On entering the castle you’ll be given a map which follows the easiest route up to the top, which is not only wheelchair and pushchair friendly, but also follows a numerical sequence.
Passing through the Castle Gates will bring you to the Argyle Battery where everyone stops for a view out across he city. It’s a natural thing to do, but there are even better views higher up, so it’s not essential to stop here if there are too many people milling around, and you can always stop here on the way back.
Next to it is the One ‘o clock gun and the Redcoat Café which is a convenient place to have a quick coffee and make some plans on what you want to try and see while you’re here, because as I said in my Introduction you may not have time to see everything.
The One ‘o clock gun is fired everyday at one ‘o clock except Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. The spectacle is similar to what happens at Greenwich, but with a twist.
Over on Calton Hill, at the top of Nelson’s Monument, is a time-ball, which just like its London counterpart, was introduced to help ships (in the Firth of Forth) to calibrate the time with the sun in order to aid navigation. This, of course, was when timekeeping wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today. The ball was dropped at precisely 1 o’clock and as long as the weather was clear enough then everything was ok – but the weather in Edinburgh isn’t always clear enough – and so a gun was used to compliment the visual aid.
Apparently, due to the speed of sound, it takes 10 seconds for the signal to reach Leith, and the ships took this into account when setting their timepieces. You may want to do the same because for the gun to be heard out in the Firth of Forth it means that you may not want to stand right next to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
From the Redcoat Café there’s a slight uphill incline to the area which is still used by the military. There are a few things to look out for including the National War Museum, Governor’s House, New Barracks and a couple of Regimental Museums. I left this part of the castle to the end and I still think that it was the correct thing to do.
If you follow the path around through Foog’s Gate it will bring you to St. Margaret’s Chapel. This small, simple chapel might not look much but it’s the oldest building in Edinburgh dating from 1130. It was dedicated by King David I to his mother Queen Margaret, who later became St. Margaret.
Queen Margaret wasn’t actually Scottish but an English princess who fled north of the border after the Norman Conquest where she married King Malcolm III. She was a religious woman and one of her accomplishments was to establish a ferry across the Firth of Forth for pilgrims travelling to Dunfermline Abbey. The departure points for this ferry are today named South Queensferry and North Queensferry, both of which are situated right next to where the famous Forth Railway Bridge now crosses the firth.
Three of her sons became King of Scotland and she died in Edinburgh Castle in 1093. In later years the chapel became redundant when the Royals moved out and the military moved in, however an ornate archway which divides the nave from the altar still survives. It only takes a few minutes to take a look inside but it’s definitely a few minutes worth spending.
Next up is the most important part of the castle – Crown Square, which includes the Royal Palace, the Great Hall, and the Scottish National War memorial, all of which I will be discussing in more detail.
Exiting the square on the opposite side to the Palace, make sure you take a left turn to visit the Military Prison and Prisons of War Exhibition.
From here it’s back downhill again and you can pick up the areas connected with the military that you might not have taken in beforehand.
The time spent here will obviously depend on your own specific interests, but it’s not Scotland’s most visited paid for attraction for nothing, so don’t underestimate the time you might want to spend here – and don’t forget – you can always print this article out if you want to remember my suggestions.