My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Edinburgh City Part 6: Edinburgh Castle (Exterior)


One of the main reasons I went to Edinburgh was to photograph the castle. As Scotland's largest castle, and one of the more impressive, situated as it is on a rocky volcanic crag high above the city, looming over everything as a stony sentinel, it seemed the perfect subject for a display on castles for the Primary 4 class at the school I work at, and I personally adore castles and want any excuse to visit one. 

Looking left from the entrance bridge.
The guttering looks a bit like cannons.

Once at the castle itself, the city seems opened out all around, and just how high and isolated an outcrop the castle is seems very apparent. The views are amazing even on a dull and hazy day like the one of my visit. I am sure that on a clear and bright day that one would be able to see for many miles in any direction. I tried to take some photographs of the view, but they were mostly quite hard to make out, so none of them will go on the blog. 

Looking up from the entrance gate to the
Half Moon Battery, built for huge cannons.

So much of the rest of Edinburgh seems to have been built with at least some inspiration from the castle; all the castle-like details of the Scottish Baronial buildings that seem everywhere, the vistas that seemed planned to give you a good view of the castle, the gardens between Prince's Street and the railway that make the castle seem somehow separated from the city itself, etc. etc. Not many British cities still seem to have their old castle at their heart. Only Stirling, which also has its grand castle perched high above a steep rocky outcrop, seems to have some of this, but Edinburgh certainly seems built around its castle more than just geographically. Oxford, for example, still has its castle, but that castle has been swamped by the far grander buildings of the university and re-purposed so many times; it feels like it has been subsumed by its city.

Where the gates had once been underneath the Argyle Tower.

I took the photograph above because even before I read on a plaque that there had been many gates (five, if I remember rightly), the ribs in the vaulting made it clear that there had been defenses there before. I was surprised not to find holes of some sort to shoot down upon, or pour boiling liquids upon, invaders as I have seen this in other castles. Medieval warfare was grim, bloody and painful. Combined with the steep rocky crag the castle is built upon, the one main road up to the entrance, and the terracing that would make it so easy for archers or muskets to shoot down upon attackers, the castle is certainly not a structure that would have been easy to get into!

Looking up to what is now the castle shop!

Entry to the castle is not cheap. I think it cost me £16 just for myself. I then purchased a guide book, a few history books, post-cards and snacks all on top of that, making it quite an expensive visit. I am quite glad I had money saved up as otherwise I would not have ordinarily been able to afford such a trip. I think it is cheaper if you are a member of Historic Scotland - something I am seriously considering doing as I am quite fond of visiting historic sites (as visitors to my blog should know!). 

Staggered walls of castle shop.
Looking up at some clouds being interesting!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the weather was grim, bleak and windswept. The skies were grey, pale with wan sunlight and the wind made the day far chiller than the the day before, when it was sunny, warm and humid enough to have me nearly fainting. It was not the prettiest day for taking photographs; I prefer it when it is partially cloudy so that I get interesting contrast with the clouds, or at least when the clouds are being dramatic. The sky that day was dull, often quite flat, with the occasional interest of denser, darker and more leaden skies that came with unfulfilled promises of rain. Every now and again there was a slight break of blue through the cloud, but very little. 

Rear view of the shrine of the Scottish National War Memorial

One of the more recent buildings is the Scottish National War Memorial, built over what, if I remember rightly, had once been both a barracks and a church at different periods. I don't know how much of the architecture is 20thC and how much is an adaptation of older buildings, but I do know that it is a place of reverence and remembrance. Photographs are not permitted in the Shrine itself, to preserve the dignity and attitude of reverence, but I can say that it is both somber and beautiful, with the names of the war dead from all three branches of the military kept in a metal box designed to resemble the Ark of the Covenant. 

The archway, looking in from the approach.
The shrine is accessed via the inner courtyard, and under this arch. I don't know if this arch is a structural brace between the two buildings, or if it is a walk-way for uses I cannot fathom, or part of a tall gate that once sequestered off this royal section of the castle. Anyone who can explain it to me has my gratitude if they do so. 

The same archway, this time looking outwards.

Through this archway, inwards, is a courtyard. The inner courtyard is called the Royal Square, and it is surrounded by the Great Hall, the Scottish National War Memorial, and the Royal Palace (which holds the Honours of Scotland; the nation's crown jewels, comprised of a rod, sceptre, crown and sword, and the Stone of Destiny). This was not quite as grand as I had imagined, but Edinburgh Castle, with all its military architecture, cannons and defensive location, was primarily a working fortress and not decadent palace. That's not to say the interiors are not sumptuous - I will post later another blog entry with some colour photographs of the interiors - just that I have been to fancier places. It was a dreary day when I was visiting, and it lent the castle interiors a dreary atmosphere, even with their warm simulated candles. I suppose with fewer visitors, more comforts and all the big stone fire-places containing a lit and roaring fire, it would seem a lot more cosy.

The Royal Palace. At four storeys and with a tower, it's quite tall.
I visited both the Royal Palace, some rooms of which are apparently still used for state functions (I can assume only small ones, though) and are finely wood paneled and luxurious. There's a lot of heraldry about the place - I guess that sort of decor was done to impress visitors (the nobles that once would have come, not present day visitors) with the long hereditary claim to the throne, especially as it was a rather contested throne.

Mary Queen of Scots gave birth in rooms in the older parts of the building, to the boy that later became King James VI of Scotland and I of England, and a few Kings later, Mary and William of Orange became King and Queen and it got complicated, Jacobites and Hanoverians fought over who would be King, and whether parliament could interfere in the succession and 'divine right of kings', quite literally with battles and suchlike, culminating in the Battle of Culloden (not to far from where I now live) in 1746. Politics then was more complicated than what you get in a George R.R. Martin book, and just as deadly, even if with fewer dragons.  The depute head at the school I work at has tried explaining the complexities of the Jacobite uprising to me, but I must admit I lose track of which factions were on which side, and why, and the complexities of fractioning Christian sects of the time that underpinned a lot of the conflict confuse me utterly. As with most conflicts, I am at a loss as to why all of it should have escalated as far as lead to murder, death and battle. 

I have forgotten exactly where this door is, but I think it is
an entrance into what is now the Visitor's Information Centre

Edinburgh Castle is on an ancient site, apparently used as some that could be fortified from as far back as the Iron Age, and still in use a while later, as Edinburgh is mentioned (as a large banner at the castle proclaims) in the Y Gododdin, some of the earliest Welsh poetry, as where warriors feasted for a year and a day before going off to die in battle. A quick hunt of the internet makes it seem an epic poem worth reading - in English translation for me, perhaps in modern Welsh for Raven. It's a lot of history; more than I could take in through only one visit; I'd have to read more books and visit a second time at least, to even start making sense of it all. A lot of the castle's history is military history as it was an army fortress for just about as long as Britain has had a proper army rather than just those called up to fight for local lords, and before that it was a fortification too. It's still a military place now, though now one of museums and offices, the annual Royal Military Tattoo (for those who don't know what that is, it's about marching bands, dance and pipers, not about getting inked!) and suchlike, rather than a working fortress. Military history is not really my area of interest (unless you count the 'Sharpe' novels by Bernard Cornwell. I'm pretty sure that does not count, though!)

I think this is the Argyle tower and junction with the top
of the Laing Stairs, but I am not entirely sure. 

I enjoyed myself and I really enjoyed the architecture. It's a pretty large complex, the sort that brings to mind the epic 'Gormenghast' of  Mervyn Peake, but less malevolent in architecture, yet with the slopes of the hill up to the crag all covered in old stone buildings, some more Gothic than others. I took so many photographs while I was there, but many of them ended up relegated to my discard pile. I hope you enjoy the exterior photographs here - later I will display some of the colour interior photographs. I think the autumnal grey of the weather just made the place seem colder and learning its conflict-ridden history just makes it seem a place full of the blood and sweat of warriors and soldiers from centuries past. The stones are greyed and the sky is greyer; monochrome photography seemed fitting. 


  1. These are such great photos! Really glad you posted these, and can't wait for the interior photos because sadly when we visited the city it was not something we budgeted for. And I love castles too!

    1. I was planning to have the interior photos up today, but due to technical reasons, that might not happen until after the weekend. I am still laptop-wrangling!

  2. Replies
    1. They're finally up! The photos are not great quality; I am more an external photographer of buildings at the moment; interior photographs is something I need to work on.


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