One of the many blessings of studying archaeology in Scotland… is, well, being in Scotland.
Today, I decided to take a break from my Archaeology revisions and go out and visit a real archaeological site. And, not just any site… a 14th century castle.
** HIGH LEVELS OF GEEKING OUT BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED **
Normally, back home if I wanted to look at a medieval castle I would have go online or look at pictures in books… this morning I walked 2.5 miles from my dorm room and was at the foot of Cragmillar Castle, a castle with its foundations in the 14th century but had been built on until the 17th.
I met up with two friends from Mountaineering, Gregor and Felix, at the entrance to Holyrood Park around 11 AM this morning. From there we walked the 2.5 miles bike path that lead from the park to the castle (you know because Mountaineers don’t need the bus). It was a really nice morning as well, and quite unusually warm for December.
This was one of the best castles I have ever seen. It was so well preserved and we basically had the entire place to ourselves. There were a few other people around but only toward the end of our visit. And also, this castle was basically completely open. You could go everywhere, up stairs, down stairs, on the parapet, through tunnels, into rooms… barely anything was blocked off. I cried on everything.
The castle was build in three layers, the innermost Tower House was built in the 14th century, the first layer of walls was 15-16th, and the outermost walls were 17th. The castle has a long history, Mary Queen of Scots was even rumored to have stayed there! It was also surprising navigable. Many of the room connected into one another and because of the openness of the site, you really got a good feeling as to how people would have moved around the castle during their day to day life.
We started outside and worked our way around and then inside. Everything was there… chamber rooms, fireplaces, a great hall, TOWERS!! even a dungeon en-suite prison cell (more on that later).
(click through the slideshow to see more pictures)
The castle was bought by the Preston family in the 1600s and they decided they wanted to buliding a pool in the shape of a ‘P.’ You know, what else do you do with your extortionate amount of money… build a name pool right next to your castle!
Parts of the castle even showed evidence of being two or three stories. You can tell this from the post-holes of the sides of the walls where the wood floor boards would have been or when three fireplaces line up along the wall… often times the chimneys would be connected over a few different floors. This would have made the middle levels quite toasty during the Scottish winters.
(Also, geeky side note on the fireplaces… you could still see the smoke and soot staining in a lot of them. I recognized it because the marks were really similar to the fire marks I saw in Knossos in Crete this March.)
Just so you can see how close the castle is to the center of Edinburgh… you can see Edinburgh castle in the middle of this photo taken from the top of Cragmillar. The university is right below. My dorm is just below the Crags on the far right.
After the castle, we stopped by Black Medicine Coffee (which fun fact is owned by JK Rowling’s brother in-law) for a late lunch and coffee. A few more friends stopped by, everyone is sorting out plans for next week. A lot of my friends are leaving in the next few days, but there are a few that are sticking around as long as I am. They are looking to go out and see a bit more of Scotland. I have four days after my last exam, so I’ll see what sort of other ruins I can find.
It was truly a fantastic day. And it made me realise just how lucky I am to go to University here. If I had chosen to stay in the states visiting an archaeological site, let alone a castle, would have never been possible. It really adds a new element to my studies, just the other day I was reading about medieval castles for my exam and today I went out and actually got to visit one (read: cry all over).
Okay, I’m back to studying for my archaeology exam but I will leave you with this picture of me failing at cartwheels in front of the castle.