Recently I have started exploring a bit more of my adopted home city of Edinburgh, I mean there is loads of attractions such as Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile in the city centre and after 6 years I have pretty much been to all of those but there are also some great sights which are not as well know. An attraction that fitted this definition and which I had never heard of before was Lauriston Castle which is situated north of the city centre and actually 10 minutes away from where i have worked from the past 5 years! I travelled to the castle from the city centre and it is only a 30 minute bus ride from the west end, I got on the No 37 and stayed on it till the final stop and from there is was only a 10 minute walk (pretty much a straight path too) to get to the castle grounds.
On first entry to the ground there is a car park and no initial sign of the castle just a large open green park space and you have to walk another 5 minutes through this area before you stumble upon the frontage of Lauriston Castle. It should be noted that there are fairly extensive gardens which surround the building and these are free for people to enter and to walk around and many locals do seem to make use of this as the car park was full at 1pm on a Monday.
The main reason I was there was not for the gardens but for a tour inside the castle which are available on Mon-Thu at 2pm and at the weekend at 2, 2.30, 3 and 3.30. Although I had managed to find the castle my next challenge was finding where to buy a ticket for the tour, the main door was looked and there did not appear to be any obvious reception area or ticket area. The only open section I could find was the outdoor cafe and after asking if that was where i could purchase a ticket i was referred back to the main castle building! I checked the front door again and then decided to walk around and check every door and each one was locked. I then went round again and was seriously thinking i am missing something but all the doors and windows were locked!
I was a bit early so I decided i would kill time till 2pm when the tour was due to begin and hopefully someone would appear, this was not too bad as there was extensive grounds and gardens which are pretty good for killing some time. I started at the back of the castle where you would through a narrow passage to be greeted with unspoiled views of the Firth of Forth and Cramond Island. The back area was also home to three croquet pitches which are used by a local club (yes apparently croquet is still a thing!) and there was even a game going on.
If you then wall towards the west side of the castle there is a sign which directs you to a japanese garden which is a bit of a strange sight on the outskirts of Edinburgh but its very tastefully done and not a bad place to chill on one of the benches to contemplate important stuff like…I am ever going to be able to get into this castle??!
After spending half an hour in the gardens it was suddenly nearing 2pm so I headed back to the front entrance where I noticed a couple of people were stationed outside the front door and then bang on 2pm the door magically opened and a guide appeared. I subsequently found out that you are supposed to buy tickets at the start of the tour which is not really a problem but i wonder how many people have visited found the doors shut and just left? Perhaps a sign outside saying tickets can be purchased at beginning of tour would be helpful.
Anyway when eventually entry was allowed there was only myself and 2 other people so it was almost a private tour and after we all paid our guide took us straight outside again. The guide gave us an early history on the property telling is that it apparently was pretty much reduced to ruins by raids in 1544 by the earl of hertford and only a small section survived leaving most of it to be rebuilt and then extended. It also apparently is not really a castle as there has never been a garrison stationed there but im guessing Lauriston castle sounds more impressive than Lauriston house!
After the brief history we eventually headed into the property, the foyer area was pretty much non existent a long stone staircase led up to the ground level with a couple of colourful drapes either side offering a touch of warmth to an otherwise cold entrance. Almost all of the rooms were located on the same level and I was surprised my the number of rooms that you do get to explore. The last owners of the castle were the Reid family who were famous for cabinet making which means that there are many custom fine detailed furniture pieces on display throughout the property. It is worth taking some time to study some of the pieces closely as many offer examples of the Mr Reid’s exceptional craftsmanship.
In the first room I encountered the first of some the large display of Blue John ornaments which are peppered throughout the property and which apparently are one of the largest collections in the UK. If you are wondering what Blue John is, it is a semi-precious mineral that is almost glass like and which does not look that impressive on first look but when light is put on it and through it there is both a vibrancy of colours and a revelation of how delicate the material is.
The next room was a study where you could see photos of the Reid family which were displayed on the wall and there was a table with blueprints for a building which Mr Reid was designing. Apparently he was a bit of a workaholic and so he spent many hours in this room which included his desk which was laid out almost as he would have left it. At the back of the room was a almost hidden staircase which went into a room above which could be used to spy on guest in the room below.
The next room was the bathroom which had a deep victorian tub which was customary for the time and a heated towel rail which was affluent for the time. It also had one of the nicest toilets i have ever seen with leather armrests and everything! Then it was onto the bedroom and there was a huge radiator on one side and a fireplace on the other side along with double glazing i doubt that it was ever cold in the room!
Next it was into a stunning morning room which looks out the back of the property looking over the croquet ground out to the forth. Apparently it was were Mr Reid would reax in the morning reading the daily newspaper and no doubt admiring the amazing views which were on offer from his desk which was situated under the windows.
The adjoining room was perhaps the most cluttered of all the rooms with an array of furniture and various items including a selection of pocket watches, also if you look up there is an impressive plastered ceiling to enjoy. It was also home to a piano which would be used for entertaining guests of the time and next to it were several pieces of sheet music from the Victorian era in great condition. The next room was the dining room which had a table set out for dinner including a period menu almost as if people were about to sit down and enjoy a meal and a large meal at that as there was about 6 courses on offer.
The final room was the library which was contained with a beautiful wood panel ceiling (almost like the box of a ship) and hundreds of old books which were covered the lengths of all the walls it was perhaps my favourite room. The books were apparently a fraction of those that are actually owned by the family and they offered everything from a collection of dickens classics to victorian fiction. There was also a hidden passage behind one of the bookcase shelves at the end of the room (I mean what would a castle be without a hidden section!).
In total the tour lasted in total just over an hour and afterwards i spent a little more time exploring the gardens which are quite extensive and which do have a range of flowers (which no dont have names but flowers aren’t really my thing!). It is amazing that the place is only a 30 minute journey from the city centre as it is a quiet and tranquil area of Edinburgh and the ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city (probably especially true during the festival season!).
The price of the tour when I visited was £6 for a concession (yay student discount) or £8 full price but it is probably best to check for up to date prices on their website for your visit at www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venue/lauriston-castle.