The Outer Close is the open area to the east of the Palace and Great Hall. At its southern end is the Forework Gatehouse, while to the north it narrows to the North Gate, the route to the Nether Bailey beyond.
As you enter the Outer Close through the Forework Gateway it is the spectacular limewashed form of the Great Hall directly ahead of you that attracts your attention. Once through the gateway you begin to realise that the Palace to your left is even more magnificent, if rather more subtle. Between the Great Hall and Palace is the bridged passageway into the Inner Close.
If the Inner Close is defined by the royal buildings surrounding it, the Outer Close was always a much more mixed collection of buildings, even in the castle's days as a royal residence.
To your right is the Fort Major's house, a relatively recent addition to the castle dating back to the 1790s. Overlooking the castle well, this is used as offices and not accessible to the public. Beyond it is the Main Guard House, probably built in the 1770s. Part of this is in use as the Palace Gift Shop.
Beyond the Main Guard House are steps leading down into the lower two floors of the Elphinstone Tower, part of the original Forework built by James IV. This was cut down in 1689 to provide a base for the Three Gun Battery which can be seen immediately to the east of the Main Guard House.
North of the Main Guard House is a grassy bank leading up to the curtain wall, complete with by a row of cannons. The grassy mound covers part of the Great Kitchens. There were earlier kitchens in the room above the North Gate. But when the Great Hall was built from 1501 to 1504 a new range of kitchens was built against the eastern curtain wall to ensure that large events could be catered for.
By 1689 the need for large scale catering was less pressing than the need for good defences against the Jacobite threat. The Great Kitchens were filled in and covered over to provide a base for the Grand Battery, a line of guns designed to protect the castle's relatively weak east side. At the same time the Master Gunner's House was built at the far end of the Grand Battery.
The Grand Battery earned its keep on 6 January 1746 when, together with guns on the French Spur and Three Gun Battery, it destroyed Jacobite artillery emplaced on Gowan Hill (now the cemetery visible to the east). This forced Bonnie Prince Charlie to give up his siege of the castle and retreat north, eventually to Culloden. See our Historical Timeline for the wider picture.
The kitchens were excavated and partially restored in 1921 and can be accessed by steps leading into the basement of the Master Gunner's House. It is therefore possible today to see both the kitchens and the Grand Battery above them.
The North Gate contains the earliest known stonework still standing in the castle, dating back to 1380. It is sinuous and tunnel-like, and was clearly designed to provide a well defended back door to the main areas of the castle. The rooms above the gate have been altered more than once. In their time they have held kitchens and later a brewhouse. And they were allegedly the site of a mint for a while.
Above the North Gate is part of the wall walk leading from the Grand Battery around the north curtain wall to the Douglas Garden behind the Chapel Royal and King's Old Building. Not immediately obvious, this wall walk provides an alternative set of views of the castle, and of the Great Hall in particular, and is a must-do part of any visit to the castle.