Today we went to Roslin Glen, a picturesque, wooded, steep-sided glen just outside Edinburgh, through which the River North Esk twists its way.
The North Esk was obviously of strategic importance in the past, protecting Edinburgh against attacks from the south, as along its banks are (or were) numerous castles including (from east to west) Dalkeith Castle, Melville Castle, a possible motte at Mavisbank House, Maiden Castle, Hawthornden Castle, Rosslyn Castle, Old Woodhouselee Castle and Auchendinny House.
The walk up to Rosslyn Castle starts from a car park in Roslin Glen, passing through woodland that at this time of year is turning glorious shades of red and yellow.
A narrow wooden bridge carries the path across the River North Esk, which was reflecting the golden hues of the leaves and the blue of the sky.
The path winds its way up a slight hill towards the lower defences of the castle.
Reaching the crest of the hill, it becomes clear how much higher it is to the castle itself. A high arch under the castle’s bridge gives access to the river on the other side. Rosslyn Castle stands in an elevated position high above the River North Esk. Built by Henry Sinclair, the 1st Earl of Orkney, it towers over the river, being built into the rocky promontory on which it stands.
Destroyed by fire in the 15th and 16th centuries, most of the castle was rebuilt in the late 16th century, although some portions were left in ruins.
Retracing our steps, looking up at the arch and the bridge above it gives a real sense of how well this castle is defended.
Climbing further we reached the bridge itself, with the remains of the gatehouse and the north range protecting the narrow entrance to the castle’s courtyard.
The view from the bridge was spectacular, the trees of the forest across the river a rich mixture of copper reds interspersed with remnants of green.
In 1622 the section rebuilt in the 16th century was remodelled with Renaissance detailing, providing more fitting accommodation for the status of the owners. At this level it appears to be a two storey building, but below it (as we saw earlier) are three further storeys.
To the west of the site is a section of the 15th century curtain wall, with six arched bays.
Beyond that to the south is a tall section of the late 14th century keep.
A few hundred metres from Rosslyn Castle, on another rocky outcrop, is Rosslyn Chapel.
Sadly it is possibly now more famous for its inclusion in The Da Vinci Code book and film, however prior to that it was famous (in a smaller way) for being full of ornate carvings. No photography is allowed inside the chapel, so you will have to make do with my description. Or a Google Image Search!
Begun in 1446 by William Sinclair, the 3rd Earl of Orkney and grandson of Henry Sinclair, only the choir of the church had been built by the time of his death in 1484. It is thought that a nave and transepts were planned, but never built. While the 3rd Earl was still alive he oversaw an ambitious programme of carving unlike that in any other church in Scotland. The result is a magnificent array of carvings packed into a small chapel.
Amongst the most interesting of the carvings are those of the Green Man – a man’s face with plants growing out of his mouth. The Green Man is thought to symbolise Nature and fertility, and has pre-Christian origins. Not many are found in Scotland, and yet there are over 100 in Rosslyn Chapel.
Rosslyn Chapel really is a most impressive place to visit, but the carvings on the outside only hint at what is contained within. Around the chapel is something of a building site at the moment, part of a huge conservation programme which has been running for several years – until recently there was a huge metal canopy over the entire chapel, protecting it until the structure had dried out from decades of damp and the leaking roof was fixed.
Rosslyn Castle and Rosslyn Chapel are two very historically-significant buildings hidden in a beautiful glen so close to Edinburgh, yet a world away.