This last weekend was one of my best yet! I got back yesterday from an amazing trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, and I’m warning you now, this is going to be the longest post ever. I took the train up from Nottingham with Henrietta on Friday, and we had three full days and Monday morning in Edinburgh before heading back home. Needless to say, I took so. Many. Pictures. I hope, even though it will be long (I mean it does cover four whole days), this post will be interesting enough to read because it was an amazing time I’m really keen to share.
* I am coming back after finishing the post and writing this- it really is SO long and I’m sorry! Maybe break it into parts to read or something! But I promise it’s all interesting (or at least was to me)*
Our train left at 6:41 Friday morning, which was annoying because we had to wake up extra early to catch a bus to the station, but wonderful because it meant we arrived in Scotland by 11:20 so had most of the day to explore. It also meant we caught a great sunrise which I obviously loved.
Also, I really realized how little I knew/know about geography! I somehow didn’t realize Edinburgh was so close to the ocean so was so excited when the train traveled up the coast. The last hour of the ride, as we were getting into Scotland, was really beautiful… there were such cute little towns on the water, and also big rolling green hills covered in sheep (basically exactly what I imagined).
My friend Rory’s family graciously let us stay with them for the weekend, so his dad came to meet us at the train station when we arrived. That first moment waiting for him outside the station was so exciting and overwhelming- we were surrounded by so many amazing things already. From what I gathered, the city center of Edinburgh is split into 3ish parts- upper and lower Old Town, and New Town. Waverly train station is located right in between Old Town and New Town Edinburgh, sort of in the lower area, and you can see lots of great monuments and even the castle just from standing in the street outside the exit. So, Rory’s dad Campbell picked up our bags, gave us a house key, and let us go explore! We didn’t have much of an agenda for Friday as we wanted to just wander around. We had some plans in Old Town for the next day and didn’t want to spoil them, so we started by walking towards New Town.
We basically walked towards the first thing we saw that looked cool, which turned out to be the Scott Monument. It is the largest monument in the world to honor a writer, apparently, and is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. Today, though, it had other purposes as well- it was November 11th, which is Veterans Day in the US and called Armistice or Remembrance Day in the UK and other places around the world. In the UK, poppies are the symbol of the Royal British Legion, and starting a week or so before Armistice Day, everyone participates in wearing little poppies on their hats or coats or bags and decorating things with poppies to show support and raise money for veterans. There was a remembrance site at this monument, which was quite moving! The courtyard was filled with poppies, and more importantly, lots of veterans and their families. All the men were in their kilts and jackets, and the whole thing was really cool.
After wandering around the monument and into some of the touristy shops, we walked down into the Princes Street Gardens. It was mostly just trees and a nice fountain that had construction on it, but still really nice. The best part of the gardens was the view of the Edinburgh Castle, because they were right at the base of the cliffside the castle was built on.
We walked around the base of the castle and into Old Town, where we decided to get ice cream. It was both a great idea and poor one, because ice cream is always a great idea, but it was pretty darn cold outside already.
After making ourselves colder than we already were, we continued walking around Old Town a little bit. We stumbled across the Elephant House- a cafe I wanted to go to anyway but didn’t know where to find it. The Elephant House is the place JK Rowling sat while starting to write the first Harry Potter!
Right next to the cafe was Greyfriars Bobby, a statue commemorating a skye terrier with quite a reputation in the town. In 1850, a guy named John Gray was a police night watchman, and had a dog named Bobby. When John died from tuberculosis and was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, his devoted dog stayed on his grave every day for 14 years! He was fed and cared for by locals but remained faithful to his owner. He even had to be licensed (why dogs needed to be licensed I don’t understand) so Sir William Chambers, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, paid for his licensure and a special brass collar. There’s a special gravestone for him in the Greyfriars Kirkyard now too, and the statue of him has a polished nose from so many people rubbing it!
Also I find it adorable that people put sticks on the grave instead of flowers. Dogs are just the best.
We also walked around the graveyard a little bit, because we had heard a rumor that JK Rowling got the idea for the name Tom Riddle from a tombstone of Thomas Riddle. It was a pretty big (and quite pretty actually) graveyard, though, so we didn’t end up looking for long. We did find a McGonagall though…
We walked around a little more and took in all the cute streets and shops! I really enjoyed the feel of the city overall. There were definitely tourists but it wasn’t too obvious or crazy. Also, Henrietta and I loved seeing all the people in kilts, and actually enjoyed hearing bagpipes!! When they’re played well, it sounds quite nice in my opinion. There were people just playing in the streets, as well, which was fun.
We skipped ahead a little bit by accidentally doing something we planned for the next day- St. Giles Cathedral. Not like it was a problem that we did it ahead of time, but it was on the Royal Mile itinerary for Saturday. Either way, we loved it! It was my favorite cathedral I’ve been in so far. It had such a gothic style, amazing vaulted ceilings, and beautiful stained glass. We spent a considerable amount of time in there- possibly because it was warmer than outside and our hands were numb- looking at all the stained glass. Although no cathedrals probably have ‘random’ stained glass, these windows were chronological of Jesus’s life which was really cool. I loved being able to identify all the stories I was taught in Sunday school, in church, or that I’ve read in the Bible, because it gave me an even greater appreciation for all the messages presented by these works of art. Interestingly, my most recent Christ and Culture lecture was about the crucifixion in art- so that window, which was right at the front and the most detailed, I could analyze even more. I couldn’t take any pictures inside, but I encourage looking it up! It’s really something.
Since it gets dark soooo early now, we headed up to Calton Hill for a view of the city lights. Looking over the city was amazing- we really appreciated in that moment how exciting it was and how lucky we were to be in Edinburgh!
I have no clue what Nelson’s Monument actually is.
Also at the top of Calton Hill, there is an observatory, and interestingly, what was intended to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens as a memorial. However, funding in 1822 ran out during construction, so it is now called “Edinburgh’s shame” and is just one row of giant pillars.
Henrietta and I were all about the good jumping photo, so there are quite a few we took over the weekend. I think it’s worth showing the less glamourous side of our photo antics, too- so here’s Henrietta falling after trying to take a good picture on Calton Hill. #nailedit
In the evening, we rode the bus back to Rory’s house, and had spaghetti with his dad for dinner! He was seriously so generous and helpful the whole weekend. He helped us finish planning what we should do the next day, too.
Day 2- after Campbell cooked us breakfast (so much better than a hostel), he drove us out to Arthur’s seat! Today was still chilly, because it was Scotland obviously, but it was really sunny out which we were so thankful for. It meant the hike was more enjoyable and the view was even more incredible at the top! Edinburgh is supposedly built on seven hills, and Arthur’s seat is one of the more well known ones for its incredible view. Calton Hill is another one. The hike wasn’t long, probably 3ish miles? Since we were literally just climbing a hill, though, it was all steep obviously, but it was totally worth it. The view was fantastic!!
There was also the ruins of a chapel part of the way up. I don’t really know the historical significance, but I’m no longer surprised by seeing really old things that seem out of place, all over the place!
Can you spot the castle in the above picture?? (If you can’t- its on the far right third)
To continue with my theme of showing the real me, here are our most glamorous pictures from the top:
In this moment I was not thankful for the sunshine.
I mean, I actually still was. Isn’t that view amazing??? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… pictures can’t even capture it. But I do think the pictures are still pretty cool.
The coolest thing about Edinburgh being built on seven hills is that the hills are right in or around the city. So that meant when we climbed down Arthur’s Seat, we were right at the base of the Royal Mile! Basically, the Royal Mile is just a street that is a mile long from the Parliament building to the castle, with lots of other important things along the way (such as St. Giles Cathedral that we saw the day before). We decided to go to the castle first, though, because we wanted to catch the 1:00 gun- every day, at 1:00 exactly, they fire a cannon from the castle. It used to be for merchants in the city to know when the day was halfway done and afternoon was starting, and they probably just chose 1:00 instead of noon because it meant they didn’t have to fire the cannon 12 times.
So we walked up the Royal Mile and made it to the castle in time! It was a really cool castle, with great views as well because it was built on the cliff edge. It’s honestly weird thinking about the castles and other historical buildings being used functionally because of how people just tour them now! But it was quite a good castle in its day, I heard.
The 1:00 gun was actually pretty impressive! Totally worth seeing in my opinion. It was louder and more dramatic than I expected. Quite packed though and I was so afraid of blinking and missing it! And I definitely did jump when it went off.
Apparently St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest building in Edinburgh!! There were only a few small stained glass windows, but they were so intricate and interesting. It’s so cool to see how different stained glass art can be.
Some guy was playing a weird instrument for a little show in the Great Hall. We didn’t hang around.
We toured the prisons of war to see where they were kept and jailed in the 18th century, saw the “Honours of Scotland” which are their crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny (where they used to coronate their monarchs), the Scottish National War Memorial, and I think a couple other smaller things as well. It’s a big place!!
Inside the castle looked like a little village in some parts! Again, though, I had to remember people actually did live and work here, and needed places to stay. Pretty weird!
Also- I thought this was great. My mom sent me this photo of the other time I came to Edinburgh castle!! I’m in the blue hood on her back. I bet I didn’t have to pay 16 pounds to get in that time.
By this point, we were getting pretty hungry because we had skipped lunch before 1:00 to see the cannon go off. We went to the Deacon’s House Cafe, named after a guy named Brodie. There was some story of him we couldn’t really follow because snippets were posted around the walls of the cafe, and it didn’t seem very polite to lean over people’s tables to read. I think he did something to the effect of killing people and selling their bodies to medical schools or something. That could be totally inaccurate but I know he at least did something very bad! The food was good though. Don’t know why they named a cafe after him.
There are so many incredible historical things all over Edinburgh, I’m sure you could live there and not know them all. Actually, I mentioned this next one to Claire, Rory, and Emma, who are from Edinburgh, and they didn’t recognize it!
As we were walking down the Royal Mile more, just looking in shops and enjoying the street, a big parade came by! So many kilted people playing bagpipes! It was quite enjoyable and was the most Scottish thing that happened all day probably.
In an old and cool looking building, there was a market going on! I think it’s permanent actually, but still had a farmers market feel. It just reinforced my love of the juxtaposition found all over the places I’ve seen so far- such a fascinating combination of old and new in one place. The building must have been an old church or chapel or cathedral (don’t actually know the difference) because there were stained glass windows.
While it was still light out, we then walked down to the end of the Mile to see the Holyroodhouse Palace. This is where the Queen stays when she comes to Edinburgh. They give tours inside, but we weren’t too bothered seeing more fancy rooms at that point in the day. And, as Henrietta said, gotta leave some things for the next time we come!
The Palace was right next to the Parliament building, which was actually quite strange and out of place looking to me. It was built very recently, though, in 2004, because the Scottish Parliament wasn’t established until 1999. Compared to how old everything else is, that seemed pretty weird to me! I didn’t take any pictures of the building because the sun was setting so it was a little too dark, but it is very modern and interesting.
We went inside the building, because Campbell had told us about a cool photography exhibit called Seeing America, by Harry Benson. I HIGHLY recommend looking up some of his work, because I guarantee you will recognize at least a few photos. Even I recognized a lot, and most of it was before my time. He was born in Glasgow, but came to America following the Beatles, and has photographed the most presidents ever- everyone from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama! He became quite famous and seemed to be in the right place at the right time for a great number of incredible events, including being present for Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, the March Against Fear demonstration with James Meredith, and Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. It was so fascinating to see and I even learned some things about American history (reinforcing my sad realization that I am really not that knowledgable about any sort of history, even my own country’s).
After we got kicked out of the building because it was closing while we were still looking at the photos, we walked over to New Town and did some fun window shopping. Actually, we went in a bookstore for quite a while because Henrietta and I both love books. Other than that, though, we mostly looked at all the fancy shops, hotels, and restaurants, even seeing some christmas lights!! Everyone here starts celebrating, or at least talking about, christmas much earlier than is considered socially acceptable in the US, and I realized it’s because they don’t have thanksgiving (obviously) so just start after halloween! Normally, we are all used to saying that you can’t play christmas music until after thanksgiving but here nothing stops them. And christmas lights are just so nice.
We went to dinner, not at a very Scottish place I would say because we had burgers and milkshakes but oh well. Then- the best way to end the night- there were fireworks going off next to the castle as we walked to the bus! So amazing!! It was the Scotland Australia rugby match, so we got to see everyone walking around in kilts and rugby jerseys and their celebratory fireworks. The picture is awful but I wanted to take it just to remember how cool it was. (The castle is lit up behind the trees on the right.)
The next day, Campbell made us breakfast again (we couldn’t refuse! He was just so kind!) and helped us plan our hike for the day!! Their house is in an incredible location, right at the base of the Pentlands. The Pentland Hills are a regional park, and either one or multiple of the seven hills of Edinburgh. Anyway, we picked out a great route, packed lots of warm clothes, and headed to the hills!!! Henrietta and I were both so excited to be out in nature again and it was fun to be off on our own as well. The RamSoc has been great to hike with in the Peak District, but it was also cool to be guiding ourselves! (With the help of the map Campbell gave us and the route he showed us that would be good.)
The route had three main hills we climbed- Carnethy Hill, Turnhouse Hill, and Allermuir Hill. I think it was a little over 10 miles total, but it was kinda fun to say we’re used to that now! I’ve totally caught the hiking bug. It was pretty hard, because straight away all we did was climb to the top of a pretty tall hill, but the view was so rewarding again and it was just really fun. The weather today was much cloudier and windier, but also we were much more exposed at the top so it made sense it was more windy. We almost got to the point several times where we could lean back and be supported by the wind!! It was so loud and ferocious at the top. As usual, we took loads of pictures.
The jumping pictures were at the top of the first hill- we don’t know for sure but think it was the highest. It was SO cool up there but SO windy! I honestly was afraid to jump because it could’ve blown me sideways. Note me almost losing my hat in the middle.
According to Rory’s family these hills aren’t that massive actually. His mom does much bigger ones since these are too small for her now. I can definitely imagine wanting to do bigger and bigger ones, especially living so close to these (a 40 minute walk from their house to Allermuir Hill!), but really don’t think I would consider them small! It was astounding, though, the number of runners going up and down them!!! We were seriously shocked at how many there were. We were working hard just walking. Again, though, I think if I lived this close to them I would end up wanting to run them. It would be quite a thrill and they were all in amazing shape! Some of them were just crazy though and were literally wearing shorts. Terrible idea.
I only fell once.
After the first two hills, it went all the way down into a valley, and then we had to start all the way from the bottom again for the last hill. On the way up, though, was a fort of some kind? I think? I never really figured it out. I don’t know whether this was the same or something else but there was this kind of creepy underground tunnel with rooms where people stored food (and maybe lived I don’t know) a long time ago.
On our climb up Allermuir hill, the weather started getting worse and it finally started raining. Not finally as a good thing necessarily, but finally because we were expecting it for so long! It was pretty horrible weather right at the top of the hill, and to take this picture right at the summit, I was looking into the wind and therefore the rain which was actually really difficult!
There were some nice Scots that had an adorable dog at the top too which was like a reward for making it.
The view from Allermuir Hill was so good- we could see all of Edinburgh! On the right, the little lump is Arthur’s Seat, and somewhere in the middle is the castle (we could see it in real life). Then, after being thoroughly soaked, we headed down the hill and back to the house.
The next day was our last morning, so we decided to go to the museum before catching our 1:00 train. It was a shame we were on a time limit at that point, because this museum was amazing!!! It was probably my favorite museum so far but we didn’t have anywhere close to enough time to explore it fully. It was really cool because there was a new part and old part (sounds similar to basically all of Edinburgh honestly), and both were connected but quite different.
This clock thing was really amazing. It was about human suffering- there were so many intricacies and historical mentions in it, it was really a piece of art!
The building was so amazing and the layout of the museum was even interesting. That sounds silly, but I really thought it was! There were all the different sections- natural history, science and industry, cultures, art and fashion- side by side on each floor, and they progressed through time as you went up floors! So if I was in the science and industry section, and liked what I saw, I wouldn’t walk to the next room over but I would just keep going up and up.
The new part of the museum was much more casual, and was all about Scottish history. It felt like a whole new building.
Also on the new half, there was a garden terrace with a cool view. Honestly, you can get great views of the city from so many different places, but I never got tired of it.
After rushing out of the museum (sadly we didn’t even have time for the gift shop!!), we went to a place called Brunch. It was literally just called brunch. So obviously we had to go. It was really amazing because they had PANCAKES and no one here has pancakes and I missed them so much!
Finally, after brunch, we headed back to the train station. After passing through the Royal Mile on the way, we found one important thing we missed- rubbing Hume’s toe! It’s all polished like the Greyfriar Bobby’s nose. He was a philosopher I think and I heard students at the Uni of Edinburgh rub his toe for good luck before exams. I thought it was really cool that there were so many statues everywhere in Edinburgh- I haven’t seen that in a city before. Majority were up and down the Royal Mile, I think, but there were some everywhere. I tried to look up how many there were but couldn’t find it!
There were cool steps then walking down from upper Old Town to the train station, right below North Bridge, in lower Old Town. They were all different colored marble! Unsurprisingly, really slippery though.
And, 4,000 words later, that is the end of our incredible long weekend in Scotland! I seriously already am planning all the places I want to go back to, and elsewhere in Scotland. I really loved that city, and am so thankful for the opportunity I had to see it! What an amazing, amazing time!
If you made it this far, I’m really sorry at how long this was, but I do hope this was interesting. So congratulations! You finished!
And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.