Thursday 10 September
Our last day in Europe as Lilly’s Schengen Visa allows us only 90 days and that is up tomorrow. Catch the X95 bus just along from our apartment and make the airport about 11am. From the heat of Athens (down to around 30 today) to the cool of Edinburgh.
Our first EasyJet flight worked fine and we get into Edinburgh after a 4 hour trip at 4pm. First impressions of the city of Edinburgh are very positive. It is sunny and warm. Our apartment in North Bridge Road is beautiful, functional and central. Bit later we get supplies, the sun has gone and we need our jackets. Settle in for a quiet evening of TV with all stations in English, even if some of the accents are a wee bit different.
Friday 11 September
We visit the Tourist Centre and get a map and effectively confirmation of want we plan for today. Sort out the location of Europcar for tomorrow, then leave the station at Calton Road and climb up Calton Hill. Quite a climb. This hill contains iconic monuments and buildings: the National Monument (redolent of the Parthenon), the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the old Royal High School, the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs’ Monument and the City Observatory. Lilly snaps away. We enjoy panoramic views of the city, including down the length of Princes street (the main shopping thoroughfare) and Edinburgh Castle.
St Andrews House is on the southern side of Calton Hill and is the headquarters building of the Scottish Government. It stands on the site of the former Calton Jail apparently a much hated prison 100 years ago.
We walk down through Regent Gardens to see a little turreted structure called the Bath House because it is supposedly where Mary, Queen of Scots, used to bathe in sweet white wine.
At the Palace of Holyroodhouse I enquire about ticket prices – a little more than Stg 20 each or almost A$100 for the two of us, a bit steep Your Majesty. I suggest to the ticket girls that those prices must be inclusive of a cuppa with the Queen, one of them says chip in another fiver and I might get lucky. We take photos from the outside only, sorry ma’am.
Mightily impressed by our next stop at the Scottish Parliament. Free entry and a great presentation of historical events and the devolution of powers to the new parliament since 1999. Unfortunately parliament does not meet on Fridays. Shows how little I knew of Scottish history that I did not realise that Scotland had no parliament from 1707 to 1999. It can now decide on a range of matters that are known as devolved matters but certain reserved matters remain the responsibility of the UK Parliament alone (bearing in mind Scotland has 59 representatives there). Reserved matters include foreign affairs, defence, immigration, social security and financial, although Scotland can also apparently change taxes by up to 3p in the pound.
Further up the Royal Mile we visit the Museum of Edinburgh which houses a collection relating to the town’s origins, history and legends. Watch an excellent film on the history of Edinburgh. On the other side The People’s Story explores the lives of Edinburgh’s ordinary people at work and play from the late 18th century to today. We don’t visit here nor John Knox House, former residence of the Protestant reformer John Knox during the 16th century. Knox was a leader of the Protestant Reformation and is considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland.
After lunch and a break our next stop is St Giles Cathedral, is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. The present church dates from the late 14th century, though it was extensively restored in the 19th century,
At the top of the Edinburgh Castle we find the esplanade where the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is performed annually by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands and display teams.The event takes place annually throughout August, as part of the wider Edinburgh Festival.
In the castle itself we take a guided tour. Not always easy to hear the guide. There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. By the 17th century it was principally used as military barracks with a large garrison. Various restoration programs have been carried out over the past century and a half and the site is the most visited by tourists of anywhere in Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Research undertaken in 2014 identified 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history, giving it a claim to having been “the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world”. St Margaret’s Chapel within the castle dates from the early 12th century and is regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh.
We make our way down a steep street past the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy to Princes Street. Also take pics of the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world. We enter the iconic shop Jenners briefly but don’t stay long, we are not in shopping mode.
A block over from Princes Street we see St Andrew Square began in 1772 as the first part of the New Town, designed by James Craig. Within six years of its completion St Andrew Square became one of the most desirable and most fashionable residential areas in the city. At one time the square could claim to be the richest area of its size in the whole of Scotland. There is a huge monument to Henry Dundas who was key in the encouragement of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the prosecution of the war against France, in opposing the abolition of slavery, and in the expansion of British influence in India, dominating the affairs of the East India Company.
Saturday 12 September
It is probably a typical Scottish autumn day, cold, wet and gloomy. We pick up our Ford Focus rental, no dramas, trying to remember we are now back to driving on the left. Most of the road signs I can understand and the traffic is not so chaotic.
First stop is the other side of the firth of the Forth, which is the estuary of the River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea. The adjacent rail bridge, which is 2,529 metres long and 100 metres high, was the largest cantilever span in the world when it opened in 1890 and is today a World Heritage site. The Forth Road Bridge is a suspension bridge which opened in 1964. It replaced a centuries-old ferry service across the Forth. We stop for photos of these two massive bridges but it is foggy and they are not good. Construction has begun on another bridge, following the discovery of potentially serious structural issues with the Forth Road Bridge.
We stop next at the Wallace Monument, a tower standing on the summit of Abbey Craig, a hilltop near Stirling. It commemorates Sir William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish hero who was one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence. He defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Later following his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 he was handed over to King Edward I of England, who had him hanged, drawn, and quartered for high treason and crimes against English civilians.
It is cold and raining when we get to Stirling Castle and we take pics from the outside only. Besides parking the admission fees are just too steep anyway. Also we have seen many castles (including Edinburgh’s yesterday) on our long journey. Apparently it date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and has been the site at which several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned, including Mary, Queen of Scots. There have been many sieges of Stirling Castle, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.
What is it about Scotland that their admission prices are just way over the top? Having travelled extensively in Europe for three months Lilly and I have some idea of what is reasonable in the context of the attraction, particularly its historical significance. Stirling castle admission in our view should be a maximum Stg 5, parking free.
We travel on to the Falkirk Wheel which is the rotating boat lift, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The lift, named after the nearby town of Falkirk in central Scotland, opened in 2002. It reconnects the two canals for the first time since the 1930s as part of the Millennium Link project. The wheel raises boats by 24 metres, but the Union Canal is still 11 metres higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel. Boats must also pass through a pair of locks between the top of the wheel and the Union Canal.
We travel through the city of Glasgow, which is Scotland’s largest city with a population of 600,000. The traffic is bad for miles before the city. We take photos but don’t stop as we drive through the central city and on to Lanark. We book into our B&B at the Lanark racecourse accommodation (basic but comfortable) to get changed out of our wet gear. Then drive to New Lanark a couple of kilometres away.
It has stopped raining but is now almost 4pm a bit too late to go on a guided tour of this village on the River Clyde. New Lanark was founded in 1786 by David Dale, who built cotton mills and housing for the mill workers. The mills were built here to take advantage of the water power provided by the only waterfalls on the River Clyde. It became a successful business and an epitome of utopian socialism as well as an early example of a planned settlement.
The mills operated until 1968. A trust was formed in 1974 to prevent demolition of the village and by 2006 most of the buildings were restored and the village is inhabited and has become a major tourist attraction. It is one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland.
We wander around and end up viewing most of the site, including the Counting House (like a Head Office), an original dwelling in one of the buildings and the machinery that is still being used to produce wool after blending/teasing, carding, spinning, winding, plying and hanking. Caithness Row was completed in 1793 and converted into 16 housing association flats in the late 1960s. When it was first constructed it housed up to 200 families. We see where a canal has been diverted to power the mill. There is also a wedding group below at one of the original mill sites, proof of tenanted homes in this very impressive village.