Craigmillar castle, built by the powerful Preston family, dates from the 15th century. It began as a tower house. The curtain wall is thought to be the work of Sir William Preston who was laird of Gorton and Craigmillar from 1542. Sir William was famous for presenting the high kirk in Edinburgh with a prized relic – the supposed arm bone of the city’s patron saint, St Giles, which he had acquired during travels in France. Sir Simon Preston added outer walls c1510. In the 1550s further buildings were added along the inner courtyard’s east side.
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Standing on its rocky knoll outside Edinburgh, the castle was part of a very dark deed in Scottish history. In 1479 Sir Simon Preston was told by King James III to arrest the monarch’s younger brother John, earl of Mar. The king was jealous of John’s popularity and he was taken to Craigmillar before being charged and convicted of witchcraft. The unfortunate earl was then taken to Edinburgh where John Leslie wrote in his History that he was seated in a bath and ‘they cuttit ane of his vanes and causit him to bleid to deid’.
Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in September 1563 and in December 1566 when the owner was Sir Simon Preston. He later became her jailer. Sir John Gilmour became the owner in 1660 and further expanded the site, but the castle was left to decay in the beginning of the 18th century. However, much of the structure remains including a dovecot and the tower house where the prison and great hall can be explored.
2.5 miles south-east of Edinburgh
Tel. 0131 661 4445
Open: year round, daily, April-end Sep, 9.30am-5.30pm; Oct-end March, 10am-4pm
Historic Scotland property
Photos by Kim Traynor and Lisa Jarvis courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland