I know, I said I wouldn’t. But then… I had to write at least some of it down before I start forgetting the details of the trip! There’s still more to come about the Central Highlands and the Lake District, next week, AFTER my final. Honest.
We only got about ten minutes of sunshine in our three days in Edinburgh; it was cold as winter and wets you right through to the bones (and through my shoes, sad.) Though dreary, somehow the mood seemed befitting. The grass and gorse and the centuries-old buildings seem to have more character under cloud cover. Or maybe Scotland was just so downright fabulous that I didn’t mind the weather.
Who am I kidding. The weather drove me nuts!! But Scotland is so beautiful that I think I love it anyway.
DAY 1: CITYSCAPES
C and I went by train, a four-hour ride along England’s eastern coast. We passed by yellow fields of rapeseed, pastures, seaside towns and miles of quiet shoreline. All those British novels I’ve read over the years were coming to life—the setting and scenery were all just as I would have imagined!
We dropped off our things at our host’s place, which is delightfully close to Holyrood Park, and stopped bya nearby cafe for lunch. (You can see the Salisbury crags through the window in the above-left photo.) I got a ginger beer and asked if they had any ice. They didn’t, but one of the guys there (above-right) overheard, and with an impulsive “I like a challenge,” literally ran out the door and came back with a bag of ice ten minutes later. Who knows where he went to find it!
It was maybe the best welcome we could have had to this city—one woman said Bonningtons Eaterie is more of a “community centre” than a cafe. Love the neighborhood feel! Clearly, we’re not in London anymore.
After lunch, we hiked off to Holyrood Park since the weather forecast didn’t look good for the following two days. Here, you can see what I think it maybe one of the ugliest views of Edinburgh. Some call Edinburgh the “Athens of the North,” and the Old Town especially is really beautiful and definitely neoclassical. but from this vantage point the block with the two ugliest buildings in Edinburgh—the controversial new Parliament building and the Our Dynamic Earth looking like a mini-o2 arena—looks more like a small Flintstones theme park to me!
A brief moment of sunshine on the Salisbury crags, a rock shelf formed ages ago by volcanoes that have long since been dormant.
A view from the other side. It’s called a crag-and-tail formation, formed when the volcanic rock was eroded by glaciers moving through the region. It makes for a gorgeous, windswept formation overlooking the city.
There wasn’t time to go for a jog (also, it was cold and miserable) but I was dying to go for a run along these footpaths with the Chariots of Fire theme playing in my head. Hullo there, Eric Liddell!
(A little research tells me that quite a few scenes were filmed in and around Edinburgh, especially a number of scenes with Jennie at Holyrood Park. No wonder I was thinking so much about the movie! The opening scene above was filmed just across the way at St. Andrews as well. By the by, the one celebrity sighting I’ve had these past eight months in London was of Nigel Havers, who plays Lord Lindsay in Chariots of Fire. He kind of just looked like a businessman with his overcoat and briefcase, but a pretty dapper one at that!)
Even just looking at this photo makes me smile. What a gorgeous city.
Arthur’s Seat, the summit in Holyrood Park famous for its views. It was also super windy, which made the cover photo guy all the more impressive. Standing atop the pile, he took a 360-degree video of the Forth of Firth (the river), the bay, the city. I could barely stay upright standing on firm ground with all the wind up there. Brave man!
On our way down, we passed by the ruins of St. Anthony’s chapel, St. Margaret’s loch (lake), and tons and tons of gorse. Gorse is the yellow-flowering, coconut-smelling shrubbery that grows absolutely everywhere in Edinburgh and in much of the English countryside too.
We hiked for about three hours, and afterwards I was more than ready for a hot glass of port (mmm) and venturing to try haggis, tatties & neeps.
Haggis, by way of Wikipedia, is “sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.” Tatties are mashed potatoes, and neeps are rutabaga. I liked everything but the neeps.
DAY 2: THE “ATHENS OF THE NORTH”
How cute are tea cozies! Little knits to keep your pot of tea warm.
The next morning, we stopped by this little cafe for breakfast, where the pancakes were absolutely delish! I was pleasantly surprised by the food scene in Edinburgh—affordable and delicious! Heaven for a foodie-on-the-cheap.
Edinburgh Castle. Above-left, the moving National War Monument. Above-right, St. Margaret’s chapel, built circa 1120. The oldest surviving building in Edinburgh!
Every day at one o’clock, this canon is fired. I think it was for the ships and keeping time? A small crowd gathered, the soldier checked his watch every two seconds, and yet somehow when the gun went off I still yelped with surprise! It was louder than I expected.
Kilts and bagpipes! I don’t know quite how to say this except for just saying it. Scotland somehow is every stereotype you’ve imagined, and so much more. And I mean that in the best possible way. Maybe it’s because they themselves embrace the myth of the Scottish highlander with such aplomb, it’s as if the stereotype has become living history and vice versa. Maybe I’m just waxing too poetical about it. But there’s something effervescently charming about it all. And I love the rolling r’s and the lilting accent. Oh, Scotland. You warm my heart :)
We happened upon a brief choral concert when we stopped by St. Giles’ Cathedral. It was lovely. I especially loved the inside of the church; the nave is more square, less elongated, which somehow feels more harmonious.
For some more city views, off we went to Calton Hill, which is sort of omnipresent in Edinburgh because you can see the monuments atop it wherever you are in the city. The Nelson Monument, shaped like a telescope, and the National Monument, an unfinished replica of the Parthenon, are very pretty additions to the city skyline.
A view of Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park from Calton Hill, across the way.
I’m kind of a sucker for all things cute, so afterwards we had to go see Greyfriars Bobby! He’s a famous Skye terrier who guarded his master’s grave, in the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard, for some fourteen years. He was famous in his own day for his loyalty, and was even granted a special license because he was a dog without an owner.
The amazing thing about the lovely, sloping Greyfriars Kirkyard is how quiet it is. You’re just steps from busy roads and the city centre, and yet it’s so tranquil.
One of several cafes where JK Rowling penned Harry Potter.
The Sir Walter Scott monument. He’s very beloved here, having been the foremost person to give Scotland its romanticized representation since the Victorian times. There are so many other Scots who I didn’t know where Scots until this trip, and Edinburgh proudly lays claim to them all with statues and placards everywhere reminding you of their lineage.
Robert Louis Stevenson, David Hume. Dr. Livingstone was Scottish, I presume? To us foreigners they may all just be Brits, but to a Scot, a Scot is Scottish and don’t you dare ever call him English!
Heading towards New Town, with the Balmoral Hotel and Old Town in the distance..
Dinner at Favorita, where we had delicious thin-crust pizza, venison ravioli and a decadent sundae. Mmmm!
A note on the currency. Before we left for our trip, I asked C my stupid question of the day, which was, do they use the same currency in Scotland? I had read somewhere that Scotland issued a different currency that had the same value as GBP sterling, or something to that effect. I was sure I sounded like an idiot in even asking the question—I mean, Scotland is part of the UK right?.. right??
But then we got to Scotland, and AHA! It IS different. That is to say, the currency is still in GBP, but three Scottish banks issue notes that look different from the English ones, as well as from each other. On the front of each, a famous Scotsman. I only saw men, but hopefully they’ve a got a few featuring famous women too. Er, Mary Queen of Scots maybe? Hrm…..
And on the back, a Scottish World Heritage Site. You can certainly tell from everywhere you go and everyone you talk to that the Scots are prouder than proud of their heritage!