A different life and a different time took me to Edinburgh in the midst of spring. Bright skies but the typical chill of Scotland still hung in the air. I had a 2 year old Nina in tow, but I was able to visit a lot that the historical city has to offer over the 3 days.
Our base of operations was The Barcelo Edinburgh Carlton Hotel, now a Hilton. Comfortable, and very centrally located it was a good springboard to visit Edinburgh, where most of the attractions are centrally located.
Day 1: Walking the streets and getting our bearings
We used day 1 introduce ourselves slowly to Edinburgh, admiring the old town architecture of the Royal Mile. St Giles Cathedral dominates the street, with its crown shaped spire. Keep an eye out for the heart of Midlothian outside and the intricate Mercat Cross. We ventured down Advocates Close which frames the Scott Monument well.
Our eyes lured by the vista, we backtracked across the North Bridge, and up Princes Street which has a marvellous number of picturesque views up to the castle, old town and hills above and beyond. Rain cut our afternoon short, and we retreated to our hotel.
Day 2- Edinburgh Castle
Aiming for a more productive day we headed towards the west end of the Royal Mile. The wealth of sights that we bypassed nearly upset me, from Gladstone’s land, to the Camera Obscura, to the enigmatic The Witchery hotel. Here also is the Scotch Whisky Experience, but an Irishman couldn’t go there. National pride. Finally we arrived at Edinburgh Castle. The rock on which the castle is built, is aptly named Castle Rock and is in fact a 700 year old extinct volcano. Some great photos opps exist on the esplanade in front of the castle.
The castle is mostly a collection of buildings built between the 12th and 20th centuries. They were built as the use of the castle changed and the tour around introduces us to its different guises. Admission now costs £17 for an adult. It’s worth every penny and give yourself plenty of time to see all it has to offer. The tour begins at the Gatehouse which was built in 1887 to give the castle a ceremonial entrance. From here we proceed through the Portcullis gate built in the 1570’s. The road steeply leads up to the main buildings above.
The views to Edinburgh below are panoramic. The foreboding defensive line of the Argyle Battery from 1730s and the half-moon battery from the 1500s shows the defensive importance of the castle over different centuries. Try to time your visit for the One o’clock gun which is fired daily at…you guessed it. It is fired for maritime purposes. The huge Mons Meg which was pivotal in battles in the 15th century is also found here after its return from the Tower of London in the 19th century.
The oldest standing building is the small St Margarets Chapel from the 12th Century. The stunning Royal Palace is the Home of the Scottish Crown Jewels. The Stone of Destiny (very Indiana Jonesesque) is also here, and was used in the crowning of ancient Scottish kings. The Great Hall was the centrepiece of the castle when completed. It’s high vaulted wooden roof finishes the room which was once where the Scottish Parliament sat. It has a large decorative fireplace. Its not difficult to envisage the kingdoms of old been run from within this room. It has a wonderful medieval air about it.
Worth a visit too are the Military Prison and the National War Museum, both full of artefacts and stories from the time the castle was a prison and a military garrison. We split our time while touring the castle with a coffee and lunch in the pleasant cafe. If you can expect one thing in the castle, expect crowds. It’s a busy place.
Edinburgh at Night
Day 3 – East on the Royal Mile
I dragooned Nina into a walk down the other side of the Royal Mile in the morning (ok she was 2, the choice wasn’t hers). Canongate Kirk Church was an interesting stop with an array of mausoleums and grave stones. It also looks up onto the new Parliament House above. I would have needed hours to truly explore this end of the Royal Mile. We made it as far as the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal family’s home in this part of the country. Nina’s cultural disinterest and immobility at her age led to us not venturing inside, or rambling up to Arthur’s seat. There is no shortage of museums down this end of the street, and I could easily spend a day hiking and culturing myself.
Architecturally again this area of the city shone. White Horse Close is one of the prettiest streets in the Uk. The People’s Museum with its Clock Tower was eye-catching. John Knox House is one of the oldest houses in the city. Backtracking we headed south to get a view of the castle rock face, where abseilers were making the most of its sheer drop. I couldn’t resist the urge to go see the monument to Greyfriars Bobby, probably the most loyal dog in canine history. He remained for 14 years by his masters grave until his own passing. Grassmarket Square which is en-route is lined with very quaint terraced houses.
We them headed back to the playground at Princes Streets Gardens. With Nina entertained I sneaked a chance to take some good shots of the castle and St Cuthberts Church. A little guy came out for a photo shoot amongst the trees.
On the way back I gave in to my tower addiction tackling the Scott monument. It is a Victorian Gothic monument to the Scottish author built in 1840. The tower stands 60 metres tall, and 288 spiral steps takes you to the top. How excellent. £5 gets you access. A number of viewing platforms gives good views. As well as an abundance of monuments and gargoyles, there is a museum room embellished with four marvellous stained-glass windows. Charles Dickens commented “It is like the spire of a gothic church taken off, and stuck in the ground”. He’s not far off. He wasn’t impressed but I enjoyed it.
Our last action was to head up Calton Hill. It is pleasant to ramble around and appreciate the 360 degree views. It is a windy place and its at the mercy of the elements. Adorned with monuments to honour British citizens and an observatory, it is a much easier climb than Arthurs Seat. The three stand out structures for me are the Old Observatory House, The Nelson Mounment and The National Monument of Scotland. The Observatory House, a beautiful brick house from the 18th century, was once the home of the architect of Edinburgh’s new town.
The Nelson Monument was built in 1815 to honour Admiral Horatio Nelson after his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. It sits at the highest point of Calton Hill, and was designed to resemble an upturned telescope, an instrument synonymous with the Admiral. There is a museum with free entry on the ground level or you can climb the tower for a fiver.
The National Monument of Scotland was built in the 1820’s to honour fallen sailors and soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. It was supposed to resemble the Parthenon in Greece. Funds ran dry far before completion and only one side was ever fully completed. Looked upon with disgrace and distaste at the time, it now seems poignant.
Sadly as ever, all good trips come to an end, and we departed back to Dublin on the evening flight.