Everything I’d ever heard about Edinburgh led me to believe it would be fantastic – the crown jewel of the United Kingdom, I had heard – but nobody had sufficiently explained to me why or how that was.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, and what the beholder sees is totally subjective. One person may like the architecture, another the museums, and someone else may love the restaurants, but for me the truly amazing thing about Edinburgh is the scenery. It’s not just beautiful, it is truly unique and defies description. That amazing volcanic ridge they call the Royal Mile that runs downhill from Edinburgh’s castle to Holyrood Palace is like nothing I’ve ever seen in all my travels.
I had read so much about the Royal Mile – it is the heart of Old Town Edinburgh, after all – but somehow I never grasped that it rose above the rest of the city like the backbone of a prehistoric reptile with churches, museums, shops, restaurants, and all sorts of miscellaneous ancient stone buildings clinging to its sides, looking as if they’re about to slide off into the Princes Street Gardens.
Edinburgh Castle, the pinnacle of the Royal Mile, is on the western end of the ridge. I knew it was on a hill; I’d seen photos. But I had no idea how high that hill was. We saw the castle from the lowlands of New Town our first night. Yes, it was on a hill overlooking the city, but I couldn’t see anything below it in the dark; I had no perspective. Even in the light of the next day I didn’t have true perspective until I stood right below it and thought, We don’t really have to climb that mountain to see the castle, do we? Surely there was some funicular or at the very least bus service that transported tourists to the top. No one told me I would have to scale a mountain. Who knew?
Climb the mountain we did. Not nearly as bad as it looked from the bottom, thank goodness. The views from the highest point of the castle are truly spectacular – well worth the climb. And from up there I could see, as clear as day, what all the fuss is about.
(click or double click on photo to zoom & pan)
The people of Inverness love their sun sheds in their gardens. (We even saw bumper stickers that say “I love my shed”.) This one, on the property of the cottage we stayed in, is on a turntable so you can change its position to catch the sun at all times.
Thank you, Chrysanne and Jack, for having a French press in this adorable little cottage. And thank you, Marcus, for suggesting I buy evaporated milk to substitute for half-and-half. Now, I’m all for doing as the locals do (I did try haggis, after all), but they just can’t make decent coffee. And adding milk only dilutes it further and makes it gray and unappetizing. I am loving my Java Sumatra this morning!
There are hundreds of castles in Great Britain, and we know we can’t see them all – even if we wanted to. So we are being selective about the ones we do see. So far we have seen three. The first was Culzean (pronounced Cul-ane) on the coast in Ayrshire, a majestic family estate belonging to the Kennedy family of Scottish shipbuilding fame.
We saw the second and third castles yesterday: Eilean Donan, after returning to the mainland from the Isle of Skye, and Urquhart farther east on the banks of Loch Ness on our way to Inverness.
Eilean Donan castle
Both Eilean Donan and Urquhart were actual fortresses in their day, and both were blown up during the Jacobite Rebellions in the 18th century. Eilean Donan was partially restored in the 20th century, but Urquhart was left in ruins. Funny, but I think I like the ruins better.
Brief history lesson, which the Scots take very seriously to this day: When the Catholic King James (VII of Scotland and II of England) Stuart was kicked off the throne in 1688 in favor of his Protestant daughter Mary (of William and Mary), his Catholic supporters in Scotland (Jacobites) staged various rebellions against the English to try to bring the Stuart family back to Scotland – just one series in a long history of Scottish-English tussles over the years. The Jacobites were unsuccessful, and Scotland has been largely Protestant since.
The rain was blowing sideways at Neist Lighthouse on the Isle of Skye, but my LL Bean duster and wellies held up fine!
Packing update: The layers I packed are working beautifully. (See packing video.) Today I wore a cotton turtleneck, my black quilted vest, a scarf, my raincoat, and the waterproof wellies – perfect!