Fountain and castle, a photo by rmtx on Flickr.
Fountain and castle, a photo by rmtx on Flickr.

The number one paid attraction in Edinburgh has been photographed, researched, described, and factoided (if that’s a word) to death. What’s left to say? I’m not going to bore you with “just the facts” (Started as a hilltop fort, royal castle since the 12th century, became a military base and garrison….) that gets old fast. Instead, here are five less-than-well-known stories that make this chunk of rock come to life:


Secret Tunnels 


There are many legends about the castle, and one is called The Lone Piper. Supposedly a labyrinthine network of tunnels were once discovered running underneath the castle, and a young boy was sent in to see where they led. Armed with nothing but his pipes, he played as he walked so that the others above ground could hear where he went. Then, somewhere far below, the piping stopped. The lad was never heard from again, though it’s said that his ghost still plays the pipes from somewhere underground…. Supposedly the tunnels were blocked up, and have never been found since. There is actually a modern tunnel under the castle, created in 1990 by the military. There is still a strong military presence here, and the tunnel allows jeeps to enter without plowing through hordes of tourists over the drawbridge.

A Body in the Wall

Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, James, in the castle’s “birthing room”–or did she?
It is said that during excavations of the castle “the skeleton of a newborn child wrapped in a rich silken cloth [was found] built into the wall of the banqueting hall next to the castle courtyard. The silk cloth was identified as belonging to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.” Some speculate that Mary’s son died at birth, the tragedy was hushed up, and the baby of another lady at court was substituted. If the admittedly far-fetched story is true, what does that say about legitimacy of Britain’s royal family?

Maiden Castle

Before it was known simply as “Edinburgh Castle,” this fortress went by another name. Edinburgh’s legendary founder, “Ebrawce” (Ebraucus), was a king of the Britons who supposedly had twenty wives and fifty children. He is credited with establishing “the Castell of Maidens called Edenbrough” in 989 BC. The name “Maiden Castle” was commonly used until at least the 1500s.

The Laird’s Lug

Ancient kings didn’t have to rely on hidden microphones to listen in on their underling’s conversations. King James IV was able to overhear whatever went on in Edinburgh Castle’s great hall just by listening at a little barred window near the fireplace. This type of opening is called a “laird’s lug,” Scots for “lord’s ears,” and also appears in Muchalls Castle. It was obviously effective. In 1984 when Mikhail Gorbachev planned a visit to the castle the Soviet secret service demanded that the lug be plugged up for security reasons.

File:Edinburgh Castle during the 'Lang Siege' (May 1573).jpg
Edinburgh under Siege

The Lang Siege

Touring Edinburgh today, you would never imagine that the blood of civilians once ran in the streets as enemy forces camped outside the walls for two “lang” years. Mary, Queen of Scots’s supporters kept the city against the forces of her infant son (or rather his regent, the Earl of Lennox). The first part of the siege only lasted a month, then there was a truce, then the truce expired and the Earl bombarded the walls, with little success. He was replaced by the Earl of Morton, and the soldiers settled in for the long haul. The siege ended with a great battle. One side of the castle was blasted away, and Mary’s forces were defeated.

1 o'clock gun at Edinburgh Castle at 13.00 hours. Scotland, a photo by Grangeburn on Flickr.
1 o’clock gun at Edinburgh Castle at 13.00 hours. Scotland, a photo by Grangeburn on Flickr.



Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 5 comments

  1. Amber Hayes Reply

    I have started a board on Pinterest about the Tudors, I know quite a lot about British Royalty however there is always more to learn, they are always discovering new things. My board is mainly about the Tudors from Henry VIII & family, Mary Queen Of Scots, Queen Elizabeth & how they’ve been portrayed in films etc! I had a,bit if a disagreement with my History teacher about the 3 blows of the axe to behead Mary Queen Of Scots. Actually it was 5 possibly more, grisly, but true.

  2. Missia Vaselaney Reply

    I descend as a direct granddaughter from her. I always found her story tragic, but when I found out I was her direct descendant, it made it all that much more real.

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