Review: Castle of Light – Magic and Mystery

By Jeanie West

I’m standing in the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, the city’s famous fortress, that rests atop a lump of basalt volcanic rock, rain lashed and beaten by the seasonal Scottish elements. 

Yet despite this freezing cold onslaught I’m dazzled by an ambitious Christmas offering that isn’t letting the weather steal its shine.

The castle with rainbow colours.
(C) Historic Environment Scotland.

The Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery has transformed Edinburgh’s premiere landmark and its dramatic and at times brutal history into a spectacular alchemy of digital wonder, illuminating its chequered past for Yuletide once more.

At the mouth of this posh pile of heavy rocks dating in parts to the 11th century we witness the projected images of a feisty Robert the Bruce and Sir William Wallace shooting the breeze about their beloved homeland. 

Their mighty animated mugshots draw us deeper into a tapestry of rich storytelling, comedy, horror, myth and legend, relayed through an extravaganza of wow-factor special effects during this nocturnal pilgrimage.

These history boys might have stepped off the pages of a homework journal harping on before the castle esplanade about the virtues of this revered place and how Scotland is ace, as lush animated images of its landscape sweep momentarily before us.

The castle lit up in pink.
(C) Historic Environment Scotland.

They are joined inside by a maverick conjuring lion, a dizzy unicorn, dancing knights, Queen Elizabeth’s cat, a magician’s gigantic hands and a sleeping/waking dragon creeping along the rocks. 

There are other curiosities too – a hall of mirrors where my face becomes part of a warped kaleidoscope, a bold light Wall of Wands and a fun digital tarot card display for those lusting after the future.

And all before a monument so royally lit it might be visible from the moon. There’s fun here for all the family – much of it set to an imaginative contemporary sounds like the knights throwing shapes to dance tunes.

Now in its fourth year the unique outdoor projection, sound and light extravaganza, dreamed up by Andy McGregor, creative director of the event, in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland and other parties has seen the public vote with its feet.

The castle lit up in orange colours.
(C) Historic Environment Scotland.

Over the last three years more than 100,000 visitors have crossed its threshold – no bad testimony for these Scottish illuminations consolidating the city’s reputation as a European jewel for Christmas festivities.

McGregor said: “Like the experimental alchemists of the 16th century, we use magical tools from our digital era to transport the audience, transform the castle and bring stone to life. Let immersive installations guide you through Scotland’s colourful past as a tapestry of all-new projections animate the castle walls.

A mere glance over the ramparts reveals an even more epic light show as Princes Street gardens sparkles with adrenaline fuelled fairground rides and the booths of countless Christmas traders peddling their version of the holiday season.

Take yourself to this tourist stronghold and feel the love and light for yourselves. You won’t be disappointed. 

The Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery runs at Edinburgh Castle until January 2024.