Last week being our spring break, we decided to head north where the weather was certainly not better than home, but we got to enjoy Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands.
We took a morning flight to Edinburgh and made our way into the heart of the city via the tram. Once there, we went to lunch at a pub where we jumped right in and tried haggis as an appetizer. Surprisingly, it was really good-just don’t think too hard about what it is. Surviving that, we got a pint of Scottish beer and vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) as well as fish and chips for our main meal. We also decided to try a few whiskies since we were in Scotland after all. The bartender recommended some that are good for beginners, and also surprisingly, they were good and not too strong for our tastes. To complete our meal, we had to order sticky toffee pudding as it is a favorite of ours.
Everything was really good, and with our first meal down, we headed into the old town. Our first stop was the Scott Monument built for Sir Walter Scott. Interestingly enough, the monument was not intended to be black, but all the coal that was burned in the city over the years turned it black.
Our next point of interest was St. Giles Cathedral. It was quite nice inside with interesting architecture and stained glass.
From here, we walked to the Writer’s Museum with memorabilia about Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson-all Scottish writers.
Then, we walked up the Royal Mile to the Edinburgh Castle and back down. We stopped in a few shops along the way and took in all the unique people walking the streets. I truly have never seen so many interesting and unique individuals concentrated in one location before.
After checking into our apartment, we went to get some dinner at a restaurant around the corner. There, we had vegetarian wellington, vegan shepherd’s pie and vegetarian haggis. We all liked it.
On our way back to the apartment, we stopped at some of the buildings of the University of Edinburgh which was directly across from our apartment. Then, we headed in for the night to try some of the candies we bought during the day-Edinburgh rock, Scottish tablet, Soor Plooms and some shortbread. Everything was nice but the tablet sure was sugary!
Today, we started with a big breakfast- a full Scottish which included haggis, eggs, mushrooms, tomato, bread, hashbrown, beans and tattie (potato) scone. Most of us got the vegetarian version, but one got the regular and it also included black pudding. We tried a little strawberries and cream tea with it as well.
After breakfast, we took a taxi to the outskirts of the city to visit Craigmillar Castle. Some areas are not open to the public, but we walked through what is. There wasn’t a lot to see, but we did see the room that belonged to Mary Queen of Scots when she recovered from an illness there and the area where her second husband, Lord Darnley, was killed.
Near the grounds, there was a small nature area that we walked through before getting back into the heart of the city for lunch in another pub.
We began the lunch with Irn Bru sodas for the kids and beer and a hot toddy for the grownups. We also tried a cheese platter with relishes and oatcakes. For the main meal, we got the vegetarian bangers and mash, fish and chips, a pork pie and Cullen skink soup which was really good. For our dessert, we had to try the famed fried Mars bars-if you enjoy fried things, then it wasn’t too shabby.
After lunch, we walked to Holyrood Palace.
This is where the royal family (as in the British one) stay when they are in Scotland. We walked through several rooms and saw some “treasures” such as jewelry, swords and mementos. We also saw the rooms that had belonged to Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley. We walked out to the abbey ruins on the grounds and the garden.
Next, we made our way to Holyrood Park where we decided to sit around a lake with tons of swans, gulls, pigeons and ducks for a bit.
On our way back to our apartment, we stopped at the Greyfriar Bobby monument-a tribute to the dog who laid at his master’s grave every night for about 14 years before he died.
We also walked through the graveyard there which is where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for some of her characters’ names in the Harry Potter series.
For dinner, we decided to try a Brazilian place by our apartment. Let’s just say we weren’t impressed.
Today, we headed out of the city to the Highlands, so we grabbed a quick breakfast of cheese and onion pasties and a Scottish pie and got on our bus.
After driving for a while, our first stop was the small village of Pitlochry where we grabbed a quick snack of a tattie scone roll and caramel slice.
Back on the road, we drove through the Cairngorms National Park on our way to Inverness and Loch Ness.
We had a lunch on the edge of the loch of stovies (potato and other veggies stewed and mashed together) before boarding the boat to sail down the loch.
No sightings of Nessie but we did have some nice views before getting off at Urquhart Castle. The castle was mainly just ruins, but we were able to walk around the area for a while enjoying some views before heading in the visitor center to watch a short film about the site.
Once we were back on the bus, we drove toward Ben Nevis-the highest point in Scotland.
We also stopped in Glencoe to see three hills referred to as the sister hills.
The views along the way were very pretty with waterfalls, mountains, hills, lochs, streams, fields and a huge peat bog called Rannoch Moor.
We saw several deer along the way including the Red Deer. The tour did make a stop to feed some Highland Cows, but as we see them all the time near our home, we decided to watch the lambs in the fields nearby. They were pretty cute!
On our way back to the city, we drove by Bannock Burn, the battlefield site of Robert the Bruce’s victory against the English, and we could see the site of William Wallace’s victory of Stirling Bridge in the distance. It was a day of very nice scenery and no less than four rainbows!
Breakfast was once again the full Scottish breakfast for most of the family, but I tried the porridge with fruit and honey which was really good along with some blood orange marmalade tea.
Then, we boarded our next tour which was a shorter day to the Borders in the south of the country. Unlike the day before, the scenery here consisted of very wide, open, sweeping views. It was still very hilly, though. Everything was very green and looked pastoral with all the sheep. We made a brief stop at what is known as Scott’s view (a place that Sir Walter Scott enjoyed visiting) and then headed into the town of Melrose to see Melrose Abbey.
Most of the abbey was closed for safety reasons so there wasn’t too much to see, but we had lunch in the town.
After lunch, we made our way to Rosslyn Chapel. The chapel is quite small, but it has so many carvings and details. The carvings are very symbolic and pretty.
We stopped in the museum café to have some scones with jam and cream before driving back to Edinburgh.
We went to dinner which was not that special, but we did have a cider and a whisky flight which was nice, and we tried cranachan (berries and cream) for dessert which was good.
Today was our final tour out of the city. Our first stop was the Kelpies which is a large metal monument to the horses that used to work pulling the boats down the canal in the area as well as the mythical creatures known as kelpies that take the form of a horse.
From there, we made our way to Loch Lomond for a cruise on the loch. The views were pretty, and there were lots of nice “homes” along the shoreline. These “homes” were large estates and castles-some privately owned, some hotels and some owned by foundations. There was also a huge snowy mountain in the distance.
After the loch cruise, we went into a small town where we got some lunch of Scotch Broth and some whisky fudge.
After lunch, we drove through the Trossachs National Park. The views were really great with hills, mountains, forested roads, lochs, streams and fields with tons of sheep and lambs. It was very enjoyable to just look out the window!
Our next stop was Stirling Castle which had some interesting bits of history as it was built by Mary Queen of Scots’s father for her mother, and it was where her son was baptized.
I really enjoyed seeing the Stirling Faces which were the old wooden carvings that used to be on the ceiling of one of the rooms as well as the kitchens where they had information on things that they used to serve including recipes.
While we were at the castle, we got caught in a hail/snow storm that was immediately followed by full sun. Once the sun came back out, we were able to get some good views of the William Wallace monument at Stirling Bridge as well as a statue commemorating Robert the Bruce.
With a few minutes to spare before our tour bus headed out, we ran down into the town of Stirling to see a unicorn (national animal of Scotland) statue which used to signal the site of a royal market and a cool old church with graveyard.
Our final stop of the day was a photo stop at the three bridges in Edinburgh that span the Firth of Forth-the Queens Ferry Crossing, the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge. Interestingly, each was built in a different century-the 19th, 20th and 21st.
After returning, we went to dinner where some of us got things we had before while others got sausages and mash (both vegetarian and regular). We also tried a couple of whiskies, a beer and treacle for dessert.
Our final day was a rainy one, but we made it to Deacon’s House Café for a breakfast of scones with cream and jam and an orange cake which was good.
We also learned a little about the café. It was once the workshop of Deacon Brodie who was a cabinet maker by day and a burglar by night. He is said to be the inspiration for the story of Jekyll and Hyde. After breakfast, we went on a tour of the underground vaults of Edinburgh which was both a bit interesting and a bit spooky. Apparently, many criminals and homeless used to live in the vaults centuries ago. At one point, the city was on fire for many days and all of the people living underground died because they were trapped, and the stone walls heated up. Therefore, it is thought to be very haunted but really it was just hard to imagine people living in those conditions.
After the tour, it was still raining, so we rode the hop on and off bus around the city for an hour or so to take in some more views of the city.
We then found a place for lunch where we had vegetarian haggis and cock a leekie terrine. We also tried two whisky flights-a mild one and a seaweed and smoke flight which was pretty interesting and good. For dessert, we tried a rhubarb cranachan and toffee pudding.
Finally, the rain stopped so we walked to St. Cuthbert’s cathedral. We couldn’t go inside, but we walked around the graveyard.
Then, we collected our bags and made our way to the airport. However, we were in for a surprise when they canceled our flight an hour and a half before departure. After struggling to get everything sorted, we made our way to an airport hotel feeling a bit frustrated. Interestingly enough though, once in our room, we saw a huge double rainbow that was so bright and vivid it was unreal!
I wish I could tell you that the rainbow signaled that all would be fine-good luck ahead. Unfortunately, the next day we got a call that our dog was unwell at the boarders with a herniated disk, our daughter threw up 7 times from the moment we stepped onto the skywalk to board the plane until the car ride home from the airport (that’s only about a 3-hour time span) and the windshield of our month-old car got chipped on the way to pick up our animals. But we arrived home in one piece, and we all had a nice time on our trip, so we can’t complain too much! Until next time!
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