Our long, soggy drive culminated in a night in Dunfermline. We found ourselves in a truly lovely guesthouse which was about 1000 times nicer than anything that we would have found in Edinburgh for the same price. We achieved the makings of a carpet picnic, did some more life admin (job hunting, sigh) and then sat happily watching the intoxicating train crash that is Eurovision until Madonna came on looking like a crazy pirate lady and took all of the fun out of it. So, we watched the Blindside for the hundredth time instead.
Caro was directing the next day so, naturally, we found ourselves on the way to Glasgow when we were trying to get to Edinburgh. Easy mistake to make. We did eventually make it into town and, with a couple of hours to kill before we could check in, we set off for a bit of a mosey around. Among its many accolades, Edinburgh is famous for its food. Unfortunately, our lunch choice was surprisingly disappointing so the less said about that the better. We made our way towards the old town via Princes Street Gardens, which are lovely with the Castle looming above them.
There was some kind of festival on and it was free to go in, so we casually took a leaflet from one of the people at the gates and wandered in. There were a lot of people in suits, which was a bit odd; we glanced at the leaflet which had a map of the park and the different stands, many of these stands were labelled “street preacher”, we looked up again with dawning comprehension. Somehow, we had found ourselves slap bang in the middle of a Christian festival. If you were to ask our friends, where’s the least likely place to find Caro? Christian festival would probably top the list. The challenge we now faced was extracting ourselves without anyone engaging us in conversation. We strongly suspect that our “casual stroll” to the opposite gate looked more like two people skulking off having pilfered the collection plate and guzzled the communion wine.
Ably assisted by a Lonely Planet walking tour, we perused the Old Town which is nothing short of delightful.
Our tour included a short story about Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who sat vigil on his owner’s grave for 14 years until he too passed away and was interred in the same graveyard. Rather than flowers, people leave sticks on his grave. It’s a lovely story and tourists flock to the statue of Bobby and give his now highly polished nose a stroke; another to add to the “dogs Caro has cuddled around the world” list.
We told this story to someone, let’s call them Scrooge, and they wasted no time in informing us that they had heard the story before, that it was complete and utter crap and had no basis in fact. This person (who shall remain nameless) has been added to our “people who hate fun” list.
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is home to a rather more ominous grave. There are many unverified rumours that JK Rowling took inspiration for the Harry Potter books from various places around Edinburgh; you can even do a Harry Potter tour to seek them all out. There are some nuggets of truth in the tales and Rowling has confirmed that she was often inspired by the names on gravestones. We searched, without success, for the grave of Thomas Riddell. There are plenty of maps and instructions online which will lead you directly to the grave but Caro hasn’t yet reached that level of cray cray.
It was time to check in, so we walked back to our hotel in the West End. Edinburgh is a wonderful city to walk around; for one thing, it’s compact, for another, it is seemingly endlessly pretty and the West End is particularly so.
It’s not at all relevant to anyone or anything, but we wanted to share our favourite moment of the walk back; we strolled past this shop and had to do a double take, yes, it is a real dog and no, we don’t have an explanation.
We were staying at the Palmerston Suites. This would usually be stratospherically out of our price range but thanks to a last-minute deal we found ourselves with an unusual amount of luxury. Also, we were at the top of 700 flights of stairs which was probably reflected in the price. The stairs were the least of our troubles however; neither of us had taken note of where exactly we had abandoned the car. As we have already seen, direction is not Caro’s strong suit so she has abdicated all responsibility for life for anything to do with location. In short, this was James’s fault. Ten minutes and a sense of humour failure later, we had tracked down Carl and started to heave our belongings up the stairs. We had spied a Nepalese restaurant just around the corner and, salivating at the prospect of momos, booked a table for dinner. The curry was pretty good but The Khukuri really delivered on the momos which were up there with some of the best that we have had.
Our number one priority the next day was visiting Edinburgh Castle. We’d booked our tickets in advance for the very civilised time of 10:30 and arrived in time to see the guard changing with much fanfare.
As usual, we opted to pay for audio guides, which we find dramatically improve the experience when you know absolutely nothing about where you are. Our knowledge of Scottish history is limited to being vaguely aware of Mary Queen of Scots, and that’s only because there’s a big flashing neon arrow of a hint in the name. There must be hours and hours of commentary in the audio guide but we were completely jiggered after about two hours, repeated visits are probably necessary to fully appreciate it. We won’t go into extensive detail about our visit, it’s an absolute must do if you are in Edinburgh and particularly if, like us, you are woefully ignorant.
Well and truly castled out, we strolled along the pretty Royal Mile with its abundance of historical buildings and points of interest. You have to pay to get into pretty much all of these and having already forked out for the castle we were unwilling to part with what felt like fairly hefty entrance fees. It was also time to feed the chicken. We escaped the busy and overpriced eateries along the Royal Mile and nipped into a small café with one table for sandwiches and cans of coke, our cheapest meal in Edinburgh by a long stretch.
Holyrood Palace, at the end of the mile, was closed to visitors (it is unlikely that we would have paid to go in anyway) but we joined the other tourists holding their phones through the railings in an attempt to get a decent picture.
We’d intended to climb up to Arthur’s Seat the following morning but, as the weather was holding out and we were halfway there anyway, we decided to tackle it that afternoon. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano and the highest point from which to view Edinburgh. We were not suitably dressed for the occasion and it was a rather warm and sweaty clamber to the top.
It was worth it though, for the views.
We had come up what seemed like the main track, so decided to take an alternative route down that was more direct to our next destination: Tea and Sympathy, a café to the west of the city centre. Maps.me had plenty of routes to offer and the one we selected started out quite sensibly until about halfway down where it turned into the sort of track that a mountain goat might think twice about. We were not suitably dressed for the occasion.
We made it to the bottom however and found ourselves strolling through the University where groups of students were gathered around disposable barbeques on the grass, doubtless celebrating the end of exams and the presence of sunshine.
We were going to meet a family friend of Caro’s who she hadn’t seen for about 20 years and who was one of the few people in the world 100% guaranteed to pronounce her name correctly, being a Carolyn herself. After coffee and large slices of excellent cake we weren’t feeling the need for a large dinner so we had opted for another carpet picnic but first, James was determined to visit a proper Edinburgh pub. We found two, the Cambridge and the Oxford, of Inspector Rebus fame. We had a drink in each but have to admit that there wasn’t an enormous amount of atmosphere and we left a little disappointed. Admittedly we haven’t actually read any of the Rebus novels and perhaps a Monday night wasn’t the best time to visit in any case.
The following morning, we checked out and packed up Carl before setting off to the Surgeons’ Hall Museum on the other side of town. The museum is one of the oldest in Scotland and was initially established at the end of the 17th century as a teaching resource for medical trainees, so it is absolutely chock full of fascinatingly disgusting bits of preserved people. Unsurprisingly, you aren’t allowed to take photographs. The history of surgery section is equal parts awe inspiring and shudder inducing; Edinburgh and London were at the forefront of surgical medicine and it is both astonishing and horrifying what could be achieved with rudimentary equipment and the enormous strides in medicine that were made with so little resource. It’s a wonderful place to visit and just the right size to provide a couple of hours of entertainment… the adjoining café serves up some cracking jacket potatoes too.