Ike has been staying with GC’s good friend Jane, and she has been kind enough to take him out and about to see some interesting places and share their adventures with the whole GC community. Having paid their respects to Grayfriars Bobby, Jane and Ike headed into an area of Edinburgh known as the Old Town. The Grassmarket is a historic market place that lies below Edinburgh Castle. It was very busy and so Ike and his friends walked up West Bow.
This is a well-known curved road in Edinburgh, first recorded in 1160 and now possessing a second name, Victoria Street, after Queen Victoria. Halfway up the hill the name changes to Bow Bar, and then Upper Bow. At the top of this road is the George IV Bridge, taking the party onto the Royal Mile before arriving at Edinburgh Castle.
Edinburgh Castle is an iconic building and is well known throughout the world. Historically it was one of the most important strongholds in the Kingdom of Scotland from the 14th-century Wars of Scottish Independence to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.
Visits have to be pre-booked at the moment and this had all been arranged by Jane who had booked everyone in for the visit. Entry to the castle was carefully monitored with directional arrows guiding visitors around the one-way system and strict hygiene procedures were in place.
Many areas of the castle were closed due to Covid 19 but there was still plenty to see.
The summit of Castle Rock, on which the castle stands, is 130 metres above sea level and it has rocky cliffs on the south, west and north, rearing up some 80 metres from the surrounding landscape. People have lived on Castle Rock since at least the Iron Age and there has been a royal castle on the site since the 12th century. Since then it remained a royal residence until 1633 when Charles I became the last Scottish monarch to inhabit the castle. Through the ages, the castle has been used as a royal residence, a prison, and an army garrison.
The Half Moon Battery was erected between 1573 and 1588, and was part of the castle’s defences, giving the canons a wide angle of fire behind the tall unsurmountable castle walls. Ike was impressed with the canons which were facing in the direction of the Firth of Forth.
The Great Hall was constructed during the reign of James IV and was completed in 1511. It is located in Crown Square and has a large display of weapons and armour reminiscent of its military past.
Having looked around the Great Hall, Ike and friends went to St Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest part of the castle.
St Margaret’s Chapel was built by King David I, around 1130. It was named after his mother Queen Margaret who was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1250. It is also the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh and is a category A listed building. In the 1500’s it was used as a gunpower store.
Ike admired the stained glass windows which were made by Douglas Strachan in 1922 and which depict St Margaret and other Scottish saints.
Next to Hospital Square where the statue of Earl Haig, the First World War general, was located. This statue was originally located outside the castle gates but was moved to its present location in 2011 and was unveiled and rededicated by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.
The Prisons of War Exhibition is located in the Edinburgh Castle’s dungeons. It offers a glimpse of life for the prisoners of many nationalities who were imprisoned there. The prisoners were from many countries including France, America, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Poland. The vaults have been laid out in the same way as they would have been around 1800 and shows how unpleasant the conditions must have been for the prisoners.
The first prisoners were French privateers caught in 1758, soon after the Seven Years’ War began. The youngest held was a five-year-old drummer boy captured at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Most of the prisoners were sailors with many of them Americans fighting in the War of Independence. Audio, including voices and various sounds from the time, was playing in the background to add to the experience of life in the prison.
Ike was interested to learn that Caribbean pirates were held in the vaults before they became a prison of war. In 1720, 21 members of Black Bart’s crew were captured off the coast of Argyll. They had come to Scotland to retire. Instead, most were hanged. Many prisoners tried to escape, and Ike was surprised to hear that in 1811, 49 prisoners escaped through a hole in the defenses that is still visible today. All but one made it safely down the Castle Rock, but were recaptured.
On reflection, Ike was relieved to have been a visitor, rather than a captive at this historic location. He’ll be back soon with another Scottish Adventure.