A favourite place of Mary Queen of Scots
Visiting Craigmillar Castle should be near the top of any list of things to do in Edinburgh. Often considered Edinburgh’s ‘other’ castle, it is smaller than its ‘big brother’ in the Old Town. Craigmillar Castle with its long and fascinating history is set in a peaceful location within a natural heritage park. The surroundings make it easy to forget the nearby urban landscape. For lovers of Scotland’s history and heritage it’s a really special place to explore.
Six FAQs about Craigmillar Castle
Craigmillar lies about 4 miles south east of Edinburgh Castle.
Craigmillar Castle began life as a simple tower house built in the late 1300s.
Over the centuries the castle has had a number of owners including the influential Preston family who owned the castle for over two and a half centuries. The beautiful Preston Aisle in St Giles Cathedral is named after Sir William Preston.
Mary Queen of Scots, who visited on several occasions, enjoyed the peaceful location.
Yes, a number of scenes were filmed there. For example it featured as Outlander’s Ardsmuir Prison in episode 3, ‘All Debts Paid.’
The castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland on behalf of the nation.
History of Craigmillar Castle
Of course the story of Craigmillar Castle is not one merely of bricks and mortar but essentially one of the people associated with it.
The influential Preston family who owned the castle for over two and a half centuries must take centre stage and while some members have faded from view, a number have left their mark. But others too are important, for those who visited, besieged or were imprisoned in the castle are also important parts of the story.
Historic Environment Scotland which now manage the property, doesn’t date the initial construction of the present castle exactly, simply saying that it was started before 1400. The tower house, the oldest part of the castle was probably built in the late 14th century by Simon Preston (I) or his son Simon (II).
St Giles’ Cathedral
Returning from a trip to France C.1450, it was Sir William Preston who presented “withoutyn ony condicion” a reliquary containing the arm bone of St Giles, patron saint of Edinburgh, to St Giles’ Cathedral, although it subsequently ‘disappeared’ during the Reformation. The Preston Aisle which still exists today was built in Sir William’s memory.
It is Sir Simon Preston (IV) (d. in or before 1575) that we know most about. He was a powerful figure, with a long association with the Burgh of Edinburgh as administrator, lord provost, on a number of occasions, and advisor and occasional host to Mary Queen of Scots.
He was one of the welcome party for Mary of Guise (mother of Mary Queen of Scots) when she arrived in Edinburgh to join her husband James V in 16 November 1538.
During the days Mary Queen of Scots spent there, a scheme was hatched to ‘deal ‘with her husband Lord Darnley which became known as the Craigmillar Bond. Darnley was later murdered.
Lord Darnley’s murder
Did she know about the plot? It seems unlikely that she did not, particularly at she had made it clear at Craigmillar that she had wanted rid of Darnley.
From an architectural point of view Craigmillar Castle might be considered an amalgam of styles as successive owners made changes, some of which are difficult to date accurately. From a layman’s perspective, the description of the castle as a complex of structures and spaces with nooks and crannies to explore is entirely appropriate.
The joy of Craigmillar is that because much remains intact you can explore the castle on a number of levels. From the top of the tower house, where on a clear day you can see the more famous Edinburgh Castle, to the Laird’s Hall, Queen Mary’s room and the courtyard and gardens.
By 1660 ownership of Craigmillar Castle had transferred to Sir John Gilmour a distinguished judge and remained in his family for some time. Although Gilmour modernized much of the west range making it more suitable for family living, he finally moved to more comfortable surroundings at Inch House in nearby Gilmerton.
Within a century the Castle had become “a romantic ruin in the landscape “and in 1949 the Gilmour family entrusted it to state care.
HOW TO GET TO CRAIGMILLAR CASTLE
Although there are plenty of parking spaces at the Castle the best way to get there is by bus. There are a number of them which leave from the city centre. Check out Lothian Buses for details. The stop you want is at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary which makes it easy to find. From there it’s only a short walk to the Castle along the path which runs through the hospital grounds.