The Innocent Railway and Craigmillar Castle: One of Edinburgh's Other Castles

When you think of Edinburgh I'm sure one of the things that will naturally come to mind is the famous castle, but what about Craigmillar castle, have you heard of that one? Like, I guess, most visitors to Edinburgh, before I came to live here I hadn't and had certainly never thought about the city having any other castles than that very obvious one. However there are actually several, both within the city and the surrounding area, many of which I am still to discover.

The day we visited Craigmillar castle we decided we would walk there from our home which is actually quite a distance (more than I realised if I'm honest) despite us living fairly centrally. After that walk and then exploring the castle we decided against the walk back again and took a bus to the city centre which more than halved what walking we did have to do to get home. The walk there though did take us through the New Town, the Old Town, around part of the base of Arthur's Seat, through some of the extensive grounds of Holyrood park and out the other side into Craigmillar. 

Whilst walking through Holyrood park we came across the curiously named path called the Innocent Railway. The Innocent Railway was part of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith railway that opened in 1831 and was built to convey coal from pits in the vicinity of Dalkeith into Edinburgh, the Innocent Railway section connected the now closed St Leonard's railway station, which was close to Arthur's Seat, to the line. It was originally a horse operated line and was the city's first railway. It earned its name because of that use of horses which gave it a leisurely pace, though there is also a belief that the name was earned due to there being no accidents on the line. The line had become popular with passengers (though it was never planned for this purpose) and was subsequently converted to steam locomotives instead, and at a time when steam engines had a reputation for being dangerous it carried a remarkably large number of passengers every year without any fatalities. 

It was a local businessman who had hit upon the idea of the line being used to carry passengers too, with it running through to Fisherrow which is close to the coastal suburb of Portobello the selling point was that passengers could be ferried from the city to the coast. For many this would have been their first experience of the railway as well so, not surprisingly, it proved a big hit. The railway eventually closed in 1968 when the coal depot at St Leonard's was closed and in the early 1990's a section of it was converted to become a part of the National Cycle Network. This section of former railway isn't the only in Edinburgh that has been converted into cycle paths and walkways, another that I've spent a lot of time on, the Water of Leith walkway, was also a railway line at one time and there are plenty of others dotted all over the city that have been given a new lease of life.

A part of the original Innocent railway

From the Innocent railway we carried on towards Craigmillar castle which was still quite a long walk away, but eventually after passing through the nearby housing estate the castle finally came into view. Craigmillar castle is a ruin now but building of it began in the late 14th century when the original tower house was constructed with subsequent building work continuing through the 15th and 16th centuries, eventually becoming a comfortable residence with gardens and pastureland. 

It's probably best known for its association with Mary, Queen of Scots who spent time convalescing here in 1566 following a serious illness. During this, her second stay at the castle, an agreement known as the 'Craigmillar Bond' was agreed and signed by her Secretary of State and other nobles to have her unpopular husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley removed either by divorce or some other means. Although Mary had expressed her unhappiness with Darnley she was not part of the conspiracy to have him removed and she may not even have known about it. As a result of this though Darnley was subsequently murdered in Edinburgh in February 1567.

As I said the castle is now a ruin and the original tower house at its centre, one of the first of this type to be built in Scotland, is a common feature of a lot of Scottish castles. This was most likely built by a Sir George Preston, one of a line of Prestons who played a large part in civic life in Edinburgh. Later generations of the family added to the castle before it was sold and its new owner, Sir John Gilmour, a Scottish judge and politician, continued to add further to the castle. Eventually though in the early 1700s the family abandoned it for the nearby Inch house. It was ruined by 1775 and in its abandoned state became a popular tourist attraction from the late 18th century before eventually passing into state care in 1946.

Looking towards Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat

In the courtyard of the castle stand two yew trees believed to have been planted during the residency of Mary, Queen of Scots. Whether that is true or not yew trees are known to be able to survive for millennia in the right conditions so it's possible Mary, Queen of Scots did see them too. Along with the yew trees, and despite the castle being part ruined, visitors are still able to access the roof level of the tower house and from there you can enjoy some great views in every direction. Whilst Edinburgh has grown and changed immensely since Mary, Queen of Scots stayed at the castle it's still kind of exciting to imagine yourself looking on (in part) the same view as she may once have done.


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