My Scottish flatmate informs me that Edinburgh is more like England than Scotland, and well, that’s probably true. I’d love to visit the Scottish Highlands sometime, but for now, one weekend in Edinburgh was a wonderful teaser for Scotland. I took the train from England’s Lake District to Edinburgh, and the scenery out the window was incredible: Hilly and misty, with fields of green and gold turning to boggy grass rimming flat blue rivers.
I managed to get turned around between the train station and my hostel, meaning that I dragged my suitcase up and down an extra hill on those old cobblestone streets before finding my way. I was rewarded in the end, though, because I could see Edinburgh Castle from the dorm in my hostel! The castle is impressive (and a little terrifying, when I imagined what it must have been like 200 years ago), and I understand why it’s said to be the inspiration for Hogwarts.
For most of my stay in Edinburgh, the city was positively shrouded in thick white fog. The castle loomed out of the fog at night like something out of a story. The mist surrounding the old buildings created a delicious atmosphere of timelessness. It was so foggy, in fact, that it wasn’t until my last few hours in the city that I realized how close the ocean was, despite looking right at it when I climbed the Scott monument and the castle.
Edinburgh consists of layers upon layers of history. The Royal Mile provides the backbone of Old Town Edinburgh (where I spent my time, along with all the other tourists), with everything I wanted to see running off the street in steep, charmingly cobblestoned paths. Running off the mains streets were dozens of closes, steep steps in narrow alleyways running between shops and houses, leading to courtyards or other streets.
I stayed on my own in the center of Old Town Edinburgh for two nights, and found it absolutely charming. I found the best used bookstore, an endless warren of shelves extending all the way to Narnia (or so it seemed). And the rest was history.
No, really. Every cobblestone in Edinburgh is steeped in history, and I felt that keenly the first night I was there, as I walked over the old public execution site on my way to dinner at The Last Drop. The streets are built up in layers, some visible (new buildings built in a row on top of the old) and some unseen.
I took a tour through the latter in Mary King’s Close, a 17th century neighborhood that has been underground for 250 years. The neighborhood used to be filled with 8-story tenement houses, until the residents were evacuated and the top levels of the houses were torn down so the Royal Exchange could be built on top. Today, tours go down below the Royal Mile and tread on 17th century streets, going in and out of rudimentary houses and learning about the plague’s effect on the neighborhood, the business woman who is the namesake of the close, trades of former occupants, and of course murder and ghost stories. It was something else, realizing the maze of streets that lie underneath the city.
The cathedral was lovely and very Scottish-themed, especially the Thistle Chapel. I was amazed how close by everything was.
I paid a visit to Greyfriars Bobby and the delightfully misty old graveyard.
Greyfriars Bobby was a little dog whose devotion led him to stay by his master’s grave for years and years. Bobby’s loyalty eventually made him a mascot for the area, and people still lay sticks on his grave.
I was surprised to learn that Edinburgh Castle once held American naval prisoners during the Revolutionary War. There is still graffiti in the prison from those prisoners, and I even got to see where they once slept.
I splurged on afternoon tea at the castle after seeing the Scottish Honours- the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny- and meandering around the battlements.
The best part of Edinburgh was just walking around and seeing what there was to see. I love old towns.