Watching the news most mornings before work, we hear that Scotland is cloudy, wet and dreary. That’s not the experience we had when we caught the train up north on the 4th of July…we couldn’t sit around and work knowing all our friends and family were back home enjoying the warm American holiday! It was so incredibly sunny and hot in Edinburgh that we got sun-burnt through our sunscreen and I battled a bit to balance the light exposure in my photographs.
The blistering sun cut through the narrow closes and hugged the steeples of the countless churches in the Old Town. There is a fun, vibrant energy throughout the streets of Edinburgh, and a rich sense of history still embraced by the locals. The city is a maze of steep, narrow, winding cobblestone streets, but then you turn a corner and another sweeping view of the city astounds you.
One of the most interesting things we did was take a “spooky” evening walking tour which highlighted Edinburgh’s “colorful” history. Our guide took us across the North Bridge to Calton Hill, over what used to be a reservoir for waste but as there was no decent water source to flush out the waste, it became… Shit Lake! Story has it that when they built the first bridge over the lake, the foundation was too “loose” to support the bridge, so the whole thing fell down before it was complete. Now, what was Shit Lake is home to Waverley train station…
In Calton Cemetery we learned that the population of the medieval city was too much for the finite cemetery, so bodies were buried on-top of each other at shallow depths and after a strong rain bits of corpses would poke out from the earth. These massive mausoleums were constructed by families who could afford to protect their beloved kin in the afterlife from grave robbers, who for centuries nabbed fresh bodies to sell to the budding university hospitals as cadavers (or sometimes knocked off live people for the reward!)…we can thank them for this, as the Scottish developed penicillin and anesthesia as well as a host of other important medical advancements!
We also climbed to the top of Calton hill, the infamous home to the site of thousands of witch burnings over 200 years. The view of the old town and Arthur’s seat is fantastic here, especially during twilight!
Directly in the center of town is Holyrood Park, home to Arthur’s Seat. Carved out of a 350 million year old volcanic system by the glaciers of the ice age, the hike throughout the park is an adventure in navigating the best path to the top… as soon as you think you’ve summited, you get a new vantage point of another peak! The day we climbed was pristine, and it was as if half of Edinburgh was in the park with us, but we were still able to find quiet inlets and enjoy the impressive panoramic views of the city and the harbour.
GrassMarket was a perfect stomping ground for our long weekend in Edinburgh…. just steps away from our holiday rental were pubs and cafes galore. Its certainly a favourite for British stag and hen parties, and for good reason – its the place to be!
As we walked out of our holiday rental through the gates of Porteous Pend, our line of sight was immediately captured by Edinburgh Castle, perched upon the volcanic Castle Rock at the head of the Old Town. Towering over the Grass Market, its as if the castle’s formidable walls alone tell the story of a millennium of royalty, treachery, conflict and bloodshed. To walk within its walls must have been such an unobtainable dream for anyone who lived in the shadow of Castle Rock. The castle has survived many reincarnations, including the royal residence through the 17th century, a garrison fortress, war time prison and now as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you climb up the steep roads within the castle you can get a glimpse of the Scottish crown jewels and imagine how the royalty would have thrived, but tucked underneath the main residence are the former prisons refurbished with period relics.
The Scott Monument impresses itself upon any visitor to Edinburgh arriving at the Waverley train station. This Victorian Gothic monument was built in honour of author Sir Walter Scott. Depending on where you are within the Old Town you may be able to see it peek through a narrow close from the grounds of Princes Street Gardens. It is a remarkable welcoming symbol of the city and was the perfect place to spend our last few minutes in town admiring the bespoke medieval architecture of Edinburgh.