Edinburgh is my first main stop, on the UK leg of this granddaddy ol Europe trip. The city itself won't be new to me, as I lived in Edinburgh for a year, but there is still much to do and re-do.
Climb Arthur’s Seat (maybe even in time for a sunrise or sunset). I dunno about sunrise, as my friends may well only just then be letting me leave the pub, but I never climbed Arthur’s Seat. I tried once, mind you, but it was January, and the ice was not agreeing with the idea.
See the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel, on the way up Arthur’s Seat. Why do I want to do this? Well, for starters it’s on the way. For seconds, well, yeah, I’m named after ol’ St. Anthony, so I’m curious.
Rosslyn Chapel. After seeing the the ruins of my first-namesake, I want to see the partially constructed chapel of my surnamesake. Rosslyn Chapel was built in the 15th century by Sir William St. Clair. A Templar Knight, Third Earl of Orkney and supporter of arts and explorations, St. Clair had planned and built one of the most unique churches in the world.
Coming back though, I'm sure there will be differences. But much will be the same. I have a few days; we built in some extra time so I could catch up with old friends in my second home.
I’m actually there just before, but August is Festival time in Edinburgh. The city will be filling up with people during the nicest days of the year, and not long after I depart for Glasgow the International Festival and the Fringe will kick off for 3 weeks of full streets and giddy madness. I’d love to be in the thick of it, but I’ve also been there before – and I will come back again. But this trip has different things in store.
Besides, just because you live somewhere doesn’t mean you do everything and see everything that the place has to offer. I got up to a lot before. Based off what I know of Edinburgh, and what I’m learning through some more reading, here are some other things I might get up to while I’m there:
Today Rosslyn, just on the western outskirts of Edinburgh, is rumored to be the hiding place of the Holy Grail. Its carvings of plants are being investigated, as at the time these plants only grew in North America, not Europe – further fueling a belief that St. Clair also commissioned an expedition to the New World in the 13th century. Okay okay, enough of chewing your eyes off with that, but I’m dying to see the place.
Duddingston Village. After climbing Arthur’s Seat, I think I’ll nip down into this quiet, rural village for a pint and a bite to eat at the Sheep Heid Inn (named for the ol’ powsowdie, sheep head stew). Hopefully I won’t get too wild, or I might wind up in the Joug Collar, an old punishment device. There is great walking at Duddingston Loch, a nature reserve.
Scott Monument, Princes Street. For the majority of my time in Edinburgh the ol’ Scotty Mons was being renovated. Covered in green scaffolding, it looked like a huge Christmas tree. I did get to go up the newly opened monument in August 2000, but I’d love to go up on another clear day, as the views of the city and the Firth of Forth of bloody gorgeous, and worth the exercise of climbing the 287 steps.
Camera Obscura. Yes, more on the tourist path, but a neat construction that projects a live 360° view of the city, while you get a presentation on Edinburgh’s history. Something I didn’t see before, but I’ve always wanted to.
Floral Clock. You’ll see this at The Mound, near Princes Street. It is what you’re thinking: a big “clock” made of flowers. I’m interested because 2003 is the hundredth anniversary of the Floral Clock, so I’m wondering if anything special is going on that might make for a good time (floral wristwatch fittings, perhaps?).
Find out where the cannonball goes. At 1pm, check your watch when you hear BOOM: the one o’clock is fired from Edinburgh Castle every day (except Sundays) so you can make sure your watch is on schedule. Watching the tourists jump is great fun. But I’ve always wanted to know where the cannonball lands.
Writer’s Museum. Because, well, I’m a writer. Inside Lad Stair’s Close, just off the Lawnmarket segment of the Royal Mile, the Writer’s Museum showcases manuscripts, pictures, info, and various wotsits of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson – Scotland’s triumvirate of writers.
The midnight ghost tour of Greyfriar’s cemetery. I learned about this new the end of my last trip to Edinburgh. There is a rather nasty spirit in Greyfriar’s cemetery, and you can go on a tour of it late at night. Ladies beware: the ghost does not like women, and has been known to attack them. Pepper spray won’t work, but the tour, I believe, finishes with enough time for you to get to the pub to calm your jangling nerves.
Verify the chickens. People still think I’m crazy when I tell them this. When in Edinburgh, you will see many beautiful, elaborate cathedrals. Your eye and heart are drawn skyward; your mind calms as your pulse quickens from the beauty and grace of the architecture. Your eye reaches the spire, climbs to the top – where, at least if you’re me, you start to laugh because that beautiful, elaborate, glorious cathedral is topped on the spire by a large gold rooster.
I kid you not. See St. Giles on the Royal Mile, for reference (unless they’ve taken down the chickens in the 3 years since I’ve been there, but somehow I doubt this). I asked around about the chickens, and after many blank stares – most folks didn’t even know the roosters were these – someone finally told me that they were weather vanes. Why on top of the cathedral? Because the churches were traditionally the tallest buildings in a village or town; therefore you’d put the weathervane at the highest point. I want to find out if this was true, or if I was a victim of Scottish wit.
Spit on the heart of the Old Tolbooth. Because my friends and I always did when we passed it (for good luck), and because the look on the tourists’ faces when they see you spitting, is bloody priceless.
Explore Canongate. I spent a lot of time on and around the Royal Mile, but I hardly ever went to the Canongate segment. Maybe subconsciously I wanted to leave something for the next trip; maybe it’s because there aren’t as many pubs on that section. I don’t know. But it’s time to complete the Mile.
Take in the rugby. Well, this doesn’t have to be in Edinburgh, Glasgow would be find for it too. But I’d love to see a rugby match. Preferably at the stadium near Haymarket in Edinburgh, but at the pub with mates around me and my hand wrapped around a pint o’ McEwan’s 80 is fine too.
Picnic on top of Calton Hill. East End of Princes Street, surrounded by monuments (mostly tributes to Classical Greek architecture), and on a clear day, one of the best places in town to have a picnic. Great views of the city and the Firth of Forth. Go during the day: if its reputation remains unchanged from when I was last there, unless you’re looking for some rented lovin’ I’d recommend you not go up after dark!
Explore more of Thistle Street. The New Town, constructed beginning in the 1760s, got its street names by the Royal Family, and to “celebrate” the merging of Scotland and England. Rose Street for England, Thistle Street for Scotland, and Queen, George and Princes streets for the royals themselves. Rose Street is a fun pedestrianized street to wander, and maybe have a drink; Thistle is quieter, and I’ve hardly ever touched it.
Leith. The docks area has gone from being kinda slummy, to going yuppie. It’s still a nice place though – I think. Fun to walk.
Dean Village. Walking through here, west of the New Town, it is leafy, quiet, and a wee river runs through. You just about forget you’re in the middle of the city. Walking the Dean Bridge over the Water of Leith is lovely.
Walking the Pentland Hills. A good friend of mine lived on the southern edge of Edinburgh, and the rolling Pentland Hills were pretty much in her backyard. We used to go walking up there, and it was always great to walk those hills.
How will I do this inside of a few days? It’s simple: have boots, will walk. Edinburgh is one of the most walkable cities you can ever visit. The buses are cheap, and can get you around easily if you don’t want to hoof from one part of town to another (taxis are for tourists… and for getting your pished arse home from the pub late at night – not that I would know anything about that, mind you). On the Mile and in the New Town’s main streets though, I’ll be walking.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I could do and see in Edinburgh. There are the galleries, the pubs of the Grassmarket, Holyrood, Edinburgh University, the Royal Botanical Gardens (home of tropical Scotland – no really). I could take in films at all the cinemas, plays at the theatres. There are outlying villages, and islands in the Firth. To the north there’s Fife, St. Andrews, and Dundee; or, to the west, there’s Stirling, from Stirling Castle to the Wallace Monument. There’s loads to see and do. Guess I’ll just have to come back again. And again. Because, after all, Edinburgh is my second home.