Sunday, 25 September 2011

Edinburgh Castle – Honours of Scotland, Mons Meg, Historic Scotland

Growing up in Edinburgh the Castle ( ) features from very early on in school, in addition to being taken to the castle on many occasions.  The Scottish National War Memorial ( is situated within the castle and there are books with the names of all those who had been killed in the wars laid out.  I can remember going with a friend to the Memorial to look up his mother’s brothers’ (uncles he never knew) names in the war memorial, as his mother couldn’t bear to do it herself.  My family lost no one in either WW I or WW II, so I had no personal interest in visiting the Memorial, though my father would go as he knew some sailors who had been killed on HMS Hood. 

At school, we all learned stories of the battles for control of Edinburgh Castle.  Going to school in the centre of the city, one was aware of the Castle and of course the 1 o’clock gun, which gave a time check in the days when most schoolboy wind up watches lost five minutes or so every day. 

I approached the Castle through the temporary stands for the tattoo and a Bryan Ferry concert.  On reaching the drawbridge, I was approached by Security and asked if I need any assistance for my visit and if I was unaccompanied.  I was then taken to the ticket office and arrangements were made for me. I’ve been a member of Historic Scotland for years in its various forms going back to the 1960s, when a season ticket cost in the region of 10s or so!  I was given an audio tour which was preset, though it turned out I didn’t need to use it.  I had an idea what I wanted to visit and I was then taken back to the Esplanade and a big surprise. 

I hadn’t realised that some years ago a tunnel had been bored through the Castle Rock and that one could in fact drive from the Esplanade to Crown Square at the top of the Castle Rock.  This was a very pleasant surprise and as I was driven through the rock, it felt strangely as if I was driving myself through one of the tunnels around the Monte Carlo area pretending to be Roger Moore in The Saint! 

The courtesy car climbed up and I could make out the lights in the tunnel and indeed the light at the end of the tunnel and we stopped outside Crown Square.  I was met by one of the staff and passed into the tower where the Honours of Scotland are kept.  It was quite a busy day for tourists.  The sun was out, and there were several coach loads of overseas tourists in the castle.  Coming at the end of my Scottish trip, I felt I had done more than my fair share of climbing up spiral staircases and getting down them, so it was a good idea to take a lift up to the Crown Room. 

The Crown of Scotland is very old and the regalia (Honours of Scotland) are the oldest complete set in Europe, though there are older crowns in Vienna and Budapest.  The Crown Jewels in England had to be re-fashioned after they went ‘missing’.  Before the display of the Honours of Scotland, there is a touch replica of the crown, Sword of State, and sceptre.  This was put together with the Royal Blind School and the ‘touch’ gives an idea of the Crown of Scotland and its shape, which is quite different from the crown in the Tower of London.  The heraldic crown in Scotland is also quite different. 

The crown, sword and sceptre are kept in a sealed display case and it was a fleeting flash when I could make out the shimmering gold filigree on its own.  The bonnet and the case couldn’t be seen and I felt as if I could reach out and grab the gold crown.  I couldn’t make out the bonnet which is a red/maroon colour and couldn’t identify any of the jewels, but I will never forget the instant I could make out the framework of the crown itself.  I could make out the sword and the sceptre and the Stone of Destiny, which I had first seen many years ago in Westminster Abbey.  There’s a lot of history about the Stone of Destiny and a lot of myth and a lot of conspiracy theories dating back to some student pranks when it went missing.

In the same room, there is a separate case showing Cardinal Henry, brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie and decorations with some jewels left to Scotland by a daughter of Queen Victoria. 

I was then asked what other items I wanted to see. I opted for the Great Hall and was taken there.  This is another spectacular ceiling similar to the one in Parliament House.  This is designed to look like an upturned boat and I could make out the ‘ribs’ and ‘planks’ of the boat.  I was told that the hammer beam was used as a basis for the reconstruction of the Great Hall in Stirling Castle, which I had previously visited.  The Great Hall was the scene of the infamous murder of the Douglas heirs by William Crichton during the reign of James II, who had a very hot temper and was allegedly responsible for the defenestration of another Douglas at Stirling and who was himself killed by an artillery accident. 

The Hall has a large selection of armoury in a changing exhibition from the royal armouries and I could make out pike staffs, spears, swords and some of the weapons on display.  The guide in the hall had some facsimiles to touch and explained some of the history of the hall and its use in today’s Scotland.  The army still has a token presence here and the Great Hall is used on limited occasions for state visits, Scottish government functions and royal family events.  I was then taken to Saint Margaret’s chapel, which is the oldest part  of the Edinburgh Castle complex and built by Queen Margaret, wife of King Malcolm Canmore.  Next to the chapel (which can be hired out) is Mons Meg, an impressive piece of artillery bought by James II.  Many tourists think this is used for the 1 o’clock gun.  This is an impressive piece of defence equipment and the history of it was explained by my guide, who arranged for me to be taken back to the Esplanade in the courtesy car. 

This was a wonderful trip and I would like to thank Historic Scotland for having these facilities available so that a blind person on their own can experience a lot of what the Castle has to offer.   (

Within the Castle, there is much more to see and if there is anything specific you only have to ask.  There are regimental museums, royal apartments, exhibitions, the one o’clock gun, pet cemetery (guard dogs).  On a clear day with blue skies I could make out the hills of Fife and other parts of the Edinburgh skyline.

Date of visit: 8 September, 2011