Planning our trip to Scotland all began from a simple statement I made one day many months ago, “I’d like to see the Tattoo one day”. And last night we crossed that one off the list, with a tear in our eyes and a smile as big as the highlands. The Edinburgh Royal Tattoo was everything and more than I’d hoped it would be. But before we get to that you have to hear about our travels to get to the Tattoo! Patience grasshopper…
We left London early, walking from our hotel to the King’s Cross train station. It’s a very modern train station with high ceilings, excellent signage, and hot coffee! We waited patiently for our train to be given a platform number on the overhead signs, then joined the mad dash to the platform. Thankfully we had assigned first class seats so we didn’t really have to rush, but we still wanted to make sure we found the right car and got onboard before the train pulled out.
We were soon settled in with brekkie, enjoying the sights and scenery as the train left the bustle of London and started moving through the green countryside. Pristine farms, ancient looking rock walls, tall corn, bales of hay, cows, draft horses, chubby ponies with long manes and tails, and plenty of sheep. We even went along the water for a while and had a glimpse of the North Sea.
Pretty soon the train pulled into Waverly Station, so we climbed down off the train to join the fray. We hailed a cab (love the cabs over here) and went to our Guest House to drop off packs and get our bearings. Then it was time to explore! Day one was bus rides all over town to see a bit of each area so that we could figure out where things were. We ate dinner in a pub, and walked around watching street performers until it was time to call it a day (the Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs all month so there are a gazillion people and artists in town).
We started out day two with a visit to St. Giles Cathedral and when we walked in the organ was playing. We sat down in the center of the cathedral and listened to the huge sound of the pipe organ bouncing off the walls. You really get a feel for the power of religious belief when you are sitting in such a spiritual place listening to music that is literally pulsing through you. Goosebumps. When the organ player was finished, a couple of young pianists took turns playing classical music on the grand piano sitting in the center of the nave. Being able to sit close to someone playing at that level is an amazing treat. Their fingers were flying and yet seemed to never touch the keys. More goosebumps.
Inside St. Giles is a tiny chapel called the Thistle Chapel. It’s only about 20′ x 30′, and is relatively new, finished in 1911, but it really is gorgeous. The high arched ceilings, intricately hand-carved knight’s stalls, stained glass windows, all add up to awesome.
The rest of day two was dedicated to the castle of Edinburgh. High on a hill overlooking the city the castle is truly an ancient stronghold. Iron Age warriors defended a hill fort here, and the nation’s oldest poetry tells of a war band feasting here for a year before riding to their deaths in battle. The original chapel built for Queen Margaret who died here in 1093 (later St Margaret) is still standing because it was saved by Robert the Bruce when he destroyed the rest of the castle in the late 1200’s. There is a ton of history, with famous battles and sieges, and many different monarchs lived and died here. The Scottish crown jewels, called the Honors, are also housed here.
The best part of day two in Edinburgh was seeing the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo. As I mentioned earlier I’d wanted to see the tattoo ever since learning about it on my visit to Edinburgh when Kyle was a transfer student at the University of Edinburgh. It was well worth the wait and is an experience neither Marty nor I will forget! The show includes military bands and dancers from many of the British Commonwealth countries and each one was brilliant (don’t I sound British?)! The castle would be lit with different colors and with drawings that were tied to each countries’ performance. Our favorite of course were the Royal Highland pipers (bag pipes), drums, and dancers. They literally took my breath away. To top it all off there was a final song played by a lone piper up on the castle walls – more goosebumps.
Here’s a short video of the pipers leaving the stadium to give you a small taste of what we saw. The sound doesn’t come close to real life, but it will give you a glimpse and maybe make you want to see it in person!
Day three included more bus rides, torrential downpours, r/y Britannia, Holyrood Castle and Abbey, whiskey tasting, and haggis! Our dogs were a bit tired this morning, so we hopped a few more buses and went out to Holyrood Castle, which is at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. Holyrood is where the Queen stays when she visits Edinburgh. We were able to tour the royal apartments and get up close and personal with Mary Queen of Scots, as well as see the exact place where her lover was killed…oh joy, my life is complete! 🙂 Seriously though, the castle was gorgeous and I love all the huge tapestries. Next to the castle is the Holyrood Abbey which is in ruins, but still maintains a ghostly beauty. The stone work and the arches are intact, as are the many graves within the abbey. It’s the kind of place where you talk in hushed tones even though no one is around and you’re outside. More goosebumps!
Our next stop was the Royal Yacht Britannia. It was built in 1953; a true luxury yacht in her day, and only recently decommissioned. It’s got all the fancy appointments one would expect of a yacht designed for the Queen, but it also had lots of homey touches that made you feel like the Royals could maybe let their crowns down and be human whilst on board (still practicing my British). We thought the dining table would be nice on Happy Dance, if we had the staff that went along with it to line up all the silverware with rulers to make sure everything is straight! Wonder if the boat ever heels…hmmm.
The last stop today was at Number One Hight Street, a pub located at the edge of where the original town walls once stood. We chatted and laughed with lots of locals and other UK visitors, tried our first haggis, whiskey, and sticky toffee pudding. What a night! Loved all of the new tastes, and will continue to do more research on the whiskeys. Our first dram of whiskey was actually purchased by one of the English gents we were sitting next to. He and his friend were in Scotland for a biker rally in the highlands and they were on their Harley’s – too funny. I was surprised at how much I liked the whiskey, no Scotch faces for me! We started with Glenlivet 12 yr, followed by Glenkinchie, and a Knockadon. All got 5 stars from us! The haggis was very tasty and not a bit scary, and the sticky toffee pudding…oh my! The perfect end to another perfect day. Tomorrow we rent a car and start driving,so we warned all our new pub friends to stay off the roads!
Our overall impressions of Edinburgh are pretty diverse just like the town. It’s full of history and hidden surprises, happy locals and crazy weather. We kept sunglasses and rain jackets handy at all times and never knew what to expect inside the next door! People were friendly once they got to talking, and it felt much smaller and more laid back than London. We loved it!