Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

Craigmillar Castle

Often forgotten in favour of the more famous Edinburgh Castle, Craigmillar is a substantial and historically important ruin, lying on a rocky crag near the summit of Craigmillar Hill, only 2½ miles (4 km) from the centre of Edinburgh. In a picturesque setting, surrounded by a deer park, it is arguably the best example of a medieval castle surviving in Scotland. The castle comprises four storeys, with a Great Hall, large basement on the ground floor, kitchens, a dungeon and several bedrooms with garderobes falling down the external wall to the south. The Great Hall features an enormous barrel-vaulted ceiling, stone seats alongside restored half-shuttered windows and an immense 3.4-m / 11-foot fireplace. Visitors gain fine views from the parapets over Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Although a building existed on this site from the 13th Century, the present fortress dates from 1374 when it was the home of the Preston family. This L-plan tower house was surrounded by a courtyard wall around 1427 and a large outer courtyard was created in the early 16th century. In 1479, King James III ordered his brother John, Earl of Mar and Garioch, to be imprisoned here where he died. King James V (1512 - 1542) stayed at Craigmillar in 1517. The castle suffered at the hands of the Earl of Hertford during the English invasion of 1544 and Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 - 1587), sought seclusion here after the murder of her secretary David Rizzio (1533 - 1566) at Holyrood Palace. Craigmillar was also where Mary's nobles, including James Hepburn (the Earl of Bothwell, 1536 - 1578) and William Maitland (1525 - 1573), plotted the demise of her second husband Lord Darnley (1545 - 1567). The partial remains of her arms can be seen on the north wall of the great hall. Mary's son King James VI (1566 - 1625) stayed here in 1589 while awaiting the arrival of his wife, Anne of Denmark (1574 - 1619). In the field to the south of the castle the remains of an unusual Mediaeval ornamental fish pond or sunken garden can still be seen, constructed in the shape of a 'P' for Preston.

In 1660 the castle was bought by Sir John Gilmour (1605-71), who extended and significantly modernised the property, adding the West Wing which included a drawing room and kitchen on the ground floor with bedchambers above. Craigmillar Castle was abandoned as the principal family home in the 18th century. Thereafter it was used as an occasional residence and formed ancillary buildings for the neighbouring farm. Restoration was undertaken by Walter Little Gilmour (1807-87) in time for a visit by Queen Victoria in 1886. Other visitors included Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832), and it has been depicted by many artists including J.M.W. Turner (1775 - 1851), Rev. John Thomson of Duddingston (1778 - 1840), Sir Thomas Dick Lauder (1784 - 1848), Robert Gibb (1801-37), Waller Hugh Paton (1828-95) and John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880 - 1951).

The castle was given to the nation by the Gilmour family in 1946 and is now maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. The Gilmours retain a small family burial ground within the roofless chapel in the east garden, which is the burial place of politician Sir Ian Gilmour (Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, 1926 - 2007). Craigmillar is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument with its policies protected through inclusion on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes.

It has been a location in the BBC television production of Ivanhoe (1997), the Sony Pictures television series Outlander (2017), the film Outlaw King (2018), and as a backdrop to television commercials. It is also used as a venue for the annual Craigmillar & Niddrie Community Festival.

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