You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye,…
Edinburgh – the city of sad Queen Mary of Scotts, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, and grey skies! Kate and I had originally planned to go to Stockholm – but realized we probably wouldn’t get a seat on that plane so switched and got to fly first class to Edinburgh! We arrived on a rainy, cold, JUNE day and, after taking the bus to the city, were so grateful a taxi was willing to pick up a couple of drenched, lost wanderers and take us to our apartment! After we had dropped off our suitcases and changed, we discovered the skies had cleared up some and we began to see the sights. We had 3 must sees – The Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh Castle, and the Palace of Holyrood. Happily for us, we discovered we could get a ticket that not only included the 3 of those but allowed us to use the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses for just a few dollars more!
We spent our first 2 days exploring Edinburgh and on the 3rd day we took a bus excursion. So here’s what we did manage to see! We felt like we barely scratched the surface of exploring Edinburgh partly because everything closed at 5pm, partly because I didn’t feel well the first day AND lastly, I had had a surgical procedure on my foot 3 weeks earlier and wasn’t really supposed to walk much!!
Edinburgh Castle – This castle, built on rock high above the rest of the city dominates the capital. It changed hands many times between the Scots and the English. Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (King James of the English) here in 1566. And here also you can see the Scottish royal jewels. We just missed the 1pm firing of the cannons but instead got a picture of one of the soldiers in his kilt!
- John Knox’s House – This house was built in the mid 1500’s – with some of it built in 1470. It served as a shop for several merchants at one time. As the area became more run down, there would have been many families living in it, one per room with as many as 10-12 in a family (ugh!). John Knox, the religious reformer, lived here for a little while and it is believed that he died here. He was ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic church but became disillusioned with the church and was drawn to the idea of a reformed religion. He was one of the main figures behind the abdication of Mary Queen of Scots as he thought that a King brought up as a Presbyterian would be better for Scotland. Today, the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian.
- The Royal Mile – The street going downhill from the Castle to Holyrood Palace. It’s a mile long and has lots of touristy shops, attractions and pubs on it. We had fun looking for souvenirs and seeing everything! We even saw an old telephone booth that had been turned into an ATM machine!
- The Royal Yacht Britannia –
It was soooo thrilling for me to go on this!!! This was the Queen’s yacht from 1954-1997. In order to save money, she had only twin beds put in the rooms so she could use the same linens specially ordered for the previous yacht!
Prince Charles and Lady Diana honeymooned on this yacht (he had a double-sized bed brought on the yacht for the occasion) and later they vacationed with their boys, Prince William and Prince Harry. We got to see all the different rooms – the bedrooms, the dining rooms, the living rooms! We also treated ourselves and had scones and cake in the little tea room on board.
- Palace of Holyrood – The Queen’s residence when she is in Scotland. We saw the throne room, and Mary, Queen of Scots room. Beautiful!
- Dolly the Sheep – Yes, Dolly the cloned sheep – born in 1996 and died in 2003. She’s been stuffed and put in the museum.
- Greyfriars Bobby and Kirk – A statue put up for a little Skye terrier dog who, after his master died, guarded his grave for 14 years – back in the mid 1800’s. But his story was immortalized by several movies, including one by Walt Disney. Outside the church is the graveyard where many of the names JK Rowling used for her books came from (she often wrote in a little pub around the corner).
- The Real Mary King’s Close – A Close is an alleyway and there are many coming off the Royal Mile. This close was named after a woman (quite unusual), Mary King, who was a merchant in the 1700’s. The close was shut off when the Royal Exchange was built above it which preserved it (as the building was built over it, it meant the street was under the ground and there is a law that people can’t live under the ground, so all had to move). But in 2003 it was excavated and opened for the public with tours by costumed people. They tell the story of the street, or tenement area with buildings 8 stories high and families living in single rooms. No toilets – people threw the contents of their chamber pots out 2x per day – I wouldn’t have wanted to be walking on the street at that time! The guide also talked about the Plague and how easily it spread in this area. Fascinating place and worth the money and wait to get on a tour! It also served as a shelter during WWII.
- The Last Drop – We ate dinner this pub our last night – it’s located right next to where the gallows used to be! The food was yummy. I ordered a Scottish dish: haggis with neeps and tatties, not knowing what neeps and tatties are. Turns out they are mashed yellow turnip and mashed potatoes. All three dishes were yummy!!
We had lots of fun riding the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses – we learned so much through the guides. We learned about the inspiration for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Deacon Brodie, a wealthy, trusted, pious, respected citizen during the day but at night a gambler and thief. As he was a cabinet maker people gave him the keys to their houses so he could build their cabinets. He returned the keys when finished – but after he had made his own copy. When he knew they were going out of town for a vacation, he would use the key and rob them. He went undetected for many years but after he was caught, they hung him on the gallows he had designed – see above😊. The green bus had a live guide speaking in English (obviously!) upstairs and the red buses had prerecorded guides, and each went in opposite directions. Riding the buses and listening to the guides, we could see so many things that we wanted to do – but just ran out of time!
On our last full day, we got a bus tour that took us first to Loch Lomond where we got a boat ride on the Loch. We also learned the meaning of the song I began this post with. After the rebellion in 1745, 2 friends are imprisoned – one is going to be released, and the other hung. The one being hung pens the words, basically saying that he’d take the low road (underground as a spirit) and would be in Scotland before the living one could make it back. Rather sad!
Not only did we tour some of Loch Lomond, we also drove through the Trossachs, a beautiful area where the lowlands and the highlands of Scotland meet. And we saw some hairy coos – some of the highland cattle with their wild hair and huge horns!
Our last stop was Stirling Castle, an imposing castle built on a high rock, and having great importance to Scottish history. Here many Kings and Queens were crowned, including Mary, Queen of Scots. Nearby, at the Stirling Bridge, William Wallace (Braveheart) defeated an English army in September 1297. The castle is magnificent – filled with beautiful tapestries- and sporting a huge great hall, a kitchen with “people” preparing “food” and decorated like Mary is coming back next week.
Unfortunately, we took a bus tour here and only got just over an hour to tour. We could have used more time and in retrospect, we should have gotten a train and just gone to the city on our own. Oh, well! Next time!
One of the funny parts to our day was we really did get a into a Scottish traffic jam – a bunch of sheep were blocking the road and until their dogs and master could get them moving along, we were stuck there!
Kate and I loved our time in Scotland! It is a beautiful country and I’d love to go back, especially as we never even walked into Edinburgh “New Town” area, built around 1767! But, we have other places to go before we can return!
Where in the world do you think we will go next? Do you have a suggestion? If money and time weren’t a consideration, where would you go?