by Jim and Melanie
So far, the focus of our Scotland vacation blog posts has been on the holiday barge trip we enjoyed the first week. Our travels also included several days in Edinburgh. Our first day was upon arrival before heading north by train to Inverness. After the barge trip, we returned to Edinburgh for three days. Lastly, we enjoyed one more day after our whisky distilleries tour. This post presents some highlights of all three of those occasions in the marvelous city.
We arrived mid-day at the airport and made our way to where we would spend the night. It was only a few blocks from the Royal Mile in the Old Town. The Royal Mile is a series of streets running downhill from the Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace to the east. The descent is from 109 meters above sea level at the castle, to 42 meters at the palace. The thoroughfare is the busiest tourist area in the city. The street was built upon the glacial debris behind the volcanic plug upon which the castle sits. (See more about the Royal Mile and its geology and history here.)
After getting settled into our room, we ventured out to explore and find a place to eat. We walked up the Royal Mile and back again. We explored a few side streets and narrow passages called closes. More about closes in this post. Tourist shops were everywhere, with tartans, kilts, whiskies, and shortbreads in abundance. People from all over the world enjoyed the sights and sounds. Bagpipes could be heard. Street performers (buskers) gathered crowds. The old gray stone buildings rose up with a wide variety of ornamentations. Statues and public memorials were everywhere.
Our train for Inverness was scheduled late the next morning. We packed our bags and rolled them toward a place where we could get breakfast. Afterward, we crossed the Royal Mile and headed toward the train station. This was our view across the tracks. Click on either picture to open them in gallery.
Losing Each Other
After the barge trip, we were eager to explore the city more. Before doing that, we had a little adventure while traveling by train from Fort William to Edinburgh. We had to change trains in Glasgow. When arriving at the Glasgow station we saw a train on the next platform for Waverley Station, our final destination. We were surprised, as we thought we had several minutes before boarding. Jim rushed over to ask if it was the train we needed. After he stepped on, the doors closed behind him. He could not get off. Melanie could not get on, as she sadly waved good-bye to the departing train
Fortunately, there was another train scheduled a few minutes later. Helpful rail employees made sure we found each other on arriving in Edinburgh.
The centerpiece of Old Town, and one of our high priorities for visiting, is Edinburgh Castle at the west end of the Royal Mile. The castle perches above the rest of the city on the cone of the extinct volcano. The cliffside position provided protection for the fortresses, military barracks, and royal residences that have used that location over at least eight centuries. The Google video below gives an overview of the area now.
As we bought entrance tickets, the clerk recommended we enjoy one of the free tours of the site. Our tour guide, a young woman, told lots of stories with great humor and patience. After the tour we were free to wander the castle grounds, with the exception of buildings currently used by the military.
The castle complex was built and rebuilt over several centuries. The oldest part still standing is St. Margaret’s Chapel, which still hosts religious celebrations such as weddings and baptisms. Newer sections include the Scottish National War Memorial for veterans of the first and second world wars, and campaigns since then. There also is a cemetery for military dogs, visible when overlooking Princes Street Gardens and New Town. Click on any photo below to open them in gallery.
Once inside the Portgullis Gate…
This video (taken by Jim) views to the north over the New Town district built in the late 18th century.
A view around the Crown Square within the castle. It was laid out in the 15th century. It starts with the Royal Palace where the Scottish crown jewels are kept. To the left of the starting point is the war memorial building.
Our tour guide pointed out a docent’s demonstration of ancient arms. He displayed cross bows and long bows, as well as the accompanying armor. Click on any photo below to open them in gallery.
Edinburgh has more museums than we could visit in a week, if that’s all we did there. Should we visit the Surgeons’ Hall museum? Or the Camera Obscura? Or the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, or Gallery of Modern Art? These are a small sample of those available. We chose two, the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery.
After returning from our barge tour, we spent several hours in the National Museum of Scotland. This beautiful museum was one of the finest we’ve ever visited. It houses the country’s diverse collections of natural history, technology and innovation, and Scottish history. The well-composed exhibits are interesting to view and provide stories often not found in museums of similar scope.
As we entered the central, glass-roofed atrium, we were greeted by the jewel-like facets of an enormous lighthouse Fresnel lens. (Jim has written about these lenses here.) It shimmered in the light-filled space.
Our great good fortune allowed us to view a special exhibit on the thousands of years’ of history of the Celts. No photos were allowed of the Celts exhibition, and we did not take many elsewhere. Most of the photos below are in the National Museum; the final one, with busts on the wall (and Jim lecturing to them) is from the National Gallery. We visited the National Gallery on our last day in Edinburgh.
The Scottish National Gallery includes a fine collection of art created by Scottish artists, and other art with relationship to Scotland. The museum sits in the middle of Princes Street Gardens. After a fine lunch in the dining room, we exited the building into the park. Music floated through the air on the level above. When we made our way to the plaza outside the main doors, we were treated to the joy of a swing dance festival. Take a look at the short clip below.
Though the city is full of museums and monuments, it also has smaller-scale attractions. We found throughout our Scottish travels that the food was wonderful. Whether in the breakfast diner down South Bridge Street, the Turkish-Kurdish restaurant near the laundromat, or the pub around the corner from the Royal Mile, Edinburgh exceeded our expectations.
In addition, the people are kind, generous, and good-natured. As noted above, the rail employees were especially helpful when we got separated in Glasgow. We also experienced that generosity from others including random-man-on-street who made a phone call for us, and then doubled back to find us when our party called him back; the laundry lady who patiently showed us how to work the machines in her shop; and the barkeep who helped us find our Airbnb host, among others.
Our final post about Scotland will show you some highlights of our three-day tour of the whisky industry in the Speyside region north of Edinburgh. Join us again then.