September 5th-7th, 2014
Since today is voting day for the Scottish Referendum, I thought it would be fitting to write about our most recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Two weeks ago, Stephen and I arrived at King’s Cross Station, where I was thrilled to finally take my picture at Platform 9 ¾. Well, I would have been thrilled if it had actually happened, but, as usual, we were running late, and I was hangry. Faced with the choice between seeing Platform 9 ¾ and food, I am ashamed to say I chose food. In the end, we only had enough time to grab a croissant and dash to our own platform, the much more Muggle platform 4. The train trip was about 4.5 hours, and we went through some really beautiful countryside filled with lots of sheep, hedgerows, and stone cottages. But, you know how in the Harry Potter books the lady comes around with a trolley where you can buy sweets and food? Yeah, they really do that here. So I had a quasi-Harry Potter experience, if that entails being on a train that has a trolley and is headed to Scotland.
Our first glimpse of Edinburgh was like something out of a Gothic novel. The buildings rise out of the cobblestoned ground so spiky and ornate, with countless alleys and stairways linking them. It is a view that just begs for horse-drawn carriages, blowing rain, and torches. Which is all very romantic and breathtaking until you are on the 212th stair, at which point it seems a lot less romantic, but still breathtaking, just in a different, unpleasant way. Basically, a gazillion years ago, the area had lots of volcanic activity which left hardened magma all over the place. Then glaciers moved through the area, exposing all of that igneous rock and carving new valleys and peaks from the softer ground around it. The result is a city which has just about everything—hills, crags, valleys, shoreline—and which makes a stunning place like Edinburgh Castle possible.
The Castle was our first real stop of the day, although in the interest of complete honesty, after dropping off our bags at the hotel, all those stairs necessitated stopping into a pub for some refreshment. Which we happily did, and where I just as happily ordered a venison burger. Yes, you read that right. Venison. It was almost like I was home again and eating deer burgers with my family. Except that it had goat cheese and cranberry sauce on it, which was surprisingly delicious. Something to consider, Dad. 🙂
After refilling our tanks, we walked up the Royal Mile, so called because the road stretches about a mile between the two royal residences, Holyrood Palace, the queen’s official Scottish residence, and Edinburgh Castle, where no one ever lived unless they had to. And for good reason. It is exactly as a castle should be—grand, imposing, secure, stone, and defensible—with all of the less happy implications of such a building, namely cold, damp, and very inaccessible. It was clearly built with a preference for purpose over comfort; you would have really hated to be stuck there during peacetime, but man, would you have thanked your lucky stars to have it during any sort of threat. The castle is on a crag, so the walls are literally built on top of and even around shiny, black, volcanic rock. You can see outcroppings all over the place. Again, it was one of those places that just cried out for blowing rain, which the weather soon provided. I don’t have very many pictures because it was hard to hold my umbrella in one hand and take a picture with my phone in the other. And I think by this time I was pretty tired, cranky, and cold.
Before we left, we saw the Scottish crown jewels, the Stone of Scone, and the room where James I of England/ VI of Scotland was born. I had never heard of the Stone of Scone before visiting Westminster Abbey, but it is a really interesting historic relic. In ancient times, the stone was thought to be holy, and it was used to crown Scottish monarchs. Edward I took it back to England as a spoil of war, and for the next 700 years, the English (and later British) monarchs started using it for their own coronations. It is now kept permanently at the Castle but transported to Westminster during coronations, where it sits in an especially made slot at the bottom of the Coronation Chair. Up until a few decades ago, the stone was housed at Westminster, and back in the 1950s, some Scottish nationalists actually stole it and returned it to Scotland, who had to return it back to Westminster. Possibly the most fought after bit of rock ever? Maybe.
The next day we toured Holyrood Palace, where Mary Queen of Scots lived and where Bonnie Prince Charlie held court for a few weeks during the Jacobite uprising. We even saw the bloodstained floorboards where Lord Darnley and his co-conspirators murdered Mary Queen of Scot’s secretary, David Rizzio. They stabbed him 56 times. In front of her. At dinner. While she was pregnant. And you thought your husband had jealousy issues.
One of the best parts of the trip? Eating haggis in New Town. New Town is Georgian-fronted perfection, like Bath, but bigger. And yes, haggis. I don’t know what’s not to love. It tastes like meat. It is heavily spiced. And it is usually deep-fried. It is an American’s dream.
Equally as contentious as haggis, the Scottish referendum campaigning was going on at full swing while we were there. The Yes and No campaign were talking to voters in the town squares, and the windows of homes and apartments were plastered with signs. People were discussing it over coffee and wearing little pins on their shirts. One of our waiters had even written some articles for the paper for the No campaign. It was a such a scene of civic and democratic involvement. The news predicts that a record-breaking number of people will be showing up at the polls today. Whether or not Scotland becomes an independent country, I think they can all be proud of how many, and how eagerly, the people participated in the democratic process. And independent or not, we cannot wait to go back to Edinburgh. Hogmanay, here we come!