It doesn’t take much to persuade me to go off and explore one of Edinburgh’s historic sites that I’ve never been to before. visiting Craigmillar Castle turned out to be a really informative and enjoyable experience.
Visiting Craigmillar Castle
It lies about 3 miles south-east of the city centre but although it’s out of town it’s easy to find. Simply catch a bus which goes to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary get off there and take the path through the hospital grounds the short distance to the castle. Don’t be tempted to walk up Craigmillar Castle Road, as I did, it’s very busy and there is no pavement.
I arrived on a typical Scottish summer day; it was raining although the sun did come out from time to time. Despite the drizzle I stopped to admire the wonderful view across to Arthur’s Seat. Because the castle is set within Craigmillar Castle Park, a natural heritage park, you feel you are in the country and not within Edinburgh’s urban sprawl.
It was quiet, despite the fact that it was the peak tourist season and I wondered why more people didn’t make the journey. I chatted to the Historic Environment Scotland staff, definitely a knowledgeable bunch, bought my guidebook and off I went.
Mary Queen of Scots
Craigmillar Castle has carved its own place in medieval Scottish history. Of course, it’s closely associated with Mary Queen of Scots who fled there following the murder of her secretary David Rizzio at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in March 1566 and later in the November of that year when the plot to murder her wayward husband Lord Darnley was hatched.
Unlike it big brother Edinburgh Castle, Craigmillar Castle, which began life, probably in the late 14th century, as a much simpler tower house, has no guns, tapestries or period furniture to admire but it does have plenty of places to explore: the old kitchen, the laird’s hall, Queen Mary’s bedchamber and numerous other nooks and crannies. The great hall, which is particularly well-preserved, serves as a venue for weddings and other functions.
Despite its royal connections Craigmillar Castle was essentially a family residence, home for nearly three centuries to the Preston family, many of whom were prominent local figures, indeed a number served as Lord Provost including Sir Simon Preston (d. in or before 1575) advisor and confidant to Mary Queen of Scots.
St Giles’ Cathedral
The guide book offers lots of little thought provoking ‘nuggets’ to consider and for the really enthusiastic historical sleuth a number of other places, associated with the Preston family to investigate. They include the Preston Aisle in St Giles’ Cathedral and the small plaque in the entrance to Edinburgh City Chambers which marks the site of Sir Simon Preston’s townhouse, the spot where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night before being taken as a prisoner to Lochleven Castle.
While the property, because of all the additions over the years, had no obvious visitor route to follow, I thought that added to the enjoyment. For me the castle was definitely worth a visit, what an intriguing story it has to tell. I thoroughly enjoyed my couple of hours at Craigmillar.
Some access tips
The castle has five levels with the visitor centre on the ground level. There is some rough ground, which needs a little care, and a number of staircases, including some spiral ones to negotiate. Take care on the steps to the uppermost viewing platform. There are handrails to help, some are fixed and others are rope.
There are some ‘gloomy’ areas so taking a small torch is worthwhile. Although the guidebook has a fair amount of detail, the signage boards are also really helpful and informative. I found the toilets clean and there is a disabled one, the access code to it was printed on my receipt. If you’re driving, there’s a small car park with a disabled bay.
You can find out a bit more about Craigmillar Castle on this Truly Edinburgh page.
Historic Environment Scotland – Visitor Information Craigmillar Castle