Saturday, 13 September 2008

Day out: Craigmillar Castle

I don’t know why I decide to go. It’s a desire that pulls at me, as if in the moving I will somehow lose myself and find myself all at the same time. Ask nothing, get everything.

This morning I awoke, mindlessly got myself ready and began to walk. Other than a familiar, tranquil feeling that I get when I travel or see something new, I remember very little of the walk, even though it took me more than two hours. Because I knew I would forget, I stopped to note that on West Preston Street, the Lucifer Lighting store is next door to the Archangel Michael Healing Centre.
Unlike Nif, who enjoys aimless walking more than anything, I prefer to have a destination. This allows me to feel more open to the road in between, but still gives me a sense of a safety net, a final point to rest. By the time I got to Craigmillar Castle Park, I was tired. My shirt was wet from the damp weather, which was a playful mix of mist and rain. I had to climb a muddy hill into the park and I stopped to touch the black slugs softly with my boot so I could watch them suck in their antennae and generally make themselves as small as possible. The old “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me” game. As if I’d fall for that.
The castle was there at the top of the hill. Not looming like Edinburgh Castle or even romantic like Linlithgow Palace with its place above the Loch. It was just…silent. As soon as I reached the crest of the hill, the rest of the world fell away. I could still hear the traffic but it seemed as though the building and the park itself were held inside of a tender stillness.
Built before the 1400s by the Preston family, the castle was sold to Sir John Gilmour n 1660. But in the 1700s the family found it too antiquated and they shut the doors and abandoned the property. It was advertised for rent but with no takers, it crumbled into the quiet ruin it is now. (Although like most castles and palaces the walls have been privy to a fair share of murderous plots. In 1566 it was where the advisors to Mary Queen of Scots apparently devised the politically-motivated murder of her husband, Lord Darnley).
From the outside it doesn’t look that large, but inside there are so many rooms and small spaces, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking they are multiplying as you move through them and that soon you’ll be trapped forever, never able to find your way out.

Just inside the main courtyard there are two beautiful yew trees, their trunks gnarled by time and a ceaseless desire to grow toward the light that hangs above the high stone walls.

I especially loved the south and north towers, where I sat for some time and watched the cows and horses grazing in the fields below. There were gaps at the edges of the locking stones that allowed me to see down to grass far beneath me. I imagined that the stones were not attached and that instead I was resting on a floating clockwork that was waiting for just the right combination to open up a great secret.
There were few other visitors. These included three men in the courtyard sitting on a bench, eating sandwiches and drinking cola. One was an elderly man and the other two were obviously his sons for they all possessed the same drooping shoulders and dressed in a similar fashion, their misfitting dark trousers held too high by thin belts. As I was crossing between the two towers, one of the men belched, loudly. The low sound bulged against the damp stones and then dispersed.

Then there was trio of English people, two men and a woman. One of the men, a spectacled creature with mad brown curls, stuck his head out of a high window and yelled down to the woman below, who was clutching an armful of leaflets.

“You should be happy I don’t have any boiling oil!” he chided, before turning to his companion. “What do you think? Should we be suspicious? Do you think she’s been plotting against us?”
Leaving the castle behind, I made my way slowly through the park again, looking for slugs in the wet grass. My strides long and relaxed, I followed the trail back down to the road, where I caught the bus home.


The Magpie said...

I should be interested if you have any Preston family information that might be included on the House Preston website for family records ( which I have been constructing. However, I do appreciate that you may not have been able to find anything more than in your blog page.

While still in the early stages, you may find it of interest to check the website and - perhaps - you could be able to add data to the records.

Marcheline said...

One of the best days, sounds like... thanks for the pics!