Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace

Today, I took in two of Edinburgh’s major attractions, Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly known as Holyrood Palace. Before I get into that, I feel the need to update something I said yesterday.

Yesterday, I told you that, despite scheduling my Edinburgh visit to end before the start of the city’s major festivals start so as to avoid the crowds, I still encountered large crowds. Yesterday was a weekend, a Sunday to be precise. It didn’t occur to me at the time that weekends tend to be busy in tourist-laden cities.

I’m soooo glad I scheduled my Edinburgh visit to end before the festivals started so as to avoid the crowds. So much for that plan.

I should have realized that, but it would have been irrelevant if I had. Today is Monday, allegedly a workday for many people. Not only do I think none of the crowds left, but I’m fairly certain they called in considerable reinforcements. The city was chock-a-block with tourists today. 

True, being a tourist myself, I added to their number. So it’s difficult for me to complain about it. But I’m not one to be frightened off by difficult things. (Alright, yes I am. Usually very much so. But not in this case.)

Edinburgh Castle

Entrance to Edinburgh Castle
Entrance to Edinburgh Castle

Sheer cliffs protect Edinburgh Castle (website: https://www.edinburghcastle.scot) on three sides. Strong stone walls and battlements protect the fourth side. Never the less, the castle was defeated at least once in history. Not just in history. Today, a horde of tourists overran it. I know because I was one of them.

The castle comprises a collection of buildings within a fortified compound. The price of entry includes a free guided tour that lasts about half an hour. The tour provided an overview of the castle, it’s history, and some colourful anecdotes.

The tour did not go into any of the buildings. I had to do that on my own. Fortunately, I spent £3 in addition to the admission fee to rent an audioguide. It provided details on the buildings, their histories and their contents.

There are probably amazing views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area from up at the castle. I say probably because, if it’s true at all, it’s true only when the area is not blanketed by a haar. Specifically, not today.

A haar, the guide explained, is what they call a particularly heavy marine mist in Scotland. A haar blanketed the area when I was there. Hence, no great views. The guide assured us there would be some when the haar lifted later. I thought he meant later today. But I was there for more than three hours. The haar didn’t lift. It might have lightened barely perceptibly, maybe. But lift? No. Maybe he meant later this year or decade.

The guide told us he liked the haar for two reasons. For one, it meant he could tell us anything about the surrounding area and we wouldn’t know if he was telling us the truth. (He assured us the Firth of Forth was out there, but who knows?)

1:00 p.m. Gun

Second, with the haar present, he could not just tell us, but also show us, why, at 1:00 p.m., Edinburgh drops a ball from a tower in town—I didn’t see it, but I assume it’s like the ball drop in Times Square on New Years, but less glittery—and simultaneously fires a military-type gun from the castle. Both are done so mariners can set their timepieces. The ball drop came first, but sailors complained they often couldn’t see the ball drop because of the haars. Hence, they added the 1:00 p.m. gun in 1861.

The guide told us that many people ask him why they do the time check at 1:00 rather than noon. “The answer,” he explained, “is simple. The Royal Observatory does a noon time check, but we’re Scottish. We don’t like to spend money. Fire the gun 12 times at noon? Nay, put it off for an hour and we only have to fire it once.” (I paraphrased here due to my poor memory, but that’s pretty close to it.)

Buildings at the castle include one that houses the Scottish Crown Jewels. As with the English Crown Jewels in London, the powers that be forbid photography of these Crown Jewels as well. Sorry about that. The display included a nice crown and scepter. Enough said.

The Scottish Crown Jewels aren’t quite as numerous or impressive as the ones in London. But they are older.

In the seventeenth century, the British republicans sought to, and for eleven years succeeded to, replace the monarchy with a republic. When they did so, they destroyed the Crown Jewels In London. (Damn republicans!) Those Crown Jewels were replaced after the monarchy was restored. The republicans wanted to destroy the Scottish Crown Jewels as well (damn republicans!), but the Scots successfully hid their jewels in the north of Scotland.

The Stone of Destiny

The Crown Jewels display also included the Stone of Destiny. It’s more like a big rock than a stone, really. The monarchy employs the stone somehow in its coronation ceremonies. In 1296, King Edward I seized the stone from Scotland and moved it to London. It was briefly back in Scotland in 1950 when some Scottish students managed to steal it and move it to Arbroath Abbey in Scotland. The English formally returned it to Scotland in 1996 (on the condition that Scotland will send it back for coronations).

Other buildings at the Edinburgh Castle housed the Grand Hall , royal apartments, and a military prison. Still other buildings were put to more modern uses, such as museums and food services. 

A Light Lunch at Edinburgh Castle

One building held a tearoom. There, they served a “light lunch” that consisted of either soup and cake or Prosecco and cake. Both menu options carried the same price.

Hmm.

Soup ⚖️ Prosecco.

Soup ⚖️ Prosecco.

Soup ⚖️ Prosecco.

To make a short story long, I went with the Prosecco.

Here are some pictures of the buildings in the castle and the view from the castle, such as it was in the haar.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse entrance
Palace of Holyroodhouse entrance

After leaving Edinburgh Castle, I walked down the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Holyrood Palace is fit for a modern-day monarch. This is a good thing because, while she’s managing her Scottish affairs, the Queen stays in Holyrood Palace. This generally occurs for a week in late June, early July. The rest of the time, the Queen allows the masses to visit her castle in Edinburgh. There’s an entry fee. But of course there would be. I mean, the Queen’s got to live, doesn’t she?

The Queen usually also spends August in Balmoral in Scotland. That seems like a short time for the Queen of Scotland to spend in Scotland. True, she is also Queen of England, but still. Then again, the Queen of Canada, who is also the head of state of Canada, spends almost no time in Canada. It must be tough being Queen of England, Scotland, Wales, Canada and a bunch of other countries.

The admission fee includes an audioguide that describes the rooms on the set path through the palace. It also explains their historical use—along with some adventures and dastardly deeds, such as the assassination of the husband of Mary Queen of Scots—and their use today.

Palace of Holyroodhouse quadrangle
Palace of Holyroodhouse quadrangle

The rooms were beautiful, but the Queen’s household forbids photography inside the palace building. Thus, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with the photos of the entrance (above right), along with the grass quadrangle (left) situated just before going into the building.

When I was there, a few rooms held an exhibit on the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The audioguide went into excruciating detail on such things as the design of the wedding dress. (Excruciating, that is, for someone such as myself who would find it impossible to care less. I didn’t bother playing any of the other commentaries in that exhibit after listening to maybe half of the wedding dress discussion.)

Holyrood Abbey

Immediately beside Holyrood Palace, just outside the exit where they herded us cattle out, sits the haunting ruins of Holyrood Abbey. Founded in the 12th century, today the abbey is just walls with empty windows.

According to the audioguide commentary, the abbey used to extend much beyond the walls that stand today.

Because it is outside the palace proper, they (the royal “they”) allowed photography in the abbey ruins. Pictures follow.

Holyrood Palace Gardens

A stroll through the palace gardens, which spreads over 10 acres, was also included in the admission price. The gardens were beautiful, lush and tranquil. Flower beds, bushes, and trees dotted the grounds. A gentle path wound through verdant, precisely manicured lawns, with discrete little “keep off the grass” signs placed beside the paths.

In the picture below of what looks like little linear lumps in the outline of walls, that’s all that’s left of a monastery that used to be on the site long ago.

Other photos from the day

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