Sunday, June 24, 2007

Craigmillar Castle

On Wednesday (June 20), I had plans to take my class to the small village/Edinburgh suburb of Cramond with is on the shores of the Forth of Firth. However, we woke up to rain (surprise), and plans quickly changed. Caren planned to take her class to see Edinburgh Castle, so we decided to join them (see previous posts). By lunch time the sun had come out and the sky was filled with puffy white clouds. My class waited for the one o’clock cannon, then sought out lunch, to be followed by a trip to Holyrood Abbey.

Lunch was at a burger place on the Royal Mile called Wannaburger. The d├ęcor was simple modern and the burger options were numerous. Vegetarians (and our numbers are growing on this trip) were able to get a veggie burger fixed in any of 13 ways. I stuck with veggie burger with cheese, and it was HUGE! We were able to eat at the sidewalk tables, a rare treat in rainy Edinburgh.

After lunch we walked the entire Royal Mile until the terminus at the new Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace. There was some confusion on the abbey entrance, and plans once again changed. To get the most out of our newly purchased Explorer’s Passes (bought at Edinburgh Castle through Historic Scotland), we searched the maps for acceptable and nearby alternatives. Thus, we jumped a bus (several actually) to head out to Craigmillar Castle, which is located near the Royal Infirmary, in a not so nice part of town (which we didn’t find out until the next day, and that was fine with me – although the abrupt end of the sidewalk should have been a clue!).

Craigmillar Castle is quite different from Edinburgh Castle – the former is in ruins, the latter is a major tourist attraction. Craigmillar was more of a residence, where as Edinburgh was more of a fortress with numerous levels and cannons, and it still houses an active military unit (with quirky red feathers in their caps). Craigmillar is in the countryside with sweeping views of mountains to the west and south, Arthur’s Seat to the northwest, and the North Sea, to the north. Queen Mary of Scots sought peace and solitude here after witnessing the violent murder of her closest confidante and secretary. From the pictures you can see why she would come here. Edinburgh Castle is a powerful symbol of royal and military authority, with numerous levels and buildings, all seeming to have grown out of the extinct volcano they are sitting atop. Impressive.

The journey to Craigmillar was just as much fun as being at the ruins. I used the directions as described in the Historic Scotland brochure…”take any bus to the Royal Infirmary. Follow footpath to the castle.” Sounds straightforward, but I have learned on this trip that Scots give directions like American countryfolk (although I think we use more landmarks…turn right at the big oak, go aways…etc.). I choose to get us off at a stop on the #33 (bus that is) because I happened to see a sign that read “Craigmillar Castle ½) with an arrow. I thought “Good. Signage.” This is where the sidewalk ended and I must say it didn’t resemble Shel Silverstein’s musings at all!

We (which includes myself and 10 students) walked up the road (a slightly dangerous proposition considering that pedestrians do not have the right-of-way in Scotland), when I saw a signpost for the castle, and a small break in the fence…and the fabled footpath. So, off we go, climbing several stretches of increasingly steep hillside. Beautiful, yes, but I couldn’t help thinking “this better be worth it.” At one point, with no castle in sight, I was afraid my class might mutiny. At least the weather was perfect!

Anyway, here is our first glimpse of the castle, and we quickly realized we were in for a treat. Glimpsing the castle was one thing, getting into the castle was quite another. There was a fence surrounding the entire thing (along with near-waist high grass and cows), and no real entrance that we could see. One student went on a recon mission to the fence, but didn’t have too much information. So we all trooped through the tall grass (luckily Scotland has few snakes, only one that is poisonous which lives in the Highlands, far, far away from where we were), and climbed the fence (I like to think of this as “storming the castle”). We more or less had the place to ourselves on a day when the sky could not have been bluer, the breeze softer, and the mood happy and peaceful. This is one outing the eleven of us will not forget anytime soon.

Courtyard of the castle

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