Travel Column – Castles
From just about anywhere in the touristy parts of Edinburgh, Scotland, you can see the castle peeking out in the distance. On the off chance there’s a blue sky, the gray of the walls stand out in contrast, but even when the sky is a typical gray, the castle stands out solid and dark.
It has a few approaches. Straight through the Royal Mile, which is a large route that connects the castle to the still-in-occasional-use Holyroad Palace that is huge tourist hub lined on both side with pubs and taverns and tourist trap shops that sell furry cow plushies in kilts and playing cotton bagpipes. Or you can get there through cliff side, up a long series on stone stairs that spit you out near the castles gate.
From the top of the hill, which to someone from a very flat state feels like a mountain that was once a volcano, you can see all the way to coast and across the North Sea. If you climb up the walls of the towers, which have several levels to them you can get up to, you can see almost all of Edinburgh from clock towers and restaurants to The Scotts Moments’ pointy spires and arches.
If you climb in the other direction, down. If you keep following staircases and hallways, you’ll find yourself in the old castle dungeons. Where hammocks hang from the ceilings and fake bread lays half eaten next to incomplete card games on the tables in the recreated room. Where actors’ recorded voices talk to each other about mistreatment and, occasionally, hope.
You can see where real prisoners carved on the wooden doors. They carved pictures of boat or people, or more often just their name.
You get farther underneath the castle to where soldiers waited and died in cold stone rooms, where the air feels and smells old and damp. Where the Scottish Honours were found again in 1818 after being locked up, buried and forgotten over a century before hand.
If you go inside the palace inside the castle, you can see the jewels themselves. The crown, the scepter and the sword: the Honours of Scotland. After going through a large exhibit about the history of kings and queens and succession and deaths, after looking at least three recreations of them and around four elaborate scenes of some dark room, in a thin glass case, there is a scepter with a large pearl at the top engraved with dolphins. There’s an ornate sword that looks much too large to be practical, with large hilt decorated with metal leaves and acorns and gold crown encrusted with jewels, and still has the red velvet top and ermine base.
There’s so much to see in the castle that closes its gates at 5 p.m. War museums and memorials, palaces and chapels, towers and cannons. It’s a place to visit again if even just for the view.