Friday 31 May 2024

Edinburgh Day 4

 May 30th. Woke to blue sky and a fine day.

After drawing a thick black line on the Visit Scotland paper map (I don’t like Mrs Google Maps much) we set off up Princes Street for Waverley Station and managed not to get lost. 

Here I had yet another strange encounter, this time with a lady from an Eastern European country.   I was lined up to order a pot of tea in Costa when I felt pressure on my arm from behind.  I leaned  back to dissuade this invasion of my personal space but twice that proved ineffectual.  So I turned around and asked her, “are you with this gentleman” indicating the man in front.  “I was but I’m not” she told me so I motioned her forward.  She refused.  “No you go ahead,” she said. “I respect you.  You are older than me”.  Huh!  If so why was she in such close contact?   A flashback to many years ago when squashed in the Tokyo Subway!!  Skinship, a friend told me at that time.  

Then out and across NorthBridge where we found this pretty arcade.

Did you know that Princess Diana had her own tartan?  This pale tartan was apparently designed for her.

We walked up North Bridge to The Royal Mile and turned toward Holyrood House. 

Buses, cars and hundreds of tourists seemed to jostle reasonably amicably on this busy road.  Cobblestones, flagstones, some parts paved and dangerous little low steps as curbs made watching one’s feet as important as viewing the magnificent buildings on both sides.

Part way along we gatecrashed a tour guide explaining the architecture of John Knox’s house.   I was rather taken with the carving above the window of The Golden Rule.

We continued walking along intrigued by the little entrances off to each side.   Called Closes they were entrances to areas of apartments, others shops and cafes and some merely provided scenic views ie photo spots

All were narrow and named individually.

Today I found plenty of red telephone boxes, one was indeed still housing a telephone and another was a book swap/library but it was locked.   Some were painted blue and were used as Coffee Kiosks.

After finding Scottish Widows near our apartment , today I found Scottish Veterans!   This accommodation looked inviting, well kept and in an interesting part of the city, but I don’t fit this category either.   

At Holyrood House we climbed up the hill and under a railway bridge to Montrose Terrace where lo and behold there was one of Little Sister’s favourite shops.  This one, Ginger Twist, had plenty of temptations so she needed a bag to hold them.

Back down the hill without getting lost we began the great Royal Mile exploration.   Note, the Royal Mile is actually a Scottish Mile and is 1.8 of the normal English ones.   As I write this my feet are saying “Amen sister!”

Both of us decided we didn’t care much for the Scottish Parliament buildings.   Construction began in 1999 and it was opened in 2004 by the late Queen.  What with cost overruns, completion delays, ultra modern architecture, and even choice of architect, this project has been controversial from its inception.  Along the wall on The Royal Mile side are inset plaques of poetry  I suppose a nod to the fact that this building is supposed to achieve a poetic union between the landscape, culture, people of Scotland and the city of Edinburgh itself.  I prefer the old stone buildings with their carved facades, crenellated rooflines, turrets and spires.

By this stage it was nearing lunchtime and search as we might there seemed to be only Italian, Indian or pub food.  Nothing appealed but we needed a break so The Angels With Bagpipes sang to us.  And a superb choice it turned out to be.  

No burgers, chips and beer here.   The chef knew how to showcase good Scottish food and we enjoyed a delectable lunch waited on by a friendly young woman with no accent.  She was from Auckland.   Sourdough bread baked in-house, haggis balls with whisky sauce, broccolini with ricotta and Scottish honey,  Scottish crab and crumpet, Scottish salmon and then cheddar and Scottish oatcakes with coffee.  We were both well pleased.  

Revived and rested we continued on up the Royal Mile to the George IV Bridge and found Victoria Street.  It is said that J K Rowling found her inspiration for Diagon Alley here and although none of the Harry Potter movies was filmed in Edinburgh many fans were crowded around some ‘magic shops’ shamelessly cashing in on the famous connection.   The Elephant Cafe where she is said to have begun writing the novels on the back of serviettes had been damaged by fire and was closed.

Further down and around the corner was Greyfriars Kirk and we climbed the steps to see the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the famous dog who in the 19th century is said to have spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner, until the dog himself died in 1872.   Along with many others we took photos of the statue and stone which was erected in 2022 to commemorate 150 years.  And then walked the few yards to the original statue located just outside Greyfriars Bobby Pub.  Here we had to wait our turn for a photo with the statue of the little dog.  The statue now has a shiny nose as tourists pat his nose as they have their photo taken.  

Back across the George IV bridge we joined the throng climbing up to Edinburgh Castle.   There they have begun the building of the stands for the 2024 Edinburgh Tattoo which will be held in August.

An about turn and we retraced our steps down the street, this time venturing into some of the hundreds of stores selling tartan, tweed, cashmere, shortbread, oatcakes, Edinburgh Rock, whisky, Celtic jewellery and every other sort of souvenir you can think of.   Little Sister found a teeny wee bottle of dried Heather which of course had to come home with her as she shares the name.

There were any number of buskers of varying skill along the Royal Mile.  One woman insisted that anyone who took a photo paid a donation. Scary looking she was too especially when she raised her hand and voice at Little Sister!  We stood watching The Hobo for a while and when we moved off he, ventriloquist type doll and all stood and made as if he’d chase after me.  We had seen him scare the daylights out of a small Indian boy who dropped money in his hat and then refused his offer of a sweetie.  The door opened and his own head appeared as well as the doll head and the little boy cowered in fright at the sight.  All the adults laughed including me.

My farewell to a splendid day in the Royal Mile was this little tartan man.   

Once more we dodged tour groups, buses, taxis, cars, and the general mayhem of Edinburgh City Centre walking alongside the tramlines on Princes Street back to our apartment.  Today we did not get lost even though we walked just over 18000 steps.

Thursday 30 May 2024

Edinburgh Day 3

 May 29th. After good sleep woke early to a blueish sky and no rain!

We are trying to get laundry up to date which meant one load this morning and I have been up and down the infernal 16 stairs ten times before breakfast!   I’m so grateful my own little cottage is all one level!

It was a fine blue sky and Metservice said Loch Lomond would be good weather so we programmed Lady Satnav and set off.   Our route was a bypass of Glasgow and then up to Balloch.  My oh my, the roads through Glasgow.  Motorways up down and sideways.   

At one point there were a total of 14 lanes of traffic on three different motorways.  Once again I was most thankful that Little Sister was doing the driving.  We were both in awe of the skill of the Civil Engineers who design these roads as the flow of traffic was smooth and for us it was a case of keep right, keep right, keep right.

Once through the city we drove over Erskine Bridge, a lovely suspension bridge with views back to Glasgow. And then we turned left and followed alongside the River Clyde.   

It was a pretty drive and here that we first saw this sign.  Keeping safe distance has to date only been a sign in yellow on the digital overhead boards and seemed to be mostly ignored.   However today along this road drivers were relatively careful to maintain a safe distance.

At the little town of Balloch we drove past the Information Centre, over the bridge and found a carpark,  which as a bonus was free!   We strolled back to the Information Centre where the toilets were one of those self cleaning all bells and whistles variety.  Little Sister waited in a queue of three and received instruction in a good Scots brogue from the father of the family group ahead. Urgency is not accommodated,  each user sets in motion a cycle of up to 20 minutes for use and four minutes for self cleaning during which entry is prohibited.  When it was my turn to wait, a couple of East Asian ethnicity came and stood in front of me.  Little Sister bravely told them we were queuing and they’d need to line up.  However when Little Sister went into the Information Centre and left me alone, the East Asian lady came up to me and asked how it all worked. I told her I didn’t really  know as it was my first time here.  Next came The Great Surprise when she said, “can I come in with you so I can see what happens”. No Way Jose.  I bluntly told her I toileted alone and turned my back.  

Then we went to the office of Sweeney Cruises and booked ourselves a two hour cruise up and around Loch Lomond.   With a few minutes before boarding we went to the general store and bought fresh salad buns to take on board for lunch.   

The queue for the boat wasn’t long nor many in number unless one counted all the four footed friends.  Even after three weeks here I am still amazed that dogs, admittedly on leads, are allowed anywhere - buses, trams, restaurants, shops, boats, trains and in Carlisle Cathedral I noted a sign which said “Dogs are welcome to attend service”.   That is something different to home.

The cruise was brilliant.   Loch Lomond’s banks were truly bonny, and if I knew what a brae was I could probably tell you they also were bonnie.  It was lovely fine day, the water was calm, the outlook amazing, the clouds and sky so different to home and the commentary on board so informative.   Well worth the £25 fee.  

Along the western shore of the Loch are many large mansion like homes.  The first one we saw had been built in the 1700’s by a rich  Glasgow tobacco merchant as a display of his financial status.  Subsequent generations found the upkeep and employment of servants etc too onerous and it now belongs to an American gentleman who has added substantially to the building and converted it to a five star hotel.  There is even a landing jetty for seaplanes to fly guests in.

Robert the Bruce had his private hunting grounds on the shores of this loch and introduced game birds and fish also to add to his pleasure.   We saw horses and at one point a Scottish Highland cattle beast standing by the shoreline, unfortunately with his back to us.  The boat almost tipped over as people rushed to one side to get a photograph.  Little Sister was one of those.  This is her photo.

We passed the area where the MacGregors fought the Colquhons at which battle around 200 of the Colqhuhons were killed but only two MacGregors.  James VI of Scotland was so incensed by these Merciless MacGregors he killed the clan chief and ordered that the name MacGregor could not be used.   It was 172 years later that the ban was lifted.

At one point across the loch there is a string of small islands and these mark the High Boundary Fault Line which goes from Arran in the West to Stonehaven in the East and is a natural boundary preventing the migration of the grey squirrel north, so protecting the only Red Squirrel population in the Highlands.   

The largest island is Inchmurran which is only 1.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide but has been occupied since the sixth century.  On Inchmurran are the ruins of the Lennox Castle built by a Duncan Lennox but now owned by a family aptly named Scott!   On Inchtavannach, St Kessog brought not only the Christian gospel but also a bell which the people believed to be the voice of God.   This bell is preserved to this day in Dumbarton. There are 23 islands in the loch and its greatest claim to fame, apart from the famous song, is the mighty Ben Lomond at the far end.   We had a superb view today and the commentary told us that as Scotsmen migrated to other countries they named mountains Ben Lomond to remind them of home.  So there are Ben Lomonds in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.

On the return journey we passed a tiny island called Heather Island which was at one time used as a penal institution and drunken prisoners were sent there to ‘dry out’.  Apparently some spouses would send their disagreeable wives there for a couple of days of repentance and reflection.  Needless to say it is not used for this purpose nowadays.

We left Balloch at 3:30 for what we thought would be a boring journey home.  But in central Glasgow a work crew was making repairs on a bridge below the motorway on which we were travelling so two lanes were closed for around 500 yards for safety reasons.  But such is the volume of traffic that this squeezing of four lanes into two created a traffic jam of around 3 miles.   Once clear of that things were much better and we drove on home looking at the changing sky.   It grew darker and darker and looked so thunderous.   By the time we reached Edinburgh it was raining - good solid heavy rain.  How thankful we were for our fine day at Loch Lomond.

Then a miscalculation as to which lane we needed and a detour through Haymarket, tram lines, one way streets and commuter traffic.  Eventually we arrived at the carpark at 6pm.  What a long trip home!

One interesting fact about the carpark . It is in the basement of the Scottish Widows Building.  We didn’t know what that was but were intrigued as we passed it to always see two elderly gentlemen standing at the foot of the entrance stairs vetting any who entered.   I know I don’t look like a Scottish Widow so I didn’t even try to go in, but I did some research and found that back in 1815,  a number of prominent Scottish businessmen set up a  “General fund for securing provisions to widows, sisters and other female relatives of fund holders so that they should not be plunged into poverty on the death of the fund holder during the Napoleonic Wars”.   Interesting  that the stern Calvinists of my imagination should have had among them men who had such sympathy and foresight in care of women.   I walk past the building now with renewed interest and trust that Lloyds Bank, the current owners, are compelled by the Trust Deed to ensure the original intent remains.

Sainsbury’s provided the salad and falafel for dinner tonight and we are safely inside listening to the rain and trying to believe the forecast that tomorrow is fine weather.