British Isles- Day 7- Edinburgh, Scotland
Tues. July 19,2011- Edinburgh, Scotland
We were up early on this fine morning in the North Sea. The clock read 4:45 A.M.,but it was already light outside. The great ship had dropped anchor in the Firth of Forth, Scotland. It is an inlet of the North Sea, North of Edinburgh. We made our way to deck fifteen and had breakfast with an elderly couple from Arizona. Either one of them had had several cups of coffee already or had not talked to anyone in a long time:)
The ship was tendering its passengers ashore today utilizing its fleet os small lifeboats. From the balcony, I could enjoy the visage of rural Scotland. The lands around the inlet are shades of green and tan reflecting crops we later learned of barley and wheat, supplies for the Whiskey making production prominent in the area.
The tender pushed off from the ship at 8:00 A.M. and we made the short ride to a very small pier ashore. A band of native pipers, in full scottish regalia, welcomed us with lively tunes even at this early hour. The burr from their speech was as thick as the heather. We filed into the large bus and began our tour for the day. Our guide, Ian McDonald, gave us a brief synopsis of the Scotland.
Scotland is about the size of the state of Maine in the USA. It harbors five million residents and is noted for the production of Scotch Whiskey, woolen products and various agricultural goods. Most of its population lives around the two major cities of Glasgow, and Edinburgh, its capital.
For the Scots, history is a present state of mind. Tales of Robert The Bruce, first King of Scotland and defeater of the English King Edward II still live in their minds. The recent movie “Braveheart” had done much to stir up their nationalistic feelings. A taste of the revenues from North Sea Oil also added to the mix. University education's are free to native Scots, but jobs are scarce and the cities struggle to get by.
Famous historical figures like Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Lister, Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott all hail from this neck of the woods. Whatever problems the Scottish economy is undergoing, didn’t detract from the beauty of the countryside. Sheep, with their colorfully painted spots, crops of wheat, barley and the green grass of a wet climate offer a portrait of rural beauty to us, as we made our way into the Capital.
The Georgian style solidity of the buildings in Edingurgh first gets your attention. They are stately, if grime sooted from the weather and acid rain. We passed by Holly Rood, the Royal Castle in Edinburgh. The Queen stays here while in the area. The new parliament building is an exercise in bad taste. Someone had let some architects with an odd sense of design off the leash here.
We were headed for the rocky expanse of Edinburgh castle that looms over the area from atop the rocky volcanic pinnacle of an old lava plug. The black stone forms a significant mound upon which a castle has been placed for long as anyone remembers, The approach to the castle from Holly Rood is called the “Royal Mile.” It is a series of boutiques, pubs, shops and Inns flanking a cobbled stone street for a mile and gently rising up to the castle’s main gate which is protected by a drawbridge and a moat. Statues of William Wallace and Robert Bruce flank the entrance. A wooden fortification had first stood here in the 1400s.
Ian shepherded us up to the gate where her procured tickets for us to enter the castle. This wasn’t an idle service. When we left the castle, a few hours later, the line to buy tickets and enter was over an hour’s wait.
Before we entered the castle we walked through a small outdoor stadium. Here, the Scots hold “Tattoos.” They are fife, pipers and drum
competitions that draw thousands of spectators. It is a much treasured event by local Scots.
Inside the castle, the cobbled path ascends in a spiral that takes you to the very top of the ramparts of the castle. Ancient, black metal cannon stand guard still over the landscape, which stretches out for miles before you. At the top of the castle a courtyard, about 100 feet square, makes up the central keep. In one of the four buildings, we got in line to view the “Scottish Crown Jewels.” Like the Scots themselves, they are a parsimonious offering. A large and ornate sword, a tiara, a crown and an orb make up the treasure. Surrounding it are a multi media presentation of Scottish history and all of its major figures.
Next to this building sits the “Great Hall.” Inside, the walls are lined with those wonderful Claymores, Scottish broadswords, pikes and other weapons. Different suits of armor and other medieval bric a brac line the walls of this stately and comfortable ceremonial hall. We enjoyed the pennants and remnants of Scottish military history. Underneath the hall a series of steps winds down a few levels to a basement complex where German prisoners of war from W.W. II and other prisoners from several conflicts had been been held. Their story is memorialized in implements that they left behind.
Across the courtyard in what had been the main chapel of the castle is now a moving memorial to the Scots who lost their lives in W.W. I. The valiant highlanders had given much to the cause. These fine lads are remembered here, with the names and colors of their regiments, for younger Scots to come and remember. It is a ceremonial hall of remembrance worthy of those whom it honors.
We stopped briefly in the castle's “redcoat cafe” and had scones with jam and clotted cream and cappuccino. It is a wonderful combination that we were becoming addicted to. The rains broke overhead as we were inside. Flocks of tourist from many countries flowed into the cafe.
It was time for us to make our way out. As we walked down the
slippery cobbles stoned paths, throngs of other tourist were making their way in. The line to enter the castle snaked through the stadium and down the lane of the Royal Mile. Best advice is to get here early and wear good shoes. Also, carry some rain gear. And do try the clotted cream and jam on scones.
We tried to browse the shops below the castle, but the crowds were just too big. We drifted in this sea of people and eventually sat at a bus stop waiting for our grand chariot. It came shortly and we headed back toward the Firth of Forth some 45 minutes away. We passed again through the pastoral countryside, pregnant with wheat, and oats and barley.
At the small pier on the Firth, we boarded a large ferry that was carrying Princess passengers to the ship. It was sro. The sky overhead was blue and the air cool. PIpers were trilling their mournful sounds on the dock as we said good bye to Edinburgh and all of its history.
Aboard ship, we had a brief lunch in the Horizons cafe and wandered topside. The decks were empty. The odd visage of a large movie screen playing a film to no audience was another effect worthy of a science fiction movie. From the top deck, we looked out on the pastoral beauty of the Scottish Country side all around us and were glad we had come to this wet and beautiful land.
We read for a while in our cabin and then made our way to the gym on deck eighteen. It is fully equipped and helps you feel less guilty for the enormous quantities of food you are inhaling. An hour of this was enough to slake our guilt for the day.
Dinner in the Davinci dining room was lively. We shared the table with couples from Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio. Calamari, black bean soup, Red Snapper filet and Rocky Road Iced Cream did a good job in reversing the effects of our gym visit.
We decided to take in the entertainment in the Princess Theater. A talented pianist, by the name of Kyle Esplin a native Scot, much entertained us in the musical style of Jerry Lee Lewis. The man has talent. It was a great show. Yawning at the 11:30 P.M. hour, we made our way to the cabin to read and retire.. The ship had weighed anchor during dinner. We were headed for a small firth at the top of Scotland, Invergordon, just north of Inverness.