I'm now covering my last few days in the UK, which I mostly spent in Edinburgh. It's a lovely city, but I'm sorry to say that I didn't warm to it as much as I thought I would. That may have had something to do with inflated expectations (everybody I know who's been there raves about the place), and it may have had something to do with the fact that my summer wardrobe was no longer adequate in this more northerly clime, in early autumn. But I think it was mostly because, having come direct from Hadrian's Wall, I was now really impatient to get to Rome and see it for myself. Once I managed to put Edinburgh's position in my itinerary to one side, I did really enjoy it for itself.
Above: the Scottish National War Memorial (see below). Yet again I go for the easy silhouette effect.
My first objective after hitting town (after finding my hotel and dumping my bags) was Edinburgh Castle. The gatehouse, seen above, dates all the way back to 1888!
Well, I didn't come here to see some Victorian fantasy castle. Luckily, it gets better inside. Beyond the gatehouse is this sheer cliff face and wall, surmounted by the 16th-century Half-Moon Battery, lined with gun-ports.
Wait ... gun-ports? For cannon? In a castle? Not arrow loops for archers and crossbowmen? Well, yes. I honestly was a bit surprised to see so many cannon about. But, of course, castles that were in use up in the gunpowder era had to have up-to-date weapons.
This road along the base of the Half-Moon Battery, leading into the 16th-century portcullis beyond, looks quite defensible. And it is. The longest siege endured by the castle lasted over a year, in 1571-3: the Lang Siege. Forces loyal to Mary, Queen of Scots held the castle against Regent Morton's army, and were only defeated when the latter rather unsportingly called in heavy siege cannon from the English. These destroyed the huge David's Tower, which stood where the Half-Moon battery is today. In fact, much of the castle's architecture dates to the rebuilding after the Lang Siege or later.
Looking northish over the battlements, towards the port of Leith, on the Firth of Forth. As you can see, the castle has a (I suppose, literally) commanding view of the city: a cannonball fired from up here would land in amongst all those houses.
Unlike all the others, this cannon is in working condition; in fact, it's used every day. It only fires blanks though -- it's the One O'clock Gun. I'm not sure where I was at 1pm on the days I was in Edinburgh, but I never did get to hear it.
This bit looks particularly castlelike, though it's apparently just a water cistern. (It's in the Crown Court, on the left is the bookshop, on the right is Foog's Gate.)
The little building on the left is St Margaret's Chapel, the oldest building in the castle. It was built early in the 12th century, probably by the future David I.
One of the chapel's tiny stained glass windows (from a relatively recent restoration). What they saved on stained glass they probably lost on candles, summed over the centuries.
From the other side, inside the chapel. From the 16th century, it was used as a gunpowder store -- it's lucky to have survived!
Now this is a cannon: Mons Meg, 6 tons of spitting iron. With a caliber is 22 inches, it fired 180 kg of shot at a time over a distance of two miles (at least, from up here it would). Meg's early history is a bit obscure but it was made in the mid-15th century in Hainaut, then part of the Duke of Burgundy's lands. Whether it was ever actually used in battle or siege doesn't seem very clear. The last time it was fired, in 1681, the barrel burst and it was unceremoniously dumped outside Foog's Gate, where it lay for a seventy years until somebody took it away to the Tower of London.
I'm not a dog person, but I found this very touching: a 19th-century cemetery for soldiers' dogs.
The ceiling of the bedchamber in the Royal Palace where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James VI and I (actually, I think he was born in a tiny room to one side). Note the thistles, and the inscriptions MR and IR (Maria Regina and Iacobus Rex, I assume). The view of the city from here is stunning. The palace also contains, among other things, the Stone of Destiny, which sounds like something out of a cheap Tolkien knock-off but is actually a rather important historical object; and a fascinating exhibition about the prisoners kept here over the centuries. I had no idea that American sailors captured during the War of Independence were brought here, for example.
I have noted here before that the Imperial War Museum didn't really impress me as a war memorial -- not as much as the Shrine of Remembrance or the Australian War Memorial. For that matter, I don't think at any of the major memorials I saw in London (the Cenotaph, for example) were as impressive as the ones back home. (Which is not at all to say they weren't moving, but I'm a peasant, I suppose -- I think big things are cool.) But the Scottish National War Memorial is much more like it. It's imposing and sombre, and sits at the top of Castle Rock in the heart of the castle and of the city. It commemorates 206,284 Scots who fell in the wars of the twentieth century.
Like the IWM, it's adapted from an existing building, in this case an 18th century barracks. Which I didn't actually realise when I was there. But the whole thing works for me. (Plus it has gargoyles!)
The National War Museum also resides within the castle (along with a couple of regimental museums), and is definitely worth a visit. Here's a gas mask for a baby from 1939: note the bellows at the side, for pumping air in so the baby can breathe; compare with the one shown here. (Also note the Protect and Survive pamphlet.)
Descending from the mount through the Old Town, along the famous Royal Mile. (Though, now that I think about it, I don't think I actually walked the whole mile. I'll have to go back.)
When is a police box not a TARDIS? When it's in Edinburgh.
The Lothian Chambers, on George IV Bridge. Not of any great historical significance, but I like the way it gleams in the sun.
St Giles' Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh. (The Tron Kirk has a way cooler name, though.) The statue is of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, who was the grandfather of the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, one of the earliest British airpower theorists and whose archives I looked at in London.
I don't know how safe Edinburgh is at night (though the area I was staying in did get a bit lively), but you wouldn't catch me walking down there after dark ...
I'll end with two more war memorials. Here's the Stone of Remembrance in front of the City Chambers. (The statue behind is Alexander taming Bucephalus. Why, I have no idea.) Oddly, it doesn't seem to be listed in the UK National Inventory of War Memorials, or if it is, it's well hidden.
This, on the South Bridge, is the King's Own Scottish Borderers Memorial. Unlike the Scottish National War Memorial and the Stone of Remembrance, which are from the post-First World War period, this was unveiled in 1906 and commemorates the KOSB's sacrifices in campaigns from Afghanistan to South Africa.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://airminded.org/copyright/.