– Edinburgh, Scotland to Cambridge, England –
Have I mentioned that every hotel in England has an electric kettle and tea and coffee? I know a coffee maker is pretty common in the US, but the electric kettle is far more convenient, at least for me. For Mark, I think, the little instant coffee packets aren’t quite as good as brewed coffee, but considering that he almost never uses a coffee marker in American hotel rooms, I guess it doesn’t matter. The convenience outweighs any flavor issues.
I don’t actually drink coffee, only tea, but as everybody knows, the British love their tea. Here, tea is black and taken with milk, and it is served everywhere. Even Starbucks does a hot tea and milk. It’s the British way. At home, I rarely drink black tea, only herbal, but here, one does as the locals do. Mark and I typically have tea in the room and every night, and this morning we had it with breakfast.Well, I say that. Mark actually had coffee this morning. Either way, the electric kettle takes about 2-3 minutes, where our tea kettle at home on the stove takes 10-12. It’s quite a difference.
Mark keeps talking about getting an electric tea kettle, but I can’t do it. I’m attached to our kettle. His name is Reginald P. Teapot, and he’s been in the family for quite a while. The idea of replacing him with an electric kettle simply for convenience seems monstrous. Every time Mark talks about getting one, I ask him, “But what about Reggie?” and he looks sad. Mission accomplished, my friends.
In any event, today began with a run along the Water of Leith Walkway. The Water of Leith is a river that runs through Edinburgh, and it was conveniently right next to our hotel. And I mean right next to it. The pathway wasn’t ideal, since only portions of it are isolated. Other portions run right through downtown Edinburgh, where you are forced to cross traffic. That wasn’t great for us, so we tried to stick to the pathway that was down by the water and away from the roads. It only worked so well.
Regardless, we had a decent run, despite the cold air. It was only 7°C this morning, which is just under 45°F, so we wore our sweaters for the entire run. I almost wished I had my running tights along, in fact. Too bad those are back in Texas.
After our morning shower, we breakfasted on the things we picked up from the local grocery store by our restaurant last night. We had yogurt, oranges, croissants, juice, tea, and coffee for Mark. It was lovely. I really enjoyed having a refrigerator. I’ve been without yogurt for days, and its lack has started to damage me emotionally. I blame Iceland for this. I was a more casual yogurt consumer prior to our trip to Iceland this spring. Now, I scour the grocery stores at home for thick, Icelandic-style yogurts. Speaking of which, this morning’s offering was a little runny. Alas.
We had originally planned to be at Edinburgh Castle at 9:30 this morning, when it opened, but due to a little mix-up with buses and tickets and whatnot, we didn’t make it until 10am, and we had to drive over. Parking around there is a little scary. We were worried about the lines, since people were just pouring into the place, but our Historic Scotland passes really saved the day today. Instead of waiting in an enormous line to buy tickets with everyone else, we simply walked up to the gate with our pass and went right in.
I think I’ve mentioned before, but the tickets to this castle are £16.50 per person, and our £40 passes have already paid for themselves. It was like we got into Edinburgh Castle for free and without waiting in line. It’s a good feeling, I have to say.
So, you might be wondering (and if not, you’ll just have to deal), what’s special about Edinburgh Castle? Well, to start, it was the Royal Palace in Scotland, and has housed a king or queen since the 12 century. The place was first settled in the Iron Age, and has been ever since. To this day it is an active military base for the British Army, though it’s purpose is mostly ceremonial and administrative. It’s also massive and on a huge hill aptly named, “Castle Rock.” The whole thing is a massive tourist attraction, and it is always full of people, especially compared to the emptier castles of some of our previous days.
Most of the buildings still on the site were built in the 16th century or later, which is a bit depressing, since we’ve been seeing castles that are so much older than that prior to today. The previous buildings were destroyed. According to Wikipedia, “Research undertaken in 2014 identified 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history, giving it a claim to having been ‘the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world.'”
Once again, my American education failed me here a bit. Reading about the Wars of Scottish Independence, I was once again reminded that our history classes back home largely ignore European history. I barely had a frame of reference for a lot of the signs and such that I ended up reading. Even brushing up on the subject online hasn’t given me what I would call a firm grasp of the history of this place, so I will do you a favor and skip any attempt at a summary. Let’s just say that reading quotes from famous Scottish leaders about “never again submitting to English rule” made me a little sad, and leave it there.
One rather notable remnant of the medieval era is Mons Meg, a massive cannon (or bombard) used during sieges to throw enormous stone cannonballs at enemy walls in an attempt to reduce them to rubble. This particular cannon’s barrel diameter is 20 inches, making it once of the largest surviving cannons in the world by calibre. Mons Meg was used mostly during the 1500s, then became more of a ceremonial weapon. It was taken by England to the Tower of London in 1754, and it was not returned to Scotland until 1829. From what I can gather, this was a bit of a sore spot between the two.
Around 1660, Edinburgh Castle became a garrison for soldiers rather than a royal palace, and the buildings that remain are mostly suited to this purpose. We saw historical displays much like you would expect to see in a museum about the various wars from this era onward. One of my favorites was about the cavalry, but my prejudice in this particular arena is well-known. We did come across a painting of a horse done by someone who knew so little of horse anatomy that it was almost embarrassing to display the thing. The musculature was wildly inaccurate, and the head was significantly smaller than that of a real horse, even an Arabian. Who let that guy get away with such a monstrosity? I would’ve laughed at him. I suppose I did anyway, but it’s too late for him to hear it and be ashamed.
Several areas within the castle prohibit photography. One of these is the area where they keep the Scottish Crown Jewels, which include The Stone of Destiny. On first hearing this, I was really confused. We read about it in a few of our other castles and were… surprised. Bemused, perhaps. It’s a big red sandstone rock used during the coronation of Scottish Monarchs. For some reason, it too seems to be a touchy subject between Scotland and England. It appears that England had it for a while, and didn’t give in back until 1996. Now it will only leave Scotland for the coronation of the next British Monarch.
It was the tiniest bit odd to see a massive rectangular rock in the case along with a crown and scepter and such. Regardless of my doubtful opinions, it seems to have been a big deal. There’s even a movie about the 4 students that tried to steal it back from the British during the 1950s.
The other where photographs were not allowed was a war memorial. I can totally understand that, of course. War memorials are not exactly ideal tourist attractions. They tend to lean more towards places for sorrow and reflection. Oddly enough, a few war memorials are tourist attractions, and I guess this one is as well, in a way, though the idea makes me uncomfortable. I have been to all of the war memorials in Washington DC, too, and I feel a little weird taking photos of those. I suppose it is another way of remembering, if you are doing it respectfully. It’s just strange.
In addition to being a garrison and a medieval castle, Castle Rock hosts the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. So what’s a military tattoo? It’s a musical competition for military bands. I’m not sure that putting “military” in front of it makes it any less nerdy. Mark and his dad get a kick out of them though. Apparently one can also see competitions in a similar vein where a crew of military men perform some impossible group task that used to be necessary on a ship or something. I don’t know a lot about it. I only know that my husband can go on a YouTube bender watching videos of these things.
Why do I mention the military tattoo? It was held in front of the castle at the end of August, and they are just now finishing the clean-up. The temporary stands were still partially erect when we where there this morning. Mark found them moderately fascinating, probably because of his YouTube adventures last month.
Overall, Edinburgh Castle was fine, but it was definitely not even among the top five castles we saw. It’s too touristy, and everything there is totally unrelated to medieval castles, for the most part. With all of the people and very little ancient history, it’s one I would actually skip, were I to visit again. If I’d known what it would be like, I might’ve chosen to take today to go to a more obscure castle in another area instead before we went home. It is much more like visiting a museum than a castle.
We finished up at the castle and went into the gift shop, where we bought some Edinburgh Castle Rock. A friend asked us to pick some up on our trip, and since she recommended the stuff, we decided to try it ourselves. We also got some for my dad. We had ours once we got back to the car. I had expected something like rock candy, but it’s more like… a stick of firm taffy. It’s sweet, but not sticky, and it breaks off into chunks. It seems to be made of mostly sugar and cream of tartar, which sounds like it would be disgusting but it’s oddly… pleasant, I guess? I’m glad it was better than I was expecting.
So all of this was over by noon, but we still had more than 6 hours to drive down to Cambridge to stop for the night. We pulled out our book, which we’d downloaded onto my iPad, and rolled down the English highways, stopping only for drinks and bathroom breaks.
We had two meals on the road, both of which ended up being sandwiches and chips. I’m at once grateful for the ubiquitous vegetarian pre-packaged sandwiches, and totally sick of them. At least I can eat, but man, why couldn’t they have something else vegetarian? Ugh. At least they had a few varieties. Mark’s dinner sandwich had celery. I’m not sure I’ve seen celery on a sandwich before today.
We didn’t make it to our hotel until after 8pm, and when we got there we discovered that “limited parking” meant only 5 parking spaces. It was a bit of a let down, I can tell you. I would call 5 parking spaces no parking at all, myself. We had to park down the road in a car park, and we couldn’t even tell how much it is going to cost. Mark complained at the desk, but there’s not much we could do about it now. We had to park the car.
It might’ve been nice to see Cambridge, but we don’t have the time. We still have our packing to do, since we’re out of here tomorrow.
It’s amazing how spread out things can become after only a few days in the car. We brought less stuff than we would normally on a road trip, since we had to fly with it, but it was still resistant to fitting back into the bags. We spread it all across our hotel room before we managed to repack it in some semblance of order. It took almost an hour.
Tomorrow we are flying home, and I’m ready for it. I’ve been missing Ripley for days, and now I’m missing my own bed. I just wish it didn’t take so long. I like driving home much better than I like flying.
– Trip Total : 6,369 miles –