Today was the 25th wedding anniversary of one of the couples traveling with us. David played two tapes, both consisting of bagpipe music but one was the traditional Scottish pipe and one the traditional Irish pipe which is more mellow, softer and lower pitched. I'm still partial to the Scottish!
It was quite cold this morning and damp. First stop this morning was a whiskey distillery in the highlands. It was a bit odd to see the Canadian flag flying over the gate. Apparently Glenlivet is owned by Seagram's Canada! The distillery was not operating because they take the month of August off to clean the place and for holidays but we were guided around anyway and had the whole procedure explained by a bonny ginger haired young guide who does this to pay for her university. There was the obligatory tasting afterwards and to my surprise i actually liked it! I think my only other experience with Scotch whiskey might have been a blend rather than a single malt. I can't say i would be a regular drinker of it but even though it was only 10 o'clock a.m. it went down quite well. That's how cold it was this morning!
We drove down through the mountains making out way to Braemar. The mountains, where before they were high, dark and forbidding are slowly becoming a bit lower, more rolling. Very pretty scenery. There were very few houses along this road, the hillside dotted with one here and there, of various sizes. Some were old abandoned crofter's cottages, one looked like an old castle keep that was still lived in. (Braemar Castle) We drove past where Balmoral was and could only see a few turrets over the trees but it was mostly hidden. We couldn't visit the grounds as the Royal Family is in residence in August and September. We stopped at the town of Braemar, not far away for our lunch. A group of us partook of the lunch buffet at the Fife Arms Hotel, a lovely old Victorian structure. So there. We at least had tea within 5 miles of the Queen!
We stopped in St. Andrew's, a very old university city on the Firth of Forth where one of the oldest golf courses in the UK is located. Supposedly the rules for the modern golf game were derived here. The university has been here since the 15th century, originally an ecclesiastical organization but was quite famous for it's medical school later on. We stopped near The Old Course with it's very large clubhouse. You could rent a club and putt on a little green for a pound but I'm not particularly into golf. I bought a few souvenirs for one or two golfing friends and walked around by the harbour lined with cliffs upon which are perched some of the older buildings. I walked along the street that followed the harbour but not far enough to find the ruins of the cathedral. It wasn't going to be a long stop so i just wandered around the streets near where the golf course was.
We finally arrived in South Queensferry, a suburb about 8 miles outside of Edinburgh at the modern Forth Bridges Moat House which overlooks the Firth of Forth and the Forth Bridge which is lit up at night! Very pretty!
I had joined up with the optional outing to the Edinburgh Tattoo tonight with a dinner included beforehand. We were told to dress casually and warmly as we would be sitting outside on stadium seats outside the Castle which is up on a cliff overlooking the city. It could be quite chilly and windy. Only they didn't tell us that our dinner, a buffet style, was in one of the nicest hotels in Edinburgh, the George! So we're all standing in line at the buffet, surrounded by china, silver, marble pillars and high carved ceilings in our jeans and sweatshirts! The Tattoo was really great, very colourful too. Halifax has had one for a number of years but there was something awesome about the pageant of the Scottish brass and pipe bands, folk dancing and military displays with the ancient Edinburgh Castle looming at one end of the esplanade. At the end was a lone piper on top of the battlements. Haunting strains of Amazing Grace floated down across a silent crowd and when the massed pipe bands joined in, it moved me to tears. But that song, played on pipes always does.
This morning we are driven into the city to pick up a local guide for a tour around the City, Castle and Holyrood Palace. Although the city was probably founded in the 7th century, most of the oldest parts now date from the 15th to 17th. That would be the Royal Mile which extends from the Castle to Holyrood Palace. In the 17th century, the North Loch was drained and the newer part of the city was built. There's park now where some of the loch was. This was something I didn't know before and it is quite amazing considering the limited technology they used. Apparently the bodies of women drowned as witches were found when the water was drained!
After a drive around we were taken though Edinburgh Castle. The view was great from the escarpment! The weather is semi-overcast and cool but looks like the rain will stay away. We had some free time to explore and i decided to follow the corridors that led to the Scottish Crown Jewels. Lining the corridors were exhibitions and dioramas depicting Scottish History. The "jewels" were two or three things with some jewels on them. Rather disappointing and since the route took so long i didn't get to explore some of the other old buildings in the grounds. Live and learn!
The Royal Mile was lined with 4 or 5 story houses and narrow alleys called wynds. Holyrood Palace is technically in another municipality and is the residence of the reigning monarch when in the city. We were taken through the public rooms with the lovely and ornate furniture and paintings. The palace has of course been added to by various monarchs but we were taken into the older section which is where Mary Queen of Scots would have lived. We saw her rooms and the little office she used when her Italian secretary was murdered by her husband's supporters. That part of the palace is smaller and plainer, with the decorations less ornate. We had a bit of time to wander around the grounds where the ruins of the chapel still stand before we were driven back to to the city center.
We had the rest of the day free and were given a time to meet back at the bus if we decided to come back that way. We could also make our own way back by public transportation if we wanted to stay in the city for dinner. I went to lunch at a pub on Rose Street with a mother-daughter couple and then set off on my own. I had to decide if i wanted to shop or explore the old sections of the Royal Mile. I know whatever i chose i would have wished i could have done the other but in the end i went for a bit of a shop. I found an outdoor market in the courtyard of an old church so i had a browse there. I strolled through the park below the castle and found an underground shopping mall by Waverly train statin. Most of the new development has to go down as there are restrictions on height and on redevelopment in the historic areas. By the time the bus was ready to leave, so was i so i decided to go back to the hotel. I didn't have any plans for dinner but met up with a mother and daughter from Israel and the son of one of the other ladies and the four of us walked into Queensferry and found a restaurant that looked nice and had a great view of the Forth Bridge all lit up. The other two women were vegans so we had to check the outside menus of several before we found one that offered vegetarian dishes. The restaurant we tried was called the Seal Craig Hotel and we really had a good meal. I lucked out when I wasn't charged for my entree which was a cold seafood plate, only my appetizer and drinks! A few games of pool back at the hotel and a chat with the two older couples from Israel, not without it's translation difficulties at times and it was off to bed.