…by Riho / from Japan / studied at The University of Edinburgh between 2018-2019 on exchange
Argument on the number of castles in Scotland is controversial, but how many castles would you think there are? The estimate (we can’t even count properly) says it varies wildly from 2000 to 4000. Wow, this honestly surprised me a lot. You may wonder what the definition of castle is. Here are the two criteria: one, used to be a domestic residence – at least the home of minor laird, two, defensive structure. Now you might wonder which ones you should visit, so here are the lists!
1) Balmoral Castle
This is known as Scottish Home of the British Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II visits Balmoral every summer. Originally Queen Victoria purchased the estate in 1848. She loved Scotland, particularly its beautiful nature. I got to know this castle when I was taking Scottish Studies last semester, so I was glad to visit the place where I previously learnt about! Balmoral Castle is surrounded by the Dee River and a series of mountains. It took me almost 2 and a half hours by bus from Aberdeen, but it was worth visiting. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside of the palace except the ballroom, but you can still explore the beautiful gardens, conservatory and cottage. When you plan your visit, be careful the castle is open publicly only from April to July. While the Queen stays there (In August and September), you can’t visit inside the estate, but you might have a chance to see her(?!).
2) Edinburgh Castle
It goes without saying that the beautiful castle in Edinburgh is an icon of Edinburgh – a symbol of this beautiful city. The history goes back to Iron Age (!) when the humans occupied the “rock”, then it had been a royal residence from at least 12thcentury to 1633. The castle was involved in many historical conflicts like Scottish independence wars in 14thcentury and the Jacobite rising. If you are fond of these history stuff, you’ll absolutely love your visit to this castle. You can have an audio guide which have been offered in many languages. Plus, if you are lucky enough to be able to stay in Edinburgh till summer, don’t miss the Military Tattoo, which is an annual event held in front of the castle.
3) Stirling Castle
You can visit Stirling from Edinburgh by 45-minute train journey. Queen Mary of Scots was crowned in this castle when she was only 10 months old. My friend and I took a free guided tour. Our guide explained the historical background with her good sense of humour and her lovely Scottish accent. At the gate of the entrance is the statue of the famous Scottish hero, Robert the Bruce. If you still have time after exploring the castle, you might want to visit the National Wallace Monument to discover more about the most famous iconic Scottish hero, William Wallace. Be sure to watch Braveheart beforehand. (although the film seems unpopular among Scottish people.) You can also see the Stirling bridge which is famous for one of the battles of the First Scottish Independence War in 1279.
4) Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle is another very famous castle in Scotland. I went there from Aberdeen by one-hour bus trip, and I was amazed at this dramatic and evocative ruined cliff top fortress. The history involves many historical characters you’ll easily recognise, including the Vikings, who attacked the castle, William Wallace who captured the castle and even the Queen Mary of Scots who visited the castle. Be careful of the weather and keep your stuff with you tightly, because it’s very windy. But the view of the castle standing on the cliff facing the North Sea is absolutely stunning.
5) Eilean Donan Castle
This castle is often appeared in postcards, due to its extraordinary beauty. I went to this castle on the way to the Isle of Skye. We arrived at the castle at the sunset but the view was absolutely magnificent. This is pretty far away from Edinburgh, but the views were totally worth it, highly recommended!
6) Palace of Holyroodhouse
This is not a castle, but I couldn’t give up myself excluding this palace from this list, because it’s one of my favourite places in Edinburgh! The palace is also one of the places Queen Elizabeth II visits in summer. It has a long history since 16thcentury, the era of Mary, Queen of Scots. You can even enter the room where David Rizzio, private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was murdered. (you can still see the bloodstain!) The audio guide is included in the ticket price and is available in many languages, so you can fully enjoy its deep history. Also, if you have your ticket stamped at exit, you will get a one-year pass, which allows you to enter the palace without a fee for a whole year! So, when you visit the palace, be sure to get your ticket stamped on the way back. My favourite part of the palace is Holyrood Abbey ruins. No words can explain the beauty of the ruins, you should visit and you’ll see. Just stand there and imagine how the abbey looked like and the service used to be taken place. The Queen’s Gallery, which owns many historical paintings is located just next to the palace, so don’t forget to visit there too.
I just listed 6 of them, but there are MUCH more (you can’t even imagine), so come to Scotland and discover more!
***For more blogs from students who have studied abroad at The University of Edinburgh check out the the Study Abroad at UoE blog at https://usinedinb.wordpress.com/