EDINBURGH — It is hard to imagine a more spectacular sight than looking up the craggy hill to see the medieval castle perched high above the town, unless it is the stunning view of the town from the castle’s walls high above. Edinburgh Castle is the highlight of a visit to a town that would be beautiful even without it.
The castle stands 430 feet above sea level. There is evidence of human settlement on top of Castle Rock, formed after a volcanic eruption some 340 million years ago, since the Iron Age in the second century, and a royal castle since the 12th century in the reign of King David I, son of St. Margaret. It was the home of kings until 1633, before being used as a military barracks.
As a Scottish stronghold, it was the scene of many conflicts from the wars of Scottish independence to the Jacobite Rebellion in the mid-1700s. David McLean, writing in the Edinburgh News, says that, “having faced attacking forces no less than 23 times, Edinburgh Castle bears the extraordinary distinction as the most besieged place in Europe.”
During the Jacobite Risings the Scots attempted to recapture the castle from English control. The final attempt was in 1745, when the Jacobite army was led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Although the Scots were able to capture the city, they could not lay siege to the castle and were forced to retreat in November. The Jacobite Rebellion was finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden, the last battle on Scottish soil. Bonnie Prince Charlie was forced into exile in France with a price on his head.
Of the existing buildings, St. Margaret’s Chapel dates from the early 12th century, and is the oldest extant building in the city. The castle is home to the Honours of Scotland and is the site of the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland and is Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction, with more than 1.4 million visitors in 2013, and more than 70 percent of visitors to Edinburgh visiting the castle. It is home to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Another attraction is the 15th century Mons Meg canon that can fire a canonball more than two miles.
The castle also houses a recreation of the prison which housed prisoners of many nationalities, including France, America, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Poland, including a five-year-old drummer boy captured at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Wandering around the castle is like a stroll through a small town with cobbled thoroughfares inside the walls. The various buildings house stories of battles and heroic conflicts.
It is well worth the time to climb the battlements and take in the breathtaking view of the Queen City and the Water of Leith on the Firth of Forth. Strolling around Edinburgh Castle, one can breathe in 900 years of history, and feel the ghosts of past knights and warriors guarding generations of Scottish royals. It is a wonderful experience.
Admission is 17 pounds for adults and 10.20 pounds for children.