The world-famous Edinburgh Castle is not the only castle in the city. There is another one, less well-known and without the crowds. Craigmillar Castle is only 3 miles from the centre of Edinburgh, but feels like you are deep within the countryside because it is surrounded by extensive parkland that was once royal hunting grounds. The castle is great fun to explore with a network of staircases and nooks and crannies. Make sure to get onto the rooftop where the views are among the best in the city. It is easy to reach the castle by bicycle.
How to get to the castle
Follow the cycle route from Edinburgh to Musselburgh on my blog. This has directions and a map. At the point where the route crosses Duddingston Road West you turn right onto this road and continue straight on for 1 mile to reach the castle.
The road's name changes to Craigmillar Castle Road and goes through a housing estate. Just at the end of the housing estate there is a cycle path that heads into Craigmillar Castle Park, so that you can avoid the rest of the road. The road is not heavy with traffic, but it can get busy at the junction with Peffermill Road.
Patch of Countryside in the city
The location of the castle is incredible. It is surrounded by parkland that creates the impression of being in a rural location, certainly not within a city.
You will find an information board with a map of Craigmillar Castle Park showing just how extensive it is. The map has a picture of a kestrel and a rabbit, creatures that you can spot in this park. If you want to feel that you have left the city for some tranquility and countryside you don't have to go far.
It is worth walking around the outside of the castle as this provides the best views of the structure and allows you to appreciate the surprisingly large amount of parkland in this city location.
The castle can be dated to the early 1400s with the building of a tower house by the Preston family. One of the most interesting items in the castle grounds is the remains of an ornamental pond in the shape of a 'P', believed to stand for Preston. The ultimate status symbol. It once had two islands in the loop of the 'P' that were planted with hawthorn trees.
When Mary Queen of Scots stayed at the castle she would have spent time in the gardens around the pond, enjoying her hobbies of archery, horse riding and hawking.
The way into the castle is through a doorway in the outer wall which takes you to a large grass lawn that leads up to the impressive bulk of the curtain wall with its towers. Aim for the arched doorway and this will take you into the inner courtyard.
The inner courtyard is a wonderful place to walk into because of the yew trees growing there. They come as a bit of a surprise among all this stone. Sun makes the leaves golden and songbirds bring music to this tranquil space.
In such peaceful surroundings it is difficult to believe that a murder was once planned in this castle. The 'Craigmillar Bond' was a plot to kill the husband, Lord Darnley, of Mary Queen of Scots. It was signed at the castle in 1566.
Where to go to next?
There are several doorways leading off the courtyard. Choose your door and enjoy exploring.
There are so many nooks and crannies to discover. In most of the rooms you will find not just one, but several doorways from which to choose from. It takes a while to cover all of the routes and make sure that you have seen everything.
In many of Scotland's castles there is only one single direction you can go and not many rooms to see, but Craigmillar is an exception. This makes it one of the best castles to visit in Scotland.
Some of the rooms have magnificent fireplaces that are a clear indication of the wealth that was once on display in this castle. The quality of the decorative stone carving at these fireplaces is particularly impressive.
Although the rooms of the castle are now bare and empty they would have looked very different in their heyday. Instead of bare stone walls the place would be alive with colour in the form of wall-hung tapestries and painted ceilings.
The highlight of the castle is the view from the top. Edinburgh is famous for its beautiful skyline and there are many viewpoints to see it from. Craigmillar Castle is one of the best. You can see all of the city landmarks and out to the waters of the Firth of Forth.
After you have finished with the view come back down and walk around the outside of the curtain wall where you can get close up views of the towers.
There is also a fascinating little device that was used to capture rain water for the castle's occupants- a simple overhanging stone well on the outside of the wall.
Craigmillar Castle is a great place to spend a few hours. With it being so close to the centre of Edinburgh it would be a shame to miss it. It is cheaper than Edinburgh Castle, less crowded and the views just as good.
Why not include a visit to the castle as part of a cycle ride to Musselburgh?
The castle can be reached via a one mile detour from the Edinburgh to Musselburgh cycle path. The cycle path is mainly traffic-free and follows an old railway line, the Innocent Railway, for much of the way.
Read more about this cycle route
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a cycle courier? This book provides a fascinating and highly readable insight into the life of a cycle courier.
Emily Chappell tells the story of how she became a London cycle courier and exactly what it is like to do this kind of work. On her first weeks on the job she had to get to grips with finding her way around the complicated streets of London and the equally complicated process of finding her way inside office buildings to collect and deliver packages, it's a lot different than courier companies like Ask Absolutely which uses vehicles. This was something she had to work out for herself- there was nobody to teach her and there was no training manual.
If you thought that being a bicycle courier is a dream job then you may just change your mind after reading Chappell's account of her first winter:
"The first shock of cold is the hardest, and then, as long as you keep moving, you're okay for a while. Then you start to notice how the chill has crept into your bones and muscles, slowing you down, blurring your coordination and your judgement, making you clumsy and stupid."
Chappell is completely honest about her life as a courier and although she loves the job she is upfront about the downsides. Constant exhaustion goes with the territory as does sweat, dirt and pollution. In fact, there are almost 3 pages devoted to the subject of sweating. The author tells of several shocking road rage incidents where she was subject to truly horrible aggression from drivers and pedestrians. These incidents left her feeling shaken to the point of tears.
There are also wonderful things about this job, including the courier 'scene' with its camaraderie and cast of characters that populate the pages of the book. The buzz of negotiating heavy traffic and having to take risks is a major draw for couriers. The book is also a love story to London, particularly the hidden corners that few people know of. Couriering brings Chappell into secret gardens and courtyards where she can rest between jobs in peace and quiet. It is an intimate portrait of London, as seen from a bicycle saddle.
This book is very well written, sometimes beautiful, and anybody who loves cycling will enjoy this.
You can buy it from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Glen Esk is a beautiful place of mountains, forest, wildlife, peace and fantastic cycling and walking opportunities. It is located in the Angus region of Scotland, around 40 miles south of Aberdeen.
This is why you must visit this special place:
1. Mountain Scenery
Glen Esk is at the foot of the Cairngorms National Park so everywhere you look there is a vista of lush green Scottish mountains.
2. A beautiful road into the glen
A 16 mile single-track road from the town of Edzell is the only way into and out of the glen. The road has very low volumes of traffic and is glorious for cycling.
3. Queen's Well Walk
It is the strangest thing to see this crown shaped monument, with nothing but hills and sheep in the vicinity. It was built by local people to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria. You can reach it on a spectacular walk where purple Heather blooms in the summer months.
4. The Three Churches
For such a remote area with a low population it is quite amazing to find three churches in Glen Esk. All of them have their doors open so you can look inside and enjoy their tranquility, Maul Memorial Church is substantial with a tower, stained glass and high ceiling. Lochlee Church is tiny. In the yard there is an unusual gravestone, shaped like an anvil, that was created for the village blacksmith who had lived to the age of 90.
5. Glen Esk Folk Museum
This museum has a giant willow sculpture of a stag on the lawn. There is a collection of artefacts, costumes and reconstructions of what Glen Esk houses were like in the 1850s. This is the place to learn about the people of the glen and what their lives were like. There is also a cafe with excellent home baking.
6. Blue Door Walk
Open up the blue door and on the other side there is a special world of forest paths, rock pools and a fast flowing stream. It is a real life secret garden! The water is incredibly clear, providing a flawless view to the river's floor of pebbles.
7. Loch Lee
Loch Lee is located at the very end of the Glen Esk road. It is completely enclosed by mountains so has a feeling of great remoteness. There is a rough track along the shore which is great fun to cycle.
8. Invermark Castle
Also at the end of the road is Glen Esk's castle. It is a ruin and you cannot go inside, but looks great, so is ideal for your very own Scottish castle postcard photo.
9. Wildlife Spotting
Glen Esk is teeming with wildlife. There is a good chance of spotting a Golden Eagle, deer and red squirrels. One of the best viewing spots for squirrels is from the dining room window of the House of Mark guesthouse.
10. Stay in the House at the end of the Glen
House of Mark is the only accommodation in the glen. There are no hotels, pubs or shops. This makes it a unique and peaceful place to stay overnight. The interior has been kept true to its Georgian roots making you feel like you have gone back to a simpler and more elegant time. There are special touches like rooms scented of smoke from the fireplaces and a dinner table set with crystal glasses and white napkins. There are no televisions, but conversation with fellow guests and the hosts is much more entertaining.
Read my review of House of Mark
Getting to Glen Esk
It is about 30 miles from Montrose to the end of Glen Esk. If you travel from Laurencekirk the distance is around 23 miles. There are train stations at Montrose and Laurencekirk.
For more details about cycling to Glen Esk read my travel feature.
Try a beer from Scotland's oldest working brewery. Belhaven is located in Dunbar, a town, 20 miles from Edinburgh. St Andrew's Amber is inspired by the game of golf and has gorgeous fruity and malt tastes.
This goes down so well. There is a nice carbonation with a subtle fruity and malt taste. These are not strong flavours, but really delicious. It is definitely a thirst quencher, as claimed on the rear label.
This ale has a lovely amber colour. The colour really stands out on a supermarket shelf against other beers and it is good that the bottle label allows you to see this colour.
The label states that the ale is inspired by the game of golf and there is picture of a golfer with a mustache swinging a club. The design is perhaps a bit old fashioned when compared to the current funky design trend of other producers, but I like it. And it is what is inside that counts and this is a great tasting ale and one of my favorites.
Belhaven was established in 1719. It is Scotland's oldest working brewery. It is located in the East Lothian town of Dunbar. They offer brewery tours and have an extensive range of beers that are widely available across Scotland. In particular, Belhaven Best is Scotland's best-selling ale and you will find it on tap in most pubs.
Lochs are one of most famous scenic features of Scotland. Whether it is Loch Ness, Loch Lomond or Loch Tay these mesmerising places are a must-see on any itinerary. This coffee table book will inspire your travels to these lochs with its fine photography and engaging text that explores the history, nature and outdoor pursuits that you can discover at these lochs.
This is a beautifully presented book with large photographs of breathtaking scenery on every page. It is a large book that will sit nicely on a coffee table.
The book contains over 30 lochs and explores their history, wildlife and myths and legends. It will come as no surprise that monsters get a few mentions!
Each chapter begins with a map showing the location of the loch and providing statistics about its length, depth, water volume and so on.
The author provides information about walking and cycling opportunities at each loch, so the book makes a good companion to help you to plan cycling trips to these lochs. There are also details about waters sports, angling and boat hiring.
The text is engaging and you are sure to learn lots of new things about Scotland's lochs and perhaps even discover lochs that you have never heard of.
The photography that is splashed on each page makes the book a joy to leaf through and it easily inspires you to visit these places.
You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on the image link:
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.