Good Morning, Edinburgh! (Edinburgh, Part I): UK 2016 Post 9

Getting up before the sun is not my idea of a good morning but when you have a date with your 22nd Great Grandfather you get up with a smile gosh darn it and apply some make up! The night before we had let the reception desk know that we wouldn't be making breakfast as we were leaving before breakfast was to be served. They were kind enough to pack us a sack lunch/breakfast to take with us on the train, which was such a nice added touch and very welcome. 

The station at Berwick-Upon-Tweed opened in 1847 on the grounds of the derelict Great Hall of Berwick Castle which was demolished to make way for the railway station. The railway platforms now stands where King Edward took an oath of allegiance from Scottish nobility in 1296. Only in Europe would you be waiting for a train at a station that stands on such historic grounds and not blink an eye at it. 

The remains of Berwick Castle across from the railway platform.

We arrived at the station around 6:45 am for a 7:18 am departure. It was a cold morning but we were ready with hats and scarves. We were prepared for a long day of walking in Edinburgh. Our tickets were the cheapest day trip tickets we could get which meant that the times were odd. We were due to arrive in Edinburgh at 8:07am, an hour and a half before Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse opened which meant we would have a lot of time to kill when we arrived. 

Our train coming in to the station.

Our train left the station right on time and we settled in for our 49 minute journey.  One thing I couldn't get used to while on this trip is the lack of personal space in the UK. I'm so used to space in the United States, as well as the fact that I feel like Americans have an unspoken personal space rule where we don't stand too close to one another. I don't feel like this was the case in the UK (or in Europe in my experience). You sit next to strangers, pretending that your legs aren't touching, you crowd together in queues, and eat your food nearly touching elbows with your neighbors. This was not more true than sitting on the train at a table across from a complete stranger, our knees practically touching. It's a good thing I hadn't planned on using the table myself as he had his laptop, breakfast and morning paper strewn all over it. He spent a good part of the journey on the phone to a colleague and we pretended not to be directly facing one another.  It was awkward at best, but at the same time I think it was only me feeling awkward. I looked around and nearly everyone was sitting closely to a stranger and most people had on headphones or a nose in a book that very much screamed, "Don't talk to me!", which honestly I would have been doing too if I wasn't sitting right next to my husband and didn't need to put up an imaginary wall. I suppose it's something that you just get used to and I suspect Europeans don't even notice it.

About 20 minutes into our journey I had a sudden jolt and realized that we hadn't done our pay and display parking ticket back in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The whole point of our weird train times was to avoid an overly expensive day and here we'd left one of the most important things out. I turned to Daniel, looking pretty ashen (I told you I can take things from 0-60 in a second- mountains out of mole hills, people!), and told him my revelation. Normally Daniel is pretty cool and collected but this had him jumping to my level of anxiety. The thing we were most worried about wasn't a fine but the fact that our rental car might get a boot. We don't have them where I live but apparently larger cities in the US and in the UK use them- instead of your car getting towed or ticketed your car gets a large yellow clamp that locks on a car's wheel, immobilizing it until you pay to have it removed. We didn't fancy the idea of having to figure that out at 10pm when our train was due back at Berwick-upon-Tweed's station. Also, we didn't have a working mobile phone and much like in the US, pay phones have all but disappeared in the UK, so we would have had no way to call to pay the fine and have the boot removed. So, that was our dilemma as our train sped further and further away from said car and the reason for our anxiety. We spent the remainder of the train journey stressing out and wondering what we should do.

When we arrived at Edinburgh Waverley station we alighted our train and went in search of a pay phone. We were able to get the phone number for the station at Berwick-upon-Tweed on the train while we had limited access to wifi and now we just needed to find a phone to call and hopefully pay our parking over the phone. Try asking if there is a pay phone in 2016, you get some really odd looks and people searching their memories. We were directed outside the station by an employee and felt relief when we saw it. Whew this would be easy. Not so fast. We opened the door to the phone box and there was the receiver dangling from the phone and cracked in half. Back into the station we went in search of another phone. It took us nearly an hour to get the situation resolved and it was only with the help of the kindest women at the information desk that we finally got it worked out. She let us use her personal mobile phone and even called around for us to make sure we had the correct phone numbers to call. 3 separate phone calls later and we paid for our parking over the phone, avoiding fines and wheel clamps! Alison Weir, you're our hero! (And yes, I contacted her superiors to tell them how awesome she was!)

The lovely Alison Weir, our savior that morning in the bright orange coat

With that situation finally resolved I decided I was in desperate need of a latte. I had been a tea drinker pretty exclusively up until this point but knowing that we had 13 hours of wandering the city ahead of us, caffeine of the coffee variety was in order. I walked into Costa Coffee in the station and ordered a soy latte. At the register was a girl in the early 20's that just didn't sound like she was speaking English.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned in previous blog posts, but I don't have full hearing in my right ear. It's an occupational hazard of almost 2 decades of doing hair so I had been nervous about being able to understand the people of Scotland. This was my worst nightmare come to life (okay slight exaggeration but I feared this would happen), there I was alone without Daniel to interpret and I had no idea what this girl had said. I said, "Pardon?" She repeated herself and again it sounded like a foreign language. Honestly this had nothing to do with my hearing problem and everything to do with how she was speaking the English language. Her accent was so heavy and she was speaking so quickly I don't think a person with full hearing would have understood her either. So what does one do in this situation? You just smile and say, "Yes." She then said (which I heard perfectly) "That'll cost extra." I just said, "that's fine" and wondered what I'd just agreed to. You know what? That was the best damn latte I've ever had! I have NO idea what I really ordered because I don't know what I added on that cost extra. I told Daniel what had happened as I sipped my delicious coffee and he said that she must be from Glasgow, as apparently Glaswegians are known for their strong accents. I was afraid it was a sign of things to come for the day but thankfully I had no problem hearing or understanding anyone else I encountered in Edinburgh.

Bagpiper on the Royal Mile as you walk towards Edinburgh Castle.

St. Giles' Cathedral on the Royal Mile

Misty and cold as we approached Edinburgh Castle

Feeling properly caffeinated and much lighter, we left the station in search of the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. Our little parking fiasco ate up a good amount of time that morning so we actually didn't have to kill too much time waiting for Edinburgh Castle to open. As we lined up to get tickets I spied the statue of my ancestor Robert the Bruce. I had been anxiously waiting to see the statue and have my picture taken in front of it. I know that's a totally nerdy and touristy thing to do but as an amateur genealogist this was a big moment to me. The statue is modern but what was important to me was what it represented.  Pretty cool moment for me.

Lining up to get in. Statues of King Robert the Bruce (left) and Sir William Wallace "Braveheart" (right) at the  entrance

Great (x's 22) Grandfather Robert the Bruce. 

The ultimate tourist. I didn't care who stared, I had to get this photo!

We took a guided tour of the castle which is about 30 minutes long and then you're let loose to explore on your own. The guided tour was really helpful to get the feel for the castle grounds. There is so much history and more than one structure on site so it was nice to get our bearings through the tour. Ewan, our tour guide, had a lovely Edinburgh accent that was a joy to listen to. It made the tour that much more enjoyable. Our tour wrapped up in Crown Square which is surrounded by some of the most important buildings at the castle. We chose to go into the Great Hall first. Completed in 1512 the bright red room has hosted royal banquets, been barracks for soldiers, a military hospital, and undergone Victorian restoration. Fortunately for us the hammerbeam roof is the original, made from wood imported from Norway. Scientific analysis has shown that the oak timbers were felled in 1510 and then shipped to Edinburgh. I can't even explain how beautiful this ceiling was in person.  I did my best to get photos that would show the detail and magnificence of this room and the ceiling, it was such an impressive start to Edinburgh.

Walking up to the Portcullis Gate.

Looking back at the entrance 

Following our guide Ewan on the Argyle Battery

Above and below: walking up to Foog's Gate

Crown Square, looking at the entrance to The Scottish National War Memorial.

The oak hammerbeam roof of the Great Hall.

The red of these walls was gloriously bright. 

Detail of the hammerbeam roof

This photo is blurry, but it's the only one I took of the thistle stone corbel, one of many Renaissance designs on the corbels

Pistols on display in the Great Hall.

After the Great Hall we made our way over to the Royal Palace, birthplace of King James VI, son of Mary, Queen of Scots. As we crossed the Crown Square a group of small schoolchildren were milling about in their darling uniforms. I was in utter shock as I stood freezing and I mean freezing my friends and these young children were in shorts and knee socks! I turned to Daniel and told him that I couldn't believe that I was shivering and they had bare knees. His answer? They're hardy natives. Guess I'm just a wimpy California girl (although Daniel my native Yorkshireman was also freezing, I've decided that children just feel no pain).

Besides housing the birth chamber of King James VI, The Royal Palace contains the Honours of Scotland- the Crown, Sceptre, and Sword of State. As you make your way to the exhibit you pass by exact replicas of the Honours. This allows you to get a close up view as well as touch them. We were paraded passed the real things and encouraged to keep moving along. They don't want you standing there too long. Fortunately for us it wasn't too terribly crowded so I got a really good view of the real jewels.   The Honours have an interesting history. They were created during the reigns of James IV and James V and used all together for the first time in 1543 for Mary, Queen of Scots coronation. Between 1651 and 1660 they lay hidden and buried at a castle and then a church, concealed from the hands of Oliver Cromwell. In 1707 after the Treaty of Union they were locked away in the Crown Room and forgotten until Sir Walter Scott discovered them again in 1818.  He broke open the oak box the Honours has spent 111 years hidden in, finding them them exactly as they had been left. Of course no photos were allowed of the real Honours but if you do a google search they'll come right up.

Above and below: bust of Mary, Queen of Scots

Panel commemorating the birth of James VI in 1566 in the Birthchamber.

Laich Hall

Also hanging out in the Royal Palace with the Honours is the stone called Scone, the Stone of Destiny. This nondescript block of stone belies its importance to Scottish history and the crowning of its Kings. This ancient piece of sandstone was so vital to the leadership of Scotland that it was taken as part of the spoils of war along with holy relics and the Scottish royal regalia by England's King Edward I in 1296. He took it for the purpose of having it fitted in a wooden chair and placed in Westminster Abbey where subsequent Kings of England would be crowned on it for the next 6 centuries. The stone was returned to its rightful place in Scotland on the 600th anniversary of it's removal.

We took a walk through the Scottish National War Memorial before heading into the tiny St. Margaret's Chapel. The oldest building in the castle as well as in Edinburgh, it was built around 1130 by King David I as a private royal chapel, dedicated to his mother, Queen Margaret, who later became a Saint. She died at the castle in 1093, only days after learning that her husband Malcolm III and their eldest son Edward were killed in an ambush near Alnwick Castle. This building was the only left standing when in 1314, King Robert Bruce (hey, Great-Grandad, hey!), ordered the castle to be destroyed beyond use for the English. The chapel was left untouched in reverence to Saint Margaret. It was such a lovely, intimate space to be in. I can imagine it wouldn't be on the top of the list of places to go inside on a busy day, as there wasn't much space to move in but on this sleepy March morning it was just right. Beautiful 20th century stained glass windows fit right in with the 12th century chevroned arch. In doing research for this post I found out that you can get married in St. Margaret's Chapel (as well as other sites at the castle). I wish I would have known about this 8 years ago when Daniel and I got married. I would have jumped at the chance for a ceremony in that sweet chapel. I told him we should renew our vows there and I just got a "I'm humoring you" nod, so I don't think that will happen. 

Exterior or St. Margaret's Chapel

Entrance to the chapel

The tiny chapel

The chevroned arch separating the nave from the chancel.

Stained glass window of St. Columba

Above and below: Stained Glass window of St Margaret

I reluctantly left the little chapel that was quickly filling up with people and we made our way over to the Military Prison, through the Regimental Museums, and the National War Muesum. I'm not interested in military history but there were lots of fascinating things to look at and I enjoyed exploring these places and exhibits. 

The recreated dormitories where prisoners of war slept

The bronze statue of Field Marshall Earl Haig, opposite the entrance to the National War Museum

The Dog Cemetery. Since 1840 it has served as the burial place for regimental mascots and soldiers' pet dogs.

Deciding we had explored all we could in the tight spaces of the castle we left the throngs of tourist behind to hunt down the most touristy of items: Clan tarten merchandise. I was on the hunt for Clan MacGregor and Clan Bruce scarves. Let me tell you how hard it is to find a scarf not made out of wool in Scotland. I am highly sensitive to wool, wearing it it feels like prickly pins that have been on hot coals- needless to say I can feel even the smallest percentage of wool in fabrics so I can't even wear a blend. I seem to be able to tolerate most cashmere garments (which is from goats and not sheep) but of course it is quite expensive. I didn't fancy paying over $100 for a scarf, even if it was beautiful and the appropriate clan tartan, so I settled on leather key chains after much searching and lots of dodging of "helpful" employees. 

With keychains tucked away we wandered down the Royal Mile leaving Edinburgh Castle in our rear view. Our next destination for the day was The Palace of Holyroodhouse.

(End Part I... Part II is on its way!)


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