After wonderful time spent with family in Devon and Staffordshire, it was time to visit a destination that’s been on my travel list for as long as I can remember, Scotland. My parents were invited to Pat and Adrian’s wedding, so they came over a few days early to meet us in Edinburgh. It was their first time back since they got married there, 37 years ago.
Andy and I took a high speed train up just after noon. About four hours and some great views of the countryside later, we stepped out into the Old Town. My parents had arrived earlier in the day, so we headed up the incredibly picturesque (and steep) side streets to our Airbnb for two nights. It was everything I had imagined and more – just magic.
After almost three years, it was great to see my parents in person. We settled in, then headed out for an incredible dinner featuring tatties and neeps, Cullen skink and haggis. The next morning, we set out for our tour of Edinburgh Castle, meeting on the Royal Mile.
We found our group and guide, then all made our way to the crown jewel of Edinburgh, the castle.
It may look sunny, but boy was it cold up there with the wind. Summer in Scotland isn’t far off Wellington’s weather. Just like New Zealand, the beauty more than makes up for it, though.
The oldest building on the castle grounds, in fact in all of Edinburgh, is St Margaret’s Chapel, dating back to the 12th century.
We were regaled with stories from centuries of captivating Scottish history, energetically summarized by our guide. I won’t do Scotland the injustice of trying to summarize their extensive saga here.
The longest line on site was for the Crown Jewels and Stone of Destiny, but of course no photos were allowed. The Stone of Destiny is definitely worth reading about if you have time. Despite the lack of wait to get in, I found the Great Hall one of the most impressive buildings. Look at that ceiling!
The ramparts offered great vantage points on all sides, and the cannons of course had the best view.
Mons Meg was the most impressive juggernaut on site by far. Built in 1449 and weighing 6,970 kg (15,366 pounds), she is one of the largest cannons in the world.
In this next shot, you can make out a small cemetery on the side of the castle. This is the Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs, reserved for the very best boys and girls, from Yum Yum to Winkle (seriously, look at this list). Robert Burns even immortalized their scenic resting place:
Berkin dugs here lie at rest
The yappin worst, obedient best
Sodgers pets and mascots tae
Still the guard the castle to this day.
As you can see, we were enjoying ourselves!
Can you tell which guy is Andy?
We could’ve easily spent all day at the castle, but with our stomachs rumbling and limited time in the city, it was time to head off for lunch.
Once we found a restaurant, we had to wait a bit for our table, so a waitress brought us free champagne. Hey, can’t complain! We then stuffed ourselves with some amazing mussels, fries and other decadent fare.
What better way to follow up a meal like that than more walking, right? Heading for the spot where my parents got married, and the scenic Circus Lane, we made our way out of the Old Town into the “New Town”, which is still pretty old, but I suppose it’s all relative. There were great views of Castle Hill from down below.
We walked up Queen Street, where my parents tied the knot on July 4th, 1985 at a courthouse. Though the courthouse no longer exists, we thought we could maybe find the spot. While we didn’t in the end, it was still a nice walk down memory lane.
“This looks like it could be it. Or maybe this place?” To be fair, they did all look alike.
Circus Lane is a popular spot for photographers, despite being off the beaten path, and it’s easy to see why.
On the way back, we passed through the gardens and were treated to yet more incredible views.
After some shopping (on my part at least) and sheltering from a brief rain storm, we rested our legs for a bit at our apartment. My mom and I had booked a “Haunted Vaults and Graveyards” walking tour for that evening. Of course it would be great to go after dark, but with the sun setting around 10 pm, that wasn’t possible in the summer. My dad and Andy planned to sample some whiskeys before meeting us for dinner after. You can tell who is in to the creepy stuff and who is in to the distilled stuff.
Our first stop was to visit the best boy, Greyfriars Bobby, named for Greyfriars Kirkyard. When his owner John Gray passed away in 1858, Bobby guarded the grave for 14 years before he died at the age of 16. Needless to say, his story touched many and he has his own statue and pub.
Visitors to Greyfriars Kirkyard still place sticks on the grave of his owner because of course. Bobby’s own headstone reads, “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.” I didn’t realize this post would feature so many good pups, but here we are. May they ever live on!
Understandably, Greyfriars was the first main stop on the tour. Dating back to the 16th century, it is said to be one of Scotland’s most haunted locations. I can’t vouch for it personally, but I wouldn’t want to be there alone after dark. Hauntings or no, it’s a beautiful spot.
There were still some graves with implements in place to prevent grave robbing (look up Burke and Hare). Also, JK Rowling used headstones in the cemetery to inspire many of her Harry Potter characters.
You can see sweet Bobby’s grave and another statue in the image on the right. You can see someone who looks way too happy to be in a cemetery on the left.
Our next stop was the extensive Edinburgh Vaults, best illustrated by this image.
When Edinburgh’s South Bridge was built in the 18th century, it formed a new street level. The underground spaces were initially used as storage by merchants, but due to their dampness, soon fell into disrepair and became a hideout for society’s rejects and criminals. They were filled in with rubble to discourage use, and rediscovered during an excavation in the 1980s.
We spent some time with our tour group in a couple of the vaults. When we turned all our lights out, it was certainly an exceptionally dark and suffocating atmosphere. I can’t imagine the desperation it would take to hide out here.
These vaults were once home to a Wiccan coven, in more recent decades. Their ritual implements have been preserved for visitors, as they disbanded after the death of their leader.
While we didn’t have any supernatural experiences, the vaults were definitely a creepy place. I would highly recommend a tour if you’re in Edinburgh – it’s truly a unique experience unlike anything else! We went with Auld Reekie Tours Ltd and they were great. The tour had that spooky element without being over the top, and it covered a lot of dark history too.
To close out our first full day in Scotland, I’ll leave you with a photo of the Cowgate, previously an overcrowded slum and now home to some bars and music clubs.
Stay tuned for Highland adventures!