Edinburgh Castle is styled as ‘Defender of the nation.’ Scottish Icons

EDINBURGH Castle has been stormed often in its history. English armies, the Jacobites, anti-lockdown protesters, it … Eh? Yep, anti-lockdown protesters tried to “take back” Edinburgh Castle this week, citing Magna Carta, a foundational document of English law, to free Scotland. Apparently, Nicola Sturgeon had organised a fascist coup. I see.

On twitter, Scotland Against Lockdown said: “The government has been acting treasonous against we the people.” Aye, it’s acted right treasonous against we. The language used has led to suspicions that the group might be composed of Scottish footballers.

It was unclear from reports if the protesters had paid to get in. If so, it would certainly indicate their seriousness. The normal adult admission price is a wallet-tormenting £17.50 (currently reduced to £15.50 due to restrictions). If unemployed, you could invest £14 of your dole money in an uplifting visit instead of buying food.

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Regular visitors with disposable income might add afternoon tea to the experience for a total layout of £37 (£42 with Prosecco or Edinburgh Castle Gin). Still, as the castle’s website notes, in ascending Castle Hill, you will be following in the footsteps of “the odd pirate or two”. Good to see the tradition of robbery continues.

That something deleterious happens to the brain when people go on holiday is proven by 70 per cent of visitors to the city coughing up to go in the castle. That was 2.2 million folk in 2019. It’s the second most visited attraction in the UK. This is baffling. Perhaps they want a good view of the Hibs ground.

For a view is mostly what you’re paying for, plus a coupla museums, some cannons, war memorial, chapel, hall with big fireplace, a few Crown jewels and an alleged Stone of Destiny. There’s also the patriotically named Redcoat Cafe, selling Croque Monsieur for £8.95 (£10.95 with added soup), followed by English breakfast tea (also available in decaf).

The castle website characterises the dour, grey edifice, half of which looks like a tenement block lacking only claes hanging oot the windaes, as “Defender of the nation.” Which nation isn’t clear. Last time I looked, it was taunting patriotic citizens below with a Union flag the size of Wales.

Still, one thing you can say about the castle is that it’s right historical. Where to begin? Well, how about 350 million years ago, to the lower Carboniferous period? Although eyewitness accounts from the time are few, it’s thought this was when the castle’s hill was first formed. It’s an extinct volcano.

Fast forward to the Iron Age and, some archaeological evidence for habitation back then exists, it’s sketchy. We don’t know if it was a warrior tribe or just some winos drinking super-lager.

By the time of yon Romans, there may have been something more settled and less smelly. Agricola goose-stepped hither in 82AD but doesn’t seem to have noticed anything much. However, archaeological finds from that century and the following one include Roman pottery (lot of evening classes in the subject back then) and brooches for keeping your cloak on.

So, there may have been trading with locals such as the Votadini tribe. Though headquartered at Traprain Law in East Lothian, a 2nd century map by that Ptolemy shows a settlement called Alauna – “rock place” – in their territory, which might be the castle rock. Difficult to tell. His maps were rubbish.

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Some dodgy chronicles attribute the building of a castle (wooden) on the rock to a legendary King of the Britons called Ebrawce. That place was known as Maidens’ or Virgins’ Castle. Ebrawce fathered 50 children. You do the maths.

Another ancient British, or Welsh, connection involved the epic poem

Y Gododdin, which tells of a warrior band under Mynyddog Mwynfawr – Mrs Mwynfawr’s wee laddie – feasting at “Din Eidyn” for a year before sallying forth to do battle with the Angles at Catterick. They got blootered, which is hardly surprising after stuffing their faces for a year.

The oldest surviving building in Edinburgh is the castle’s St Margaret’s chapel, and the oldest documentary evidence, from the 14th century, refers to her death on the site in 1093 (news was really slow back then).

In the centuries to follow, the castle was batted back and forth between the Scots and their excellent friends, the English. Wicked Edward I supposedly stayed there when judging competing claims for the Scottish crown – Scotia’s Got Talent. During the First War of Independence, Big Ed captured the castle and moved records and treasures to Englandshire. It was recaptured by the Scots in 1314, when Robert the Bruce ordered much of it destroyed to prevent reoccupation by the English. So the English reoccupied it in 1335, and the Scots got it back in 1341. So it goes.

Oliver Cromwell occupied the castle in time for Christmas 1650. Then he remembered he didn’t celebrate Christmas – damn! During the first Jacobite uprising, rebels planning to storm the castle were unfortunately caught short. Or, at least, the rope let down to them by sympathisers inside was. Mission abandoned.

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While Bonnie Prince Charlie captured the city in 1745, the castle remained in the hands of General George Preston, a thrawn old git who patrolled the defences in a wheelchair. In later years, the castle was used to hold prisoners, including some from the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic War, Red Clydesider Davie Kirkwood (later Lord Kirkwood) and pilots of the Luftwaffe.

In 1991, the castle passed into the stewardship of Historic Scotlandshire (now Historic Environment Scotlandshire, since stuff exists in the environment an’ that). The most military activity the joint sees in any normal year now is the Tattoo, when a lot of sojers mince aboot on the Esplanade.

In 2014, research by Dr David Caldwell for National Museums of Scotland identified 26 sieges in the castle’s history, making it arguably “the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world”.

Indeed, that distinction can only have been enhanced this week with the siege by anti-lockdown protesters, though they may have been the first to be told, “Right, no worries”, when announcing their intentions.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992