August in Edinburgh is busy, so I should have known better when I planned a visit to Edinburgh Castle, which rises above the hustle and bustle of the city. I immediately thought “Screw This”, as the throngs of tourists poured out of their tour buses and through the gate of the Castle. And then I saw how much it cost to enter Edinburgh Castle, and muttered “F**k that”.
As a budget traveller, I’m sometimes willing to part with my cash for an unforgettable experience, such as in the Paris Catacombs or Amsterdam’s Rijsmuesum. But I shuddered at the thought of handing over £18 just to be shunted around Edinburgh Castle with a shrill group of selfie stick wielding tourists (who are no doubt more terrifying than a sword wielding 17th century Knight).
So wait, you went to Edinburgh and didn’t see a castle?!
Ah ha, nonsense! A quick search brought up the impressive 14th century Craigmillar Castle. Set among courtyards and manicured lawns, the castle is in a quiet, semi-rural setting south of the city centre. I jumped on my bike and discovered that despite being a swift 20 minute ride from the Royal Mile, Craigmillar was deserted, even on a Sunday in the height of tourist season! I had a whole medieval castle to myself!
Craigmillar is one of the best preserved Medieval castles in all of Scotland, and it’s possible to explore the narrow passages, creepy vaults and rooftop alcoves without coming across another soul.
The main entrance into the castle. Craigmiller was built by the influential Preston family, and is known to have hosted Queen Mary of the Scots during her tumultuous time as Monarch.
Craigmillar is surrounded by green fields and forests where deer can be spotted throughout the year…. All this just 20 minutes from the Royal Mile!
The castle was built in the early 14th century by the influential Preston family and greatly expanded over the next 3 centuries. It was sold in 1660 to the Gilmour family and quietly fell into ruin. Nonetheless, t remains one of the best preserved castle ruins in Scotland.
The interior of the castle has been untouched. The grand banquet halls and dungeons have been left bear, allowing the visitor to imagine what it would have been like to live in a grand castle 400 years ago.
The main Towerhouse of the castle reaches four stories, and unlike many other castles, it is well lit with large windows letting in plenty of sunlight.
The castles most famous guest was Queen Mary of Scots and it was here in 1566 that an agreement was made to dispose of her husband, Lord Darnle – possibly through divorce.. Her co-conspirators however, planned an execution and murdered Lord Darnie the following year.
The dizzying and tight spiral staircases of the towerhouse wind all the way up to the master bedrooms and the rooftop.
Looking towards East Lothian above the family chapel, built in 1520 and dedicated to St. Thomas Becke. It is still used as a burial site for the Gilmour family today.
The inner courtyard contains the Coat of Arms of the Preston family, who originally built the castle, and a plaque of the Royal Arms of Scotland.
The majority of the castle is open to the public, which means you can clamber up crumbling staircases onto the old castle walls or onto the roof. Health and safety takes a backseat in places like this.
The 360 degree views from the castle are spectacular on a clear day. Towards the city centre, you can easily identify Edinburgh castle, the former St. Johns church spire and Arthurs Seat.
To the south, lies the Royal Infirmary hospital rolling fields and the Pentlands. And beyond, the aul enemy, the English!
[mapsmarker marker=”3″]The most enjoyable way to reach the castle is by cycling or walking along the old Innocent Railway route, a unique pathway that tunnels under the south of Edinburgh, emerging in Duddingston, just to the north of the castle. It takes just 20 minutes on a bike or roughly a 1 hour walk along the pathway. Bicycle rental is available Monday – Saturday from the Leith Cycle Co (map). It costs £17 per day and the staff are more than happy to help with directions and maps.
Lothian Buses route 14 stops to the north of a castle while numbers 8 and 33 drop you off at the Royal Infirmary hospital. Both stops are a 15 minute walk from the castle.
The Bare Necessities The castle is open almost everyday of the year. Entrance to the Castle costs £5.50, tickets available from the boisterous staff in the wee gatehouse at the Castle gates. See the official Historic Scotland website for more information on opening hours and prices.