I thought I’d save my favourite (school’s started again so I have to get back into the habit of British spelling) Stevenson quote for this last Scotland recap. I just loved this one. It sort of justifies my entire life for the past few years.
I thought New Zealand would always be the only true love in my little black book of travel destinations, but it’s only been six months and I’m already pretty head-over-heels for London. When Scotland felt so special to me, I honestly felt a little unjustified. I mean, I was only there for six days, I couldn’t really claim much meaning for myself, could I?
Amity and I went inside St. Giles’ Cathedral one afternoon during our time in Edinburgh. I wandered off on my own and sat down in one of the little wooden chairs that line the aisles. Staring up at the impressive ceiling, I had a thought that I have never been able to have in my life before: my ancestors were here.
I don’t have an extremely varied heritage. It’s mostly German, some Scottish, and a wee bit of English. This was the first time I’d ever visited a country where I could imagine that, hundreds of years ago, people to whom I’m related were living, working, and probably shearing sheep and practicing the caber toss.
Anyway, it was a really cool moment. I loved that week in Scotland, and I made a quick little video like I did for our sailing trip in 2012, so that I can take you through the whole trip in just a few minutes.
Keep your eyes peeled for five different castles, some exciting cameos by Amity and Billy, and a bunch of really cute Scottish sheep (sadly, no Highland cows were captured on film). The song is one that we heard many times on the radio while driving through the Highlands, and which will now always make me think of this trip.
Sorry if you’re seasick now. There was a whole lot of filming while walking, filming while in the car (don’t worry, Amity filmed those parts), and filming while standing in gale-force winds.
“The happiest lot on earth is to be born a Scotsman. You must pay for it in many ways, as for all other advantages on earth… But somehow life is warmer and closer; the hearth burns more redly; the lights of home shine softer on the rainy street; the very names, endeared in verse and music, cling nearer round our hearts.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters (1883)
Our last full day in Scotland was upon us – alas! It was also the first day that we really got the weather we’d been expecting all week. It was FREEZING.
We walked up the hill to Edinburgh Castle and went in just after it opened at 9:30 (or “half nine” as they say here).
We hopped on a brief tour with a hilarious Dutch guide named Ernest. He was extremely jovial and had some excellently rehearsed jokes.
At one point, he joked that the castle’s chapel can still be booked for wedding and is very popular with fathers of the bride because it only seats 25 people… there was a really delayed reaction while Ernest waited expectantly, before one guy on the tour started laughing really hard, and Ernest said, “Oh, thanks! You are very polite.”
We learned a lot about the really interesting history of the castle on our tour. Like many other parts of Scotland’s identity and culture, it’s been rather badly bullied by the English over the centuries. One thing I realized on this trip is that the United Kingdom is not quite as united as one might think – I’ll actually be really interested to see the result of the Scottish vote of independence next year.
Anyway, it was so dang cold out that we hightailed it in to the Scottish Crown Jewels exhibit the second Ernest was done talking. I thought the way that the castle rooms and exhibits were laid out was really cool (bitte nicht fotografieren, sorry!). After, we visited the chamber where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland (aka James I of England – confusing!), the Great Hall, and the Scottish National War Memorial.
The memorial was really moving (that’s not what’s pictured above – they didn’t allow photos). It was in a big stone cathedral-like space, with a pillar in the center marking the highest point of the rock on which the castle is built. The chamber was lined with thick leger books filled with the names of every Scot who has lost their life in a conflict, and they’re still being added to today. It was so simple, but one of the most thorough and genuine memorials I’ve ever seen. It was a very beautiful and somber place.
It was still pretty cold in the stone buildings, so we went for cream tea (tea and scones) in the café to really warm up. Thus began… The Chair Saga. See Amity’s blog for a full account.
We wanted to stay in the café all day (as the beautiful Scottish lad who rung us out had suggested… swoon), but they were clearly setting up for a special Christmas luncheon and we started to feel badly about taking up a table when it was getting so busy.
We pulled our hoods closed as tightly as possible and did another really quick circuit to take in the views from over the castle walls before heading back towards town.
We stopped in to a little and unassuming-looking gift shop, which turned out to be housing a huge three-story underground weaving shop in its depths! There were people and machines weaving kilts and tartan fabric at furious speeds, and a whole exhibit of the evolution of Scottish traditional dress.
We stopped in a few other shops and finally decided to visit The Writers’ Museum, which Billy had pointed out to us on our first day in Edinburgh and we’d been dwelling on ever since. The museum is in a beautiful old Victorian house and is dedicated to the lives and work of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns. I never knew much specific information about any of them, so I really enjoyed getting to learn more while I was in their home country. I especially loved the connecting theme of how important their Scottish identity was to each of them. Robert Louis Stevenson had some amazing quotes about Scotland and about travel in general, which I jotted down and have been using for inspiration at the beginning of these recap posts. I really want to read some of their books now!
After we left the museum, we walked up and down the Royal Mile a bit more, but it was just too cold to stay outside for long. We went back to the Starbucks on High Street and camped out upstairs with hot drinks. It was a really cool place, with old mismatched chairs and tables, and built-in bookshelves lining the walls that were filled with old dusty books.
I randomly picked out A Wanderer in London by E.V. Lucas – what a find! I’d never heard of it, but his writing reminded me a bit of a less-ridiculous Bertie Wooster. I kept using my phone to snap photos of the pages because there were so many great quotes. I loved that it made me feel so fond of my new hometown, because love for Scotland had been creeping up on me throughout our visit and I was feeling a little melancholy about returning to London. It was nice to rekindle the spark.
Amity and I sat and read for a couple of hours before we started feeling peckish, so we picked out The Mitre Pub and went in for a somewhat early dinner. I had a delicious burger and an even more delicious pint of Guinness. Irish stout in Scotland! Blasphemous! But wait, here’s the thing. I really like good beer. I mean, my blog acronym is ALE (okay, that was not intentional, but it is a happy coincidence). And I was TOLD that Britain is the place to be for good beer. NOT SO, MY FRIENDS. Britain is the place to be for warm yellow beer. So after being told at multiple places that they didn’t have anything dark except for Guinness, I bit the bullet.
We enjoyed our last leisurely walk through Edinburgh and our last evening at the StarVilla – I really grew to love this city!
The next morning, we woke up with plenty of time to catch the cab that Doreen had arranged for us, so we sat on our beds and had a leisurely cup of tea before heading out. Our driver was a really nice old man who chatted to us about the underground passages in Edinburgh where they used to throw people with the plague. So that was swell.
We got to Waverley Station a bit early for our 8:30am train, so we sat and entertained ourselves by observing the antics of a particularly perseverant pigeon who was determined to get some guy’s food in Burger King. It didn’t cross my mind at the time, but now I’m wondering what kind of person eats Burger King at eight o’clock in the morning. That guy, I guess.
We boarded the train, got underway, and I watched the sun rise as we sped through the Scottish countryside and back towards England.
So ends the account of our week in Scotland. But wait, there’s more! Don’t get excited. There’s just one last little bit of Scotland fun that will be popping up here in a couple days before we bid adieu to the land of kilts and haggis. See ya soon!
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879)
After a really excellent breakfast by Doreen (seriously, best bacon I’ve ever had) and “tea for two!” as she always said, Amity and I were ready for our first full day in Edinburgh. Even though the forecast had said it was supposed to get stormy and really windy, it didn’t look so bad yet, so we decided to take our chances climbing Arthur’s Seat.
I’d heard it’s a definite must-do in Edinburgh – a high rocky, grassy hill that gives you panoramic views of the city and the Firth of Forth (the large body of water that Edinburgh is built around). My dad recommended it from when he visited Scotland a few years ago, and it’s also where Rupert Grint and Julie Walters sit and have their heart-to-heart in Driving Lessons! (Sidenote: See ya tomorrow, Rupert!) Basically, I reallyreallyreally wanted to do this and Amity was a very patient friend.
We walked east to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence when she’s in Scotland) and began the climb from there.
The path was easy going at first – just a gentle upward slope – but it quickly became steeper and more rocky.
There were a handful of people walking their dogs in the lower parts. It was so perfect to see border collies frolicking in the hills of Scotland! It made me smile to see such happy dogs and such nice owners. Townes would’ve loved it.
This was more like strenuous walking than actual hiking, but it had the same benefits: even when it’s tough, the views are so worth it!
There’s always such a great sense of accomplishment and a gorgeous view at the end (Am, I can actually feel you rolling your eyes at me right now).
This was only about halfway along. The higher we climbed, the windier it got. I was really glad I had my big puffy parka on.
Once we finally reached the summit, it was insanely windy. We later learned that there had actually been gale-force winds that day, which was not hard to believe.
You actually had to hold on to something or the wind would quite literally blow you off the mountain! The very highest point was all craggy rocks. There were two little cement pillars – one with a map pointing out all the landmarks you could see from that vantage point (you can see three guys clustered around this one in the photo below), and another marking the highest point on Arthur’s Seat.
I scrambled up the rocks and clung on to the second pillar to take in the awesome panorama below. In some ways, it really reminded me of the view of the Canterbury plains and Lyttelton Harbour that I saw on the Christchurch Grand Tour.
Pretty similar, right? Although Christchurch was definitely enjoying much balmier weather that day! The clouds really started rolling in as I hunkered down between outcrops, trying to get a few more pictures.
I loved it. I loved it so much. I could have stayed up there for hours (although if I’d actually prepared for that, I would have brought a thermos of tea and something to tie myself on to the mountain with). To borrow Amity’s words, I do actually like “being bowled over by deadly gusts and having nothing but sharp craggy cliff faces to hang on to.” I get it from my dad. Amity and I were about as divided on the enjoyability of Arthur’s Seat as we are on the aesthetics of the new Scottish Parliament building, but variety is the spice of Flat 12, as they say. We soldier on.
We started back down, which was equally as tough as going up in such strong wind. We were a bit muddy and sore by the time we reached the bottom, but I was so glad I could check Arthur’s Seat off my Edinburgh bucket list. We were also pretty worn out from being battered around by the wind, so we wandered through town to find a nice little café. We looked into The Elephant House (famed as the birthplace of Harry Potter… the books, not the character… that would be weird), but it was absolutely packed. We eventually found some nice window seats in a little Starbucks and sat for a while, picking out our dream homes in a local real estate magazine and trying not to fall asleep in our chairs.
When we left, we were still really tired but felt like we should keep making the most of our time in Edinburgh. We were very close, so we decided to revisit Greyfriars Kirkyard since we’d only made a quick pass through with Billy the day before.
There were no other visitors in the cemetery that day except for a solitary groundskeeper, so we took our time reading the old gravestones and looking at the markers and monuments.
We saw the grave of Thomas Riddell, which was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the name of Lord Voldemort’s character, and tried to pick out William McGonagall (both the inspiration for Professor McGonagall’s name and the worst poet in the history of the English language), but for whatever reason he’s buried in an unmarked grave. Probably embarrassed, poor chap.
Afterwards, we went into the National Museum of Scotland, intending to take in all the interesting exhibits and artifacts, but we were just too dazed and worn out to appreciate it properly.
At least Amity and I were both on the same page about that, so pretty soon we decided we had to give in and just call it a day. We stopped quickly into The Elephant House, which was much less crowded than before. Though I’m sure it has quite a different feel than it did when J.K. Rowling actually sat there writing the first Harry Potter book, it was still a charming little place. I had tea and something called chocolate tiffin, which was really magical and led to an immediate friendship with the older gentleman sitting next to me, who was eating a slice himself. Amity and I were tucked back in our room at the StarVilla by 5pm (we actually ate trail mix for dinner to avoid going out again… roadtrip highlight).
And finally, I can’t really fit it fluidly into the narrative of the day, but it has to be included. We also saw this:
Happy Christmas from the bagpiping Santa, everyone!