I headed to Edinburgh on a business trip. In town for a week. It tends to rain a lot in Scotland. Not that it rains hard, just often. Little sprinkles and showers all the time. Just enough to get you damp then dry out in between. It’s a bit worrying the first couple of times but after that you just zip up your jacket and keep going. There’s quite a lot of wind, especially at the top of the hills and ridges.
My first experience was my chatty cabby at 7am. Good folks to know, cabbies who grew up in the area they drive in. Asking about places to see inside the city here’s the list I wrote down. Mind you, this was early in the morning, accents and unfamiliar place names, so I may not have gotten these quite right.
- South Queensberry bridges over firth.
- Feaheys College. Really nice building. Tony Blair went to school there.
- Westcoates. Donaldson’s school for the deaf. Impressive building. Copper roofs.
- Craig Miller castle. Mary Queen of Scots lived there. Little France is down around there where her French retinue lived.
Here are a few recommendations of my own.
- North Berwick is a sleepy little seaside village and a suburb of Edinburgh. There’s a volcanic island shooting up out of the Firth of Forth called Seal Rock. You can get a boat out to the island and back and spend some time out there. There’s an old cemetery there dating back from the late 18th century.
- If you climb up Arthur’s seat take a jacket even if it’s borderline. Never know when a storm will come in and throw wind and rain at you with no shelter in sight. Nice hike. The whole Hollyrood park area is a great for hiking.
- In the Pentland hills is a neat little prehistoric spot. There is a low hill that was some sort of stone or bronze age fortification with a moat around it. An underground path led to a granary. Being underground kept it safe from the elements, cool enough to protect it and let the locals keep out the vermin.
My boss and I took a day trip down to the Border Abbeys. The 12th century Monks at the Abbey of Melrose were sheepherders – at one point the largest sheep farm in Europe. Also metallurgists. They prized self reliance so wanted to make everything themselves. Wanted to never come into contact with the outside world and they were a silent order. But established a trading empire.
So they established a tradition of lay-brothers – people not high born enough to become monks who they schooled in the Cistercian traditions and ways so they’d be less tainted by the outside world. These lay brothers then built up the trade with France and Flanders and made the monks quite wealthy. Also prayed for the wealthy and so were rewarded. Eventually became very wealthy and became much less austere.
They were vegetarian because they felt that eating meat led to carnal thoughts. But the ill or infirmed were allowed meat since they were too weak for such thoughts and put of Satan’s grasp.
In the 14th century it was common to bury different parts in different places. So you could be buried at your birthplace, by your wife and other places you liked. It’s said that Robert the Bruce’s heart may be buried here.
While we were at the abbey there was a wedding. Good Scottish bagpiping. and a grand time was had by all.
Then we went to the island of Lindisfarne, famous for being the first city sacked in 793 by a band of seafaring Norsemen, ushering in the Age of the Vikings. It’s an interesting place since the tide completely covers the road twice a day. So you have to be careful when you drive out there that you’ve got time enough to come back. There’s ruins of the priory there, a nice castle out on a hill and a ratio of B&Bs to residents roughly 1:1.
Dining and Drinking
- Try the restaurant Made in Italy – fantastic dressing came with the side salad. Like a creamy balsamic vinaigrette but not like any I’ve had.
- Sandy’s Bell has artists cone and play traditional Scottish music. Usually not planned, just an open mic affair. Artists meet and play then swap off with each other. Listed in tourist literature but still filled with locals.
- There’s a little Brazilian kiosk called Tupiniquium that does smoothies, juices, crepes and other nice things. The guy who runs it will let you know what’s fresh today and steer you toward something tasty. Located just at Lauriston Place.
- In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, Inside the Scotch Whisky Museum is a restaurant called Amber. Quite a great spot for dinner. Reasonable prices, excellent food – I had an absolutely singular dish of peat smoke haddock topped with a soft boiled egg in milk – a handful of good Scottish beers and of course a book full of whiskies to try, which are similarly excellent and inexpensive. Try the Hollyrood Pale Ale. It’s excellent.
- Swing in to the Mussel Inn and hopefully you can get a table to try their excellent mussels. It’s a local place a block or two off the main street and is often crowded.
- There’s an excellent French restaurant called Pierre Victoire. When my boss and I got there they immediately trotted out a delicious mackerel appetizer. If you know my boss you know he loves mackerel so that absolutely hit the spot.
- There’s a bar down a bit southwest of the main street called Canny Mans. As a rule they don’t allow shorts, t-shirts, backpacks or credit cards. They recommend that you “dress casual but smart”. It’s worth the hassle to see the 80 years of decor and vestibules.
- The Rat Pack piano bar stays open late and is a good time even if you’re not into piano bars. They play all kinds of music, not just that from the mid-60s. They do Elton John, Billy Joel and others.
- As far as places to drink scotch malt whisky go, there’s no better than the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It’s a membership-only establishment so you’ll need to know somebody to get in or pony up pretty heavy.
- There’s a little town on the way from Berwick (pronounced burrick) Upon Tweed to Dunkirk I stopped into for dinner. There is a restaurant called the Anchor Inn that I ate at. The kitchen officially shuts at 9 but they opened it back up so I could get dinner. Very nice! I had the walnut and mushroom roast. No meat in it. Was very good! Also the haddock is very good. Pan fried rather than deep fried.