Scotland: Edinburgh Castle (part 2)

After viewing the Crown Jewels it was on to the Royal Palace (pretty sparse), the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial (so cool).

FROM RICK STEVES re: ROYAL PALACE:

Scottish royalty lived here only when safety or protocol required it (they preferred the Palace of Holyrood house at the bottom of the Royal Mile).

The Royal Palace has 2 historic, yet unimpressive rooms and the Great Hall (opposite side of the square).

Enter the Mary, Queen of Scots room, where in 1566 the queen gave birth to James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of England.

The Great Hall was the castle’s ceremonial meeting place in the 16th and 17th centuries. IN later times it was a barracks and a hospital. Although most of what you see is Victorian, 2 medieval elements survive: the fine hammer-beam roof, and the big iron-barred peephole. This allowed the king to spy on his subjects while they partied.

 

The Scottish National War Memorial was one of my favorite things at Edinburgh Castle.

I just love war memorials of all kinds; I have no idea why.

This particular memorial commemorates Scottish soldiers, and those serving in Scottish regiments, who died in the 2 world wars and conflicts since.

The memorial was formally opened in 1927 out of a remodeled block of barracks

  • 149,000 Scottish soldiers lost in WWI
  • 58,000 Scottish soldiers lost in WWII
  • 800 lost since

FROM RICK STEVES:

Paid for by public donations, each bay is dedicated to a particular Scottish regiment. The main shrine, featuring a green Italian-marble memorial that contains the original WWI rolls of honor sits – almost as if it were sacred – on an exposed chunk of the castle rock. Above, the archangel Michael is busy slaying a dragon.

Andrew and I entered just the 2 of us (though we saw Kevin and Chelsea inside) … The memorial interior is rather hushed – visitors recognizing that this is a place to be respectful, if nowhere else in the castle.

It also felt significantly less crowded that the other wings/buildings we visited. I wonder if that is because cameras aren’t allowed at the memorial.

I wish I could put my finger on why I love war memorials. Maybe it is just a vestige of the romanticizing of war that comes from the books I read growing up …

Either way – all I want to do now is visit Washington DC.

After the War Memorial, Great Hall and Crown Jewels, the 4th building on the square was a “Prisoners of War” exhibit (and now I have ‘Prisoners of Love’ from The Producers in my head)

It was …. Interesting. Not fantastic. Not terrible, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t so crowded.

Part of the exhibit took us under the building to where the prisoners of war were actually held … hammocks and dozens in one room and all.

That took us out and dropped us off one level down, and outside the top gate…. So we walked BACK up the hill to check out St. Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest building in Edinburgh, dating from ~1130 or so.

It’s TINY… and sweet. It feels pure and simple and a bit like I imagine Anne Shirley’s bedroom feeling. Strangely, this tiny quaint chapel is only about 10 feet from Mons Meg – a 6 ton cannon that hasn’t worked since 1681.

FROM RICK STEVES:

St. Margaret’s Chapel

The oldest building in Edinburgh is dedicated to Queen Margaret, who died here in 1093 and was sainted in 1250. Built in 1130 in the Romanesque style of the Norman Invaders, it’s wonderfully simple, with classic Norman zigzags decorating the round arch that separates the tiny nave from the sacristy. It was used as a powder magazine for 400 years; very little survives.

The place is popular for weddings – though it only seats 20 people.

After checking out Mons Meg and St. Margaret’s Chapel, Andrew was SOAKING wet.

His hair was literally dripping.

We started heading back down the hill, through the Middle Ward … and on the way stopped by a couple more exhibits.

One was about a specific regiment – although for the life of me I can’t remember which! I feel like it was probably the Black Watch / Royal Highland regiment …. But, as with all the museums and exhibits at Edinburgh Castle, it was far too crowded for me to take my time and really read and learn.

The other exhibit we stopped at was the Military Prison. They had restored several cells, along with the prison bathroom and a couple other little rooms.

Pretty cool. Pretty crowded.

It was nearly time to meet the others (we said 1 o’clock at the front) .. so we continued on down the hill in the rain…

… and just at about 1 o’clock the big cannon near the wall went off!! And some girl behind us screamed! Apparently they shoot of the gun every day at 1p. Originally to mark the time for ships in the Firth of Forth…. But now mainly as a tourist attraction.

After the gun, Andrew went and got us coffee – and got himself some Haggis potato chips from the castle café…. What a tourist!

Next, we met up with Kevin and Chelsea, we stopped at the Castle gift shop for more postcards (and postcard stamps), walked back down the hill, down the Royal Mile…. All in the rain.

Chelsea stopped to look in a shop, while Andrew went on to look for lunch … . still in the rain….

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Scotland: Edinburgh Castle (part 1)

When we arrived in Edinburgh the sky was cloudy and overcast, but nice.

By the time we hiked up the hill and through the narrow “close” to the Royal Mile it was drizzling.

But by the time we had walked up to the very top – to Edinburgh Castle – it was raining. Hard. And it didn’t let up for hours.

I had just been thinking that morning that I had bought a new umbrella for Alaska and Scotland and hadn’t used it yet …. And then the sky opened up.

We began at Edinburgh castle in the pouring rain – trying to share umbrellas and guarding expensive cameras from the water.

But with only a few hours to spend, we had to plough ahead – in spite of the rain!

FROM RICK STEVES:

The fortified birthplace of the city 1300 years ago, this imposing symbol of Edinburgh sits proudly on a rock high above you. While the castle has been both a fort and a royal residence since the 11th century, most of the buildings today are from its more recent use as a military garrison.

Edinburgh Castle is a collection of buildings within the perimeter of the outer wall … so every time we went from building to building it was out in the rain again.

Andrew got tired of trying to stay under the umbrella with me (and my purse) and got pretty wet. But he was wearing 2 jackets so he ended up staying pretty dry (except for his hair which was dripping wet in no time).

Andrew and I didn’t really want to do the guided tour at Edinburgh Castle. Mainly because since it was a free tour, there was a BIG group of people. But the other 4 did the tour and Andrew wanted to hear a Scottish person talk so we caught up with the group part way through.

Our tour guide was named Andrew (but bald with crazy teeth). He seemed nice and was knowledgeable – as far as we could tell in such a large group.

He walked us up by the Military prison, and then around near St. Margaret’s Chapel, and then dropped us off in the square near the Royal Palace and Crown Jewels.

FROM RICK STEVES:

Scotland’s crown jewels, though not as impressive as England’s, are older and treasured by the locals. Though Oliver Cromwell destroyed England’s jewels, the Scots managed to hide theirs. Longtime symbols of Scottish nationalism, they were made in Edinburgh – in 1540 for a 1543 coronation – out of Scottish diamonds, gems and gold… some say the personal gold of King Robert the Bruce. They were last used to crown Charles II in 1651.

When the Act of Union was forced upon the Scots in 1707 – dissolving Scotland’s Parliament into England’s to create the United Kingdom – part of the deal was that the Scots could keep their jewels locked up in Edinburgh. The jewels remained hidden for more than 100 years. In 1818, Sir Walter Scott and a royal commission rediscovered them intact. In 1999, for the first time in nearly 3 centuries, the crown of Scotland was brought from the castle for the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

The Stone of Scone (aka the Stone of Destiny) sits plain and strong next to the jewels. This big, gray chunk of rock is the coronation stone of Scotland’s ancient kings (9th century). Swiped by the English, it sat under the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey from 1296 until 1996. Queen Elizabeth finally agreed to let the stone go home on 1 condition: that it be returned to Westminster Abbey for all future coronations.

With major fanfare, Scotland’s treasured Stone of Scone returned to Edinburgh on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, 1996.

So our tour guide Andrew left us in the square near the Crown Jewels. Really, the HEART of Edinburgh Castle.

At this time, we had quite the option of sites to see … 4 different buildings/exhibits off of that square alone.

 

Since the Crown Jewels seemed to have the longest line, we did that one first. There was a line outside (all the way through the middle of the square in the rain) that skipped all of the exhibit and just passed you into see the jewels themselves and then out again.

Then there was a door around the side of the building that took you through a whole exhibit and taught you about the history and all … and then to the Crown Jewels… So we thought, “History? Yes!” …. I love history – and I think my dad loves it even more.

Turns out though that SO MANY people were crowding inside to see the exhibit that we A) weren’t able to stop and read the exhibit because the swarm of people just kept pushing us along …. And B) We were literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd so couldn’t get close enough to read the exhibit.

Oh well …

We DID get to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland – which are no longer actually used since Scotland united with England.

There is a sword, a crown and a scepter. All ancient. All luxurious.

Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed in the room … and I was just too close to a guard to get away with it.

Also with the Crown Jewels was the Stone of Destiny – only recently returned to Scotland. It’s a big, plain block of red sandstone (26”x16”x10”) used for coronations and must be returned to Westminster Abbey to sit beneath the coronation chair when Prince Charles (and/or Prince William) is crowned.

While being pushed and prodded along narrow hallways with WAY too many people, I was reminded of England’s Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. Those are kept in a much bigger space, and visitors are put on a conveyor belt. It’s a slow conveyor belt, but it still ensures visitors are all in and out in a timely manner.

*sidenote* As we were leaving the Crown Jewels, we passed through an open door that had 2 (count ‘em two!) combination locks set in the middle!

Then on to the Royal Palace (pretty sparse), the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial (so cool).

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