In the Castle Keep

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

He played Yellow Rose of Texas for me

Edinburgh's symbol and most visible icon is the centuries old castle sitting on an extinct volcano. Very impressive from a distance, the fortress drapes over high crags imposing itself on the city. Up close, fortifications built from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century, a chapel from the early twelfth century, and assorted structures erected through the years create the feel of a village.

We weren't surprised to learn that the castle is the most visited tourist stop in Scotland. The size of the place kept it from feeling crowded, but thousands of people from all over the world filled the site. We bought the audio tour, and found it wasn't necessary: important details are written on signs next to the objects or buildings described.

Looking down from the castle to the jagged rocks below, we couldn't imagine that anyone had ever managed to breach the security afforded by the castle's location, but in fact, English did it in 1296, Robert the Bruce's son managed it in 1314, and the English captured it in 1334 before the Scots took it back again in 1341.

Crags that have to be climbed when taking the castle

Mary Queen of Scots lived in apartments more lavish and comfortable than I picture sixteenth century homes to be-even if they are for royalty. Paneled walls painted a light green and handsome furnishings created a warm and cozy place for Mary's son's birth. For in June, 1566, the future King James the VI was born. Then it all got ugly. She ended up in exile in France and he xx.

The castle has been a national monument since 1818 and they've had plenty of time to collect objects of significance to the Scots. Sir Walter Scott, author of Waverly, Lochinvar, and Lorna Doone, and defender of all things Scottish was allowed to dig around the castle for artifacts. He was the one who discovered a large chest containing the crown jewels or Honours of Scotland.  Displayed in the Crown Room, built in 1615, are the crowns, septres and sword of state. The most interesting object is the Stone of Scone-an ordinary looking boulder, but it has quite the story. In Medieval times some thought it was the pillow on which Jacob dreamed of his ladder or was taken from Egypt by a Pharaoh's daughter. It was the rock Macbeth's stepson stood on for his coronation in 1057 and by every king of Scotland after that until 1292. When Edward II invaded Scotland in 1296, he took the stone to England where it was used by all but two British monarchs for their coronations and kept in London until 1996 when Queen Elizabeth allowed the stone to be returned to the castle. It will be sent to Westminster Abbey when future monarchs of England are crowned.

During visits to the Regimental Museum and the castle vaults we learned fun facts that made Scottish history interesting and colorful. The vaults held prisoners from many conflicts including the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Finally in 1811, there was a prison break through a hole in the wall and officials concluded that there were better more secure places to keep prisoners of war. If you tour the castle, plan to stay a while. We spent over four hours there including a quick lunch in the cafeteria. The food was fine, and the view absolutely stunning.

Edinburgh always has something going on in the summer months. In the few days we've been here, there have been concerts, festivals, and little street fairs. The pubs are hopping and the restaurants highly regarded. It's a nice mix of tourists and locals. And what lovely locals. Someone told us that Scots love people from the U.S. Maybe it's that or maybe they're just nice people, but we found it a welcoming, enjoyable place to visit.

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