The Borders, Abbeys, and Tea

Today was one of surprises, beauty, and sheep! 🙂 We’ll be seeing a lot of all three in the coming days I hope. 

SURPRISE #1: Dave and I were expecting to meet Robert Fraser this morning for our tour of the borders region of Scotland with Afternoon Tea Tours, but we were pleasantly surprised to find Helen Fraser greeting us outside the apartment instead! Her other tour today cancelled, so she was able to take us after all. It was sooo nice to finally be able to meet her in person after speaking via email for probably going on two years now. We already know quite a bit about one another so it was like meeting an old friend….but not. LOL 

The sun was currently shining, but it was still windy. Helen wanted to take advantage of the sunny skies and take us up around Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Park and the Salisbury Craig’s. A beautiful, beautiful area around an extinct volcano near Holyroodhouse Palace. There is even a loch up on one of the hills where swans live. 

Our main destination today was part of The Scottish Borders area. We traveled south of Edinburgh through magnificent rolling hills dotted with hundreds of fuzzy sheep, gentle green valleys and picturesque forests. Each small town was a reminder of this areas milling past and many are still thriving communities. We drove through rain showers, then the sun came out. 

The first stop was Rosslyn Chapel in the town of Roslin. But before we ventured to the chapel itself, Helen wanted to show us Rosslyn Castle, and its ruins. This was also where the final scene of Dan Brown’s famous THE DI VINCI CODE movie was filmed. As we walked down the path, I kept catching the scent of something and could not think of what it was. It wasn’t until Helen said it was wild garlic that I realized it was garlic I was smelling. We were enjoying the beauty of the area when a gentlemen was coming out of the only remaining livable part of the castle and asked if we wanted to take a peak inside before they left! Well, of course we do! 

SURPRISE #2: It turns out the public doesn’t generally get to see this building unless your paying guests or invited, so this was a very special, unexpected treat. The couple’s son had just gotten married at,the chapel and many guests stayed there at the castle during and after the wedding. They were just heading out today. It’s a fabulous old building with a grand stone staircase, lovely fireplaces, stone spiral stairs and sloping old floors. 

The family built for themselves a mansion within the shell of the structure, occupying the top two storeys of the five available in the east range of the castle. Even this was attacked, by a mob from Edinburgh in 1688. The house was later repaired. 

When we walked in the gentleman said he hadn’t seen the “sleeping lady”. The castle is said to be home to a sleeping lady who will one day awake and show the whereabouts of a fabulous treasure buried deep within its vaults. When this happens, the castle will again rise from its ruins. Very special to see it in this form, however. 

On to Rosslyn Chapel, which is a remarkable display of craftsmanship and conservation by modern efforts. The chapel has been in the same family, the St. Clair’s, since it’s foundation in 1446. It is still used today as a place of worship. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside, but we did have a wonderful tour and we were able to explore and admire the amazing detail of the thousands of sandstone carvings that are constantly struggling against age and the elements to survive. Thankfully, the current efforts to protect these priceless artifacts for future generations are continuing. And what a beautiful wedding those folks staying in the castle must had had. We drove through rain showers, then the sun came out. 

In the small village of Galashiels, there were lovely ruins of an old church, then up the road a “new” church had been built. Across the road, a beautiful stone bridge was built in 1655 for people to cross over the river that flows through that area to go to church. The bridge is called “The Bridge to Heaven”. We saw many more sheep as well. 

Next on the schedule was Dryburgh Abbey near St. Boswells. The abbey’s lovely ruins sit in seclusion in the trees and has some of the best Gothic church architecture in Scotland. It is also the burial place of one of Scotland’s most famous authors, Sir Walter Scott. The abbey, which dates back to 1150, is set in a stunning parkland landscape. 

It was a bit passed lunch time and we were a little hungry, but Helen had arranged an afternoon tea for us, so we didn’t want to fill up on too much. We stopped in at the Dryburgh Hotel, just down the road for a cup of soup and a roll. It was just enough to tide us over and the old country hotel was lovely. We drove through rain showers, then the sun came out. And we saw more sheep. The baby lambs are sooo cute. 

A prickly plant called gorse was in bloom all over Edinburgh and in The Borders and no where was it closer to us than our next stop at Scott’s View. This scenic view of the Eildon Hills from Bemersyde was one of Sir Walter Scott’s favourite views of his beloved Borderland. It is said that the horse pulling the hearse taking him to his interment at Dryburgh Abbey stopped at this spot, as it usually did on its daily outings with Sir Walter aboard. As we approached, the sun was out long enough for us to take some stunning photos, but we could see rain approaching again. The weather Gods, or someone, was watching us. 

We next drove to the village of Melrose. This is also one of Helen’s favorite towns. We parked the car and walked through the main street of charming shops and thriving businesses. It was nice to see a successful main street. 

Melrose Abbey sits very close to town, but it still offers some solitude and reflection among its stately ruins. It was originally founded in the 12th century by monks and it is believed that Robert The Bruce’s heart was buried here in 1331. The stunning beauty of this abbey was accentuated by the sunlight we were lucky enough to have on our visit. 

As we continued to drive through one charming village and amazing views, one after the other, Helen asked me to put in a CD of the Celtic artist Duncan Chisolm and it only added to the beauty of the area. We drove through rain showers, then the sun came out. Saw more sheep. 

The afternoon tea was at a lovely country house hotel called Cringletie House outside the village of Peebles. It’s a traditional Scottish Baronial mansion and Helen visits and brings tours here quite often. 

We were led into a warm sitting room with comfortable chairs and small tables, stunning views and a fire place. I decided on the Lapsang souchong tea. While we waited, it gave us an opportunity to get to know Helen better and vice versa. We will be spending a lot of time together this next week, starting on Thursday. 

Tea was served, along with some very tasty sandwiches, muffins, cookies and scones, and some fruit shots, lemon tarts, chocolate cake and mini macaroons. Everything was delicious! 

SURPRISE #3: While we were enjoying the tea and goodies, rain moved in again…then it actually started sleeting, then the sun came out again….then someone noticed a huge rainbow right outside the front window to my right. Amazing, the unexpected surprises we’ve had today and also the rain always seemed to stop when we were outside, but rained while we were in the car or inside. Then…this rainbow shows up. I think we had a weather angel watching over us today in Scotland, and I’m pretty sure it was my sister Dori. I haven’t allowed myself to think too deeply about her while on this trip yet, but this rainbow touched me very much and it brought tears to my eyes. I think those breaks in the weather and that beautiful rainbow was Dori’s way of letting me know it’s okay to have a wonderful time in Scotland this year and that she’s with us. 

The entire experience at Cringletie was fabulous. I’m going to have to start coming up with more adjectives to describe things! It was so special of Helen to arrange this for me. The setting, the view and the company were all I could have hoped for, I love sheep. 

I believe Helen, Dave and I will have a great time during our tour later in the week. Helen doesn’t like to think of herself as a common “tour guide” and she prefers to think of her customers as travelers, not tourists. She wants to give them/us an adventure, not a tour and I really like that. I also love her Scottish accent and will enjoy listening to that as well. Helen truly loves what she does and enjoys showing off her glorious country which makes her travelers all the more lucky. 

And, typically to the kind of day we’ve had today…as we neared our apartment, the rains came, but as we left Helen to walk back to the apartment, the sun came back out and it stopped raining. 

FINALLY! We’re in Scotland!

Dave and I woke early to finish packing and headed down to Starbucks for Internet service so we could check what the weather in Scotland was going to be like today. Wasn’t looking great, but it is what it is.
We had a taxi pick us up at the hotel and take us to the train station. We arrived a little early and endured some mighty strong, cold winds out on the platforms. Dave believes he’s coming down with a cold, so that’s not good.

Train travel certainly is a painless way to get around the UK. Dave and I found it quite enjoyable. And we liked traveling first class as well. The scenery, for the most part, was beautiful with rolling green hills, small villages and farms and then along the coastline with some stunning ocean vistas.

When we found out we crossed into Scotland via train, we welcomed each other with a kiss. Finally, we’re here! Arriving at Waverly Station it was dark and cloudy, but not raining. Dave decided, against my better judgement, to lug the suitcases up several flights of stairs, a few hills and brick and cobblestone walkways up to the Royal Mile. Then we met the owners of the apartment we’re renting at their store, Cranachan & Crowdie.

What a wonderfully, warm welcome we received from Fiona and Beth. We’ve all been chatting online via email and now Twitter for some time and we felt horrible we had to cancel our visit last year, so it was wonderful to meet them in person finally. Hugs all around and I was called “lass”….now who doesn’t love that?

Beth took us up to the apartment and showed us around. It’s a charming spot in the heart of the Royal Mile about halfway between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. A basket with fresh croissants, jams, shortbread biscuits, and a bottle of wine also greeted us. A fresh bouquet of brightly colored tulips adorned the fireplace mantel and YES, we have Internet here! LOL

After Dave and I freshened up, we set out on foot to explore. Most of the rest of the day was spent getting aquanted with the city on foot and by bus. The bus tours were a great way to do this. It’s a busy, thriving city with so much to do. Very excited to wander around more this coming week.

A place I found online that I’ve had my eye on for probably two years now is eTeaKet Tea Room. I love their website and it looked like an adorable, yet modern, cozy tea room. Dave found our way over and we enjoyed a bite to eat and a lovely tea again. LOVED it! And, I bought more tea. LOL I enjoyed a small pot of their Pu-er tea and some lemon drizzle cake. Dave had a delicious scone and some coffee.

When we finished with bus tours, we walked back up to Royal Mile enjoying amazing views of Edinburgh Castle, which we’ll be visiting tomorrow. When we got back to our street, we noticed acitivity around the castle and Dave found out some bands would be coming up the Royal Mile to the castle so we hung around to see and hear them. It was only two bands, but we got to hear some bagpipes and see a short (very) short parade. I guess it’s a military ceremony that happens six times a year and this was their first time this year. It was VERY cold and windy out, but no rain and we even saw the sun later in the evening which give the city a whole new glow.

We were now very cold and hungry as it was almost 8:15. We stopped in for dinner at The Royal Mile Tavern where we enjoyed Belhaven Ale (a Scottish ale) and made a toast to Edinburgh. Dave ordered up Haggis, Tatties and Neeps. (haggis, potatoes, and turnips) and I opted for the classic fish & chips. I DID try the haggis…it actually wasn’t bad the way it was prepared. I’m still not sure it’s something I would order myself, but I can say I tried it and kept it down. LOL

It’s still VERY light out at 9 p.m., which makes it seems like it’s still early. We’ll enjoy a relatively easy day tomorrow, but it’ll be exciting seeing two of the biggest and most famous historic sites in the country.