Scotland at last! First stop, Edinburgh

I have been having far too good a time in Scotland to bother with writing until now. I have been in Fort William for the last two days, am heading to Glasgow tomorrow, and unfortunately seem to have done some sort of damage to my right knee (I’ll explain later). So seeing as I can sit in my room (once again private with my own bathroom!!) with its lovely view of the surrounding mountains and loch, I thought I would rest my joints and get caught up on writing. Again.

From Newcastle, Edinburgh was my first stop in Scotland. In no time this city became one of my favorite in the world. The architecture, the ambiance, the sheer amount of things to do, not to mention the pubs, makes this city endlessly entertaining. The train station sits in a hollow between two hills and it’s a bit of an uphill climb no matter where you want to go. My hostel was up on the central hill of the city, right at the base of the castle. This was a prime location from which to explore. Not only did I have the castle directly in front of me, but also all of the other attractions and shops that are strung along the Royal Mile road that leads down from the castle to the Hollyrood House palace at the other end of the old city. In Edinburgh, at least around the castle, there seems to be a man dressed in full Highland garb playing the bagpipes on every other corner. You can walk almost the entire Royal Mile listening to the pipes. They seem determined to announce that you are soundly and squarely in Scotland, and nowhere else on Earth. The pride and energy they bring is incredible.

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First stop was to Edinburgh Castle of course. This impressive fortress, perched on the rocky hilltop, is an impressive sight. A fort in some form has stood on the site for hundreds of years. The history of the castle is long and it has been the focal point for many stories of royal struggles, but it has always been the seat of ultimate power in Scotland. As a military stronghold it does not have many beautiful embellishments but is no less interesting to explore. Currently the castle houses the royal icons of Scotland, namely the crown, sword, and scepter of the realm. The castle and its accompanying museum exhibitions were a great introduction to the history of Scotland. After exploring the castle, I visited the Whisky Experience to get an introduction to that most famous of spirits. After a brief overview of how whisky is made and the characteristics and differences of whiskies made in each region of Scotland, you are given a sample of from the region of your choosing. Once my head was filled with all of this learning, I set out to find a pub to get a more practical education.

Cannon keeping guard over the city.IMG_3541

Oldest bottles in the collection at the Whisky Experience.IMG_3554

My second day in Edinburgh was first spent exploring the shops around the Royal Mile and trying to decide what tartan souvenir I was going to bring home for myself. To give myself time to consider this important question, I took a walk to the base of King Arthur’s Seat. This is a steep, rocky hill by the shore that commands incredible views of the whole area around the city. Though not a long hike, it was definitely steep and I was met at the top with that strong Scottish wind. It is a wonderful taste of the Highlands right outside of the city. The base of the trail is not far from the Hollyrood House palace so I took a peek through the gates. Unfortunately I could not actually visit the palace since the Queen was currently in residence. Though I thought nothing of this at the time, a few days later I learned why she was in Edinburgh. She had come to open the session of the Scottish Parliament. A day later this event occurred and I had the very good fortune to catch a glimpse of her as she stepped out of her car and into the Parliament house. She was wearing a powder blue suit, complete with matching hat. She is also tiny. Honestly, HRM can’t be much more than five feet tall. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture, like I said I only caught a glimpse of her. But I swear, I saw the Queen of England.

View from part way up King Arthur’s Seat.IMG_3568

Did manage to get a picture of the crown though!IMG_3710

The next adventure took me slightly outside of the city proper. I paid a visit to the castle of Craigmillar, which sits on a lovely hill and has wonderful views of the city and shoreline. I loved this castle even more than Edinburgh for two reasons. Firstly, there were far fewer people as Craigmillar is smaller, lesser known, and on the outskirts of the city. Second, since the castle is smaller and not as popular, you can explore it in its entirety. Any room or tower that was deemed safe by staff was free range for visitors. This was the true castle experience in my mind. I obviously took far too many pictures and had a grand time imagining what it would have been like to live in the castle back in the 1500s. Craigmillar was also the first place where I really started to feel like I was following Mary Queen of Scots. She showed up everywhere I went in southern Scotland, but this castle claimed to be an especially beloved home for her. I must do more research on her life when I get home.

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View back toward the city. The big hill is King Arthur’s Seat. Can you find Edinburgh castle?IMG_3636

On my last day in Edinburgh I delved into its more recent history, specifically as related to a certain boy wizard. As JK Rowling’s home and where at least the first books were written, Edinburgh obviously played a huge role in providing inspiration for the wizarding world. I stopped by the Elephant House, that famous coffee shop where part of the Philosopher’s Stone was written, for a coffee and a share in its world changing ambiance. In the afternoon I took a free walking tour called the Harry Potter Trail. While it did not have quite as many stops as the tour in London, the guide was just as wonderful and knowledgeable. As a bonus she wore a beautiful black cloak that we were all envious of. We began in the Greyfriar graveyard where Ms. Rowling found names for some of her characters. Next door to this graveyard is also the private school her children attended and that helped inspire her vision of Hogwarts. We then moved on to other locations of inspiration or where writing occurred and learned more about her life and the years long process of Harry going from a figment her imagination to worldwide phenomenon.

Graffiti inside the bathroom at the Elephant House. The walls are completely covered with HP fandom.IMG_3724

Evenings in Edinburgh consisted of drinking. Well, not every evening, but the good ones did at least. I met a German guy in my hostel and we went out one night searching for good local beer and music. We found both and spent a couple hours at this tiny little bar where a wonderful pair was playing folk tunes. The singer was actually from Connecticut but had adopted Scotland as her new home. I had a great time singing along to everything I knew and joining in wherever I could, all while enjoying a few glasses of whisky.

Such was my amazing introduction to Scotland and I am so excited to spend a few more days in the lovely city. Until next time!

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