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This website migration has proven a bit more difficult than previously expected. Thanks to everyone who is sticking with me as I get through this! The new site is up and running (as evidenced by you reading this), but some of the old posts haven’t transferred correctly but I’m working on that! I still hope to have the site exactly how I want it by the beginning of next week. On to today’s post!
CASTLES. Am I the only one who gets a chill when I hear that word? I know that popular culture has romanticized the kind of life that was lived within castle walls. Life was quite difficult, there were wars and famine and disease. But they fascinate me. There is something so cool about exploring castles, whether they’ve been maintained through the years or have fallen into ruins. They’re a link to the past, and I love that.
Last week we spent an overcast morning exploring Craigmillar Castle. It’s only a few miles away from the city, and you can easily take a bus from the center of town. Once in the suburb of Craigmillar, you can access the castle by way of the castle park. There is a path that leads you directly to the front door, which makes for an easy trip when you don’t have a car. We appeared to be the first people there on the morning of our visit. For an hour it was just us and a stray cat exploring the grounds before we were joined by other guests. It made the experience that much better.
The lands that Craigmillar currently sit on were first granted to the Preston family in 1342 by King David II. The Preston family was becoming well-known in Edinburgh and were granted lands associated with their rising status. Eventually building began in the late 14th early 15th century with the raising of the L-shaped Tower House by Sir George Preston. His grandson, Sir William Preston, would later expand and update the castle, adding the curtain wall that today surrounds the tower house and creates the inner courtyard. In about 1510 Sir Simon Preston would add another layer of enclosure and erect outer walls that formed an outer yard as well as east and west gardens.
In the year 1544, Craigmillar was burned by English troops under the Earl of Hertford during the “Rough Wooing”. Sir Simon Preston, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and a loyal supporter to Mary, Queen of Scots, had the castle rebuilt and remodeled. Mary spent much time at Craigmillar, hunting and relaxing, although only two visits are well recorded.
Her visit in 1566 was arguably the most notable, and controversial stay. After giving birth to her son, the future James VI, Mary took to Craigmillar to convalesce. She was here from November 1st to December 7th 1566 to regain her health. It was also during this second trip that the “Craigmillar Bond” was formed. This bond was signed by several noblemen close to Mary, and laid out plans to kill Lord Darnley, Mary’s husband. Some people think that Mary had no idea that this bond was created and signed. Some believe she knew of it, but didn’t agree with it. Whatever the circumstances, Lord Darnley was found killed in Edinburgh in 1567.
Eventually in 1660, Craigmillar was sold to John Gilmour who rebuilt the “old fashioned” castle to his taste. Large rooms were remodeled into many smaller areas as modern homes featured much more privacy. However the Gilmour family only held the castle for about a century. The castle was listed to-let in 1761, and by 1775 it was in ruins. The same ruins that you can explore in-depth today. The castle has been in state care since 1946 and is now maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.
The walk leading up to Craigmillar is almost as good as the time spent inside. The castle sits at the top of a rise, creating a focal point on the horizon as you move away from town. You enter castle grounds full of high grasses that lend a certain atmosphere to the entire experience. You pay your ticket price and walk past the dovecot and along the outer wall, until you reach the inside. There are sign posts to read and if you’re lucky, a cute little cat to keep you company.
My favorite part of the castle is walking into the inner courtyard. After entering the outer wall, you can see a giant door in the curtain wall. Peering through the door you view two large yew trees (Taxus baccata). These trees create a beautiful entrance to the castle, which is their intended purpose. But they also make me want to spend an afternoon underneath their branches reading a book.
You can access almost every single area of the castle, from the basement to the rooftop. Only the chapel is off limits because of the family graves inside. We tried to be methodical about our visit; we started with walking around the newer West range of the castle, including the apartments that Gilmour updated when he bought the castle in 1660. It is easy to understand where you are standing as most of the rooms have very clear sign posts indicating their purpose.
After we explored the West Range, we found our way through the East Range and into the Tower House. This is the area that Queen Mary would have slept. There were plenty of bedchambers, most of which had their own fireplace and privy. We also found an old kitchen and the Lord’s Hall. The Lord’s Hall was easily the most beautiful room in the entire keep, with a high wall and gorgeous seating alcoves.
You can also walk along the top of part of the curtain wall, which is pretty cool. You’re not quite as high as you will be once you reach the top of the Tower House, but who can complain? It’s not every day you get to walk the walls of a centuries old castle.
Once you get back inside the Tower House, you can take the stairs to the very top. Here there’s a gorgeous view in every direction over the countryside. You can see Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat in one directions and all the way down to the Forth of Firth in another.
The last stop of our self-guided tour was the gardens to the west of the curtain wall. This area is now a grassy expanse of space.
Exploring Craigmillar Castle was definitely my favorite adventure in Edinburgh so far! By the time we left the grounds I had over 200 photos. It was difficult to choose what photos to include with this post. If you’re ever in the Edinburgh area, I highly recommend you take a morning to visit these ruins.
I hope you all have a happy weekend!