Craigmillar Castle

22 Dec 1999

I didn't quite wake up at dawn like I wanted, but the weather was kind of gross anyway. Wet and windy, though not too cold (50F/10C). Typical Scottish lowlands weather. But I didn't feel like coming up with alternate plans, and it wasn't raining very hard, so I grabbed my unicycle and headed off to Craigmillar Castle, about three miles away on the edge of town.

The shortest route starts on a dirt trail, circling Hollyrood Park around the crags and Arthur's Seat, outside and above a road that does the same, and eventually decending down to join the road. I say it's a dirt trail, but really it hasn't been dirt since early October. It's the slipperiest mud my shoes or tire have ever seen. This is the second time I've ridden down it in mud form. I'm getting better, but it's still a rather interesting ride with as much skiing as cycling.

Halfway around the park, the road goes over a narrow bridge with no pedestrian walkway. Just before it, a cycle path splits off. No fool I, I took the cycle path, not really caring all that much whether it went where I'd planned to go, since I can visit the castle another day. It turns out it was an excellent short cut, not shown on my road map. I stumbled across what used to be The Innocent Railway 1850-1970, may it rest in peace.

Near the beginning of the railway cycle path, just after the long tunnel I didn't have to go in but went back and explored anyway, were some shaggy highland cows. I'd only seen shaggy cows on postcards before, but even from just that I knew they were cute. I wasn't prepared though for just how cute the young ones are. There was one young'n who was moppishly jumping around the others like an enormous sheep dog, except when he was staring at me, waiting for me to take his picture.

Along the cyclepath, there are several strange dead-end spurs and weird extra paved bits. At one point there's a platform with steps on both sides. On my way out, I was puzzled. It wasn't high enough to let me see over the stone wall. What was it for? I took a picture of it, to capture its queerness, but by the time I came back I realized these all made sense in the context of a railway. This must have been a train station. It was probably obvious to you, since all you have is my description of what I've already called an old rail path, but it's less apparent when you're cycling along not-a-train-track. Or maybe I'm just an idiot. :)

After passing a few busy streets surprising the usual assortment of pedestrians, car-bound folks, and construction workers, I headed up the last hill to Craigmillar Castle.

The castle itself is excellent. It's larger and better preserved than most castles I've seen. I spent an hour walking around inside, and I'm not sure whether I saw all the rooms. Not only is it big, but the layout is fairly compact and complex. Many rooms have two or three exits, and there are at least four staircases. There's a prison, a wine cellar, lots of bedrooms, three kitchens (from different centuries), guard towers, eating halls, servant areas, and the usual assortment of enigmatic nooks. I want to go back with a dozen friends and play Sardines (which I haven't ever played!).

When I was through wandering, I meandered out into the courtyard and ran into James, who worked there, doing maintenance to keep the place from turning into a pile of rubble. I asked him a bunch of questions about the castle and what he did, and he asked me lots of questions about why I came here when there are plenty of good schools in the US (I get this question a lot), what was strange about living here, and where computer technology will go. His boss and coworkers eventually came by and he had to join them and go back to work, but I hurriedly took this oddly slanted picture of him before he ran off.

I stopped in the tiny shop before heading out and paid 17 to become a Friend of Historic Scotland. Now I get into castles for free!

Then I rode home down the hill, past the surprised people, the railway platform, the shaggy cows, and the railway tunnel.