My dad grew up in New Jersey. He remembered visiting his father’s family back in West Chester, PA a few times as a kid, but he never knew much about them. He had only a vague memory that they were an influential and most likely socially -prominent family, but because his own father was the family rebel who moved away, Dad’s knowledge was scarce. My grandfather died before I was born and by the time Dad became interested in his family history, there was really no one to ask. My grandmother told him the little bit she knew, but she had never been close to the family either, so the little bit didn’t help. So other than the fact that he was English and Scotch, he had no other information.
Later in life, Dad wanted to know about his heritage and often encouraged me to see what I could discover, but it wasn’t until a few years after his death that I found a book of West Chester history that literally laid out his family tree. (My grandfather was actually listed in the book.) From that information, I found even more information that took the family history back to England and then to Scotland where Simon Preston was owner of Craigmiller Castle at the time Mary Queen of Scots stayed there and her people planned the death of her husband.
I immediately looked Craigmiller up on the web and saw that although the castle was now a ruin, it was still there. I thought, Would that not be one of the coolest things in the world – to visit the castle owned by my ancestors? At that time, I figured this would never happen.
When the trip to Scotland came up, I immediately thought of Craigmiller. But we were on a tour and although the tour does give you some free time, I didn’t see how I could get to the castle. I knew the castle was in a neighboring town (from Edinburgh), but still … our free time in Edinburgh would be our very first day and I figured I’d hesitate to go off by myself the first afternoon. I communicated with some people who were from Scotland and although they wanted to help, no one knew how I could actually get to Craigmiller.
I did a lot of web research and learned that the village of Craigmiller is not exactly a good area and the websites warned against going there alone. (I apologize to anyone who actually lives there – people are also warned about Chicago.) So, I resigned myself to not seeing the castle.
Still – I figured this would be my one opportunity and knew if I didn’t see it, I would always regret it.
The Other Three said they would go with me and that I HAD to go.
Anne told me to take a taxi.
So late on the first Monday afternoon, we walked down to the Royal Mile looking for a cab. One slowed and I caught the driver’s eye. I ran over and asked if he knew where Craigmiller Castle was.
“Aye,” he said.
My words came out in a rush. “I am descended from the Prestons and want to see it, but I don’t have much time. How much would you charge to take me out there long enough to take some pictures?” (At this point, I was almost willing to splurge and spend all my trip money on whatever it would take to get there.)
“Ten pounds,” he said.
“That’s for out and back?”
“Oh, you want to come back? Fifteen pounds.” (I just wanted to see it, I really didn’t want to move in.)
I waved The Other Three over and off we went. We had four taxi drivers in Edinburgh. This was the only talkative one. As we drove down the Edinburgh streets and out toward Prestonfield and Craigmiller, he showed me where the manor house had been located and the extent of the land the Prestons had owned. We drove through Craigmiller (now filled with crowded apartments) and up the hill to the castle.
“I’ll just be a minute,” I called, running off to the ticket place. To get into the castle, you had to pay, but I quickly explained my situation to the people at the desk and asked if I could just take a few pictures. The man showed me where to go behind a stone wall and that I could walk up the path to take some pictures. (Not really on the castle grounds, but close enough to see the ruins.)
As I headed out to show The Other Three the path, the girl came out on the small porch and made a loud announcement (truly, it was an announcement). “The ONE WHO IS DESCENDED CAN GO UP TO THE CASTLE FOR FREE. THE OTHERS MUST STAY BEHIND THE WALL. JUST THE ONE! JUST THE ONE!”
Quickly, I hurried up the road to the castle and walked inside the walls and then into the courtyard. The air was still. The thick walls blocked off traffic noise and even the birds were silent. For one minute, I stood quietly and looked around at the ancient ruins (being conscious that the taxi meter was ticking for every second I stood there nostalgically remembering my ancestors.) Even though Simon Preston owned the castle back in the 1400s – if there hadn’t been a Simon Preston, our family would’ve been different people. I took some pictures and headed back down the road. The Other Three took some pictures from further away in the field.
I ran into the gift shop, bought myself a ring and a couple other things and hurried to the parking lot – where our taxi cab driver was patiently waiting (with the meter off) and chatting with some other tourists.
We got into the taxi and Graham, our driver (we were on a first name basis with him by this time) asked me if we had been up on Arthur’s Seat. I told him we had seen it from Colton Hill, but hadn’t actually been on top.
“I will take you there,” he said. “I will take you there for free.” He drove up on the mountain, being a regular tour guide, pointing out the Duddingston Loch of the famous “skating-minister/think-pod” picture. At the top, he stopped and we all got out again and took pictures of Edinburgh. We stood there talking as he told us he had been a taxi driver for 17 years and that he had driven Sean Connery somewhere or other. He pointed out places of interest in the city below.
He then drove us down the mountain/hill and didn’t turn on the meter again until just a few blocks from our hotel.
As Anne said, when I showed her the picture – “Well, he’s a fine-looking chap, isn’t he?” Not sure about that, but he definitely provided a memorable adventure that we will never forget.
(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them — and they will also look much brighter.) These are kind of dark because the day was dark.)