Travel Journal March 17, 1999
Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile


The castle and the Royal Mile are worth a day by themselves... -- Richard Foss

Sibbett House has to be seen to be believed:

Here's the room where I stayed.

Here's the parlour.

Here's where breakfast is served. You can see my reflection in the mirror.

Here's the outside of Sibbett House. It's hard to tell that there's actually a B&B there, it looks just like any other house on the street, except for the Scottish Tourist Board sticker in the window.

A typical Edinburgh street. Note that the buildings are mostly made of grey stone, as opposed to Yorkshire, where most of the buildings are ochre-colored. A lot of the buildings are covered with black, sooty stains.

A branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland. I thought the building looked nice.

A shot of Castle Rock. This was a volcanic core that has been heavily scraped by glaciers.

There was a piper busking near the tourist center. I encountered several such on my walk around the city. I should note that they are better dressed than most street musicians I've encountered.

At this point, it was about 11 in the morning. I had missed all of the bus tours and walking tours for that day (except for the Ghosts Walks, which are of no interest to me.) I decided that my plans for that day would be to explore the castle.

Half-way up the side of Castle Rock.

I can imagine that this castle would be pretty difficult to assault. Yet apparently, this is the most vulnerable side of the castle!

The city of Edinburgh, as seen from the parade ground in front of the castle gates.

Some scenes from the castle's parade ground (now a parking lot).

The castle entrance, from the outside. Once again, I was able to use my Great British Heritage Pass to get in free.

Inside the castle, looking back at the entrance.

A shot of one of the castle's main batteries.

Past the old guard house, which is now a shop.

At this point, I picked up one of the free audio tours. This is a small unit, about the size of a portable CD player (I'm pretty sure it has a CD in it) with an attached pair of headphones. The box has a green "play" button, a "pause" button, and 10 buttons labeled 0-9. You use the number buttons to select the track number, and then press the play button.

There are numbered plaques throughout the castle which correspond to various audio tracks. In addition, there are a bunch of "extra" tracks which give a lot of historical background. Many of the tracks refer to other tracks by giving the track number, similar to those "choose your own adventure" books, e.g. "to listen more about the Lang Seige, go to number 113."

I decided that since I had plenty of time, I was going to see as many plaques as I could, and listen to all of the tracks exhaustively. Actually, I didn't get to all of them, but I got to a good many of them. In the case of the historical background tracks, I decided to listen to some of them consecutively by track number, since they seem to be arranged chronologically, rather than waiting until I reached a plaque which referred to them.

I'm really glad that I did it this way, I learned a lot that I would not have otherwise, and it really helped bring the castle to life. But I don't know if I am ever going to be able to keep track of all of the various Kings named "James".

It would be interesting if someone could come up with a system to tie this in with a GPS, so that you could drive around the countryside, and whenever you wanted to know about a particular spot, you could hit a button which would play the correct track based on your current location. Even better would be to eliminate the CD, and use a Metricom-style wireless internet, and use something like RealAudio or MP3 (with a very high compression rate, since it's just speech) for the actual audio content.

This is the original entrance to the castle.

A view of another one of the batteries, and in the distance the castle's cafeteria. (The salmon I had there was very good.)

Edinburgh, as seen from the castle.

This cannon is the official Time Service, it is fired each day at 1:00 pm.

Inside St. Margaret's Chapel. This is the oldest building in Edinburgh. Margaret was a very pious queen, it is said that "she died every day that she lived." Her husband was very much a boisterous warrior, yet they loved each other very much. I believe that it was Margaret who was responsible for moving the capital to Edinburgh. (Unfortunately, the outside of the chapel was covered in scaffolding, so I didn't photograph it.)

I believe that this was at one time the bedchamber of Mary, Queen of Scots (a woman who, unfortunately, seems to have spent most of her life being controlled and manipulated by other people).

This was part of a very interesting "living history" demonstration that occured every hour, which included various demontrations on how to wrap a kilt, and how Scottish warriors armed with sword and shield could defeat English soldiers armed with bayonetted muskets. (Main points: The Englisman gets one shot. Then the tip of the bayonet gets stuck in the soft fur-covered shield.)

Inside the great hall. Note the interesting roof, which is actually the original roof (I learned later that this is called a hammer-beam roof.)

Another battery.

Various random shots of masonry.

Inside the castle vaults.

The giant medieval siege gun, Mons Meg.

Apparently, the Royal Scots are headquartered here. There's also a museum dedicate to the Royal Scots.

In addition to the Royal Scots, there's also a museum to the Scottish Dragoons (The "greys"). Here's a scorpion light reconaissance tank parked outside of the museum.

All in all, I would say that exploring Edinburgh castle was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had so far. It pretty much has everything you would ever want in a castle, except perhaps for tranquil pastoral surroundings. It certainly has a lot of interesting history.

The next logical thing to do was to walk down the Royal Mile and look at the shops. The Royal Mile is a long avenue which leads down the long, sloped, fan-shaped hill that connects to Castle Rock.

A small alley, or "Close".

One of the things I encountered was a shop called "Clanranald Trading Post". This is run by a group of historical re-creationists who do professional stunt-fighting (for movies, school demonstrations, corporate entertainment, weddings, etc.) in the traditional Scottish style, as well as supplying Scottish arms and armor. I had a nice long discussion with them. You can email them at

One thing that I discovered is that the movie "Braveheart" is full of outrageous historical inaccuracies. Wallace did not sack York, for example, he never got anywhere near York. I first found this out during my explorations of York, but the folks at Clanranald confirmed this. They also mentioned that princess depicted in the story would have been about four years old at that time. And so on...

What would Edinburgh be without a bagpipe store?

Although my feet were hurting quite a bit, I decided to go past the end of the Royal Mile, and up towards Hollyrood park. I had always wanted to climb to the top of Arthur's seat. I figured that I probably wouldn't make it to the top, what with my feet, but it would be useful to scout the lay of the land for a future excursion.

Another one of the crags in the park, I've forgotten it's name.

And here's where I wanted to reach: Arthur's Seat.

About 1/3 of the way up. Each time I would stop to rest for a moment, I would think to myself, "OK, I'll climb just a little bit further".

About half way up.

About 2/3 of the way up.

Made it! Here's Castle Rock and the north west part of Edinburgh, as viewed from Arthur's seat.

And, the view to the east.

There were a few other hikers up there as well. There was a group of german teenagers, one of whom had a guitar. They were all sitting around in a circle, singing old Beatles songs. What a great way to spend an evening.

This is more towards the north.

A view of the sunset as I climb down.

After I got down, I headed back to my room, picked up my laptop, and headed towards an internet cafe I had located earlier. Like the one in London, this was also named Cyberia, and appears to be part of a franchise. (There are in fact 4 Cyberias). The tech guy there was very friendly and quite Linux-literate. However, their connection appeared to be significantly slower than the one in London (probably a fractional T1), which meant my upload took a really long time.

Here is the web address for Cyberia.

All in all a very full day, one of the few days in which I was actually in danger of running out of camera memory space.