Kilts and Bagpipes

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Saturday, September 25, 2010

For some reason I though the best way to get to Edinburgh would be to take a nine hour bus (the Megabus) leaving London at 11:30 PM and arriving in Edinburgh at 7:00 AM.   As all bus rides go, you better believe we arrived at 9:30 AM, weary eyed and at our wits end.  Why?  Because there is ALWAYS a screaming baby. Always.  The baby screamed every hour, on the hour, like a chiming clock.  One more thing before the official Edinburgh blog begins.  I was told in the United States that British people love to queue (which is British for "line").  They could queue on some Olympic scale compared to Americans who, in their eyes, were animals when it came forming a line.  I'm here to tell that’s a lie.  British people don’t know how to queue at all.  When our bus was called, the people congregated like rabid dogs at the terminal, pushing their way through to get to the front, completely ignoring the attempted line that had already been formed.  So, in the end, Americans (and Canadians) know the rules and regulations of a line, while the British can form their uncivilized queues all day and still never manage anything useful.  I have another myth to debunk later on about how Americans have a reputation for being the “loud and obnoxious” nationality.  In Edinburgh, this too was not the case, but I’ll cover that in the next blog.

Edinburgh is the picturesque capital of Scotland with a population just under 500,000 people.  Today, the city is divided into New Town and Old Town, north and south, respectively, of Edinburgh Castle.  Built in the 12th century, the castle looms over the city wherever you are, and the castle is the first place I visited.

The Edinburgh Castle sits on an extinct volcano, and the road leading up to it is called the Royal Mile.  The Royal Mile stretches from the gates of the castle all the way down to the front of Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s Buckingham of Scotland).  I was coming from the opposite direction so I had the pleasure of walking up a million stairs, but it was worth it.  The castle has some of the best views of the city, being in such a prime location.  When you first walk in the city gates, there is a skinny walkway that leads across the edge of the castle wall.  This walkway provides an excellent photo-op, and, since the walkway is so thin, people line up to take turns posing for pictures at an overlook.  While I was posing for my very own picture, a very frustrated Indian (um, overweight) man decided he would shove his way through the line (again, another group of people who don’t know how to “queue”) and pose for a picture with his wife who had somehow gotten split up from him and was already ahead of me.  When he wedged his way past me, there wasn’t enough room on the overlook for myself AND him and his wife to pose for a picture so he LITERALLY SAT ON ME to have his picture taken with is wife.  I hope he enjoys a lovely photo of him and his wife on the mantle at home overlooking Edinburgh with a stranger in the background exhibiting a very perturbed and a “is this really happening” facial expression.

Of course, Edinburgh Castle has an infinite list of historical events that occurred within its gates, but most of the historical references at the castle referred to Mary, Queen of Scots.  She was crowned Queen of Scotland a mere 6 days old when her father, King James V died in battle.  She led quite the rocky life (as all royalty do), moving from husband to husband, and eventually was executed for plotting several murder attempts against Queen Elizabeth I of England.  She was the last official Queen of Scotland before the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England merged.  Today, Queen Elizabeth II is the queen of both (as well as everything in the Commonwealth).

The Crown Jewels (or Honours) of Scotland also reside in the castle and, of course, photography was not allowed.  The Honours of Scotland consist of a crown, a scepter, and a sword, all of which were ornamented with the finest jewels and metals.

The castle, as any castle should, was also equipped with dungeons and prisons, a dog cemetery, barracks, and the more modern Scottish National War Memorial.

My next destination was Holyrood Palace.  I walked down the Royal Mile which was a beautiful stretch of road lined with huge stone buildings and unique shops (as well as kilt and scarf shops).  This is about the time that I noticed that people do wear kilts as every-day clothing here; it’s not a myth. On the right, just before you get to Holyrood Palace, is the Scottish Parliament.  The new parliament building is extremely post-modern and doesn’t really match its surroundings.  With much debate, the building was completed in 2004 across the street from Holyrood Palace.

Photography was not allowed inside Holyrood Palace, but it contained the typical “palace” type rooms, i.e. plush furnature, tapestries, and paintings.  Adjacent to the palace is the Holyrood Abbey ruins.  Founded in 1128, the abbey was a prominent place of worship in Edinburgh.  The abbey was destroyed by a mob during the Glorious Revolution in 1688 (the overthrow of King James II of England and his subsequent replacement by William III and his wife Mary II, of William and Mary fame).  Though the abbey was largely rebuilt after, a storm in 1758 took down the vaulted stone ceiling, and this is how the abbey stands today.

Beside Holyrood Palace lies Holyrood Park which houses a large hill known as Arthur’s Seat and several cliffs known as Salisbury Crags.  The hill, like Edinburgh Castle, is an extinct volcano.  The climb to the top was steep and, after a full day of walking and no sleep, arduous, but it was well worth the climb.  The winds were strong at the top and you could see a full 360 degrees.  You could see everything from Edinburgh and beyond.  It was a truly breathtaking place.  There were some slight remains of a fort at the top, but it was only the type of “remains” an archeologist would notice.  On the way down, I past some ruins of a small chapel whose past was lost to history.  The structure and details of the chapel were purely speculation.

On the other side of town, east of New Town, is Calton Hill.  The hill is home to the National Monument, Nelson’s Monument, and several others.  The National Monument was supposed to honor those who died during the Nepoleonic Wars.  The monument was intended to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens (Edinburgh sometimes being known as Athens of the north with the incredible reputation of the University of Edinburgh); however, the funds ran dry and the building was only partially completed.  Construction on the building ceased in 1829, and it has remained in the same state since.  Nelson’s Monument is a large spire that honors Horatio Nelson who fought victoriously against the French and Spanish in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  Thankfully, his monument is completed.

As the sun set, I had one last place to visit before I called it a day.  Being a biologist by trade, I had to visit the original Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned mammal.  Her name being Dolly because she was cloned from an adult sheep mammary gland cell, and a certain Dolly Parton is known for her, ummm, mammary glands as well.  Dolly the Sheep was stuffed postmortem and housed in a rotating glass case with flashing lights at the National Museum of Scotland.  She is basically a celebrity.  She was set up in a room that was very interactive, and I managed to make an Edinburgh robot spell out my name in blocks.

When leaving the National Museum of Scotland, there is a small fountain with a statue of Greyfriars Bobby across the street.  Greyfriars Bobby was the name of a skye terrier who, as the story goes, was one of the most loyal dogs ever to be known.  His owner, John Gray, and him were inseparable until John died of tuberculosis.  It is said that Bobby spent the rest of his life at the grave of  his owner at Greyfriars Kirkyard until he himself died, 14 years later.  A year later, in 1873, a statue was erected to commemorate this lovable pooch.

Edinburgh is a city of stone, thick stone walls.  Everything is made of stone, and it stretches for miles.  It’s very different from London in the sense that London is, for better or worse, a hodgepodge of architectural styles lining the heavily trafficked streets.  Edinburgh was a slow-paced getaway from the “big city.” With its beautiful scenery and bagpipe players standing at every corner, I have many excuses to return.

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