow, and so did interest in the castle. Numerous restoration projects have since taken place, and all that remains of the 12th Century castle is the small chapel standing apart in the center.

Although it certainly looks beautiful perched on the craggy rock from the surrounding streets, the Castle itself was a bit of a let down. It had been continuously expanded and renovated, leaving it an odd mishmash of old walls and modern structures like gift shops and offices.

We were surprised to find that the admission for the two of us was £32! (53USD, 40 euro )

For that price, in fact, I might go so far as to say it's not worth it. You can go up the hill, through the portcullis and really right up to the castle before you need a ticket. You can enjoy the view and take a peak at the castle before deciding if it's something you're interested in. We both enjoyed Craigmillar castle (forthcoming post) much more. 

What you're paying for really is to look through the museums, several or which were quite cheesy, with maniquins dressed up as historical figures. Throughout the museums, there are random audio recording of dialogue playing. Since there wasn't anyway to control when the talking started, or any context as to what they were saying, I had trouble following the conversation and usually missed the point entirely.
It was also very crowded, full of tour groups and teenagers squealing about spiderwebs.

Cemetery for Soldiers' Dogs

I noticed in the murals that there was no menton of King Edward I anywhere, opting instead to leave those years he and his son ruled off of any exhibits, as if they never happened. But who can blame them.

We saw the Honours of Scotland, sometimes called the Scottish Crown Jewels (you couldn't take photos) which are beautiful, and the Stone of Destiny, AKA the Stone of Scone or the Coronation Stone which is a big lump of rock.

A nice touch was that in a room next to the Honours were replicas made of brass metal that you could touch so that the visually impaired visitors could appreciate the intricacy and details of the jewels by touch.

Statue of Robert the Bruce being crowned

One interesting story I read about was The Black Dinner - two brothers of the Douglas family (same family as the Black Douglas) dined with the king. A Black Bull's head was served - apparently a well known foreshadowing device in 15th century Scotland that someone's about to die. In this case, it was the two Douglos brothers, who were dragged out of the room, given a mock trail and decapitated. Since the king at the time was only 10 years old, it's not entirely clear who was behind the plot.

I mentioned earlier that it was very crowded, and a few people in particular stood out to me. One young man was desperately trying to impress the woman he was with, and had evidently promised to give her a personal tour of the castle.

Feigning the expert, he was telling her about the exhibits and history by reading off the panels over her shoulder. When something was unknown, instead of telling her historians were unsure he'd just make something up.

She seemed utterly captivated by him. Ah, young love.

And finally a woman who talked loudly, and non stop, throughout the National War Museum of Scotland. She was with a man (or perhaps just following him around?) who had served in the military for Scotland, and she let her voice echo through the displays, commenting to him about... everything, like how crazy it was the Scottish and French allied against the English? Who could believe it! And this blanket, the emboidery was just like one she saw by Native Americans in the midwest! Exactly the same!

We watched a short film about the Scottish Armed Forces and the rest of the UK. Honestly, it was quite the propaganda film - for example, suggesting that signing a treaty with England was a generous gesture by Scotland so that England wouldn't have to continue to expend resources keep Scotland, not that Scotland given up trying fight them off. 

It also implied that when the UK miliary needs troops for a special missions, instead of sending in the SAS, or some equivalent with years of special training and experience, they just send it some Scots to sort things out.

Over all I'm glad I went, but it wasn't quite worth the price. Most of the buildings are from the 1700s and later, so it's not exactly the medieval fortress it's presented as. As I mentioned previously, if you're looking to do some castle exploring, you're much better off going to Craigmillar. 

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  1. I truly love Scotland, its history, its people, its landscape...everything. But I agree with you about that castle. It's worth a stroll up there for the view, but I wouldn't go in again. We enjoyed every other Scottish castle we visited more than that one, though Craigmiller is new to me. Next time!. I enjoyed your photos and your description, though, and am looking forward to hearing more about Scotland. Ah, and people who stand out in a crowd of tourists.... (facepalm).

    1. Thank you! I was actually a little nervous about posting this, since it is such a beautiful city and important land mark and my post makes me sound kind of judgmental.

      Craigmillar is "the other castle in Edinburgh" and we really loved it!