The line to get in the castle was surrounded by large metal bleachers. I couldn't figure out what it was for, and Robert beat me to the question.
"They are preparing for a presentation of the Royal Military Tattoo," he explained, nodding is head in the direction in which I was looking. It wasn't until some time later on I discovered what the Royal Military Tattoo was. They do this special event every year at the Edinburgh Castle in mid to late August. Robert even recorded it on television for me.
We got to the ticket stand after finally entering the main gates to the castle and winding our way through a switch-back line filled with hundreds of people. Finally at the ticket stand, we purchased a souvenir book about Edinburgh that I to this day look at from time to time. Within a few seconds of getting the tickets in hand, my hangover was all but gone, leaving me filled with excitement about this new adventure and the opportunity to learn something new. Never did I realize how much I would be learning that day, including about my own Nation.
We met up with a tour guide first, who would walk us through the highlights of the castle explaining parts of the history I wouldn't be able to find in my souvenir book. She would turn out to be an excellent tour guide, speaking slowly enough for my untrained American ears to understand her, though still speaking with a thick accent.
The castle was much larger on the inside than I could have possibly imagined from our view on the hotel balcony. It seemed to defy what I had known a castle to be, with everything being connected, leaving a center courtyard somewhere roughly in the middle. Instead, Edinburgh Castle was spread out with many individual buildings here and there. It had many odd angles to it and cobblestone paths wound their ways around corners, under multiple gates and to the outer walls of the Castle. Parts of the castle were much older than other sections, but it wasn't until we reached the oldest building in the castle, and in the entire city of Edinburgh, that the tour guide explained why that was.
St. Margaret's Chapel was built by David I in 1130 AD as a private chapel for the royal family. It's called St. Margaret's because it was dedicated to his mother, Margaret, who died in the castle in 1093AD. She had evidently been completely devastated by the horrible and violent death of her husband during an ambush attack. Some speculate that the chapel was part of what was originally a much larger royal home since the bricks forming one wall of the structure are different from the other three sides. Its entirely possible that the three different sides might have been interior walls at one time.
It seems rather simple from the outside, but St. Margaret's Chapel was one of the most remarkable sights in the entire castle from the inside. I found out just last night through reading my souvenir book that the amazing stained glass windows weren't installed until 1922 by Douglas Strachan.
St. Margaret's is still used for christenings and weddings to this day, though the chapel is so small I have a hard time picturing any weddings actually taking place there.
Just outside of St. Margaret's Chapel is a large collection of cannons, two in particular making quite an impression on us during our visit. The cannon I'm standing next to in the photo is called Mons Meg, a six ton beast that once fired cannon balls more than 330 lbs! Mons Meg was built in 1449 (!!) and was given to James II of Scotland in 1457 from his Nephew-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy. Where does it get such an unusual name? It was originally known as 'Mons' after the Belgian town where it was made. It was then cutting edge technology.
Mons Meg was first used against the English in 1460, in a battle that claimed James II's life. It saw a few battles, but the cannon was too large and heavy to move. An army could move it only about three miles a day and had to be hauled by more than a hundred men. In 1550 Mons Meg was taken out of service, leaving it as a huge show piece.
It was used to celebrate the wedding of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1558, but stood silent for over a hundred years after that. Finally, in October of 1681 it was fired as a birthday salute to the Duke of Albany, but the barrel burst open! It was dumped down beside the cart storage area (now the Redcoat Cafe) until 1754 - when it was found and moved to London during the Disarming Act the English forced on Scotland. It was too big to melt down though, and finally after 70 years the English brought it home to Edinburgh Castle, where it remains as dormant as the massive volcano the entire structure was built upon.
The other cannon that made quite an impression on us was the One O'clock Gun. Even now, 6 days a week, that One O'clock Gun is fired at precisely 1:00 pm every day but Sunday. We stood and waited for the gun to go off, but no amount of waiting could prepare us completely for the resounding boom we would feel rattling our ribs and vibrating up through the souls of our feet. Starting in 1861, the gun has fired every day excluding Sundays, Christmas and Good Friday - other than brief times in the two world wars.
The biggest surprise the Castle had to offer me had yet to be seen, but it would be something that would stick with me for the rest of my life...
TO BE CONTINUED...