Edinburgh has many attractions, and whilst a number of tourists now visit the city solely for its cultural and theatrical charms, the majority are still most interested in the long history of Scotland’s capital. Perhaps the best way to understand that history, and to see and feel its legacy, is to visit some of the region’s many beautiful and imposing castles.

Of course, it is almost impossible for even the most disinterested visitor to the capital to ignore the imposing bulk of Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the skyline in the middle of the city itself. The site is clearly a strategic one, and has been a place of human habitation since at least the 9th century BC. The castle itself was built in the 12th century, and was a royal residence until the Union in 1603. Following that date, it ceased to be an important residential complex, and was transformed into a fortress. Given its dominance of the high ground, and its position in one of the most important cities in Scotland, it is perhaps no surprise that it has been besieged on a number of occasions, with the catastrophic Lang Siege of the 16th century levelling most of the medieval buildings through artillery fire.

Despite the loss of much of its original medieval architecture, Edinburgh Castle is still an extremely popular tourist attraction. In fact, with 1.3 million visitors a year, it is the most popular destination in Scotland, and it hosts the Edinburgh Military Tattoo each year. Whilst visitors might not be able to experience the same buildings that David I erected in the 12th century, they can still see the fortifications which defied Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 second Jacobite Uprising, which was the last time that the castle was involved in a military action.

Unfortunately, the fame of the castle at the centre of the city tends to mean that visitors to the capital do not travel to the many other historical sites which are a brief drive away from the capital. The nearest of these, Craigmillar Castle, is situated in a suburb of Edinburgh and is a mere 3 miles south-east of the city centre. Dating fro the 14th century, this fortification is best known for its association with the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots. She arrived to convalesce at the castle in late 1566, and before she left the infamous ‘Craigmillar Bond’ was made. This was an agreement to dispose of her then husband, Henry Stuart, who was the father of James I. As one of the best preserved medieval castles in Scotland, Craigmillar provides a unique opportunity for tourists to experience the same builds that touched Mary’s life.

For those tourists who are willing to stray a little further from Edinburgh, Tantallon Castle will provide a more epic and romantic setting for a historical visit. Sitting atop an impressive promontory which looks out over the Firth of Forth, this ruined 14th century fortress is the last traditional curtain wall castle to have been constructed in the country. It has seen significant military action over the years, having been besieged by both James IV and James V. Neither of them, however, did as much lasting damage as Oliver Cromwell, who left the site in partial ruin after his siege in 1651. During that action, almost 3,000 men fought a mere 91 Royalists, who nevertheless managed to hold out for twelve days. After that event, Tantallon was left abandoned, and now serves as an astonishing vantage point under the care of Historic Scotland.

Of course, to reach such attractions, private transport is required. Fortunately, car hire in Edinburgh is a popular choice for just that reason, and it should pose no problem at all for visitors to rent any vehicle necessary for exploration of the further reaches of the capital and East Lothian.

Guest Author: Ryan Johnson

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