Why did the Scots have to build their castles on the sides of cliffs? Yes, yes, I know the answer, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t ask the question. Stirling Castle was the same- I haven’t written about it yet, but #spoileralert it’s built on a cliff.
Oh, if you don’t know the answer, essentially it was as a first and very basic line of defence- your enemy would be so buggered by the time they climbed to the gates, that they had neither the energy nor the inclination to even think about battering them down. Of course, though, the average marauder in medieval times was made of stronger stuff than us 21st century types.
The other thing about the castles is that the best view of the city is from them. Yes, again, I know that’s for strategic defensive reasons. Whatever.
Even once you get inside the gates you haven’t finished climbing. The guys who designed these things created a bit of a tier system within them based on height and, presumably energy levels. This meant that the most important people in the castle were located at the highest point within the castle. In the case of Edinburgh, to get to the palace itself, there was more climbing to be done. Phew.
So, in summary, you climb to get to the front gate. In the case of Edinburgh, that’s all the way up the stairs from Princes Street, then up the Royal mile to the gatehouse and main, for want of a better word, driveway. Of course there were dry ditches to get across too, and the gauntlet of the King’s archers.
Then you climb some more to get to the main gate. These are all fitted with heavy gates and these things called murderers holes- through which heavy rocks and burning things can be dropped down onto the heads of unwary marauders.
Then you climb some more to the cannon batteries, then some more again to the next level up…
finally you, if you still have any energy left, you reach the palaces. If you get that far, you’ve possibly earned the right to do a little light pillaging.
Inside the castle are a collection of buildings. The business of royalty brought with it a great deal of employment…and all of this employment needed to be housed.
These days the National War Memorial is within the grounds of the Castle, and well worth a visit. It’s moving and deeply respectful in its tribute the the Scots who have died over the years in service. There are also museums dedicated to the history of the Scottish brigades.
Up on the palace level there is also the great hall
and the Scottish crown jewels…although no photography was allowed in there.
Of course, Edinburgh isn’t just about the Castle. This city has a vibe that extends beyond the castle walls, and beyond the activity of the festival in the summer.
The old town is full of life and colour. I spent ages watching one woman decorate a Christmas tree
using all sorts of natural fibres and products.
There are pubs to lead you astray,
souvenir shops to busy such treasures as highland cow earmuffs in, and buskers to listen to.
Back down in Princes St, a Christmas market was underway,
complete with a Santa Winter Wonderland, an ice-skating rink, stalls selling everything Christmassy from wooden ties
to Christmassy cheese to Christmassy pretzels to Christmassy dried fruit wreaths to Christmassy lights…and all stops in between.
It may have been raining, it may have been dark from just after 3.30pm, but rather than dampen the Christmas spirit, somehow it brings it more to life. It’s all about the vibe.
A word on the park and ride system in Edinburgh…indeed in other major cities we’ve visited so far. Use it. It’s brilliant. You park for free outside the mess of the city and catch a bus (or in the case of Edinburgh a tram) in for just a few pound. Too easy.