You see, Edinburgh is the capitol of the magical land know as Scotland. For hundreds and hundreds of years, the magic only increased with each brick that was laid. Kings, queens, unicorns, heroes, villains, philosophers, artists, religious scholars and famously loyal dogs all have stories to tell in Edinburgh. Every street, every close, every cobblestone, every corner, every old building gathers them all.
If you stop and look closely enough, some of its mysteries begin to unfold. Take time to soak it up. Read as much as you can before you go about this city, so its obvious stories you are already familiar with and its deeper histories can be experienced.
At the beginning of our journey, we spent an evening with no agenda except to find food. A quiet and damp (rightly so) Sunday evening was a delightful way to be introduced to this otherwise bustling city. Day 10 of our trip however, saw the streets filled with people. We returned our rental car and set out to see the city on foot. We planned our day to minimize our walking, hoping to make one big loop and then back up to our hotel.
First item on the Agenda- Edinburgh Castle. While I could tell you much about the oldest building on the grounds, the volcanic rock that makes it (almost) impossible to get in without using the front gates, the changing of hands, the famous and infamous that have crossed through the gates, I will only share of our experience here.
Even in the rain, the line down the street in front of the gates were long half an hour before opening. We learned early in our trip that a shower could pop up at any time. Even though rain wasn’t in the forecast, it started out that way, and we were thankful we had learned to love our umbrellas and rain jackets by now. . Once the gates were opened, everyone entered their respective lines. We were happy to be in the shortest line, having the Historic Scotland pass already activated at Urquhart Castle. This took us straight to gate while many people waited to activate their pass or purchase their tickets.
We paused for some photos along the way, but pretty much made our way directly to The Honours of Scotland. Pro Tip: this is the best way to see them, first thing! When we passed by the entrance later in the day, there was a line of about 50 people outside of the door leading to the beginning of the exhibit.
We spent 4 hours in the castle and were faced with a decision. Is the 1 o’clock gun was worth the hype? We decided we might as well! We hopped in front, right against to ropes, only to find out they scoot everyone back to the stair railing. Originally the firing of the gun was for the benefit of ships who could not see the visual indicator of the time. Now it has more significance to tourists and tradition. The excitement builds throughout the intricately timed ceremony. Ooo’s and ahhhh’s can be heard as the master of arms cranks the gun into firing position. The anticipation is more impressive than the actual firing of the gun, over all the experience was actually worth it.
The award winning National War Museum of Scotland tucked in to a corner of the castle grounds houses an impressive collection of artifacts from wars past. While the artifacts date over 400 years, there are more artifacts from the Jacobite period and the Great Wars than other periods. The exhibits focus on the daily life of soldiers throughout the centuries as well as the major events that Scotland’s brave fighting men had a part in. The lighting changing from bright to dim and back and forth made me feel a little queasy, so I slipped out to the gift shop while Ben enjoyed the rest of the exhibits. We tried to purchase most of our souvenirs from either small shops, local artisans or the places that supported the National Trusts and this particular shop had a wide range of books, coo’s and shortbread, some whimsical items and some historical replicas.
Be ready to walk, a lot! Good shoes are a must and there are some pretty significant inclines and stairs. Roaming about the castle was a fun way for us to explore, but the tour guides are regularly scheduled to share the history and stories of the castle.
On our way out of the gates, we stopped at a food truck dishing up ice cream. Word to the wise, EAT THE ICE CREAM BEFORE THE END OF YOUR TIME IN SCOTLAND! I know, I know, the puddings and shortbread are renowned, but EAT THE ICE CREAM (OFTEN)!!!!
After the castle we walked down one of Edinburg’s many hills only to climb another to reach a viewpoint of Edinburgh Caslte that I fell in love with after seeing a photo on http://www.visitscotland.com, or was it their Facebook page? The Vennel is tucked away off the Grassmarket and gives you an elevated, charming, unobstructed view of the castle. Despite its closeness to a major tourist area, there was only one other photographer here. Making our way back down the Vennel to the Grassmarket, we stopped at The Fiddlers Arms for lunch. This pub had table side service and skipped the traditional “order at the pub, pay at the pub”. Ben had a haggis stuffed baked potato. We were amazed at the versatility of haggis and the many dishes that could be prepared with it! On the Grassmarket we also found a traditional candy shop and finally found the toffee Dad had asked us to look for.
Seeing photos of The National Museum of Scotland was enough to draw us inside. I’m not sure if it would be best to visit at the beginning of a trip to Scotland or at the end. We were already familiar with Scottish landscape and history, so I think it made it that much more meaningful when we saw the museum. This free museum would be a great way to spend a dreich kind of day, but as the weather was Bonnie, we hit the highlights of exhibits and made our way to the roof, which was touted as a great view of Edinburgh.
Eager to be back on the street, we headed out to explore the town further. Our phones guided us with directions and Ben very quickly learned the layout of the city. We stopped for gelato, walked around the Victoria Bow area again, meandered through the activities of the city. We went to the Prince Street gardens, under improvements at the time, just to sit and watch the city. We discussed our trip and how marvelous it had been. We visited the Sir Walter Scott monument, but couldn’t climb to the top as it was closed as well for improvements. We also walked through Greyfriars kirk. I wished I had watched the Disney movie about the faithful little Bobby who dutifully stayed by his master’s grave prior to our trip. I rubbed the nose of the dog’s statue for good luck.
We crashed in our hotel and I repacked our suitcases to prepare for the final leg of the journey. Once we were ready for dinner, kind of an afterthought, we walked to an unremarkable pub down on the corner. We were thoroughly exhausted. Stepping out on the street once more, the sky began to work its magic. We almost made the climb up Calton Hill. I almost wish we had. Instead, we chased the sunset while avoiding all hills. An adventure worth remembering led us to a street with views all the way down to the water. We were rewarded with the Balmoral hotel being lit up for the night as we passed by it on the way back to our less grand hotel. A train ride to Inverness awaited us early in the morning.