Scotland is my homeland and yet, until recently, I’d never seen inside Edinburgh Castle. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get tickets for Edinburgh Castle. I’ve certainly viewed the imposing and iconic landmark on Castle Rock many times over many years while I’ve been shopping on Princes Street. I’ve often gazed up at the battlements while sitting having my lunch on a bench in Princes Street Gardens.
I’ve walked up the Royal Mile towards the castle countless times. I’ve been able to set my watch by the boom of the mighty one o’clock gun still fired from the castle ramparts every day except on Sundays. I have also attended the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on occasion. It’s held on the castle esplanade (normally used as the car park) at the top of the Royal Mile. So, technically not within the main castle walls.
But, in August this year, I decided to buy tickets for Edinburgh Castle for both myself and for my best friend as part of our girl’s weekend itinerary in Edinburgh. A weekend we had been promising ourselves since we last spent a weekend in Edinburgh seven years earlier when Edinburgh had been alive and bustling and noisy and crowded with people and with visitors from all over the world.
August is normally the time of the world’s largest arts festival – the Edinburgh Fringe and the Edinburgh Festival – and getting around the city means jostling through crowds to see the events happening on the street, to get tickets for the shows, a drink in a pub, or a seat in a restaurant. And, normally, lines of visitors hoping to see inside the castle would be snaking down the royal mile in Disney-esque style organised queuing lines before shuffling their way forward through the great gate and along the cobbled walkways within the fortified walls amongst the sheer numbers of people who want ‘to do’ the castle as part of their tour of the capital city of Scotland.
During our August weekend in Edinburgh, the weather was ‘dreich and dour’. This means that the Scottish sky was leaden grey and a cold wind was blowing in off the Firth of Forth. This is normal summer weather in Scotland, I’m afraid. It’s possible to experience all four seasons in one day in Edinburgh. Normally, this isn’t a reason for people not to take to the streets and explore the city. It just means you’d certainly need your boots, your raincoat, and your umbrella with you to stay warm and dry. Except, of course, this is 2020 and things are far from normal.
This year, all of Edinburgh’s famous festival events and planned celebrations have been cancelled. So, my friend and I explored Edinburgh at a leisurely and socially distanced pace, with umbrellas up, and our face masks on. We took advantage of there not being as many people on the streets or any foreign visitors lining up to take advantage of all that Edinburgh normally had to offer. We indulged ourselves and punctuated our itinerary by darting into the almost empty pubs on the Royal Mile for a warming dram and to avoid the worst of the rain showers.
Above: We dashed into a wee pub on the Royal Mile to escape the rain showers.
And, as we had done seven years earlier, we had a fabulous lunch together in The Secret Garden at The Witchery by the Castle – a favourite and fabulous restaurant at the top of the Royal Mile that is so gorgeously atmospheric and ancient.
Photos: The Witchery by the Castle is at the top of the Royal Mile. We ate lunch in The Secret Garden; a basement courtyard decorated in authentic Gothic style and built into the foundations of Castle Hill. The photo of us above left was taken in 2013 and the one on the right in 2020!
Then, in the late afternoon, we made our way across the esplanade (see photo below) to the castle entrance where once again there was no one queuing. In fact, there was no line of people at all. Our tickets (pre-booked online) were checked and scanned by an attendant and we made our way through the main gate, past the guarding statues of Robert The Bruce and William Wallace, Scotland’s freedom fighters, and into the castle.
This is where I first realised this was going to be a tour of Edinburgh Castle like no other tour in normal circumstances. We were going to see Edinburgh Castle as many people had never seen it before… totally devoid of any visitors and tourists.
Do come along on this personally guided tour of the most famous castle in Scotland via my photographs taken on that day. I do happen to think the heavy grey skies only added to the surreal atmosphere and to the incredible scenery on the castle battlements and the views over the misty visa of the sprawling city beneath and to the Firth of Forth beyond.
Standing so close to the guns – particularly the monstrously famous Mons Meg – was awe inspiring. Then, in the photos below, contemplating alone inside the almost bare and holy space inside St Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest building in the whole of Edinburgh and the only structure to be spared from the destruction by Robert The Bruce when he captured the castle in 1314 – gave me goosebump chills but in a good way because it felt like such an incredible privilege.
I’d set a romantic scene inside St Margaret’s Chapel in my book Bagpipes and Bullshot. It was where the hero and heroine of the story had married and yet I’d written the scene entirely from my online research. To stand inside a place where I’d already been in my mind but never physically held a special kind of ambient pleasure.
I was always acutely aware, during the entire couple of hours of leisurely time spent inside Edinburgh Castle in August 2020, that the whole experience that day was quite specially and wholly unique. To have the unexpected opportunity to explore these castle walls and it’s ancient building and spooky stone rooms while it was almost devoid of visitors, was a strange kind of luxury for the mere price of an entry ticket.
It was also incredible to stand in the Great Hall, where Mary Queen of Scots had once dined and where Kings of Scotland, including Robert the Bruce, and Scottish Noblemen had held court.
I gazed up at the giant wooden beams in the roof structure and then to the enormous and dramatic painting that echoes the castles role as a military base entitled The Fight For The Standard (Richard Ansdell 1815-1885) and then all around me at the armoury and artefacts that span thousands of years of Scottish warmongering.
Lining the wall along one long side of the hall there are exhibits of medieval armour and swords and shields and a huge and quite terrifying fighting axe. The opposite wall has large mullioned and beautiful stain glass windows and velvet covered window seats.
I stared in wonder at the enormous medieval fireplace at the far end of the hall, where I imagined many souls had once warmed themselves against the biting chill emanating from all the draughty windows and arrow slits in the castle walls.
The only disappointment of the day was to discover that the Crown Room, displaying the famous Crown Jewels, the oldest crown jewels in Britain – first used in a coronation of a monarch in 1543 when Mary Queen of Scots came to the throne – and known as ‘Honours of Scotland’, together with the iconic ‘Stone of Destiny’ (the stone was returned from Westminster Abbey in London in 1996) having been used for centuries to inaugurate kings and queens, was closed due to Covid safety reasons. I suppose this means I’ll have to go back one day to see these important historic treasures and symbols of Scottish independence for myself. And, no doubt I’ll have to accept joining the visiting crowds and waiting in long lines, the next time I do.
As you can see, I’ve taken lots of photos and I hope you’ve enjoyed them.
I also hope you’ve enjoyed seeing Edinburgh Castle in a way that not many people will ever have seen it before… empty and devoid of tourists.
Edinburgh Castle: Things To Know Before You Go.
IMPORTANT: Please check Scottish Government Guidance before travelling.
Edinburgh Castle has introduced limits on visitor numbers to keep everyone safe and so to visit Edinburgh Castle you MUST buy your ticket ONLINE and IN ADVANCE from the Official Castle Website. Opening times are 9.30- 5pm.
Six Interesting Facts About Edinburgh Castle:
Castle Rock was formed millions of years ago from volcanic activity.
There is evidence of human settlement on the rock from the stone age.
A fortress was built on the rock in Roman times, but the walls that form the foundation and structure that we see today, were first constructed by King David the First in 1130.
The Scottish crown jewels were lost in the castle for almost a century. They were found by Sir Walter Scott in 1818 – along with a mysterious silver wand – and put on display.
The One O’clock Gun has been fired from the battlements and has kept time for the citizens of Edinburgh and sailors on the Firth of Forth since 1861.
The castle is haunted by the Ghost of the Lone Piper.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: Bagpipes, marching bands, military hardware and an ocean of kilts – the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a colourful and spectacular show performed by the armed forces. It is held on the Edinburgh Castle esplanade every year during the Edinburgh International Festival. Tickets are limited for 2021 but they are on sale now. Find out more and how to buy your tickets from the official Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Website.