Craigmillar Castle is one of Scotland’s best preserved medieval castles, and it's understandably a very popular tourist attraction.
Situated at the outskirts of the city of Edinburgh, it was once a popular retreat for many Scottish monarchs, including the tragic Mary Queen of Scots.
The grounds were granted to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey by King David I of Scotland in the 12th century, but it wasn't until it passed into the possession of the Preston family that work began on the castle.
Craigmillar Castle on a bright, sunny day — Photo courtesy of Ashok2452
The oldest structure is the 13th-century tower house, which forms the core of the present building. This was expanded over the next few decades, but the castle was badly damaged by fire during the “rough wooing” of Henry VIII of England (when Henry tried to force the young Mary Queen of Scots to marry his son Edward).
The castle was repaired and extended by a loyal supporter of Mary: Sir Simon Preston, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. It was here that the plot to assassinate her husband Lord Darnley was hatched, and she took up residence in the castle on at least two occasions.
Tradition states that she lived in the tower house, but modern commentators consider it more likely that she took over a suite of rooms in the newer east wing.
During the 17th century, the castle passed into the possession of Sir John Gilmore, a royalist supporter of King Charles II. Gilmore undertook extensive renovations, but by the early 18th century, his family had moved out. The castle fell into ruin.
The grounds of Craigmillar Castle — Photo courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn
Visitors to the castle now enjoy exploring the many nooks and crannies of the tower house and east and west ranges.
The prison, cellars and bakehouse are in the basement level. Moving up to the ground floor, you can explore the kitchen and drawing room.
The first floor contains bedchambers, another kitchen and an old dovecot. Climbing up again takes you to the great hall, wall walk and yet another kitchen. Above this is a gallery overlooking the great hall and a bedchamber.
The grounds and gardens of Craigmillar Castle are a great attraction in their own right.
There's an unusual fishpond laid out in the shape of the letter “P” (for Preston); an ornate doocot (pigeon house); a ruined chapel; and also extensive orchards and woodlands. There are plenty of good spots for a picnic outside.
There's also a small shop, toilets and self-service tea and coffee facilities at the castle.