Visiting a country’s capital is an experience that is always truly unique.
And if one has already stayed in another part of the same country, seeing its capital somehow ‘completes the picture’.
Certainly, this was how I felt about Edinburgh. I’d already visited The Highlands of Scotland – which had been a truly memorable experience – and I now wanted to sample the country’s capital.
So, for me, it was going to be ‘Edinburgh – next stop’!
And this visit too proved to be a ‘never- to- be- forgotten experience’!
Despite the distance – involving a long drive from London – I set forth to spend a ‘long week-end’ in Scotland’s capital.
It was cold in Edinburgh when I arrived – in fact, very, very cold – and the wind was biting! But whatever the elements, I had my first goal in sight, that being a visit to Edinburgh Castle!
And there was no question of having to ‘find’ the castle, for it dominated the city, perched as it was on what was purported to be ‘a high impregnable crag of volcanic rock’ and protected by sheer cliffs on three sides!
Just looking up at the castle was an awesome sight, while looking down at the city of Edinburgh from the castle ramparts was an even more awe-inspiring experience!
It’s claimed that it is Edinburgh Castle that defines the City of Edinburgh for it is maintained that it has ‘played a vital strategic role in Scottish affairs for hundreds of years’.
It is now defined as a ‘national monument’ and it’s claimed that it ‘attracts more visitors than anywhere else in the country’.
From Edinburgh Castle one can follow ‘The Royal Mile’ which is regarded as ‘one of the world’s greatest streets’. In fact, ‘The Royal Mile’ extends from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and is described as ‘the most resonant part of the Old Town’.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse itself is a singularly imposing building. And its interior is equally impressive, its association with Mary queen of Scots being of particular interest.
The Historical Apartments, which constitute the oldest parts of the place, are specifically associated with Mary queen of Scots, primarily because of the brutal murder that took place there.
For it was here that a particularly gruesome historic scene was enacted, when the Queen’s secretary, David Rizzio, was stabbed fifty six times and then dragged through the Queen’s Bedchamber into the Outer Chamber!
The murder had been arranged by the Queen’s jealous husband Lord Darnley – and even now an uneasy air of menace seems to pervade the premises……..
Aongside the Palace of Holyroodhouse stands the ruins of the thirteenth century Holyrood Abbey. Here Charles I was crowned in 1633, but it was attacked by an ‘anti-Catholic group’ in 1688, and many years later even its roof collapsed.
It has been described as a ‘poignant ruin’ but its melancholy aspect is said to have ‘inspired’ numerous artists, including Felix Mendelssonn, who, after viewing the ruins, is claimed to have maintained: “I believe I have found the beginning of my Scottish Symphony there today!”
Described as ‘one of Edinburgh’s main assets’ is the area known as Holyrood Park, where it’s possible to take leisurely walks away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.
A favourite walk takes one beneath one of the main features of the Edinburgh skyline – namely Salisbury Crags. It’s even possible to walk along the top of the crags, from where one gets a magnificent view of the Palace of Holyroodhouse itself.
The park is encircled by a road known as Queen’s Drive, which leads to a man-made pond called St. Margaret’s Loch. From here Dunsapie Loch, another man-made pond, can also be reached.
And it is from here that the ascent of ‘Arthur’s Seat’ can be made.
‘Arthur’s Seat’ is a huge extinct volcano which stands at 823 feet above sea level and represents Edinburgh’s most prominent landmark.
The ascent to the top of ‘Arthur’s Seat’ can be made via a grassy slope and then a rocky path.
And the views from the summit is claimed to be unsurpassable, overlooking as it does the whole of Edinburgh City. Furthermore, on a clear day, the view can include both the Firth of Forth and a few mountainous peaks of the Highlands.
Its choice of name still remains a mystery, however, since the Celtic King Arthur of the Holy Grail is not generally associated with Scotland……
There are so many interesting places to see in Edinburgh that it’s difficult to be selective when one has a limited period of time available.
The National Museum of Scotland is considered to be one of the city’s ‘must see’ places, and it’s described as ‘Scotland’s premier museum’. The building spans five floors, and follows the country’s history from its earliest origins to the present day. It also has a restaurant on its topmost floor known as ‘The Tower’ where traditional Scottish fare such as shellfish and Aberdeen Angus Steaks can be enjoyed whilst overlooking a view of the city. And this view is particularly spectacular at night since ‘The Tower’ overlooks the floodlit castle, which dominates the skyline.
I was interested in visiting the ‘Writers’ Museum’, which is dedicated to the three men who are considered to be Scotland’s greatest writers – namely Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. The museum also contained exhibits relating to some of Scotland’s other notable writers and poets
‘The Surgeons’ Hall Museum’ too proved particularly interesting – if somewhat macabre and gruesome! Edinburgh having been a ‘leading centre for medical and anatomical research’ during the 18th and 19th century, it laid claim to leading medical pioneers such as James Young Simpson – the founder of anaesthetics, and Joseph Lister – described as ‘the father of modern surgery’. In the early 1800s bodies were being constantly sought for dissection. And this was when Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare capitalised on this need by ‘murdering’ people – rather than ‘digging-up’ freshly interred corpses – and then selling their dead victims to the Anatomy Department.
William Hare, it is claimed, ‘turned king’s evidence’ and William Burke was convicted of murder. And it’s said that he was hanged in the High Street before a crowd of 25,000 spectators!
And afterwards his body was used for the purposes of dissection……
Also featured at the museum was a display of items relating to the college president, Joseph Bell, on whom the character Sherlock Holmes was modelled by his pupil, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And I made a point of visiting the roundabout known as Picardy Place, near where a statue of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stands. The statue had been designed to commemorate Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was born in the area in 1869, and who later studied medicine at Edinburgh University – and as previously mentioned, modelled the character of Sherlock Holmes on the college president Joseph Bell.
A ‘Scott Monument’ also occupies a corner of Edinburgh. Described as ‘the largest memorial to a man of letters anywhere in the world’ the 200 foot high ‘Scott Monument’ was erected in memory of Sir Walter Scott, who was born in Edinburgh in 1771, and who also studied Law at the University there.
A particularly poignant Edinburgh monument is a statue dedicated to a Skye Terrier. Known as ‘Greyfriars Bobby Statue’, the terrier is said to have watched over his master’s grave for 14 years following his death. He was fed and cared for by the local community, and when the dog itself eventually died, a statue of him was created and occupies a site south of the Royal Mile.
Walt Disney, apparently, even made a film featuring the story!
Modern writers too do not pass unnoticed in the city of Edinburgh.
‘The Elephant House’, a café situated south of The Royal Mile is purported to be the place where J.K. Rowling chose as a ‘warm corner’ to ‘scribble’ her first ‘Harry Potter’ novel over a cup of coffee. And ‘The Oxford Bar’ is claimed to be the favourite bar of Ian Rankin – the creator of ‘The Inspector Rebus’ books.
No trip to Edinburgh can be called complete without sampling some ‘Scotch Whisky’. Of particular local interest is the ‘Glenkinchie Whisky’, referred to as ‘the lowland malt’, which is made just outside Edinburgh in East Lothian
Edinburgh also lays claim to a ‘Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre’ which is purported to be a ‘showcase for Scotland’s national drink’. It offers an introduction to what is referred to a ‘the water of life’ and also involves a tour of a ‘scale model of a distillery’. And one can end the tour with a visit to the premises’ ‘whisky bar’ and restaurant!
What better way of ending a visit to Edinburgh……
Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.
The city of Edinburgh is well known for the annual Fringe Festival which celebrates and showcases talent within the arts, but there’s a lot more on offer in this busy Scottish city than the summer festival of fun. For a start, there are other festivals held here, the most famous one being the annual military tattoo which takes place outside the castle. There’s also the Royal Highland Show in June and an international science festival in April.
Festivals aside, Edinburgh is a diverse, exciting place to visit. The museums and art galleries here can take up a day’s visiting alone. The national gallery of Scotland Complex is free to enter and shows works by Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin and many others. The Queens’ Gallery on the Royal Mile has changing exhibitions, including a wide range of art and treasures held in trust by The Queen. Then there’s the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. This is also free to enter and includes works by Dali, Warhol and Hirst.
If you’re looking for more of an experience The Real Mary King’s Close is a guided tour of Edinburgh’s famous underground streets, showing what life was like in the city in the 17th century. Later in the evening the Edinburgh literary pub tour begins at the Beehive Inn.
Shopping can also be a bit of an experience in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Old Town Weaving company shows tartan being woven on the premises. Upstairs there’s an information point where you can find the tartan for any clan, as well as other information on Scottish names and history. In the Scotch Whisky Experience by the castle not only can you buy your favourite single malt, but there’s a tour which lasts about an hour revealing the mysteries of whisky and offering free tastings.
When it comes to eating out in Edinburgh there’s a wide choice, ranging from lunch time cafes, Indian restaurants, Thai, Italian and many bistros. The Rhubarb restaurant on Prestonfield Road recently won Best Hotel Restaurant 2007 and is the latest restaurant from James Thomson whose other Restaurant, The Witchery By The Castle is already Scotland’s most famous place to dine out.
Walk the streets of Edinburgh and you’ll notice many pubs and bars. The Golf tavern overlooks Bruntsfield Links and is a unique place to enjoy a drink. The Bollinger Bar at Palm Court is Scotland’s only Bollinger Champagne bar. The Prestoungrange Gothenburg on the High Street brew their own real ales on the premises. And The Jam House on Queen Street is Edinburgh’s newest Live music venue, also offering fine dining in this old Georgian town house.
If you want something a little more lively The Stand Comedy Club has the best in Scottish and international stand-up comedy. There are many theatres and playhouses such as the Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Nicolson Street and the Ross Open Air Theatre in Princes Street Gardens. But if you want something more authentic The Thistle on Leith Street boasts the best traditional Scottish entertainment the city has to offer.