Thursday, November 22, 2012

Edinburgh, Day 1--Edinburgh Castle

Our first full day in Scotland dawned clear and chilly. Due to a combination of factors (but mostly jet lag), I was up early and decided to go for a run. It was a Saturday and early enough that the tourists hadn't come out yet and the Great Edinburgh Run wasn't due to begin for a few hours so I had the streets pretty much to myself. It was a bit cold, but I warmed up quickly--especially when the route I took had the first mile completely up hill. It was a slog, but I made it and was rewarded with a stunning view of the Royal Mile.

And this makes a good time to get into some history, no? I wonder if anyone who reads this blog is actually interested in this but I know when I go back and read this blog in 10 or 20 years, I'll like it. So suck it up, people.

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, the seat of the Scottish parliament and government, the largest city by area and the second largest by population in the country. Located in the south-east of Scotland, Edinburgh lies on the east coast of the Central Belt, along the Firth of Forth, near the North Sea. The city was one of the historical major centers of the Enlightenment, led by the University of Edinburgh, helping to earn it the nickname Athens of the North. The Old Town and New Town districts of Edinburgh were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 in recognition of the unique character of the Medieval Old Town and the planned Georgian New Town.

See, wasn't that interesting? Getting back to my more personal story, after I made it home and got cleaned up from my run, we all headed out for a day of sight-seeing, starting with Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh Castle is located at the top of the Royal Mile, the main street that runs through the Old Town District. It connects the castle with Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence when she is in town. Hence, the name Royal Mile (it also happens to be almost exactly a mile long). 

We made it to the castle just a few minutes before opening, and Wendy and I opted for the audio tour since we wanted to get the full experience. I hadn't been to the castle in about 10 years and they had opened up some new buildings and exhibits. It has a long history, and you can bet your ass I'm going to make you learn some of it.

Edinburgh Castle!

Kent, Chris, Wendy, and me in front of the castle.

From wiki:

Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. From the 15th century the castle's residential role declined, and by the 17th century its principal role was as a military base with a large garrison. Its importance as a historic monument was recognised from the 19th century, and various restoration programs have been carried out since. As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and has been besieged, both successfully and unsuccessfully, on several occasions.

Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century, when the medieval fortifications were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. The most notable exceptions are St Margaret's Chapel, which dates from the early 12th century and is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, the Royal Palace, and the early-16th-century Great Hall. The castle also houses the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish National War Memorial, and the National War Museum of Scotland.

Inside the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle (with Victorian decorations)

The apartments where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to the future king of both England and Scotland, James VI (or I depending on how you look at it).

View of the city from a cannon.

Looking towards the train station from the castle.

St. Margaret's Chapel, the oldest building in the castle grounds.

More views from the castle.

Most of what we saw in the castle dates from the 17th and 18th century. When it was used as a garrison, the military ripped out a lot of the medieval decor and replaced it (sadly) and it wasn't until the Victorian Era that the Scots really began to care about restoring their old buildings. And let's face it, to Americans things from that long ago still seem pretty old. After all, we don't go tripping over 1000 year old ruins every time we go for a walk outside the suburbs. 

Wendy and I spent about 2 hours in the castle, and then spent some time wandering down the Royal Mile and stopping into various shops and museums. But I think that might be the subject of the next post....

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