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Castles

Craigmillar Castle – Top of the World

Just three miles south-east of Edinburgh is one of the best preserved medieval castles of Scotland, Craigmillar Castle. This imposing L plan towerhouse was originally built in the 14th Century and fortifications were added subsequently. Its location is such that from the roof of the towerhouse one has a view of the entire city and its surroundings in all directions.

The original tower was built by Sir George Preston around 1400. It was fortified by his grandson, Sir William Preston in the 1440’s with a curtain wall on three sides with round flanking towers on the corners and buildings along three walls. This created an inner courtyard, one of Craigmillar’s most notable features. Around 1510, Sir Simon Preston built yet another layer of enclosure, creating an outer yard and east and west gardens within outer walls.

Craigmillar Castle saw a new phase of construction in the 1550s when more spacious and modern accommodation was built along the east side of the inner courtyard. Craigmillar was restored for Mary Queen of Scots who lived here in 1566-67 after her husband Darnley murdered her Italian secretary Rizzio. It was here that the plot to kill her husband was hatched by a band of conspirators, including Argyll, Huntly, Bothwell, Maitland, and Gilbert Balfour. The queen’s room in the south wing was small but had two windows and a fireplace. Mary’s son, James VI, stayed here as well.

In 1660, the Prestons sold Craigmillar Castle to Sir John Gilmour and there began another round of construction. The creation of the west range transformed Craigmillar into a comfortable home. As it happened with many others, in the 1700s the Gilmours abandoned Craigmillar Castle and moved to Inch House. This newly built home later became Gilmerton, named after the family.

Craigmillar Castle decayed into a badly overgrown ruin over the next two centuries. However its underlying structure survived and many of the structures in the gardens and outer yard, such as the chapel walls in the east garden and dovecote in the northeast corner of the castle, still remain. It went into state care in 1946 and is now cared for by Historic Scotland.