It all started with a saint and a nearly-murdered princess
Once upon a time, a beautiful princess got pregnant before she was married. You might say her family reacted rather badly. Her dad, the King of Lothian, threw her off a cliff. Yep, you heard me right. But the fair young woman's body was not dashed against the rocks and carried out to sea. In fact, she floated around in the water a bit, relatively unharmed, until an empty boat drifted by and she decided to hop into it. It carried her across a river called the Firth of Forth to a lovely wee village where a rather nice chap found her. Turns out he was a saint (literally), and became foster father to her son, who also grew up to be a saint.
One of the quaint, witchy houses you'll find at Culross.
Or so the legend goes. Culross, 24 miles north-east of Edinburgh, is a perfect fossil of history dating back to the 5th century. Quaint witches' houses, palaces and cobbled streets are still immaculately intact and as original as when Middle Ages folk dwelled there. In the 20th century, Culross became recognised for how beautifully preserved its heritage was, and the National Trust of Scotland has been working on the town's preservation and restoration since the 1930s.
Between 1590 and 1662, a series of witch hunts took place across Scotland. Women were being executed for allegedly bringing on sickness, causing storms, inflicting nightmares upon innocents, and a great many other horrid deeds. Culross had its fair share of witches. One of the village's loveliest buildings is the Town House, built in 1626. It had a tollbooth and a witches' prison inside. A true story: a woman was tried for witchcraft here and was found guilty. She jumped out of the window in the tower and broke both legs trying to escape. She was sent to Edinburgh for execution regardless.
The gents running the Town House didn't put up with hocus pocus.
Culross (pronounced "coo-ross") started off as a coalmining centre. The big boss was a chap by the name of Sir George Bruce of Carnock, and he built at Culross the first coal mine in the world that extended underneath the sea, all the way back in 1575. His house was Culross' most impressive home, the Palace, and it's here you should begin your exploration of this magical old town.
Swan around in the noble surrounds of Culross Palace.
Chat to the guides inside the Palace – they have an amazing wealth of knowledge about everything from the antique furniture to how the folk of yesteryear used to pee or smuggle ladies of the night into their chambers. But it's the reconstructed 17th century garden that is really a highlight – you'll see views over the whole township, walk through gorgeous plants and flowers, and even meet the Scots Dumpy hens who supply eggs for a nearby tearoom.
A guided tour of the township is also available, and it's worth taking up. Go unicorn-spotting. Unicorn statues and images are found all over Scotland - they represent Jesus. Perhaps the best thing to do in Culross is to simply walk around and marvel at it all. You'll be cackling like a witch in no time.