Exploring Edinburgh

The third entry of my adventures in Edinburgh makes up the first full day of my trip to Scotland, including touristy things such as the Edinburgh Castle, lunch and a Whiskey Experience, a visit to the Tartan Weaving Hall, a stop at the Elephant House and wandering around the city to find Greyfriars Bobby and St. Gary’s Cathedral.

Edinburgh is a truly wondrous city with lots of history and culture, and I definitely would not mind visiting again.

In reading through my travel journal, Kate and I definitely did a lot on our first day!

As stated before, anything in italics are current thoughts and musings on what I decided to write in the moment. If you would like to start the beginning of this journey, which is mostly routine details about planning and traveling, Part 1: Departure and Part 2: Arrival can be found here and here.

Without further ado, here is:

Part 3: Day 1 in Edinburgh

“This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club

July 25th, 2016

We had breakfast for only 1.90 pound with a selection of breads, fruits and cereal before we were off to visit the Edinburgh Castle.

It was about a ten minute walk from our hostel, again up another hill but it wasn’t that steep of a climb. There was a long line to get tickets when we arrived around 10:30 but it moved very quickly. I bought a guidebook along with my ticket, which ended up being a good plan as the audio tours had sold out.

The most I knew about the castle is that it was home to several Scottish royals, most famously Mary, Queen of Scots and her only son James. The battlements and architecture were impressive and we got to see the crown jewels as well, although we weren’t allowed to take pictures of them.

One of the best views of Edinburgh

The One O’Clock Gun is fired from Mills Mount Battery at precisely 1 pm every day, except for Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. This is significant, because the gun was originally introduced as an aide for shipping. In order to navigate accurately, a ship’s crew needed to know the exact time, calibrating it with the position of the sun.

There was a war museum, old prisons, the Great Hall, St. Margaret’s Chapel (which is the oldest building in Scotland), a dog cemetery and a time cannon. I know that I will have to go to my guidebook for more details and I’m sure that my pictures will help my memory. Queen Mary’s chambers and the extremely tiny room in which her son King James was born was also very interesting.

Beneath the Great Hall and the Queen Anne Building are two cavernous stone vaults that were used throughout the years as storage for food and military supplies, soldier barracks and military prisons.

Crown Square was created in the later 1400s as the principal courtyard of the Castle. It was originally known as the Principal Yard. Around the square, reside four buildings: the Royal Palace, the Great Hall, the Royal Gunhouse and St. Mary’s Chapel. The Crown Square is the highest point in the castle grounds and therefore, was the safest place for the Royals to live. The Royal Palace was a principal royal residence from the 11th century until the early 17th century. Currently, The Honours of Scotland –also known as the Crown Jewels or the Crown, Scepter and Sword of State–reside at the top of the tallest tower. They are the oldest Crown Jewels in the British Isles. Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary Queen of Scots, passed away here on June 11, 1560. Her body remained in the castle for nine months until permission was given for it to be taken to France for burial . Although her bones now lie in Rheims, her ghost is still said to haunt the Royal Palace. Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth her only son James VI in the tiny Birth-chamber on the first floor.

I remember seeing signs for an Afternoon Tea experience and I got extremely excited and then instantly disappointed because they were sold out for the day. Legend has it that Anna Maria Stanhope, 7th Duchess of Bedford, was too hungry to wait for a late dinner and she requested a selection of biscuits and cakes to be served in her dressing room. The Duchess quickly become attached to this afternoon custom and began sending invitations to her friends requesting their company to share in the niceties. Queen Victoria learnt of this activity and also fell in love with the idea. By the late 1840’s, the royal household was also hosting daily tea parties which later became known as ‘afternoon tea.’

The Great Hall was completed in 1512 to serve as the chief place of royal ceremony in the castle. The medieval hammerbeam roof was made from oak timbers from Norway, that were chopped down in 1510 then shipped to Edinburgh for construction of the hall.

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest and smallest building on the castle grounds. It was built around 1130 by King David I as a private royal chapel. He dedicated it to his mother, Queen Margaret, who was an Anglo-Saxon princess who married Malcolm III. She died at the castle in 1093; she was known to be extremely pious and canonized as a saint in 1250. While her body was buried in Dunfermline, Mary Queen of Scots had a gilded shrine containing Margaret’s head brought to the castle in 1566, to watch over her and give her protection as she gave birth to her son James VI.

The Dog Cemetery!

The views from the castle were spectacular and the weather was perfect. It only rained for a bit today but it was cool and cloudy with the sun occasionally peeking out. It was definitely a nice contrast to the heat waves we are currently having in California!

Kate and I shared lunch at the Cafe Hub, that was located inside a chapel, (some very good hummus, peppers, olives, artichokes and tea) before heading to The Scotch Whiskey Experience. (While we didn’t do a tour, we were still able to grab a whiskey flight at the Amber Bar.) Kate and I got a flight of the sweeter whiskeys; anything sweet tends to be more enjoyable on my tasting palate than anything super strong. I liked the third whiskey the best, as it seemed to go down the smoothest.

Next, we went to the Tartan Weaving Hall, which was full of fabrics and scarves and kilts; surprisingly, I’ve only seen about three people plus a few men playing bagpipes wearing kilts in public. (Given that we were in tourist area of Scotland, I think I expected more people to be wearing kilts? Me and my stereotypical ideas of Scotland…) I bought a scarf with the Clan Mitchell colors. Honestly, I’m slightly confused as to whether the Mitchells are originally Scots who moved to Ireland or are from Ireland originally but hopefully I can find out more later. (My mother’s side of the family is where I get my Irish heritage; my great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland to the US.)

Our next stop was venturing out into the city to find The Elephant House for hot chocolate and cake. Dubbed, the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, this cafe is where J.K Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. There was line of people gathered outside and they were only letting people inside the cafe if they were actually going to order something instead of taking pictures. Kate and I found a table near the front. The cafe was very cozy and, as a avid Harry Potter fan and aspiring writer, it was a very inspiring place to be. (I’m grinning like an idiot as I type this back. There is something about being in the space where one of your favorite book series got its’ start!)

On our walk through the city

The bathrooms in the cafe were covered in fan graffiti. When the owners tried to clean it up, fans just added more .

Just a few blocks away, we found the statue of Greyfriars’ Bobby. The story goes that a night watchman named John Grey took on a partner, a diminutive Skye Terrier, his ‘watchdog’ called Bobby, to keep him company during his shifts. Together John and Bobby became a familiar sight on the streets. John eventually died of tuberculosis on February 15th 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby refused to leave his master’s grave, even in the worst weather conditions. Bobby’s fame spread throughout Edinburgh. It is reported that almost on a daily basis the crowds would gather at the entrance of the Kirkyard waiting for the one o’clock gun that would signal the appearance of Bobby leaving the grave for his midday meal. In 1867, a new bye-law was passed that required all dogs to be licensed in the city or they would be destroyed. Sir William Chambers (The Lord Provost of Edinburgh) decided to pay Bobby’s license and presented him with a collar with a brass inscription “Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed”. The kind folk of Edinburgh took good care of Bobby, but still he remained loyal to his master. For fourteen years the dead man’s faithful dog kept constant watch and guard over the grave until his own death in 1872. Baroness Angelia Georgina Burdett-Coutts asked the City Council for permission to erect a granite fountain with a statue of Bobby placed on top. William Brody sculptured the statue from life, and it was unveiled in November 1873. Supposedly if you rub the nose of the statue, it will bring you good luck.

We also walked through Greyfriars Kirkyard, a graveyard where J.K. Rowling found some name inspirations for Harry Potter characters from some of the tombstones and where she would sit and keep writing while she waited for her children to get out of school beyond the graveyard fences.

On our way back to our hostel, we stopped and ventured inside St. Gary’s Cathedral, just because the architecture caught our eyes. While we couldn’t take any pictures inside the cathedral, the outside was just as impressive.

So far, Scotland is an inspiring place, a fascinating mix of old and new. All of the old buildings are being used for modern purposes and the style of them reminds me to the Rockies dormitories at Mt. Holyoke. The city seems very supportive of local artists. There are afternoon teas everywhere coupled with bars and pubs that are further mixed in with the little cafes and restaurants.

The sun doesn’t set until 9:30-ish so the days have been lasting a very long time, which is interesting and slightly off-putting as I feel like my evenings don’t start early enough before I feel that I need to go to bed to sleep enough for the next day.

The history of the royals is very tragic but so interesting to me. I do wish that the castle had more information about them but I believe that my guidebook will be able to fill in some historical questions that I may have.

For now, time to sleep and get ready for more adventures await tomorrow!


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