Volcanic rock and stone of destiny

Wha daur meddle?
Summer is festival time in Edinburgh, and last Sunday, with this year’s poor summer weather weather dry but overcast, we went off to sample the atmosphere. A stroke of luck saw us cruising a city centre street for an unlikely parking space, when a car edged out in front of us, leaving us a space to nip into smartly before someone else swung their way in. Parking space sorted, we made for the Royal Mile. Last year we walked down it towards Holyrood House, so on Sunday we headed upwards, towards the castle.

Cosmopolitan Edinburgh

Walking up the Royal Mile to the castle.

See it here, see it there.

We pass the camera obscura where you can see Edinburgh’s cityscape laid out before you.

Big screen

A large screen on the Royal Mile, set up for the festival to inform of events and performances.

Blue seats and mushroom castle

And we arrive at the Esplanad of Edinburgh Castle, where the International Military Tattoo is held each year – the reason for the banks of seating.

Edinburgh Castle has its roots way back in history with evidence of Bronze Age people building homes on the castle rock around 900BC. Three centuries later it is referred to as Din Eidyn, where the name Edinburgh comes from. By the late first century AD it was a thriving Iron Age hill fort, and by the 11th century Queen Margaret is said to have died at Edinburgh Castle. Through the centuries buildings were added, growing out of the volcanic plug like sturdy mushrooms.

Looks forbidding

Growing from the rock.

Over the years it suffered attack and sieges by the armies of English kings, Covenanters and the forces of Oliver Cromwell; saw the deaths of kings and the birth of monarchs. Mary Queen of Scots gave birth in one of its apartments to a son who would become James VI of Scotland and, after the Union of the Crowns, James I of England.

Backdrop for the Tattoo

Edinburgh Castle from Esplanade

In 1757 French prisoners of war were first imprisoned in the castle with a mass breakout by French prisoners in 1811, seven years before Sir Walter Scott discovered the Honours of Scotland sealed in a room where they had been deposited in 1707 after the union of the Scottish and English parliaments. During the First World War, in 1916, a German Zeppelin airship bombed the castle, and five years after the end of the Second World War, in 1950, the first Edinburgh Military Tattoo was held on its Esplanade. The Tattoo remains an event visitors flock to. Like the official festival and the fringe, it has participants from around the world. And visitors from around the world were certainly in evidence last Sunday.

What, no pipers!

Where all the piping, drumming, dancing, marching and other energetic stuff takes place during the Tattoo.

Torching the Esplanade.

Tattoo torch. One is situated at each side of the gateway into the castle and lit during performances.

And an event I remember watching on television in 1996 – the Stone of Destiny, the stone on which Scottish kings were crowned and which had been removed from Scone Abbey (near Perth) 700 years previously, in 1296, by Edward 1st of England, was returned to Scotland, crossing the border in the back of a military landrover. The red sandstone block now resides in the castle beside the crown jewels of Scotland, though doubts about its authenticity remain. Stories abound about the original stone being of basalt, and intricately carved, hidden by the monks of Scone when they heard of the approaching army, substituted by a red sandstone drain cover that was carried off by Edward to England and Westminster Abbey where it sat beneath the Coronation Chair of English kings. The present queen sat above it, the monarchy said to be superstitious about its presence, fearing the end of their reign should it ever leave.

We sneak past the payment booth which is closing now.

Further into the Castle, heading for the portcullis gate.

Legend has it the real stone was brought from Ireland to Argyll by Fergus, the first King of the Scots. Another legend claims a biblical history for the stone – that it was the one used by Jacob, brought to Scotland by unseen hands and dropped where Scone Abbey would be sited. In 1950 four students at Glasgow University travelled to London by car. It was Christmas Day and most folk were engaged in celebrating as the four heaved the stone from beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, determined to return it to Scotland. The stone was broken and eventually ended up with a Glasgow stonemason for repair. Here more stories that have become legends appear. Three copies were supposedly made, with a note inserted inside the real, repaired stone. But the stones became mixed up, so some say there is doubt whether the stone in the castle is indeed the stone Edward took, and of course that supposedly wasn’t the real Stone of Destiny anyway. That is said to be securely hidden in a Scottish hillside. But if someone knows where, they are keeping very quiet.

Nurturing lights

We wondered what these things that resembled bell jars could be – hardly a suitable place to raise tender plants. Turns out they are to protect lights used during Tattoo performances

A huge hunt was set in train for the stone. The coronation was in the offing and the royal family had these superstitions about the piece of red sandstone. No stone was found despite the search. In April 1951 authorities were told the stone had been left on the altar of Arbroath Abbey. It was returned to Westminster where two years later the coronation took place. No charges were ever brought against any of those involved in the return of the stone to Scotland in 1950. The irony in the tail is that one of the students became a well-known QC and retains a high, and quirky, profile in Scotland.

View to the Forth

View from the lower part of the Castle, over Princes Street Gardens, Princes Street and away to the Forth in the distance.

As I was brought up in Glasgow I was well aware of most of these stories and legends, and later when staying in Argyll even met some of those who removed the stone from Westminster Abbey that Christmas day.

Steeple and camera obscura

The Royal Mile looking back from the Castle.

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About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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6 Responses to Volcanic rock and stone of destiny

  1. lenathehyena says:

    Really enjoyed reading this blog. A fine trot through time and your pictures captured the busy and colourful nature of the festival season. What a majestic city the capital is.

  2. Thank you. Yes, despite the grey skies (or maybe they actually provide a suitable backdrop) it was a fascinating afternoon for me, husband and cameras. Love the way the castle seems to grow from the rock, and that wonderful feeling of touching history. Productive afternoon, as I’ve another piece on something snapped at the castle which I’ve been digging out some information on.

  3. mybrightlife says:

    On my bucket list! Would love to walk the royal mile with my girls. The stone of destiny makes for fabulous fable telling…I’m going with the ‘hidden by monks’ part and sticking to it…Lovely read. Looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Thank you. I do hope you make it some day, to stroll the Royal Mile with your girls. I tend to forget how much history lies in that mile between castle and the Palace of Holyrood House. And of course the Scottish Parliament now sits, a quirky modern building amongst the historic, at the foot of it, making its own history

    With the Festival now in full swing the population of Edinburgh has doubled, the atmosphere charged with creativity of every kind.

  5. Very informative and interesting post Dorothy. When we lived in London we traveled to Edinburgh a couple of times and really enjoyed it. Your post is a grand reminder of it’s interesting history and historic buildings. I frequently traveled to Aberdeen on business, and there I saw how serious the Scots are about taking advantage of nice weather. ~James

    • Thanks, James. The lack of nice weather is, I suspect, driving travel company sales this year as people book breaks in the sun.

      I’ve lived in Edinburgh, but obviously went around with eyes closed, not seeing or taking in much of interest. Seeing it as a visitor, camera in hand, lets you enjoy stuff you’ve passed by before.

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