If there has been a place that I have longed to visit in my life, it’s Scotland. And now I am here, and I am loving every second of it.
Edinburgh has proven especially seductive to me. Like Charleston, she is a port city with a vibrant downtown that is as steeped in history as it is in the business of today. Unlike my Carolina home, Edinburgh is cool, especially right now. But the cold air gives the city a crisp, clean feel.
The stones with which most of the buildings have been built range from a muted brown to a deep gray. It’s as if the city itself has merged with the overcast sky that has been ever-present since my arrival. But it hasn’t inspired a melancholy in me, and I haven’t noted it in the natives either. Most people I’ve met have been cheerful, pleasant, and gracious.
Today was my first day to explore, and that’s exactly what I did. For this entire journey, I’m going to approach each day like a sandbox experience. I don’t want to know where I am going at every second of the day. I want to come to four-way stops and follow the wind. I’m not opposed to taking an official tour, but I would rather that the place and its people reveal themselves to me with each momentary choice.
A lovely woman at Graze on Grassmarket asked me what I would like to eat. I asked her to make me whatever she would serve to family. She presented me with an egg sandwich with mushrooms and Scottish pork sausage with a brown gravy. It was a delightful start to the day, and I was ready to walk.
I had spent the night before walking around near the hostel where I am staying, so I decided to go seek new ground. I crossed the Northbridge and turned to the right and soon discovered an open iron gate with stone steps leading up a steep hill. It was the Old Calton Cemetery. Now, while I am not quite as morbid as Edgar Allan Poe, I do have a fondness for cemeteries. I love the moss creeping over the old stone work, the interesting epitaphs, and the reminder that so many before us have lived their lives and walked similar ground. I found the grave of renowned philosopher David Hume. There’s in fact a massive statue dedicated to Hume on the Royal Mile near St. Giles. I also found a tribute to Scottish American soldiers. What caught my eye was the life-size bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln.
After leaving the cemetery, I looked up and saw an old building sitting atop the hill across the street. I had no idea what it was, so I headed that way.
What I discovered on Calton Hill was the Nelson Monument, a lighthouse-like tower that looks out over the harbor that stretches between Edinburgh and Fife. The monument is dedicated to Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, the man who led the British fleet against Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar. Now, if you want to climb the entire tower, you’ll need to pay the attendant five pounds, but it’s totally worth it. To that point, it was the best view that I had had of Edinburgh. The gentleman who took my five pounds was the one who helped me orient myself.
When I asked about the land across the harbor, he said, “That there is the kingdom of Fife. I say it’s the kingdom of Fife because all the Scottish kings used to come from Fife.”
There was a pride and pleasure in his voice that I had noted before in conversations with other Scotsmen and women.
I asked him about a high plateau of rock and grass that would provide an even higher vantage point to look over Edinburgh. He told me that they were the Salisbury Crags.
I said that’s my next destination. I started walking, and soon found myself before the Scottish Parliament and looking across the street at a sign that said “The Queen’s Gallery Shop.” I decided to take a look. I saw I guy wearing green plaid pants standing under an arch. I walked up.
He said, “If you want to see the Queen’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, you’ll need to buy a ticket.”
When I realized that I was standing in front of Queen Elizabeth’s residence in Scotland, I bought a ticket and got one of the automated tours.
For those of you who have enjoyed the history of Mary Queen of Scots, the Jacobite uprising, and the rise of the Stuarts, this is a great place to visit. You could spend a couple of hours listening to the tour, looking at ancient paintings, seeing the royal gardens, and soaking up history, I stood in Mary’s bedroom. I learned why there is a chained unicorn on the royal crest of the Stuarts. In the playroom for tiny royals, I found a painting of Macbeth. Go figure.
As I left, I asked one of the wardens about the Salisbury Crags.
He said, “It’ll be windy on Arthur’s Seat.”
I had heard of Arthur’s Seat before traveling here, but I didn’t know exactly where it was. Now I did, and I headed out with even more determination.
I saw lots of joggers and tourists on the paths up to Arthur’s Seat. And yes. I said paths. The top of this hill is surrounded by paths and some smaller hills. The wet spongy grass, red mud, and white rock its constantly being blasted by cold ocean winds. It’s definitely worth braving the cold and the occasional slippery footing, though. Arthur’s Seat provides the most spectacular view of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas.
I will spend a couple more days here. I know that there is so much more to see and experience of this lovely northern city by the sea.
Until my next post, keep looking to the heavens and seeking your own star.