In the past 2 months, I’ve spent time in 6 different European countries, enjoying their cultures and hiking. But like the midges of Scotland, the more you scratch, the more the travel bug itches. So, under the again rising heel of COVID, I flew to Edinburgh for a long weekend to explore Scotland’s capital.
While it rained for most my first day in the city, I still made the most of seeing what I could, starting with a most glorious Full Scottish Breakfast, including haggis. Then I was off to explore the rainswept streets looking for indoor activities.
Compared to many other cities in the UK, Edinburgh is perhaps the most majestic, with grand architecture across much of the city, and classic stone buildings which turn black in the rain.
At the edge of the New Town, a gothic spire pokes up into the grey sky dedicated to the writer Sir Walter Scott. In the early 19th century, he wrote the famous poem The Lady of the Lake, along with the novels Waverley, Rob Roy, and Ivanhoe. He now sits beneath the spire in polished marble contemplating the rain.
On the eastern end of the New City, the craggy, grass-covered Calton Hill protrudes from the cityscape. I climbed it on the rainy first day of my visit, but not all of the views were muted. The Dugald Stewart monument, dedicated to a Scottish philosopher, was built in 1831 and modelled after the Tower of the Winds in Athens. In the background is the Old Town with the gloomy Edinburgh Castle in the distance.
I climbed it again on my second day, with the sun out, for better views across the city to the Firth of Forth.
There are several monuments on the hill, including The National Monument of Scotland, left unfinished in 1829, a memorial to soldiers and sailors who perished in the Napoleonic Wars.
Nelson’s Tower monument, to commemorate Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.
At the top of the hill is an observatory. I investigated the domed building to discover a philosophical experiment where, over time, they are collecting 3D renditions of people to populate a new world. I came for the views and ended up getting digitised to live among thousands of other digital souls in the exhibit.
Camera Obscura and The World of Illusions
On the Royal mile near the Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions is the oldest purpose-built attraction in Edinburgh. Over five floors, plus the roof, there are more than 100 interactive illusion based exhibits, although the Camera Obscura is closed due to COVID.
But, the rooftop still gives one of the better views of Edinburgh, even across the wet city.
The kinds of things you see in the World of Illusions are quite varied, with mirrors featuring in many ways, in 3D representations and other twisted mirror illusions. Other tricks include a collection of multi-view pictures like the one below, shadow photographic stunts, on the fly software morphing, and various electrical tricks. While it is popular with kids, it’s also fun for adults on a rainy day.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience
After visiting the Guinness brewery in Dublin, I couldn’t not do the Scotch Whiskey Experience while in Edinburgh. The tour begins in a moving barrel gliding through the process of making Scotch Whiskey. It then teaches us about the five different regions of Scotch distillation and each of their characteristics.
We were then walked through a room with a collection of 3000 unopened bottles, no two the same, one bottle having been bought for US$3000 in the 1970s.
The final part of the experience is, of course, the tasting. The standard silver tour comes with a single tasting, but the gold, which I bought, includes five so I could try all of the different regional Scotches.
With the sun coming out on my second day in Edinburgh, I explored the grand castle on the hill.
Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in Scotland and one of the most attacked places in the world. In its 1100-year history, it’s been under siege some 26 times.
But, after the Lang Siege in the 16th century, it had to be rebuilt as it had been largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. There’s a vast amount of history in the walls, with several small museums, and, of course, great views in all directions.
Leith and the Firth of Forth
With the sun continuing to hold on the 2nd day of my visit, I took a thirty-minute walk along a street lined with polished stone building out to the port district of Leith beside the Firth of Forth.
Leith has a definite British suburban feel, similar to where I live in Wembley, but once on the waterfront, it steps it up a notch, with expensive-looking high-rises and hotels. I walked along the coast a little way to Newhaven, before cutting back into central Edinburgh. All up about a 6-mile walk, well needed after the big breakfasts and all the Scotch.
The Edinburgh Dungeon
The dungeon is one of several underground ‘shows’ designed to showcase some of Edinburgh’s history but includes visitor interactions, 4D style effects, frights and laughs.
Visitors head down through small underground corridors in dim light to several well set up small rooms. We witnessed a witch trial, some haunted rooms where we learned of some gruesome deaths, witnessed ghosts looking for vengeance and hung out in the sewer sanctuary of cannibals. The acting and storytelling were excellent, although the COVID masks did impede speech for some of the quieter speakers.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city architecturally with plenty to do inside during the rain, typical for Scotland, but also many outdoor activities for those lucky enough to see the sun.
Until next time,
The World Wanderer.