Step inside Edinburgh’s ‘other castle’, which stood a mile outside the old city walls, providing a retreat from Scotland’s capital. Craigmillar Castle was close to the political cauldron of Edinburgh, but pleasingly separate from it.
Mary Queen of Scots famously used the castle as a safe haven in 1566. Ironically, its owner, Sir Simon Preston, a loyal supporter of Mary, would turn her jailer just a year later.
Edinburgh is Scotland's compact, hilly capital. It has a medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings. Looming over the city is Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish rulers. Arthur’s Seat is an imposing peak in Holyrood Park with sweeping views, and Calton Hill is topped with monuments and memorials.
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Craigmillar Castle has many nooks and crannies to explore. Originally a simple tower house residence, the castle grew into a complex of structures and spaces as each owner improved its comfort and facilities.
Its gardens and parkland were also important. The present day Craigmillar Castle Park reminds us of the castle’s days as a rural retreat a short distance from Scotland’s capital.
The original tower house of the late 1300s is at the core. Craigmillar was among the first of this type of castle to be built in Scotland.
The tower house:
stands 17m tall to its battlements
has walls almost 3m thick
holds a maze of rooms, including a fine great hall on the first floor
The courtyard wall, built in the 1400s, is well preserved, with gunholes shaped like inverted keyholes. A private family chapel and other secondary buildings lie inside the wall.
The west range was rebuilt after 1660 as a family residence for the Gilmour family.
Royal guest turned prisoner
Queen Mary’s Room, on the first floor of the tower house, is where Mary Queen of Scots is said to have slept in 1566. But it’s more likely that she had a multi-roomed apartment when she stayed at Craigmillar, probably in the east range.
Owner Sir Simon Preston was a loyal supporter of Mary, who had appointed him Provost of Edinburgh. Ironically, he would become her jailer for her first night as a prisoner after her capture in 1567. Mary was taken from his townhouse in the High Street to Lochleven Castle the next day.
A number of fine ‘veteran’ trees stand in the grounds. One old sycamore to the south of the castle has grown around a drystone dyke.
Some of the plants growing by the castle were likely part of the original castle garden. These include Good-King-Henry – once widely eaten as a vegetable.
What to see and do
Climb the tower house, one of Scotland’s oldest, which houses fascinating features like a fine great hall and a prison