Castles, Shopping, Scottish Experience and Haggis

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June 21st 2019
Published: June 21st 2019
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Our vacation is beginning to wind down, but there is still so much more to do. Today was our second day in Edinburgh. One thing is interesting, that is the pronouncing of the word Edinburgh. Although it looks like it should be EDIN BUROUGH, it is actually, EDIN BORO. Kinda cool.

Today we spent the day with William Wallace and Robert de Bruce. Now, many of you may have seen the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, the story of these two great men from Scottish history. Although a great movie, it is highly inaccurate, so take it with a grain of salt.

Wallace and Robert were an integral part of the Scottish revolution for Scottish independence. There are many, many stories of their heroic actions. One interesting story involves the castle we visited today.

In the early part of the year 1049, Edinburgh Castle was built high upon a hill overlooking the future city below. The castle was built on the top of an ancient volcano so it was easy to protect and impossible to siege (credit the word to Leonore.) The castle was the main home to kings, queens and a garrison of 300 men stationed within during the time of Bruce and Wallace.

On a dark winter night, in the cold and snow, Wallace climbed the heights outside the castle with 30 men, he felt the odds were in his favor, 10:1. How he did it against all odds was part of the legend of Wallace, but the next morning the castle was under the Scottish flag.

Now Wallace hated the British so much, he actually had the castle dismantled stone by stone! There is so much more to the Wallace and Bruce history that I implore you to research on your own.

As part of the tour we were treated to a private city guide who walked us around the old city and up into the castle. He wore his family tartan kilt and treated us to some stories including the answer to that most oft asked question, what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?”

The kilt is 27 feet of fabric that is wrapped around and around the body 4 or more times, depending on the girth of the body. There are pleats in the back and are held tight to the body with a broad belt. Heavy thick socks, a wool shirt, and vest will complete the outfit. Since there are no pockets in a kilt, the Scot fashions a purse called a sporran (credit Leanore.) The color or the Tartan symbolizes the clan or family from which the Scot hails. The kilt is such a symbol of the fierce independent spirit of the Scottish that the kilt and the bagpipe were actually banned for some time by the ruling Brits!

The castle was home to many kings, but may be best known as the sanctuary for Mary Queen of Scots on her return from France upon the death of her husband the king of France. Here sweet Mary gave birth to James VI of Scotland, who later claimed fame as King James I of England, another story I urge you to research.

We toured the apartments where Mary gave birth to little Jimmy, visited the prison that was still active during WW2, and saw the crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny. We also learned that of the 700 castles in Scotland this is the only active castle.

The castle is home to the First Scottish regiment who reside in the castle and protect the city of Edinburgh. The soldiers leave the garrison in the morning and return at night so as not to interfere with the tourists. They are active duty soldiers and carry loaded weapons.

There was so much history and legend surrounding the castle that we were there for nearly 2 hours, exploring, learning, and just walking the grounds. Soon the stomach made some interesting sounds and it was time for lunch.

We were on our own today, so we teamed up with Alan and asked one of the docents for a decent lunch recommendation. He suggested the Bulls Head Pub, outside and down below the castle in the Grassmarket. We followed his directions and quickly arrived at the pub. Although open, we were too early for lunch so we ordered a brew and just sat enjoying the view. When the time to order was allowed, we ordered local fare. Alan and I had a Scottish meat pie and Cathy, a burger. All were delicious.

After lunch we still had a great deal of free time to explore and wander. We headed up and down side streets, alleys, main streets, and parks. We shopped, talked, enjoyed a coffee and large cookie, and strolled the gardens. It was almost as if we were on vacation! The weather was perfect, sunny, and rather warm, very unusual for sure. Soon it was time to return to the coach, and wouldn't you know it, it started to rain!

We ducked the rain drops, found the coach, and settled in for the ride back to the hotel for a brief respite before our Scottish Evening.

The Scottish Evening was a dinner and entertainment evening at a venue outside of town. We arrived and were treated to the drone of bagpipes. The sound is most beautiful and eerie at the same time. The bagpipe was used by the military to rouse the troops into battle. The sound of the pipes was said to be the reason the Scots fought so hard.

The evening entertainment featured a marvelous dinner, which included Haggis as a main treat. Now Haggis has an unique mystique about it. Haggis is made with sheep pluck (liver, heart and lung) mixed with oats, suet, spices all blended into what is called black pudding. The word Haggis is usually met with some kind of groan and bad facial expression, and comments such as YUCK. The Haggis was presented with much fanfare, the playing of the pipes, and the reading of the Homage to the Haggis by Robert Burns. It was great fun.

The Haggis was served and many at my table would not taste it. I, however, tasted it and I was pleasantly surprised by the full bodied flavor of spices and pepper. I would describe it something like a heavily peppered meatloaf. I enjoyed it and asked Cathy to research the recipe!

The dinner also included much wine, meat or vegetable plates, and sweet desserts. All the while we were treated to music, song, and dance. The action was loud, raucous and much fun. The evening soon came to a close and we were back to the hotel for a much needed rest.

A word about bathrooms. In Europe the shower and bath facilities are not what we are used to in the states. First, there is no shower curtain. Instead they have a glass wall that covers half or less of the tub. You have to swing the water shield out of the way, climb in, and return the shield to prevent most of the water ending up on the floor. This presents unique issues for those of us who like to run the water as we shower. Here you turn on the water, get wet, turn off the water, soap up and then rinse off. Very efficient but unusual. Water pressure also leaves much to be desired as is the quality of the hot water.

Basically I am saying, no need to complain about the shower; it will not change. Figure it out, make the best of it, and you will be much happier.

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