The Trip Home

This will be a dull blog entry. Only so much you can say about sitting on a plane or sitting on a bus, right? LOL 

Dave and I were up early at 4:30 to get to Edinburgh airport and catch our flight to London. Everything went smoothly and we had some time to spare at Healthrow which was nice for a change. 

The flight from Heathrow to Boston though was delayed slightly because the tractor that pulls/pushes the plane away from the terminal broke down. It seems we had to wait forever for a new tractor to arrive, then we were on our way. 

The landing was a little odd feeling in Boston. We’re pretty sure it’s the one large bag we had that was marked “HEAVY!” that threw the plane off to one side. We lost 5 hours during the flight. 

We had a bit of a wait for the bus to Portland but it felt great to stand and get some fresh air after the flight. The bus arrived and the drive north on the I-95 began. We had a bus change in Portland, then arrived in Augusta around 8 p.m. Our bodies were telling us it was one in the morning Scottish time. Zzzzz….. 

Dave called for a taxi and upon arrival at the house, the first thing we noticed was the height of the grass in the lawn and the level of the stream. Wow! We’ve had some rain while we were gone. 

The house was safe and sound, I gave my mom a call and it was off to bed for us with wonderful memories of our trip to York and Scotland running through out heads. It was a whirlwind trip filled with many adventures, sites and sounds we’ll never forget…and we have the thousands of photos to prove it! 🙂 

Thanks for reading!

Sheepdogs, Waterfalls, and Fish n’ Chips

It was a peaceful, comfortable night at the cabin and warm temperatures and a sheepdog named Meg greeted us this morning. I had seen photos of Meg on Facebook and heard quite a bit about her from Helen. She belongs to the farm across the road and is a special, special dog in that she is a very loving and friendly sheepdog. Meg is also a hard working sheepdog.

She was resting outside the door of the cabin and I went to say good morning. Helen goes out for a lot of walks with Meg so I figured we’d try one too. As Meg, Dave and I set up for a short walk, I could hear a cat meow. I turned around and an adorable silver tabby cat came running down the drive for us then insisted on going on the walk too. Felt like we had a little family walking down the road. 

Helen arrived and because the weather was so nice, she took us to some outdoor attractions…and they were amazing attractions! 

Our first stop was the Queen’s View in Highland Perthshire. It overlooks Loch Tummel and is said to have been named after Queen Victoria, following her visit to the area in 1866, but most believe it was actually named after King Robert the Bruce’s wife, Queen Isabella in the 1500’s. 

As we were enjoying the fantastic view and taking photos a single Tornado fighter jet buzzed the overlook and freaked Dave and I out because it was literally at eye level it was so low! Helen says that happens quite frequently as they’re practicing maneuvers, but for Dave and I, it was most impressive…almost as impressive as that view! 

The next agenda item today was Dunkeld Cathedral in the lovely village of Dunkeld. It is approached on foot through the narrow streets of Dunkeld which lead you to the Cathedral’s ornate gates. With the River Tay on one side and open land leading to hills on the other, the setting is idyllic. 

It was built in stages between 1260 and 1501 and has suffered extensive battles and rebuilds. Dunkeld Cathedral is a building of two very distinct partd. Its east end is a rather attractive parish church still in use today; its west end, apart from the bell tower and chapter house, a roofless ruin with a grassy carpet. Unfortunately for us, the ruins are being worked on and we were not able to enter but only look in and take very strategically posed photos to avoid scaffolding. it was still beautiful and the surrounding views are lovely. 

As we were walking along one of the paths up from the river, we noticed a pretty kitty cat sleeping on one of the benches and he was very calm and loving. He became the Dunkeld Kitty to us. LOL It also reminded us of William the large cat at Rosslyn Chapel that we saw n Monday and the we had our third kitty this morning at the cabin. 

On our walk back through Dunkeld, we stopped for lunch at a great little spot called Spill the Beans cafe. We all had some tasty soup and sandwiches and their selection of teas and desserts was impressive. I got a tea to go (or Take Away as they call it) and picked out a piece of mint chocolate pie. 

The next round of spectacular scenery Helen showed us was The Hermitage. It’s a national landmark set up in the 1700’s with wooded paths, wonderful trees and the crown jewel being the spectacular views of Black Linn Falls. With a viewing building that opens up directly over the center of the falls, you couldn’t be in a better viewing position unless you flew over it. There are beautiful moss-covered trees and huge rocks that create a blanket of green over everything and it creates a very magically, woodland fairyland. 

Our last stop today was to visit Blair Castle, which has been the traditional home of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl and Clan Murray. The oldest part of the castle dates back to the 1200’s and is a wonderful example of the wealth and power this family has had. It was a popular spot with Queen Victoria and the guides within the castle were wonderful and VERY knowledgable. Although there are still private residences within the castle that would be lived in, the current Duke, does not live here, but lives in South Africa. 

The setting is wonderful with a long, straight, tree-lined entrance drive and because it’s all painted white, the castle truly stands out against the backdrop of the Cairngorms Mountains. There are also expansive gardens and we saw swans sitting on their nest and a stunning brilliant blue peacock. 

For dinner tonight, we opted for an easy dinner at the cabin. So, we stopped at a local fish n’ chip shop and Helen, Dave, and I sat out on the porch of the cabin listening to the stream, sheep, and the birds eatings our take out fish with a few drinks. 

As we were eating we had an opportunity to see Meg the sheepdog at work on the farm. She was helping to herd from cows into a separate pen. What a great show! 

Because we only had one more day left of our adventure with Helen, she left us with her comments book to sign and she gave us a lovely book on Scotland. And somehow, in and amongst all of the time she spent with us the last five days, she had two prints made of photos she took on our borders tour last Monday. The photos were of the touching rainbow that appeared while we were having tea and the other photo was of me admiring the rainbow out the window. I was very moved by the extremely thoughtful gifts and look forward to looking through the book she gave us and finding more areas I want to go in Scotland! 🙂 

After Helen left us, I then had to try and come up with words to express what our adventure with her in Scotland meant to us to write in the book. Not an easy task….I needed more wine! I think Dave and I came up with some good words. It’s difficult to put our feelings into words. I hope we succeeded.

Sheep, Castles, and Glens

How terrific to wake up to the spectacular view outside our window at Donan House. Eileen Donan castle set majestically on its island is something we’ll never forget. Dave was looking at it out the window when I woke up.

I asked him “Is the castle still there?” He whispered to me: “Yes, but there are invading Vikings attacking!!”. LOL

Dave wanted to get another look and took a walk down at the water’s edge. We weren’t able to see the castle at high tide, but even at low tide it was wonderful.

We had a very nice breakfast downstairs and chatted with one of the owners, Jim. He and his wife Dot, have a very special spot there and they were extremely nice.

It was turning out to be another lovely day. We have been so blessed with good weather so far. We would be having a slightly lighter schedule today, but we needed to get it started, so Helen and Moraig got us of our way.

The amount of spectacular scenery is just never ending and we were not disappointed today either. We drove through Glenshiels with a brilliant view of The Five Sisters of Kintail mountains and as we were driving, there was a sign warning to watch for Feral Goats, to which Helen replied “I’ve never seen a feral goat.” And sure enough, about five minutes later, we saw about a dozen of them grazing along the side of the road!

Our first major stop today was at Urquhart Castle on the shores of the infamous Loch Ness. No, we did not see Nessie, the sea monster, but we DID see one heck of a castle ruin, shrouded in fog, in a magical setting.

The fog didn’t dampen our spirits at all. In fact it kind of accentuated the experience and gave this castle a type of aura. Dave and I really loved this castle and we will not spoil the opening film you should see before going to the castle, but it is a MUST DO!

While walking through one part of the ruin, there were three or four windows deeply cut out of stone. We were actually just walking by them, when I happened to look down into one and there is one lonesome bat just hanging out by himself on the rocks. We all took photographs and pointed out the little guy to others. Normally, I don’t like bats, but he was all by himself, not flying and was outside in a deep window, so it didn’t. He was enjoying the castle like we were.

We stopped for lunch at the Urquhart cafe and all ended up getting scones. Yum! Then, in a stop at the gift store, Dave had the idea to buy our own sheep like Morag, so we did and eventually named him Duncan, Ironically, Morag was a gift to Helen from a tour customer a couple of years ago and she bought her at this same gift shop, which we did not know.

Our drive continued south to Fort Augustus where we viewed the Caledonian Canal and watched some boats going through the locks, then we took a walk along the canal to see the most southern tip of Loch Ness.

Loch Ness is pretty fascinating in both depth and length. Loch Ness’ deepest point, at 227 miles is more than TWICE the average depth of the North Sea. We stopped at a local grocery store here and picked up some goodies for breakfast since we would have to fend for ourselves for breakfast the next two mornings at Helen’s cabin.

Then we visited Lagen Dam with some pretty phenomenal mountains views reflected in the glassy, still water of Loch Lagen.

Dave and I are fans of the old BBC series called Monarch of The Glen. The series was from England, but set and filmed on location in Scotland. Once we knew we’d be near that area, we asked Helen if we could stop and get a view of three oft used locations.

The first one is a hilltop church and graveyard called Cille Choirill Church. It was used in a few funeral scenes and a few other scenes we remembered vividly. It’s set up on the side of a pretty step hill, but Helen got that new crossover vehicle up and we were rewarded with a beautiful afternoon to explore the grounds. It’s just a brilliant, and romantic spot. Of course, there were sheep!

As we drove down from the church Helen asked if Dave and I would say we’re in Monarch of The Glen country. We both said “Yes!” and she then produced the theme song from the series on her CD player! It was perfect, and just another personalized touch she added to our adventure that meant a great deal to us.

Our next stop on the Monarch Tour was to hopefully get a glimpse of the Ardivickie Estate that was the centerpiece of the entire series, very similar to Downton Abbey. It is a private residence not open for tours and you’re unable to see it from the drive it is on, so our only hope was good weather, few leaves on the trees, and hoping Helen could find a spot to pull over on the narrow roads once we got a clear view of it across Loch Lagan. All of the stars aligned (or was it all Helen?) and we had a terrific shot of what Dave and I know as Glen Bogle House.

Then a little further down the road we were able to see the Gatelodge or main entry gate to the estate. You can rent out the gate house and it’s like a mini version of the big house. It appeared they haven’t kept up its appearance since the series ended, but it’s still adorable and is featured in a lot of shows. Very glad we had the opportunity to see it.

We had a very nice dinner at the Moulin Hotel pub and shared a table for a bit with an older couple who were trying out their 20 foot motor home for the first time. The man seemed to like it, but his wife said “The jury’s still out.” LOL They also had two dogs with them in the pub, which we discovered is quite normal and accepted over there. Kind of nice, if they’re well behaved.

Helen owns a lovely little cabin next to a farm in the village of Killiecrankie, outside Pitlochry. Its formal name is The Lodge at Strathgarry. The river that runs by the area is the River Garry. As part of our tour, Helen is renting the cabin out to us for two nights and she’ll stay at a local B&B. It’ll be like we have our own country cabin in Scotland!

A winding, narrow road lead us to a small group of four Norwegan-made cabins sitting beside a babbling brook overlooking a pasture filled with sheep and baby lambs. Oh, and of course there was another spectacular view of hills. It was idlic.

Helen gave us a tour, turned on the heat, water, and their small electric fireplace and the warmth and coziness just oozed from every seam.

I, on the other hand, was oozing tired. Things had caught up with me and I had a hard time communicating and moving. LOL Helen, bless her heart, filled up two hot water bottles. She gave one to me on the leather sofa and put the other one in the bed to take the chill off, Then she made me a pot of tea, set out a plate of good Scottish shortbread and covered me up with a soft tartan blanket. Ahhhhh…how nice was that! I started to fade soon after Helen left us and quickly fell asleep.

Churches, Gravestones, and a Police Escort

We slept in a little bit today, which was quite nice, then we headed over to the Edinburgh Larder for breakfast again and again, it was very good! The weather was overcast and cool, but not raining….yet. 

Our first stop today was at Greyfriars Tolbooth and Kirkyard (graveyard). It’s a wonderful, still active church with a lively history and one charming story about a dog. 

Dave and I wandered around the Kirk for a little bit. Some of the tombstones are extremely old and some of the stories and eloquent words engraved on them are heartbreaking. We then went into the church which has been damaged and rebuilt over the centuries. 

Greyfriars was the first church built in Edinburgh after the Reformation. In 1562 Mary Queen of Scots had granted the land to the Town Council for use as a burial ground but it did not open until Christmas Day 1620. 

However, the most famous story from the nineteenth century, is that of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier, looked after by John Gray for the last two years of the old man’s life. After the death of Gray, Bobby reportedly guarded his grave for fourteen years, capturing the heart of the Lord Provost, William Chambers (whose own statue stands nearby on Chambers Street). Chambers organised for the Town Council to pay for Bobby’s dog licence, and so saved him from being rounded up and destroyed. Bobby was buried just outside the graveyard, near where his stone stands today. One of the most famous images of Edinburgh is the statue of Bobby on George IV Bridge, near the entrance to the Graveyard. It was erected in the year after Bobby himself died, 1872. The story spread across the world, helped by Disney releasing the first moving picture based on the little dog in 1961. In 2006, a new version, directed by Bafta award winning Director John Henderson, was released. The statue of the little dog is really special and they created a small trough around the base to be kept filled with water for other canine friends. 

We then visited Gladstone’s Land which provides a unique glimpse of life in the Old Town in an old 17th-century tenement building of the overcrowded Old Town. Completed in 1620, this was the home of a prosperous merchant and contains remarkable original painted ceilings which just blew Dave and I away. Very unexpected when you walked in. The building is the most important example of 17th-century high-tenement housing to survive in Edinburgh. Its site and the extent of its accommodation mark its prestige in terms of mercantile dignity. 

The rains came, but we continued to explore the Closes on the Royal Mile. The Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland, consisted originally of the Royal Mile and the small streets and courtyards that led off it to the north and south called closes, a Scots term for alleyways. These are usually named after a memorable occupant of one of the apartments reached by the common entrance, or the occupations of those that traded there. Most slope steeply down from the Royal Mile and many have steps and long flights of stairs. Some still have amazing courtyards, and we tried to find those. We never got to all of them. 

We bought tickets for Mary King’s Close tour then stopped at Forsyth’s Tearoom, a charming little hideaway with a charming little woman and her helpful friends. As other online reviews have mentioned, this little eclectic tearoom is like visiting your grandmother’s kitchen for tea. Christine, the owner/baker/tea maker, is just as unique. Dave and I had a lovely bite to eat and posed for a photo. We also picked up a few home made goodies for breakfast on Thursday at the apartment. 

The Mary King’s Close tour was next. Mary King’s Close is an old Edinburgh close (alley) under buildings. It took its name from Mary King, daughter of advocate Alexander King, who in the 17th century had owned several properties within the close. The close was partially demolished and buried under the Royal Exchange, and with it being closed to the public for many years, the complex became shrouded in myths and urban legends; tales of ghosts and murders, and myths of plague victims being walled up and left to die abounded. 

However, new research and archaeological evidence has revealed that the close actually consists of a number of closes which were originally narrow streets with tenement houses on either side, stretching up to seven stories high. Our tour revealed some of those tales and our costumed guide Paul, was a terrifically droll narrator. It was amazing that people continued to live underground. 

Then, we visited St. Giles Cathedral. The church has been one of Edinburgh’s religious focal points for approximately 900 years. The present church dates from the late 14th century, though it was extensively restored in the 19th century. In 1638 the National Covenant was presented and signed in front of the pulpit. This was a document of great importance in the history of Scotland and an original copy is displayed in the Visitor Centre in a non-descript case. The small museum is very nicely done and worth a visit. 

There is remarkable beauty and spirit throughout and it’s history is long and varied. For more information, READ HERE – dinburgh/stgiles/ 

One of the most beautiful, striking areas is the Thistle Chapel built in 1911. It is small, but exquisite, with carved and painted fittings of extraordinary detail. One figure depicts an angel playing bagpipes. The Order, which was founded by King James VII in 1687, consists of the Scottish monarch and 16 knights. The knights are the personal appointment of the monarch, and are normally Scots who have made a significant contribution to national or international affairs. Prince William was installed as a knight last year and his marker was just placed in the chapel. 

After our busy day, we Were quite hungry and decided to go down to the Whiski’s pub for dinner. When we walked down to our corner, we say flashing lights, the roads were blocked off and police whe everywhere. Apparently, a man and woman had taken some people hostage at the pharmacy just a few door up for our apartment. 

Well…we hadn’t expected this! We ended up having winner at a pizza place, the walk a block around our apartment, the met up with Beth & Fiona. Dave spoke to an officer and we were finally able to get back into our apartment, but with a police escort! He told us to stay in the building…no problem! 

Everyone we spoke to said this kind of incident was high unusual. I hope so! We joined everyone else in gazing out the window watching the police and fireman. Things were finally resolved peacefully and no one was hurt, thank God, but it sure put a cramp in packing!

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. 

To The Palace, Please!

After a good nights sleep in our new surroundings, Dave went across the street and brought back breakfast and I stayed in finishing off the croissants and jam that Beth & Fiona left us. The sun was out and it appeared it would be a nice day. One forgets you’re in Scotland, however! 

Dave and I turned right when we exited the apartment and headed up the hill for our first stop at the impressive and imposing Edinburgh Castle…located on castle rock. 3,000, yes, I said 3,000 years of history are hidden away in the mighty royal castle set upon volcanic rock. The oldest part of the existing castle is St. Margaret’s Chapel, built by her son in 1130. It’s a beautiful, but tiny chapel where weddings can still be held today…with only about 16 guests. 

Despite the fact the castle is naturally well defended being built on such a steep, rocky hill, it has been captured and recaptured several times, which results in its changing role throughout history. Obviously, with the castle’s imposing height over the city, the views it affords of the dwellings and skyline below are spectacular. 

There is even a small dog cemetery where regimental mascots or soldiers dogs have been buried since 1881. 

The most prized possessions at the castle are the “Honours”, or Crown Jewels of Scotland. The Crown, Sceptre, and Sword of State. They were first used together during the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543 and have too long an eventful history to go into here. But it’s very special to see them. No photos allowed though. 😦 

The rain moved in swiftly and everyone was seeking shelter in any indoor venue possible, Dave and I ventured into the Great Hall where a musician was demonstrating 15th century instruments and music. It was very entertaining and we were able to see some fascinating instruments we have never seen before. 

We were also able to view the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James in 1566. James would become heir to two thrones: not only the Scottish one, but also to the English because Mary’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth I would remain childless. Prince James would one day rule as James VI of Scotland and James I of England. The last true king of Scotland. 

Dave and I grabbed a quick bite to eat on the castle grounds, then made our way back down the Royal Mile to our apartment where I changed into my rain jacket and hat. We then walked down to visit Beth and Fiona at their store and had a nice chat. They’re a lot of fun and very caring. 

Our continued trek down the mile passed by the relatively new and thoroughly (in our opinion) ugly Scottish Parliament building. It is beyond us, how in this city of such classic and traditional architecture, such a modern building could be constructed. Just sayin’. 

We reached the bottom of the Royal Mile and our final destination – The Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is the official home of Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland as well as the rest of the royal family. Last year we would not have been able to tour it because members of the family were staying there, so we were glad they stayed away this time! 

I had done a lot of reading on Mary Queen of Scots last year and was particularly interested in seeing her pubic and private rooms here. I was disappointed no photos were allowed, but we were able to view some very special areas and pieces of history. 

Seeing Mary’s bed chambers and her state bed, which underwent extensive restoration and is now displayed under low lighting and in glass was impressive. Also, the room where her secretary, and rumored lover David Rizzio was murdered by her husband, Lord Darnley, is also marked by a plaque where his body was discovered after a group of people working with Darnley stabbed Rizzio 56 times. 

Also in that room are needlepoint pieces actually done by Mary Queen of Scots. Amazing items when you consider that many of them were complete in the 1500’s. 

The palace itself is a beautiful place. Not as extravagant as Buckingham Palace or Windsor Palace in England. If something this grand can be called “homey” that’s what I’d call it in the grand scheme of palaces. LOL And you cannot beat the setting with the mountains directly around it and a beautiful garden. I could live there easily with only a staff of three, one of whom would be a gardener, of course. 

The next stop, around the palace were the ruins of a 12th century abbey. Many construction problems in the following years, as well as destructive raids from those pesky English were its eventual downfall. What remains is a very romantic and picturesque setting. 

As Dave and I exited the grounds, we then realized we had the task of walking back UP the hill of the Royal Mile. Okay…lets go! We stopped in for dinner tonight at The World’s End across from the apartment. I had venison sausage and mashed potatoes with carmalized onions in a red wine gravy and Dave had their roast lamb dinner. We washed all this down with Belhaven Ale again. YUM! 

Of course, as I write this between 8 and 9 p.m., the sun came back out. That fickle Scottish weather. Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

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.