Monday, March 17, 2014

Auld Reekie

Birthday weekend in Edinburgh.  

We hopped on the train with just a holdall each.  Mine was a lot heavier as usual and I nearly took several people out on the London underground with it.  

Wonderful views all the way - Durham Cathedral, Newcastle, Berwick upon Tweed.  We saw the Angel of the North, wind farms, windmills, cliffs, coast, ruins, lighthouses, yellow gorse.  Then further north, blue tinged fir trees, the odd Scottish manse, and the red brick being replaced by dark, stone buildings.  I can't believe I spent 7 hours on a train and didn't even open my book!

Towers, turrets and the one o'clock gun at the castle

Thursday -

We emerged up out of the railway station straight in to the hustle and bustle of Princes Street.  Our hotel was just across the road.

The Old Waverley Hotel

Sir Walter Scott's monument is the largest memorial in the world, dedicated to a writer.

The Scott monument

We found our favourite pub on the first night, just around the corner.  It had a beautiful ornate plaster ceiling, a square, dark, polished bar and large round lamps hanging from the ceiling.  We ate haggis, neeps and tatties, delicious washed down with some Scottish real ale.   We met a Glaswegian man called George who worked for the BBC, laying cables for outside broadcasts.

The Abbotsford -

Friday -

Opposite our hotel - Jenners department store, opened in 1838.  

Jenners department store

We explored Princes Street gardens on the way to the castle.  The gardens were formed in the hollow of a drained loch.

Princes Street gardens

Edinburgh castle is built on a 340 million year old volcano

Edinburgh Castle

This tiny little chapel in the castle is the oldest building in the city, built 1090.

St Margaret's Chapel

The castle origins date back to 900BC.  In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI here.  I imagined her walking through the panelled rooms, her skirts swishing.  

Mary Queen of Scots

The Great Hall, opened 1511 with hammerbeam roof

We shuffled along with all the other tourists to see the Scottish crown jewels which are the oldest surviving regalia in Christendom and had a nose around the freezing cold dungeons.

Statue of Earl Haig

Up some steep steps (so many steps in Edinburgh!) from the Grassmarket is the Royal Mile.

Opposite this piper was what looked like a church but on closer inspection it turned out to be the home of the Edinburgh International Festival and a cafe called 'The Hub'.  The building was originally opened in 1845 and called Highland Tolbooth St John's Church but was never consecrated.

Great photo exhibition inside 

I forced Sarah to have lunch in the cafe even though she had had a cooked breakfast (every morning I might add) but I was starving and it looked right up my street.  Had delicious chickpea and sweet potato soup whilst listening to jazz.  Nice....

Cafe Hub -

Further down the Royal Mile we had a look around St Giles Cathedral whilst listening to the the organ.  We chatted to two lovely ladies in the shop, shook our heads and tutted about the awful floods down south.

St Giles Cathedral

The Royal Mile

After a trip to the huge (and free) Museum of Edinburgh we were absolutely pooped.  

Useless fact - Edinburgh is the only city to have a dog on the list of citizens given the freedom of the city - Greyfriar's Bobby.  We saw his collar and bowl in the museum.  

We visited The Guildford Arms that evening, stunning inside and obviously very popular.

The Guildford Arms -

Saturday - birthday.

Another cold, crisp, sunny day. Had porridge for breakfast, Sarah had haggis with her cooked breakfast - ugh, too early.  Had a lovely stroll up George Street with it's fantastic views towards the sea and all the inviting shops.  The Georgian buildings reminded me of Bath.

I am drawn to Cathedrals, I always have to have a look inside.  

St Mary's Cathedral - This cathedral is gothic in style but actually not that old.

It has a Father Willis organ, as does Salisbury Cathedral.

The very prestigious financial district of the new town.

Unfortunately, this park was not open to the public but I could admire the crocuses through the railings.

We had a desperately needed hot chocolate in a tiny cafe, down some steps below street level - great for people watching.

Wellington Coffee -

41 foot tall Melville monument - St Andrew Square

We stumbled across this light installation in St Andrew Square.  Little balls on long sticks that light up and change colour by using miles of glowing optic fibre.  We went back at night to see if it glowed.  It did.  I found out that the artist, Bruce Monro lives in Wiltshire and once had an installation in Salisbury Cathedral. Small world.

'Field of lights' by Bruce Munro

On to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen's Scottish residence) past this very strange building.

The Scottish Parliament building designed by a Catalan architect

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The palace was not what I expected.  It was so cosy and lived in.  There were old lamps, tapestries, tiny doorways leading to narrow winding staircases - the highlight of the whole weekend.  And to see Mary, Queen of Scots chamber - well!  We saw the Queen's dining table and where she sits - no cat paw prints, piles of unopened post and over ripe bananas on her table.

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey

The gardens

Salisbury Crags from the gardens

Hard to believe you are still in the city

I thought afternoon tea in the hotel would be nice on my birthday, whilst looking down at Princes Street.  At least it was the only disappointing thing all weekend.  Doorstep sarnies, heavy scones and we had to put our own teabag in a pot of hot water!  Shocking.

Jam in packets and crusts on the sandwiches?  Oh dear.

Still, we made up for it in the evening by visiting Deacon Brodie's.  Again, it was heaving but being a bit of a ninja, I quickly leapt for a table as soon as someone's bum started lifting off the seat.  So much beer though, so little time.  We tried 13 different real ales over the whole weekend, I hasten to add.  Unfortunately, I can't remember which one I liked best, they've all blurred in to one! 

I love some of the names of the beers -

Wild Cat
Happy Chappy
Highland Island Hopping
Bitter and Twisted

Deacon Brodies -

Sunday - Sarah's birthday

We took the train back a different way this time - along the western side of the country.  The Trans-Pennine Express gave even greater views.  The Pentland hills, Tinto hills, Lowther hills, Forest of Ae, Eskdalemuir Forest, Lockerbie and then Carlisle.  We saw brown/purple hills, snow on top of the mountains, fir trees, marshes, bogs, rushing rivers....  To have the Cumbrian mountains one side and The Pennines the other was a feast for my little eyeballs.

Two days was not nearly enough time in Edinburgh.  The people were so friendly and there is still so much we did not see, so I will definitely return.  Anyway, we haven't tried all the beers yet........

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