I spent the day at Edinburgh Castle! What a majestic site. You could see as far as the eye could see on its ramparts, from the Firth of Forth to the Pentlands. I also managed to snap a stunning photo of Arthur’s seat from the top of the castle.
Edinburgh Castle has been besieged 26 times in its history (the most besieged location in Britain). Yet it remains in remarkably good shape. This is likely due to the large-scale restoration and expansion works in the 1850s (when all things Scottish were the rage). In fact, the main gate was a Victorian addition, added specifically because the castle didn’t look ‘medieval’ enough – or at least didn’t seem to live up to stereotypes.
By far the most dazzling aspect of the castle were ‘The Honours’ – the Scottish Crown Jewels. I didn’t manage to take pictures (no photography allowed), unfortunately, so I’ll try to relay in words. The sceptre, a gift from Pope Alexander VI – the pope of The Borgias fame – is gilt silver with a splendid crystal orb; it is much smaller than the English one. The sword is massive, and was very probably the inspiration for the great longsword in Game of Thrones.
It also has a silver handle and was a gift from Julius II. The Crown has a less ‘foreign’ history, and comes from the 1540s. Taken together, they are the oldest surviving crown jewels in the British Isles.
The quirkiest element of the day was the ‘1 o’clock’ gun’, which is fired every day except Sundays, Easter and Good Friday. I then walked through the War Museum, the Scottish branch of the IWM. The display was impressively reverent and captured the important role Scotland has played in the British Armed Forces. Interestingly, Scotland was the prime recruiting ground for the army, both because enlisted soldiers don’t rebel, and because it was one of the prime ways a young Scot could escape poverty. Thus, the Scots formed the crack troops of the British Forces, and it was a Scot from the Royal Scots Regiment (the oldest in the British Army) who took the imperial standard from Napoleon’s forces at Waterloo.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the regimental museums, where individual stories of gallantry took center stage. At the IWM, history is often portrayed through grand arcs, while the Regimental museums at the Castle did well to focus on the real impact and bravery of ordinary men and women.
Finally, I stopped at the profoundly moving War Memorial. Each regiment has a small shrine in front of which are placed two red books. One records those killed in World War I. The other has printed all those killed in World War II.
Thumbing through, it was most revealing to see lists of names, which were placed in alphabetical order, noting that they had all been killed on the same day. Alphabetical or not, it was a testament to the sheer loss of life experienced during those two conflicts (Scotland lost more per capita than any other part of the UK).
Departing the Castle, thoroughly sobered, I was of course greeted with a bagpiper, whose sounds are becoming more and more amenable…
Coming up later today, a great conversation I had with an alumna (from Emmanuel!), and my thoughts on the Scottish Parliament.