Today began with a hearty Scottish breakfast (a spread of eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, sausage, bacon, fried blood pudding, fresh fruit, yogurt, juices, pastries and made to order porridge – don’t call it oatmeal!) to get us fuelled for a very full day.
First was a city bus tour. Under cloudy skies and with a light rain falling, Edinburgh is the beautiful, moody city of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels. Joining our ever-patient tour director Barb was the very knowledgeable Ann, who mixed history, architecture and interesting Scots personalities into a very enjoyable commentary. (For instance, she told us that our hotel was located in the “Grassmarket”, so named because everything originally sold there ate grass!) We started in the old city in the streets built surrounding Edinburgh Castle (originally called Dunedin, which means “fort on the hill”) and then navigated the insanely crowded and convoluted roadways into the first of Edinburgh’s seven “new towns”, designed in 1767 and built up over the next 40 years or so. Ted compares the roads here to driving on a Mobius strip, full of curves and seemingly backtracking over each other – even moreso with road closures due to it being festival month. Thank goodness for the many “lollipop ladies”, the crossing guards with their round stop signs who help ferry pedestrians through the traffic.
The first new town architecture is classic symmetrical Georgian, and almost all built of cream sandstone, turned nearly black by years of coal smoke. Cleaning the soot off the sandstone exposes its surface to frost, which degrades the stone, so Edinburgh’s buildings will remain dark and brooding.
The “New Town” nearer the River Forth is Victorian in age and style, as evidenced by the bow windows on the “tenements”. That term has no negative connotation here; it merely means terraced homes that share an entry door. These flats now sell for upwards of 500,000£ each!
Our next stop was the Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently moored in the Port of Leith. We got to explore every inch of the yacht, from the wheelhouse through the officers’ quarters, crew quarters, royal bedrooms, dining rooms, entertainment and living spaces, all the way to the garage (for the Queen’s Bentley) and the laundry, galley, and engine rooms. The decor was surprisingly plain and homey – nothing ostentatious anywhere. The bedding on the Queen’s (twin size) bed was repurposed from bed linens owned by Queen Victoria, and that on the Duke of Edinburgh’s single bed was devoid even of monograms. Heads of state invited to sail on the royal yacht also slept in twin beds, although the dining room looked like some lovely meals must have been prepared to be eaten there!
Touring the city by bus or on foot really highlights its numerous hills, created by glacial activity in the city’s pre-history. While the castle’s hilltop perch is imposing, nowhere were the hills more spectacular than in Holyrood Park, Queen Victoria’s royal lands near her palace at Holyrood. We stopped to take pictures looking down into the city at Salisbury Crag, where the rocks have been dated to 3 million years ago.
The afternoon today was free for us to explore the city on foot. Using Ted’s downloaded map we wandered our way from Holyrood back to our hotel by way of a detour to photograph Edinburgh Castle in daylight. The weather cooperated with gorgeous sunshine – and a stiff breeze to cool us as we climbed back down the 153 steps from the castle to our street.
Tonight’s pre-tattoo dinner was a set menu of traditional Scottish foods, including haggis of course. Then it was off to what Ted and I expect will be the highlight of our trip: the 69th Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. This theme this year was “Through A Kaleidoscope”. In addition to bands from the UK, there were representatives from China, France, Germany, New Zealand, Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago. The spectacular entry had the Army leading total massed bands of over 250 pipers, as well as drummers and dancers.
The tattoo takes place on the promenade/parade square outside the castle main gates, where bleacher seating for about 8000 people is set up on three sides. Every seat has a great view.
To say that it was spectacular would be an understatement. From the first goosebump-raising skirl of the bagpipes, to the incredible light show projected onto the castle walls, to the fabulous dancers, bands and vocalists, to the finale fireworks, it was breathtaking. Even the weather seemed to cooperate with a clear mild night…. until just as the finale began, when the heavens opened, releasing a torrential downpour. The performers finished the show, but much of the audience – us included – left the grounds. We could hear the God Save the Queen, Auld Lang Syne, and the final volley of fireworks as we headed back to the hotel down streets running with rivers of water, and those steps down the hill looking more like waterfalls. Everything not covered by our rain jackets – including shoes – was drenched by the time we got home. I can’t even begin to imagine dealing with all those wet kilts, uniforms, fur hats and bagpipes!
Hopefully these pictures will show just how wonderful our tattoo experience was. I’ll apologize in advance for the “blur” – the show moved pretty fast, and I was using my phone (and sometimes moving to the music as well).
Tomorrow we’re off to Inverness, via St. Andrews. Fingers crossed that the rain abates.