One of our main motivators for visiting Scotland was to spend New Years in Edinburgh, and join in the Hogmanay Festival. Of course, I’d wanted to visit for a long time, so it was an un-needed, however fantastic excuse.
After checking in to our (vastly inflated Hogmanay period) hostel, we headed straight for Edinburgh Castle. Much like Stirling Castle, which we visited earlier in the week, the castle sits high enough on a crag that navigation from the hostel was pretty easy. However, Edinburgh castle looked much more modern, and much more functional than the medieval grey stones that are used in the walls at Stirling.
We joined the throngs of tourists snapping photos in front of the castle and made our way to the entrance. Fortunately I overheard the ticket man telling people how long the queue was going to be to buy tickets. In a rare moment of brilliance, I went online and bought tickets, essentially skipping the queue! Then I went and hired an audio guide, which dropped us right back into another queue…
From the streets below, we were enchanted by the views of the castle. From the castle, we were enchanted with the views of the streets below! The town seemed to have escaped the bombing and destruction that London suffered in WWII, as there are many many more historic looking buildings.
We came to experience a new level of cold on this vacation, and being perched on this hill, the wind was incredible. We didn’t mind queuing for 20 minutes for a free whisky sample as it was in a heated building!
Inside the walls of the castle there was a very small, and very old chapel. It didn’t look possible to fit inside with all the others, so I made do with a cursory glance inside.
We joined the queues to see the treasure room, which contained a few odd items that seemed inconsequential to me (including a stone that kings were supposed to have knelt on during their coronation). It did however provide a respite from the cold.
There was also a Great Hall, which was much smaller, though less sparse than Stirling.
However, one of my favourite places (and not photographable), was the Scottish War Memorial, with amazing stained glass murals representing the various departments of the armed forces. It was a unsurprisingly sombre building, that induced great inner reflection.
There were other exhibitions, including a war museum, and a section dedicated to the gaol that used to be here.
From the castle, there is a mile long (though, I didn’t actually check how long it was) road to a small palace. This is known as the Royal Mile, and other than the expected souvenir shops and tour stands, it was a beautiful place to walk down. However, we were running out of time this evening, and will save it for tomorrow.
We joined friends for an Indian feast. Walking through town it was amazing how lit up the area was, with the castle an iridescent blue, and all the neon glow coming from the rides in the Street Party area. We almost left it too late to go and join the street party, as when we tried to enter, we were told that the ticket collection had closed. There was some confusion, and a momentary panic, however we went to the main ticket office, and picked up our wrist bands without hassle.
Once through the gates, the Hogmanay Street Party was busy and in full swing.There were a few rides, and the usual food/drink vendors In an amazing twist, alcohol was permitted to be brought inside the gates – as long as it wasn’t in glass bottles! Certainly beat £5 for a plastic bottle of Heineken.
There were also several stages with artists performing, with the headline act being Maxïmo Park. I’d never been much of a fan of this band, or of this style of music, so I honestly didn’t care about making an effort to see them. Yet, somehow that’s exactly where we ended up.
Then shortly before midnight rang, the crowd were led into a group karaoke session of Auld Lang Syne, with the midnight fireworks kicking off as the song finished. The fireworks were mostly from the castle (we saw big areas of the castle barricaded off), and it was cool to see the castle surrounded by fireworks. However, on the whole, the fireworks were somewhat disappointing. It was over only a few minutes after it began, and it really was concentrated on the area around the castle.
The disappointment soon faded as we followed the masses to the bars for another couple of rounds before bed, which at 3AM was neither late nor early. I think we lasted for an acceptable duration of time!
New Years Day started as slow as might be expected, starting with a kebab brunch, and hike up Arthur’s Seat. Risa and Thomas decided to quit before the hike really began, leaving me to make the short climb solo. Getting to the top wasn’t difficult, but I realised that getting back down in the clothing that I’d chosen to wear today was going to be significantly more challenging. For a while, looking out over Edinburgh I forgot about the challenges awaiting me, and just took in the beautiful views.
I don’t know if it is usually this busy, or if it’s due to all the tourists in town (or a new year tradition), but there were a surprising number of people out here today. I made it most of the way down (including some impractical rock climbing in my sneakers), and it wasn’t until the final stretch of slick grass that I slipped and fell, and was covered in mud.
Chasing the last of the rapidly fading light, I huffed my way up Carlton Hill for one more panorama of the city. It was worth the shortness of breath, but unfortunately I missed a rather special sunset en route. On the top of the hill were large columns, that looked like something that should exist in ancient Rome or Greece – not Edinburgh.
Dinner was in The Last Drop, a small pub that served Scottish fare. I foolishly ordered a burger, and it will be the last time that I order a burger from a restaurant that doesn’t specialise in burgers. Risa’s Haggis, Neets and Tatties were a much better choice. The restaurant was in the trendy looking Grassmarket area, which looked great, especially at night.
As a final act in Edinburgh, we joined a ghost tour through the old parts of town. It started with our guide telling some brutal stories of some of the executions that took place (including a tale about a man who was chasing the crown, to be crowned with a red-hot iron one – which they then cooled after placing it on his head, causing it to shrink and crack his skull…)
We walked down some of the dark alleys, and he continued to tell ghost stories, as well as history of the town.
The tour culminated in a tour in the underground passageways that were for a time used for accommodation as well as a place of business. To really accentuate just how dark and claustrophobic this area, several stories below ground were, the entire tour was conducted by candlelight – which he took great pleasure in extinguishing after cramming 20 of us in to one of the small rooms.
It was a great evening’s entertainment, and made me realise that we need to get out and do more of this in London, too.
The next morning, as we left Edinburgh and headed south towards the Scottish Border Region, we had a very quick detour to Roslyn’s Chapel, however we balked at the £15 entrance fee, and continued on our way.