We seem to be developing a theme this year with our days off, castles mainly but lots of places run by Historic Scotland. A couple of weeks ago we headed to Craigmillar Castle on the south side of Edinburgh which is about 45 minutes from the house, so an easy day out. The weather was good, dry with a cool wind and my leg seemed to be on the mend so walking around was much easier. Again as with all the HS properties we've visited lately Bracken was allowed in too.
|Inhabitants of the castle|
Although ruined there are plenty nooks and crannies, rooms, stairways and battlements to explore. Heavily adapted and changed over the centuries the castle is a warren of passageways, stairways and cellars. Building began in the late 14th century by the Preston family and when it was sold to Sir John Gilmour in the 1600's it was further altered. The Gilmores left the castle in the 1800's and the castle fell into ruin.
|A view of the courtyard and yew trees|
Famously Mary Queen of Scots used the castle to recover from illness after the birth of her son. Before she left on 7 December 1566, a pact known as the "Craigmillar Bond" was made, with or without her knowledge, to dispose of her husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Ironically she was eventually to be a prisoner there.
|The great hall|
|More window details|
Climbing up one of the main staircases we eventually emerged out onto the roof and battlements. From here we got great views in all directions. In the East we could see out to see beyond the Bass Rock and Berwick Law moving south to the Lammermuirs past Midlothian to the Pentland hills and further west to Balerno then over to the city with Edinburgh Castle perched on it's rock and then round to Arthur's Seat clothed in golden gorse.
|David and Bracken, Craigmillar Castle|
|Looking along the roof walkway|
|Edinburgh Castle and Salisbury Crags|
|Roof with a view|
|Looking down from the tower|
One of the things I really liked about the castle was walking through the main gateway into the court yard which is dominated by two huge yew trees framing the doorway.
|Looking back at the doorway with the yew trees|
|Yew trees at Craigmillar Castle|
There was plenty more plant interest around the castle from ferns in the stonework to soaring trees in the park land and herbs gone native along the base of the battlements. There was an impressive amount of Smyrium (Alexanders). At first glance and from a distance it looked like Lovage but when we got down to that part of the grounds the leaves were too rounded, the plants too short and of course flowering too early. After a hunt through my wild flower books and comparing my photos to some online we can now reveal Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum). It certainly is growing in abundance and enjoys it's situation under the castle ramparts on a south west facing bank under trees. Introduced by the Romans to this country, almost all the springtime plant would have been used, roots, stems, leaves and flower buds. Alexanders were cultivated in the medieval period in monastic gardens which explains why they are often found in and around old and religious buildings. The flowering season is between April and June when you will see the clusters of yellow umbel flowers. I have planted Alexanders in the new herb garden this year, the juvenile leaves are quite different, that's why I didn't recognise it. I'm looking forward to seeing it do this in years to come and plants will be available once I have seed.
|Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)|
|Maidenhair Fern growing in the castle walls|
We finished off our visit by walking in the parkland around the castle where you can see the "P" shaped fish pond below the castle. Now empty it still retains it's shape, would be great to see it re-instated.
Have you visited any castles recently, which was your favourite?
|The Impressive approach to the castle|
|The castle from the old fish pond|
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