|Smokestacks galore gave "Old Smelly" a bad name|
Yea, that’s Edinburgh’s nickname – “Auld Reikie” which means Old Smelly. Haaa, we laughed when our driver informed us that people call the second largest city in Scotland “old smelly” because of the many chimneys that once spewed coal smoke from the businesses and residences of the city.
|Our Northlink Ferry from the Orkneys|
As we arrived in Aberdeen from our overnight ferry from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, our private driver Hamish was there to pick up the four of us at the ferry station and start the 150-mile tour south toward Edinburgh. It would ordinarily take about four hours driving time, but we planned to make a few stops along the way.
|Beautiful but undesirable gorse|
As we sped along, Hamish pointed out the lovely yellow-flowered scrub brush called “gorse” that adorned the roadsides and the Scottish countryside. Altho beautiful this time of year, it is a thick & thorny bush with no timber value. It might make a good fence line if you had a bad neighbor. The Scottish government has been trying to rid Scotland of it for years.
|Dramatically located Stirling Castle|
Our 1st tour stop was Stirling Castle, one of Scotland’s greatest castles, which is located between the cities of Dundee and Edinburgh. The battle of Stirling Bridge near the castle was made famous on 11 September of 1297, when William Wallace (aka Braveheart) defeated Longshank’s English army. William Wallace is quite the prominent figure here in Scotland, and the Scot history is replete with the escapades of this popular folk hero.
|Courtyard at Stirling Castle|
Inside, the 900-year-old Stirling Castle was designed for the Scottish kings to impress their guests with a cobblestoned courtyard, Royal Apartments, and Royal Chapel.
|Frank, always the engineer, marvels at the Falkirk Wheel|
The Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel is one of those marvelous engineering inventions that Frank has wanted to see firsthand ever since Anne discovered it in her trip research.
|The Falkirk Wheel prepares to move boats from the lower|
level to the upper
It is an ingenious lock system that moves small riverboats 30 feet up or down to different river levels in just minutes and expends a minimal amount of energy in doing it. It involves a rotating wheel-like structure large enough to simultaneously lift two balanced trays of water each carrying river boats -- one tray of boats to the higher level and the other to the lower level. We observed the operation and also had the opportunity to ride a boat thru the lock to experience the wheel and lock for ourselves!
|The mythical Kelpies seem to rise up out of the ground|
We stopped to see the sculptures of the mythical horses known as The Kelpies who used to rise up from the lochs and snatch human beings. The powerful structures also represent the role that horses played in shaping the industries of the Falkirk area. The two horsey sculptures are made of stainless steel plates and each stand about 100 feet tall. Their artistry draws quite a crowd. The sculptures project upward high enough above trees and other obstacles such that they can also be clearly seen from all the main roads around the area as you drive by their resting spot in Helix Park.
|Hiking the Royal Mile|
Edinburgh and the Royal Mile
Of course, we wanted to walk the Royal Mile, the most famous street in Old Town Edinburgh. As the name implies, it is approximately one mile long and runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.
|New friends Jo and Loreen|
As we walked toward Holyrood, we encountered street entertainment and several friendly folks along the way. We met new friends Josephine (from Scotland) and her friend Loreen (from Canada) near the Robbie Ferguson statue. They expressed interest in our blog and travels, so we exchanged email addresses with them, and now they have joined all of you as regular followers of our travels. Welcome Jo and Loreen! We enjoyed your company, and sorry we didn’t get a group shot of the 4 of us! Hope you enjoy our travels as much as we enjoy writing about them.
|Anne finally makes it to Holyrood!|
We then continued on down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. We had visited Edinburgh 24 years ago (1993) but missed out on the Holyrood experience because the site closed down just as we got there. (As Anne tells it, they closed the door in her face! And as Frank likes to say, Anne was so upset, she was rolling in the gravel of the palace courtyard, throwing a tantrum that would put a 2-year old to shame!) In any case, Anne was determined to see the palace this time, no matter what. So off we trudged down the Royal Mile where we were mentally equipped to tackle a few guards, scale the walls, or break down a few doors to get into the palace if need be.
|The courtyard of Holyrood Palace|
Holyrood Palace is an official residence of the current Queen, and she occupies it two weeks each summer out of the year. Anne was enthralled, but Frank was less than thrilled. Anne enjoyed the royal surroundings and particularly the history surrounding the tragic Mary Queen of Scots. But to Frank, it was just a big ol’ house for the affluent with lots of unwarranted amenities that will forever be out of reach for ordinary people. At least it garners some income from tourists. The maintenance and the heating bill seemed like they’d be outrageously expensive – especially for a place that is only used two weeks out of the year!
|Blue Bells of Scotland!|
However, we both agreed that the outside flower gardens were impressive. We finally got to see Scotland’s national flower – the “Blue Bells of Scotland.” And they were in bloom! Many little blue bells on a dainty stem that stood about 6 to 8 inches high arching over at the top and hanging downward. A perfect mascot plant for Scotland.
As you know, we always like to take “foodie tours” in new places. It gives us some perspective in selecting restaurants and what new foods to seek-out while enjoying the delights of a new culture. We took a foodie tour in Edinburgh, but we’ll tell you all about it in the final blog update when we cover the foods of Scotland in more detail.
During our week in Edinburgh, we also got to take some popular day trips outside of the city.
|In the rugged Highlands of Scotland|
The Highlands of Scotland are renowned for their ruggedness and scenic beauty. Of course, no trip to Scotland would be complete without a visit to this area. Anyone who has watched the movie “Braveheart” has seen the alluring video of Mel Gibson recuperating from his battle wounds by running along the trails high in the Highlands. We were thrilled to observe the beauty of the region firsthand.
|More of the scenic Highlands|
Our tour guide Aaron took us to “Ben Nevis,” the tallest mountain in Scotland (and tallest in the UK at 4411 feet high), and a nearby ski resort (yes, they actually have some skiing here in Scotland!).
|Frank just before his Nessie sighting!|
We also visited several of the deep blue lakes in the Highlands including Loch Ness and Loch Lubnaig. BTW, Frank swears he saw the infamous monster swimming about in the rough waters of Loch Ness, but the rest of the group were incredulous and were inclined to disbelieve his tale.
|Atmospheric ruins of Melrose Abbey|
Melrose Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel
On another day tour to The Borders area south of Edinburgh, we got to explore Melrose Abbey and the famous Rosslyn Chapel, both situated down near the border between Scotland and England.
Melrose Abbey is in ruins thanks to Henry VIII who destroyed everything Catholic back in the 1500’s. Founded by monks in 1136, the Gothic-style Melrose Abbey was the 1st Cistercian Abbey in Scotland. The abbey is known for its many carved decorative details, including likenesses of saints, dragons, gargoyles, and plants.
|Rosslyn Chapel of "The DaVinci Code" fame|
Rosslyn Chapel was built in 1446 and is alleged to have been a focal point for use by the Knights Templar, Free Masons, and even a resting spot for the Holy Grail. The chapel is literally covered with sculpted symbols that no one has been able to interpret.
|Suspicious-looking character down in the basement crypt|
|Bagpiping in the Highlands|
|Ugly gargoyle at Rosslyn Chapel|
|Ted and Amy at the Falkirk Wheel|
|Falkirk Wheel in operation.|
Note boats on both sides of the wheel.
|Stunning architecture on Princes Street|
in New Town Edinburgh
|Darker stone on The Royal Mile in Old Town Edinburgh|
|Anne "bags" herself a bagpiper!|
|Along The Royal Mile|
|Misty beauty of Loch Lubnaig|
|Clandestine photo taken inside Rosslyn Chapel|
|The four of us wish you well from the Highlands!|