After hiking up the steady incline of the castle esplanade, we crossed under the gateway to Edinburgh Castle, flanked on either side by imposing statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, just steps away from the spiked portcullis gate. Deciding where to explore first was difficult, as everywhere we turned presented an invitation into Scotland’s historical past.
David’s Tower? The Royal Palace where monarchs once resided? The Half-Moon Battery? The Argyle Tower? The prison vaults? The war memorials? Finding ourselves standing at the base of Lang Stairs, we opted to climb them to a higher point of the formidable fortress and begin from there.
Once we reached the Crown Square, we had access to the crown jewels, the oldest in the British Isles, in the Crown Room. Their historical significance rests in the fact that, for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543, the crown, the sceptre, and the sword of state were all used for the first time.
A small room known as the birth chamber of the first monarch of both England and Scotland, King James VI, who was born in 1566, was our next stop. While interesting, it paled in comparison to the nearby Great Hall. An impressive hall containing a collection of battle armor and weapons and of Victorian stained glass honoring the kings and the queens of Scotland, this room still features its original hammerbeam ceiling.
We departed the hall to return to the square, where we moved in what felt like a natural direction to the next stop. Upon entering the building, we were swiftly greeted.
“Tea for two?” suggested a friendly young face.
My husband and I glanced at each other.
“Sure,” we replied in unison. After all, when it’s afternoon in Scotland, we are obligated to partake in the traditional afternoon tea, right? Of course, the chocolate cake was optional. Or was it, really?
As it turned out, indulging in the short break was incredibly beneficial. It allowed us time to reflect upon what we’d already seen and to anticipate what remained to be discovered. More importantly, it allowed us to be mindful of the present moment. To appreciate our location and the significance of everything around us.
Once refreshed, we spent a little time scanning the illustrated panels that provide an overview of the castle’s history. Then it was on to St. Margaret’s Chapel, where we lingered. Small in size, capable of holding up to only 20 people, the chapel is said to be the oldest building in Edinburgh. Built in honor of Queen Margaret, who was canonized in 1250, its beauty is in its simplicity. Stones and a few stained-glass windows.
From the chapel, we made our way out to the wall of the castle, where we enjoyed panoramic views of the city. Prior to arriving at the castle, we had admired the silhouette that defines the Edinburgh Skyline. Now, leaning on the ancient stones of the battlements, we were a part of the skyline ourselves. Worth noting nearby was Mons Meg, a powerful cannon, or siege gun, that could fire cannonballs, or gunstones, up to two miles.
By this point, our time at this magnificent legacy to Scottish history was coming to an end. Reluctantly, we headed back toward the cobbled walkway where we had entered a few short hours before. I can think of only a few times when I experienced a setting that made me feel like I’d taken a literal journey back in time. This was definitely one of them.
(Note: Marjorie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)