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Edinburgh Rocks

Despite my protestations that Glasgow is a better city than Edinburgh, I do love a good visit to the Capital city. With friends in the past and present living there, I’ve had ample opportunities to visit, as well as attending theatre shows and exhibitions with my family throughout the years. From summer festivals to the winter markets and Hogmanay, there is something on all year round. So there was no doubt in my mind that Edinburgh would be a part of my trip home.

On a Saturday in the middle of June, I boarded the bus into Glasgow’s Buchanan Bus Station and managed a quick turnaround there to get on the Citylink bus to Edinburgh, and settled in for the journey looking out at the grey skies that persisted the whole way. I had a good bit of outdoor sightseeing planned, so was a little disappointed at the forecast that had been issued. Undeterred, I was looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends, and was met by one of them on getting off the bus. Not yet festival time, there was still a buzz in the air as we left St Andrew’s Bus Station, and I was reminded immediately why tourists love this place.

Arriving mid-morning, our priority was brunch, and we set off in search a cafe that my friend recommended. Amongst the grand buildings of George Street, we worked our way to Frederick Street where Urban Angel was, and after filling our stomachs, it was time to burn it all back off again. There are a few spots in Edinburgh to get the classic views, and Calton Hill is one of them. At the eastern end of Princes Street, one of a collection of paths leads up steps to the top of the hill where a collection of monuments and an observatory are scattered across its summit.

 

By now several weeks into my holiday over-indulgence, I was beginning to feel immensely unfit, a thought which raised some concerns for the multi-day hike that was coming up in just a couple of weeks. Pushing those thoughts aside, there is much to see from here, with views north over Leith and beyond to the Firth of Forth, and over the city centre to the south-west. Edinburgh Castle stands tall on its rocky promontory across the city and the distinctive peaks of the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat lie almost directly opposite.

 

The clouds were considering breaking up a little and small patches of blue pock-marked the sky above us. Edinburgh’s Old Town has a distinctive look about it, with many buildings of grandeure and turrets and towers aplenty. From here I could spy my next target, one of Edinburgh’s many famous landmarks, the Scott Monument. For all my previous visits, I had never realised that you could climb up it, so this would be something new for me. By the time we’d retraced our steps down the hill and along Princes Street to its base, the sun had come out with gusto and the warmth was welcomed.

 

Built to commemorate Sir Walter Scott, construction began in 1840, a few years after his death. Standing at over 60metres high, a series of spiral staircases lead up a total of 287 steps to multiple viewing platforms at different elevations. Overlooking the Princes Street gardens and Princes Street itself, it quickly became one of my favourite viewpoints of the city. With every level gained, the view grew more expansive, and even the tower itself was something to admire, with statues and detail adorning it at every level. With the clouds all but gone, we could see for miles in every direction. The only downside was that the higher we climbed, the narrower both the staircase and the viewing platforms got, making it quite awkward to negotiate the large numbers of people that were up the tower with us. Especially at the top, there was a queue to circumnavigate the platform, followed by a queue to get back down again. It was the height of the tourist season, a weekend, and a sunny day, so it was hardly surprising.

 

We took a quick look at the stained glass windows on the lower level as we made our way back down, and back out in the sunshine, my friend headed off for the afternoon and I wandered around some tourist shops waiting for the arrival of another friend. I found some Edinburgh Rock, a rather sweet and sugary candy that I hadn’t had since I was a kid, and parked myself up on the sunny roof space of the Princes Mall until my friend arrived. We made a beeline for the Royal Mile which was packed with locals, tourists and buskers. In direct line with Edinburgh Castle at its western end, the High Street section is a broad pedestrian thoroughfare, lined with bars, restaurants and tourist shops, and the outdoor seating that sprawled outside was packed at every venue.

 

We watched a busker swallow a sword before heading off down hill to the lower Royal Mile which is open to traffic, and at its end, Holyrood Palace and the relatively recent addition of the architecturally unique, Scottish Parliament building. Last time I’d visited, my friend and I had gone inside the Parliament building for a tour, and at certain days and times, this is a regularly offered possibility depending on sittings. But our target on this occasion was the ice cream van parked up at the bottom of Salisbury Crags. By now it was very warm, and I was not dressed for a hike. I had been keen to get up Arthur’s Seat, a climb I’d only done once before, but on such a warm day, and having already found Calton Hill to get me in a puff, I was suddenly in two minds.

 

My friend suggested we head only as far as the St Anthony chapel ruins just a little up the hillside, and that seemed more than fine by me. Munching on our ice creams, we took our time and enjoyed the view over St Margaret’s Loch below us. After a respite, and watching the other walkers push on upwards, we opted to go up to the top of the Crags and see how we felt. It was a busy place to be with friends and families, walkers and joggers making a steady line both up and down the hillside. Once again, after having a rest on a lower plateau, we decided we’d gone all that way up, we might as well keep going, and so we summited Arthur’s Seat which was absolutely packed. The last time we’d come up here, we had taken an alternate route up, so it was nice to have done it differently. Once again, the view is phenomenal, looking out over the city to the west and the Firth of Forth to the north.

 

We had plans to meet back up with my other friend that night, but there was still plenty of time ahead of us. Returning to the Royal Mile which is littered with closes (alleys), we went to Mary King’s Close, one of many parts of Edinburgh that is haunted. Unfortunately they were booked out for a few hours, so instead we headed up the hill to Camera Obscura, a place that I hadn’t been to before. Dating from the mid-19th century, it has become an interactive world of illusion with the Camera Obscura itself still occupying the top floor. The roof has an outdoor space providing yet another view point of the city and as the demonstrations of the camera are timed, we had a little time to enjoy the vista before heading indoors.

 

After the camera’s demonstration, we worked our way down the six floors filled with optical illusions, negotiating the maze of mirrors and a vortex tunnel. Even as an adult, this was fun, so although the entrance fee is rather pricey, there was plenty to look at and explore, and worth doing once if you have a lot of time in the city. We took silly photos in the various interactive sections and wandered round the large gift shop at the bottom before heading off in search of dinner.

 

We chanced our luck at a rooftop Thai restaurant on Castle Street and were rewarded with a table on the balcony. Presumably named after the large river that runs through Bangkok, Chaophraya was fantastic. We sipped on glorious cocktails in the evening sun, and enjoyed delicious food before it was time to head back to the Royal Mile. The restaurant was upstairs off Castle Street, and walking down this street, we were overlooked by the greatness of Edinburgh Castle. There was still hours of daylight ahead, being only a few days away from the longest day of the year, but the lowering evening sun cast a different light on the old buildings as we headed up the hill to the Royal Mile.

 

Catching up with my other friend again, the three of us joined the crowd at the meeting place for our City of the Dead tour. Edinburgh, like many old cities, is rife with ghost stories, and there are plenty of opportunities to go ghost hunting. Another activity I’d not done here, I’d managed to convince my friends to join me on the hunt for the Mackenzie Poltergeist, supposedly one of the World’s most documented poltergeists. As a regular solo traveller, I will do almost anything on my own quite happily, including gallivanting across the world and volunteering in countries where English is not the first language. But doing a ghost tour is not one of the things I would do on my own, so convincing people to join me had been the first step.

From the very beginning, I knew it was going to be good. Our tour guide was an absolute Character with a capital C. He really made that tour, and was amazing at building up the hype and buzz around the haunted graveyard. Our destination was Greyfriars Kirkyard, perhaps more famous because of the fable of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a little dog that wouldn’t leave the side of his master’s grave, resulting in him getting his own statue on the street outside. But amongst the ‘true’ story of the ‘wee dug’, was tales of death and crime and Harry Potter. Indeed, for those who read the books of J K Rowling, who wrote them nearby, there are a lot of familiar sounding names related to this graveyard.

 

The culmination of the tour is entering the locked section of the graveyard, the Covenanters Prison, where the poltergeist activity is said to be at its highest. With regular reports of people being physically injured, our guide had us in the palm of his hands by this point, having expertly weaved his tale of the history of the site. The tension amongst the group was palpable as we crowded into a vault near the entrance. To find out what happens next, I cannot recommend this tour enough. For us though, afterwards we made our way back to Waverley Station to see off one friend, then St Andrew’s Bus Station where I left my other friend behind to take the bus back to Glasgow, more than satisfied with my day in the Capital.

Scottish Castles

There are two things I miss about Scotland: snow and history. Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand clearly has history (and snow for that matter), but with its discovery by Europeans occurring only in the 17th century, and the discovery by any settler suspected to be in the 14th century, its historical background and development are a mere blip in comparison to the 12,000 years of known settlements in Scotland. Getting away from the region known as the Central Belt (the urban region that spans Glasgow to the west and Edinburgh to the east), it isn’t hard to find buildings or remains that easily out-date the point in time when New Zealand was discovered.

Scotland has over 2,000 castles in varying states of repair – some well maintained and open to the public, others a mere crumbling shell left to ruin. Edinburgh Castle is the most well known to foreigners, but for me it is far from my favourite. Living for several years in Aberdeen in the north east, I was within an easy drive of several castles, and over the years of my life and over multiple holidays, I’ve visited and explored many of them in varying parts of the country. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of several of them, having visited them as a child, but below is a mere selection of the castles out there waiting to be explored.

Inverness Castle.

Inverness Castle

Urquhart Castle.

Urqhart Castle, Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle

Castle Fraser.

 

Duart Castle.

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Torosay Castle.

Torosay Castle, Isle of Mull

Torosay Castle, Isle of Mull

 

Glengorm Castle.

Glengorm Castle, Isle of Mull

Aros Castle.

Aros Castle, Isle of Mull

Invermark Castle.

Invermark Castle, Grampian

Dunnottar Castle.

Dunnottar Castle, Grampian

Dunnottar Castle, Grampian

Crathes Castle.

Crathes Castle, Grampian

Crathes Castle, Grampian

Crathes Castle, Grampian

St Andrews Castle.

St Andrews Castle

Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle

Eilean Donan Castle.

Inveraray Castle.

Inveraray Castle

Slains Castle.

Slains Castle, Grampian

Slains Castle

Dunrobin Castle.

Loch An Eilein Castle.

Castle on the island, Loch An Eilein

Noltland Castle.

Noltland Castle, Westray

Earl’s Palace.

Earl's Palace, Birsay

Ardvreck Castle.

Culzean Castle.

 

Newark Castle.

Pictorial Guide to Scotland

I have to admit to feeling a bit homesick of late. I live in a beautiful country, which has many similarities to the beautiful country I grew up in. Having recently been to Adelaide in South Australia, a state which feels it has been left out of the tourist stakes by its flashier cousins to the east, it got me thinking about my home country of Scotland, an amazing country that is often overlooked. In some parts of the world, Scotland is considered as nothing more than a state of England, or a country of little significance in the world, or one not worth making the effort to visit. Worst still, is that many people who do visit go nowhere other than Edinburgh and maybe Loch Ness to try and spot a mythical creature that doesn’t even exist. The amount of people I’ve met on my many travels who regale me with their trip to Scotland when in actual fact they saw little more than the capital city is astounding. Certainly, being a Glaswegian, I can’t deny my biased preference for the country’s largest city, but the beauty of Scotland lies in its myriad of islands scattered all up the west coast and to the north, and in the ruggedness of the mainland’s west coast and stark isolation, as well as the endearing draw of the National Parks. Whilst I could write multiple posts about this amazing country, I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

NATIONAL PARKS:

Cairngorm National Park.

Loch An Eilein in the Rothiemurchus forest

Loch An Eilein in the Rothiemurchus forest

Cairngorm Mountains

Cairngorm Mountains

Glen Clova in Cairngorm National Park

Glen Clova in Cairngorm National Park

Heather in bloom in Glen Muick

Heather in bloom in Glen Muick

Loch Muick

Loch Muick

Old boathouse at Loch Muick

Old boathouse at Loch Muick

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

CITIES & TOWNS:

Glasgow.

Flying over the suburbs of Glasgow

Flying over the suburbs of Glasgow

Strathclyde Park in Glasgow

Strathclyde Park in Glasgow

Edinburgh.

Forth Rail Bridge across the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh

Forth Rail Bridge across the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle as viewed from the back

Edinburgh Castle as viewed from the back

The city of Edinburgh viewed from Arthur's Seat

The city of Edinburgh viewed from Arthur’s Seat

Aberdeen.

Union Square Gardens, Aberdeen

Union Square Gardens, Aberdeen

River Dee frozen in winter

River Dee frozen in winter

Aberdeen promenade

Aberdeen promenade

Inverness.

The river Ness passing through Inverness

The river Ness passing through Inverness

Kessock Bridge spanning the Beauly Firth near Inverness

Kessock Bridge spanning the Beauly Firth near Inverness

Fort William.

Crinnan Canal outside Fort William

Crinnan Canal outside Fort William

Perth.

Flying over Perth

Flying over Perth

ISLANDS:

Isle of Arran – Firth of Clyde.

Goatfell on Arran

Goatfell on Arran

Barra – Outer Hebrides.

Traigh Sgurabhal with Beinn Sgurabhal in the background

Traigh Sgurabhal with Beinn Sgurabhal in the background

Cidhe Eolaigearraidh, with Fuday across the bay

Cidhe Eolaigearraidh, with Fuday across the bay

On Barra, looking towards Orosaigh

On Barra, looking towards Orosaigh

Benbecula – Outer Hebrides.

Benbecula

Benbecula

Benbecula

Benbecula

Rueval summit, Benbecula

Rueval summit, Benbecula

Berneray – Outer Hebrides.

Berneray

Berneray

Sandy beach on Berneray

Sandy beach on Berneray

Looking across to Ensay & Killegray from Beinn Shleibhe on Berneray

Looking across to Ensay & Killegray from Beinn Shleibhe on Berneray

Looking towards Ensay & Killegray from a beach on Berneray

Looking towards Ensay & Killegray from a beach on Berneray

Sand dunes on Berneray

Sand dunes on Berneray

Bute – Firth of Clyde.

Cows on the Isle of Bute

Cows on the Isle of Bute

Looking towards Isle of Arran from Isle of Bute

Looking towards Isle of Arran from Isle of Bute

Cumbrae – Firth of Clyde.

Millport on Cumbrae

Millport on Cumbrae

Eriskay – Outer Hebrides.

Eriskay

Eriskay

Flodda – Outer Hebrides.

Flodda

Flodda

Gigha – Inner Hebrides.

Achamore House on Gigha

Achamore House on Gigha

Looking towards Islay from Gigha

Looking towards Islay from Gigha

Beautiful Gigha coastline

Beautiful Gigha coastline

Grimsay – Outer Hebrides.

Grimsay

Grimsay

Iona – Inner Hebrides.

Iona

Iona

Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey

Isle of May – Firth of Forth.

Looking towards the lighthouse on Isle of May

Looking towards the lighthouse on Isle of May

Lismore – Inner Hebrides.

Flying over Lismore Island

Flying over Lismore Island

Isle of Mull – Inner Hebrides.

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

The barren west of Mull

The barren west of Mull

West coast of Mull

West coast of Mull

Abandoned boats on the Mull coastline

Abandoned boats on the Mull coastline

North Uist – Outer Hebrides.

North Uist

North Uist

North Uist

North Uist

Triagh Iar, North Uist

Triagh Iar, North Uist

Oitir Mhor, North Uist

Oitir Mhor, North Uist

Orkney Mainland

 

Papa Westray

 

Isle of Skye – Inner Hebrides.

Uig bay

Uig bay

Quiraing

Quiraing

Waternish

Waternish

Point of Ness, Durnish

Point of Ness, Durnish

Loch Slaplin

Loch Slaplin

Loch Slaplin with the Cuillins Range behind

Loch Slaplin with the Cuillins Range behind

South Uist – Outer Hebrides.

Road sign at the South Uist to Eriskay causeway

Road sign at the South Uist to Eriskay causeway

Looking towards Eriskay from South Uist

Looking towards Eriskay from South Uist

Ludag, South Uist

Ludag, South Uist

Beautiful, secluded, white sandy beach

Beautiful, secluded, white sandy beach

South Uist

South Uist

Staffa – Inner Hebrides.

Fingall's Cave, Staffa

Fingall’s Cave, Staffa

Ulva – Inner Hebrides.

Ulva

Ulva

Vatersay – Outer Hebrides.

Vatersay beach

Vatersay beach

Westray.

 

MAINLAND REGIONS:

Highlands.

Kyle of Loch Alsh with the Skye bridge

Kyle of Loch Alsh with the Skye bridge

Loch Duich in the lowering sun

Loch Duich in the lowering sun

Gairloch

Gairloch

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

Flying over the mountains to the east of Oban

Flying over the mountains to the east of Oban

Loch Etive

Loch Etive

Ben More & Loch Lubhair

Ben More & Loch Lubhair

Grampian.

Near Loch Kinnord

Near Loch Kinnord

Loch Kinnord

Loch Kinnord

Loch Lee

Loch Lee

Invermark Castle

Invermark Castle

Balmedie beach north of Aberdeen

Balmedie beach north of Aberdeen

Slain's Castle

Slain’s Castle

North Sea coastline at Slain's Castle

North Sea coastline at Slain’s Castle

Ythan Estuary at Newburgh

Ythan Estuary at Newburgh

Sand dune near Newburgh

Sand dune near Newburgh

Beach south of Collieston

Beach south of Collieston

Perthshire.

Loch Turret reservoir

Loch Turret reservoir

Queen's View, Loch Tummel

Queen’s View, Loch Tummel

St Fillans on the bank of Loch Earn

St Fillans on the bank of Loch Earn

Stirlingshire.

 

Fife.

St Andrews

St Andrews

South-eastern corner of the Kingdom of Fife

South-eastern corner of the Kingdom of Fife

Patchwork quilt of farmland in Fife

Patchwork quilt of farmland in Fife

Argyll.

Inveraray bridge

Inveraray bridge

Loch Awe

Loch Awe

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