This was our first full day in Edinburgh and true to form, we packed a lot in. After a pretty restless night of sleep (there was a bar a few doors down from us that had loud, drunk people spilling out until past 3 a.m. every night), we slept in a bit and then made our way up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. Much to my chagrin, it was another bright, sunny day. In fact, this might have been the warmest day of our trip. Thank goodness I packed a few short sleeved shirts at the last minute because otherwise I might have expired by 10 a.m. After our visit to Stirling Castle the day before, I had an idea of what to expect from Edinburgh Castle, but my expectations were definitely exceeded. Simply put, Edinburgh Castle is the most bad ass fortress castle we’ve ever been to. It doesn’t hurt that the view from it is also stunning.
Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. From the 15th century the castle’s residential role declined, and by the 17th century its principal role was as a military base with a large garrison. Its importance as a historic monument was recognized from the 19th century, and various restoration programs have been carried out since. As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and has been besieged, both successfully and unsuccessfully, on several occasions.
The oldest building in the castle, and in Edinburgh, is the small St. Margaret’s Chapel. One of the few 12th-century structures surviving in any Scottish castle, it dates to the reign of King David I (ruled 1124–1153), who built it as a private chapel for the royal family and dedicated it to his mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland, who died in the castle in 1093. It survived the slighting of 1314, when the castle’s defenses were destroyed, and was used as a gunpowder store from the 16th century, when the present roof was built. In 1845, when it was “discovered” by the antiquary Daniel Wilson, it formed part of the larger garrison chapel, and was restored in 1851–1852.
The Honours of Scotland – also known as the Scottish regalia and the Scottish Crown Jewels – dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, are the oldest set of crown jewels in the British Isles. The existing set were used for the coronation of Scottish monarchs from 1543 (Mary I) to 1651 (Charles II). Since then, they have been used to represent Royal Assent to legislation in both the Parliament of Scotland and Scottish Parliament, and have also been used at State occasions, including the first visit to Scotland as sovereign by King George IV in 1822 and the first visit to Scotland as sovereign by Queen Elizabeth in 1953.
There are three primary elements of the Honours of Scotland: the Crown, the Sceptre, and the Sword of State. These three elements also appear upon the crest of the royal coat of arms of Scotland and on the Scottish version of the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, where the red lion of the King of Scots is depicted wearing the Crown and holding both the Sword and the Sceptre.
The Edinburgh Vaults or South Bridge Vaults are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was completed in 1788. For around 30 years, the vaults were used to house taverns, cobblers and other tradesmen, and as storage space for illicit material, reportedly including the bodies of people killed by serial killers Burke and Hare for medical experiments. As the conditions in the vaults deteriorated, mainly because of damp and poor air quality, the businesses left and the very poorest of Edinburgh’s citizens moved in, though by around 1820, even they are believed to have left too. That people had lived there was only discovered in 1985 during an excavation, when middens were found containing toys, medicine bottles, plates, and other signs of human habitation.
Now, remember how I said earlier that I do believe in ghosts? Well, I experienced a supernatural phenomenon while we were down there. We were in the second vault when all of a sudden my back started hurting something fierce. I felt like someone was stabbing me repeatedly in the same area with a screw driver and then turning it. It wasn’t near my kidneys, but rather higher up. I started thinking to myself, “wow, this is the strangest indigestion I’ve ever had.” I tried to breathe through the pain but it got worse and worse. I started to freak out a little bit because I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. I wasn’t really listening to the story anymore because I was just concentrating on the pain. I somehow tuned back in to hear our guide say that many people report that while in that particular vault they either get very cold, or they have really sharp back pain. She led us out and the second we left it went away. Gone, like magic. I never saw or heard anything untoward, and I certainly didn’t get cold or feel cold around me.
I started taking pictures in the next vault we went into because it was light enough that I felt like my iPhone would be able to pick up the image of our guide with the candle in front of her face, and then I took a picture of Alan listening to her. Let me stress that while taking these pictures I didn’t see anything untoward. The room looked normal. I didn’t feel any coldness, and I didn’t hear any sounds except for those who were on the tour. I took a couple of pictures and then put my phone back in my pocket. We continued on with the rest of the tour and I felt a little out of it from the back pain situation, and pretty much freaked out by it all, but I kept my cool.
When the tour was almost concluded and we went into the last vault and I got a weird vibe from it. While I was one of the first people in the vault, despite the fact that our guide kept telling people to fill in to the back of the room, I wasn’t going back there. No way, Jose. I don’t know why I was so adamant about it, but I stuck right by her side. I wanted nothing to do with the back of that room. Well, it turns out that is the most (reportedly) haunted vault in the area and there have been a number of people on the tours who report a malevolent presence – pushing them, making them lightheaded and dizzy, etc. One woman reports that she even heard a voice say “Get out!” before she was pushed. (And get out she did, she ran the heck out of there.) Thank goodness nothing like that happened during our tour because after my previous experience I might have pissed myself.
We finished up, thanked our guide, and walked back to the flat. When we got there I was looking at the photos from the day on my iPhone and something pretty damn crazy jumped out at me. I forwarded the picture to my best friend without telling her what I was seeing and asked if she noticed anything interesting about the picture. She responded almost immediately: “The hell is that green thing over Alan’s shoulder?”