Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle
©2022 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. It comprises four storeys, with a great hall with restored half-shuttered windows, large basement on the ground floor, kitchens, a dungeon and several bedrooms with garderobes falling down the external wall to the south. 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. 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 the Earl of Bothwell (1536 - 1578) and William Maitland (1525 - 1573), plotted the demise of her second husband Lord Darnley (1545 - 1567). In the field to the south of the castle the remains of an unusual Mediaeval ornamental fish pond 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. It 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 (1926 - 2007).

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