Edinburgh - Whiskey and Kilts Anyone.

Trip Start Apr 30, 2006
Trip End May 14, 2006

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Saturday, April 29, 2006


Click here to View my Pics of Edinburgh

The plane touchdown at Edinburgh airport was nice as the plane flew over the barren Scottish lowlands, passing a series of windmill farms on the hill tops before finally flying by the the huge Firth of Forth bridge in full display (the bridge has been hailed by the Scots as a Wonder of the World - Therefore it must be!).


On the double-decker bus ride from the airport to the centre of Edinburgh, the first big sight I see is Edinburgh Castle perched on the cliff. It seems to be watching guard over Edinburgh. I decide that this is the first area that needs to be explored!

The weather is very sunny and dry, but there is a cool, fresh wind coming up the Royal Mile from the North Sea. The wind is refreshing and helps to keep me going as the caffine intake effect is starting to wear off. After checking into my room (near the Royal Botanical Gardens) I refuel with more coffee and hit the bricks, with map in hand towards Princes Street and the area at the base of Edinburgh Castle.

I walk along the park at the foot of Edinburgh Castle where the locals are running, playing football and drinking beer. Yes, it doesn't seem to be an issue to go to Marks and Spencers, pick up a few beers and sit in the park and drink. Ahhh, what a civilized country!

With the colorful tulips and daffodils in full bloom I pass my first point of interest.

It is a totally golden fountain in a park containing some Greek or Roman looking ladies playing harps. I think it is more Greek as the person at the top of the fountain is butt-naked. (And I mean a big butt too....).

The remainder of my first day involves walking around central Edingurgh, looking at the graveyards and churches with their many a Celtic cross. I decide just to take it easy, have a pint of Caledonian at the local pub as tomorrow will be busy with exploring.

April 30 - Sunday
After a hearty, full Scottish breakfast (consisting of sausages, rashers of bacon, fried mushroom and tomoatos, beans, toast, juice and coffee - I said it was 'full') I head next door to the Royal Botanical Gardens before heading to the city centre.

The gardens are magnificant and in full spring bloom, especially the Rhodendrums. I have never seen these plants blooming before, let alone the hundreds of sizes and colors on display here. The final interesting point was the large greenhouse that housed tropical plants and palm trees - a temporary oasis from the cool Scottish morning.

I take a hop-on/hop-off bus tour to get me oriented to the main Edinburgh sights. It helped me know exactly where everything was in the new town and old town parts of Edinburgh - also affectionately known as Auld Reekie.

After jumping off at Palace Holyrood and the Scottish Parliament I viewed a stream of people climbing up the big hill behind the Scottish Parliament. I could see the peak - called Arthurs Seat - and said to myself that there was no way I was making it up there today! But urged on by the locals - actually it was when two old grannies started to walk up the trail I knew that I could not back out - I started my hike up the hill known as Salisbury Crags.

About halfway up the trail to Arthurs Seat, I understood that I had chosen wisely as I had magnificant views of Edinburgh - looking towards Calton Hill - and eastward? towards the firth. These travel moments, doing what the locals do, often provide the best moments - not necessarilty what the travel guide books tell you should do.

It was also at this point I realized that only the fool-hearty would actually continue the climb to the peak of Arthurs Seat. Also at this point, the remains of my Scottish breakfast were wearing off and I needed a pint of Caledonian Scottish ale! So I trudged down to find myself a pub and some grub.

After lunch I headed to Calton Hill and the Nelson monument (dedicated to Lord Horatio Nelson for his victory over the French at Trafalgar). Edinburgh is blessed with several fine hillside parks and Calton Hill (along with Edinburgh Castle and Arthurs Seat) provide breathtaking views of the city and the ocean.

The big thing on the at Calton Hill today was the preparations for a large pagan druid-like celebration (known as Beltane fire festival) that was happening that evening with large bonfires, naked dancing and human sacrifices (alright maybe not the last two items - but it did happen a few millenium ago!). Huge fire pits were being prepared and pagan icons were placed on the large Greek acropolis building atop Calton Hill.

On a related note, I later learned that on May 01, the locals hike to the top of Arthurs Seat for the sun-rise to celebrate the coming solstice. At the hill peak, they drink the morning dew from the grass. It is supposed to give them extra strength or something. I actually think they really just had too much Scotch whiskey from the previous night!

Hmmm, I wonder.

Clart and McBrain battle of wits on the Literary Pub Tour.
The evening highlight was the Literary Pub Tour that I signed up for. After trudging to a pub called the Beehive Inn (at one time a coaching inn - I guess it was a beehive of activity) from which the tour began. Of interest was a pub a few doors down called "The Last Drop." I would later learn that this was once the gallows for hanging - hence the name.

The pub tour started with a chap named Clart who enjoyed describing the sordid tales of drinking and womanizing by literary rogues such as Sir Walter Scott, Rabbie Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. You need to imagine Clart speaking in a strong Scottish brogue describing the escapades of these famous writers. It was at this point that a proper looking fellow called McBrain, Clart's counter-balance for the evening, jumped up and started reciting the fine virtues of these men - he even started to recite poetry to demonstrate the refinement of these gentlemen.

The to-and-from verbal exchange between Clart and McBrain formed the basis of a humourous and enjoyable tour through several of Edinburgh's finest pubs. They recited many tales - for example the story behind Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (pronounced Jeeeek-eel not Jeckel as by Hollywood) as we wound through the alleyways and closes of Auld Reekie (the affectionate nickname of Edinburgh which basically means Old Smoky).

May 01 - Monday

Another glorious day. Again it's sunny with a few clouds but that cool breeze is still persists from the North. Oh by the way, today is my birthday! I was asked after my trip by several people what special thing I did on my birthday. Well my response was "what else would you want me to do?" I thought a 2 week trip was pretty special. Maybe I would be able to find those deep fried Mars bars or Haggis today.

At breakfast I decided to go for the traditonal Scottish, stick to your ribs breakfast. Yes that's right, I had porridge! And was it good - extremely rich with the added cream - but damn good indeed! And it did seem to stick to my ribs!

The big adventure for this morning was to explore Edinburgh Castle and a few museums. I got to Edinburgh Castle in time for opening where I was greeted by a chap named Michael Brown (pronounced Brooon) in his Scottish tartan kilt and wee jimmy hat who gave a group tour of Edinburgh Castle and its history. My main impression from this tour was the immense pride and sense of identity that the Scottish people have - especially after several hundred years of oppression by the English monarchy. For example I did not know that it was illegal for a long time for Scots to wear kilts! For goodness sake, what is a Scotsman without their kilt?

The Scottish crown jewels are held here in Edinburgh Castle. These were once secretly taken away during Oliver Cromwell's time to Castle Donnotar near Aberdeen - my mother's birthplace (see my story on Aberdeen). Also in the castle is the Stone of Destiny - it is as you would expect from its name, a stone - upon which the Kings/Queens of Scotland were crowned. Again, the English being the spoil-sports they were, took the stone and placed it under the coronation chair in Westminister Abbey where it remained for some 700 years before the Queen Elizabeth II gave it back.

On exiting Edinburgh Castle, I felt up to date on Scottish history. So I figured it was time to indulge in some Scottish culture. And what better means than to experience the water of life ("uisge beatha" in Scottish Gaelic), or as translated and better known as Scotch Whiskey. I had planned to goto the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre to be educated on the finer points of scotch - but then I saw a sign that all people of Scottish descent would appreciate - Free Scotch Tasting Today. Making a sharp left hand turn, I headed in the store where a distillery representative was handing out free samples. I tried several tastings ranging from gentle Speyside single malts to the rough, peaty flavoured ones from the Western islands.

Who really needs a boring tour really narrated by a Sean Connery imitator when free scotch could be had? So again in true Scottish tradition (note that Scots are notouriously known as being cheap) I took the alloted entrance fee to the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre and put it towards a bottle of single malt Scotch. Oh by the way, can you tell that I am of Scottish heritage (second generation)!

Being very pleased with my tasting, purchase and most of all cost savings I headed down the hill from Edinburgh Castle where I came upon the Ensign Ewarts pub. Hmmmm, I was getting hungry plus I knew they served a special stout beer from the Orkney Islands. In I went for a pit stop.

For some reason, still unknown to me, I decided to explore Leith. I had wanted to see the Leith Links golf course - reputed to be older than St Andrews - but I got lost on the bus route and ended up in the backyard of Trainspotting. Trainspotting is that Ewan MacGregor/Robert Caryle movie about heroin drug addicts - and it was filmed partly in Leith. I can see why they chose here to depict the squalor of crack houses. So I booted it quickly out of there and did the following -> caught another bus -> quickly headed to a shopping centre -> saw the Royal Yaucht Brittania -> fogot to take a picture of it -> hiked along the Leith Waterway back to my B&B for a break before heading out to supper.

Just prior to supper I toured around Old Town and came upon the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. The story of Bobby (a dog) is that he was a loyal police dog to a police constable but after the constable died Bobby remained on duty (at the place of the statue) for 13 years (I think) until his own death. Bobby's grave is just around the corner in a prominant spot at the church.

After supper at a place called Howies (that served shoe leather for steak), I headed across the street to Calton Hill Cemetry. This cemetry contains a number of famous people such as David Hume and an impressive monument to Scotmen whom fought in the American Civil War.

The air was starting to get cool at this point so I decided to head for a couple night-caps at some of Edinburgh's finest pubs.

My first stop was at a bar dedicated to the Caledonian Brewey. From there I headed to the Oxford Bar for a Deuchars IPA (a sister brew of Caledonian 80).

The Oxford Bar is the favourite watering hole of the fictious DI Rebus (of Ian Rainkin novel fame). To say that this pub has character is an understatement. The front entrance room (where beer is served) has room for half a dozen patrons and the barman whom was currently entralled in the game of snooker on the telly. The pub extends to a smokey side room containing about eight tables in close quarters around a small fireplace. The type of character that would frequent such an establishment is certainly coming for the company and drinks - not for the decor. In spite of this, it has a certain charm that one does not find in any other pub. I won't even dare describe the mens facilities - except to say that it contains a single galvanized trough that doesn't look like it was cleaned since the early 80's. I do believe that at last I have found the true Auld Reekie!

I head home to pack my bags for the next mornings train journey.
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