Tag Archives: Edinburgh

On This Day – Edinburgh Castle and Lead Soldiers

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 24th July 2015 I was in the Scottish Capital City of Edinburgh visiting the castle…

Edinburgh Castle

Even at ten o’clock there was a long queue at the ticket office, sensible people buy their tickets on line and get through quicker but I had failed in this instance to think ahead so I waited in line and shuffled ponderously towards the ticket office like a man with his shoe laces tied together.  I was cheered up however when I got there and noticed that I qualified for a 20% over 60s concession – there are some benefits to getting older but disappointingly the desk clerk didn’t ask me to prove it!

Read The Full Story Here…

 

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

Empúries Greek StatueEdinburgh Street Art

Postcards From Scotland

William WallaceScott Monument EdinburghAbbotsford House Galashiels ScotlandMary Queen of Scots House JedburghEdinburgh Military Tattoo

 

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Scotland, Edinburgh, Street Images

Scotland Edinburgh Dugold CastleEdinburgh Street Art

Scotland – Edinburgh, the Scott Monument and the West End

Walter Scott Monument Edinburgh

“All towns ending in –burgh were instructed to change to –burg, whilst all those ending in –borough where henceforth to read –boro.  On the matter… the Board was nothing short of relentless and even now you can search a gazetteer long and hard to find an exception to these two terminations.  The main and obvious one is Pittsburgh (because) the city’s leading institutions… refused to buckle under.”  – Bill Bryson, ‘Made in America’

We found a back street pub now for a lunch time drink but didn’t need food on account of the large breakfast and the cement like consistency of the stodgy haggis – another reminder to myself not to have it again tomorrow.

Whilst drinking beer I wondered about the pronunciation of the name of the city Edinburgh. In the UK we pronounce it Edinborough but it spelt in the way that in America it would be pronounced burgh as in Pittsburgh.  Subsequent research tells me that there is an Edinburgh in Indiana but that is pronounced as in Pittsburgh and there is also an Edinburgh in South Australia also pronounced in the American rather than the UK style.  To complicate matters there is a town in England called Happisburg which is misleadingly pronounced as Haysborough – curious thing, language.

After struggling with our debate about conflicting linguistics we left the pub and made our way to the Walter Scott memorial because for a modest admission charge (sadly no concessions for over 60s) it is possible to take a winding spiral staircase to the very top for a grand 360° view across all of the city. It is quite a tortuous climb and people going up have to compete with people coming down for restricted staircase space which made me think how much better it would have been if the architect had made provision for two sets of steps, one up and one down!

Some people don’t like the Scott monument, Bill Bryson compared it to a gothic spaceship but I quite like it.  It is the biggest memorial to a writer anywhere in the World and a rather appropriate memorial to a man who regularly features in a top ten list of most important Scots although recently Alex Salmond has been creeping up that list which might devalue it somewhat!

I have been up the Scott monument before but once again I couldn’t really remember anything about it.  This is me in 1984 and Kim in 2015.

Walter Scott Monument & Edinburgh CastleWalter Scott Monument & Waverley Hotel

One of the views that interested me was the Old Waverley Hotel directly opposite.  I stayed there both times and as far as I can recall it hasn’t changed a great deal inside but at street view there were obvious changes of shops.  In 1984 there was the gentleman’s outfitters Dunne and Co. which ceased trading in 1996 and next to that a specialist kilt maker.  I imagine that this was quite an expensive store but today you can get a full kilt outfit including jacket, shirt, socks and a sporran for about £80 in the tourist shops.  Today there is a Monsoon and an Accessorize.

From the top we took the giddy steps back to Princess Street and in late afternoon Kim decided that there were a couple of shops that she had missed so disappeared back towards the shopping mall and walked along Princess Street under the shadow of the castle and towards the West End.

This is an area of the city that is trying to invent itself as an alternative tourist attraction away from the Old and the New towns.  It is an area of preserved Georgian streets with original shopping streets and terraces of granite houses.  It is an understated part of the city and I enjoyed walking along the pavements of an area of period splendour sitting effortlessly alongside modern corporate architecture.  I would have liked to have spent longer there but the day was ebbing away so I made my weary way back along Princess Street to the Old Waverley.

We spent some time in the room enjoying the view as the sun went down behind the castle and then predictably returned to Café Marlayne where we had an excellent second evening meal and reflected on our short visit to Edinburgh.  We had enjoyed it but it was almost over because in the morning we would be catching an early train back to Newcastle.

005Old Waverley Hotel Edinburgh

Scotland – Edinburgh Castle and Scotland The Brave

Edinburgh Statue

July 2015 broke all weather records by being the wettest UK July on record with Scotland being the wettest place of all, so it was a surprise when we woke in the morning and were greeted by clear blue skies and a blazing sun.

This was too good to miss so we hurried back to Calton Hill to get some blue sky pictures of Edinburgh and to see the monuments early before coach loads of visitors started swarming all over them.  The walk gave us an appetite and back at the Waverley we tucked into a full Scottish breakfast including haggis.  I ate it but I made a mental note to myself not to repeat the mistake of putting it on my plate the following day.

After breakfast we went our separate ways, Kim was drawn to the department stores of Princess Street and I returned to the castle stopping now and then in the tourist gift shops to see if I could find that illusive tartan polo shirt, alas without any luck!

Scotland Edinburgh Dugold Castle

Even at ten o’clock there was a long queue at the ticket office, sensible people buy their tickets on line and get through quicker but I had failed in this instance to think ahead so I waited in line and shuffled slowly to the ticket office like a man with his shoe laces tied together.  I was cheered up however when I got there and noticed that I qualified for a 20% over 60s concession – there are some benefits to getting older.

I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

Inside the castle I took a quick look at the battlements and the splendid views over Edinburgh but they were swarming with people so I moved on and went to the Scottish National War Museum.

Edinburgh Castle

The Scots like military history and the museum sets out the story of the last four hundred years of wars and battles.  It conveniently starts after the wars of Scottish independence and a succession of English victories but at least that spares the English visitor from the tedious stories of Bannockburn and William Wallace!

It was a good museum and I enjoyed it but what I wanted to see most of all was the museum of the regiment The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – The Greys.  Being a fan of the Richard Sharp novels and the TV series there was one exhibit that I really wanted to see, the Imperial Eagle of the French 45th Regiment of the Line captured at the Battle of Waterloo by Sergeant Charles Ewart.

I made my way through the museum stopping regularly to look at the show cases of swords and guns and uniforms (a lot of kilts) and followed the time line to 1815.  I wanted to see the painting of the famous cavalry charge Scotland Forever (see header) which I just assumed would be here but found out that the original is actually in an art gallery in Leeds in England so I had to make do with a reproduction.

001

I was getting closer now to Sergeant Charles Ewart’s Imperial Eagle and then I came upon the display case I was looking for.  I was in for a shock.  It was empty but for a scruffy hand written note saying that it had been loaned to the Scotland National Museum elsewhere in the City to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  What a disappointment, I so wanted to see that Eagle and there wasn’t going to be time now to go to its temporary place of display.

So I visited a couple more regimental museums and then the dungeons and prisons of the old castle before making my way to the very top past Mons Meg, which with a twenty inch calibre is one of the biggest cannons ever made and then past a long line of people shuffling slowly forward to visit a dog cemetery.  A dog cemetery!  What the…? There are so many interesting things to see in the castle but hundreds of visitors queue up for the bizarre reason of seeing where army officers’ pet dogs are buried.  How bizarre!

Scotlan Highland Soldiers The Thin Red Line

At the top I joined another long line of people waiting in turn to see the Honours of Scotland, The Scottish Crown Jewels, the crown, the sceptre and the sword of state together with the stone of Scone, the Coronation Stone.  It took longer than I expected to make my way through a four hundred time line of history which charted every significant event in the history of the honours which seemed to dwell rather a lot on the repeated attempts of the English to steal them and as a consequence spending hundreds of years hidden under floor boards and locked up in a secret casket.

Eventually the journey through time came to an end and I was in the strong room which houses the valuable artefacts, so valuable it seems that photography is strictly forbidden and there are far more people on duty than really necessary to make sure no one sneaks a picture – even more than at Lenin’s tomb in Moscow.  Perhaps they worry about a modern day Colonel Blood who stole the Crown Jewels of Scotland and England from the Tower of London in 1671.

It was time to leave the castle now so I walked through the Esplanade being prepared for the 2015 Tattoo back along the Royal Mile and getting familiar with the city now a couple of short cuts through unpromising narrow alleys, past Waverley station and back to the hotel where Kim was waiting for me.

I think it is important not to have regrets in life but I do often wonder what possessed me to spend nearly £2,000 collecting model lead soldiers.  I cannot even explain it away as a moment of madness because it took nearly four years to build a collection of two hundred Napoleonic cavalry and infantry soldiers which are now stored in a box and destined to remain there forever.

One of the figures in the collection is Sergeant Charles Ewart  of the Royal Scots Greys…

Sergeant Charles Ewart

More Scottish soldiers from the collection…

Scottish Soldiers

Glasgow Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders and Black Watch.

All reasonable offers considered…

Scotland – Edinburgh, Old and New

Edinburgh Castle

Take a look at a map of Edinburgh and you will see that it is conveniently divided into three separate areas.  To the south is the old town, to the west is West End and to the north is the New Town.  Our hotel was on Princess Street so we started with the neoclassical New Town where the roads are broad and grand and symmetrical and we looked for somewhere for lunch.

Edinburgh can be expensive which is explained by the fact that it enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the UK, after Bristol it is voted the happiest city in the country, unemployment is low and it often appears in lists of the best places to live.  Earlier this year, it was said to be the happiest city in the UK in a survey by the Office for National Statistics.  These facts seem to have conspired to drive up prices in this, the commercial centre of the city so we looked for a Wetherspoons* pub where we could be certain of prices more consistent with our holiday budget.

Edinburgh Map

After a quick lunch we made our way out of the New Town to the Old and made towards the castle by what looked to be the most direct route along a path up Castle Rock, ignoring signs along the way that there was no access along this route on account of preparations for the Edinburgh Tattoo in a few days time.

This was a foolish thing to do because after an energy sapping climb there was indeed no access on this route and we had to turn around and go back to the road.  The most annoying thing about this was that lots of people had made the same mistake and not one of these tipped us off as they walked back down the hill as we were going up.

Anyway, we eventually made it to the road and entered the sinuous labyrinth of the Old Town which in layout is in total contrast to the orderly New Town with a general appearance and character that remains firmly medieval.  Here are tortuous alleys, twisting steps that knock the breath out of the unfit and tightly packed streets. We climbed a particularly steep set of steps through a narrow alley with overhanging buildings so tight we had to breath in to pass through and finally emerged at the Castle Esplanade.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

Now we had a decision to make – to visit the castle or not?  Kim wasn’t keen, she has been before quite recently, it was rather expensive (£16.50), there was an almighty long line of people queuing for tickets and it was starting to rain.

So Kim won this particular debate and we made our way out of the castle and back to the top of the Royal Mile, a tourist trap street with whisky stores, wailing bagpipes and street entertainers on every street corner and a succession of shops selling everything tartan.

Well, everything tartan is not strictly true.  Later this year I am going back to Scotland to play golf with a group of pals and I had set my heart on a loud tartan polo shirt for making a fashion statement on the links.  Do you think I could find one? Absolutely not! There was tartan everything from baggy underpants to kinky suspender belts, from socks to bobble hats, from sporrans to contraceptives but never a polo shirt so I had to make do with a golf cap and a nylon kagool that I spotted on a sale rack at the back of a shop.  Now I hope that it rains so that I can wear it.

My shopping over and done with and Kim in a state of shock we continued to walk down the Royal Mile but the rain suddenly got heavier so we dashed for cover and a visit to St Giles’ Cathedral which is called a cathedral but really isn’t because Edinburgh falls within the Diocese of St Andrew’s a few miles away.  The interior is quite interesting with some stained glass windows and memorials but once again photography was forbidden and so our visit only lasted as long as the rain shower outside.

And so we left the old town and back on Princess Street the lure of the department stores was too much for Kim to resist so while she went off to the shops I walked east to Calton Hill.

There is a lot to see at Calton Hill because based at St Andrew’s House it is the headquarters of the Scottish Government with the Scottish Parliament and other notable buildings including Holyrood Palace near the foot of the hill.  The hill is also the location of several iconic monuments and buildings – the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument (which is almost always used in photographs and postcards of the city), the old Royal High School, the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs’ Monument and the City Observatory.  That is a lot of sightseeing!

On the way back down I visited the graveyard to see the tomb of the philosopher David Hume and a memorial to American Scottish soldiers and then returned to the hotel where we just sat in the window of our hotel room and enjoyed the views along Princess Street and across the road all the way along to the castle.

Well, believe it or believe it not, Kim had spotted a small restaurant that she thought looked promising for evening meal and so, not being inclined to argue with her on the matter of restaurant selection we later made our way back into the New Town and enjoyed wonderful food and a great bistro atmosphere at the Café Marlayne that was good enough to make us make the instant decision that we would be returning there for our second meal tomorrow.

Edinburgh from Calton Hill

*Wetherspoons is a UK chain of pub/restaurants which champions cask ale, low prices, long opening hours, and no music. It has become famous for converting large, unconventional premises into pubs. This one used to be a bank.

Scotland – Edinburgh, First Impressions

Edinburgh Scotland

We caught the train to Edinburgh from Newcastle Central and I just knew that there was going to be a problem when a group of misbehaving middle aged women joined us in our carriage with tee shirts announcing that they were celebrating ‘Marie’s 50th Birthday’.

There were signs in the carriage saying keep the noise down but I don’t think any of them could read so they cracked the cans and topped the bottles and made an almighty racket all the way to Edinburgh. I actually prayed to God that they weren’t staying in our hotel.

We found a seat at the other end of the carriage and ignored them as best we could and enjoyed the ride. Trains used to chatter but now they hum and the journey took us along the Northumbrian coast past Alnwick and Lindisfarne, Holy Island and Berwick and then followed the Firth of Forth towards our destination.  It was like a vivid reminder of our two day mini bus excursion in Turkey  with the Dagenham Womens’ Darts Team.

There is surely no finer city to arrive by train than Edinburgh! If there is, then please let me know?

In most cities the railway terminus is out of town, somewhere in the scruffy district with the graffiti and the dirt, somewhere well past its best but not so in Edinburgh because Waverley Station (the only station in the world named after a novel) is right in the beating heart of the city and once ascended from the subterranean platforms a visitor is deposited immediately into Edinburgh’s principal thoroughfare – Princess Street. The A1, the road that links Edinburgh to London, four hundred miles away and a road on which Scottish Nationalists would construct a border crossing at Berwick upon Tweed if they had their way.

And so it was that we emerged from the underground chambers of the railway station and arrived blinking and unsure into the centre of the capital city of Scotland, the seventh largest city in the UK, but only the second in Scotland after Glasgow. The largest UK city is of course London with a population over seven million and the smallest is St David’s in Wales with a tiny population of only two thousand.

Immediately we were met by the unpleasant reception of dozens of beggars hanging around the station concourse and we picked our careful way though the dirty sleeping bags and on to the wailing siren of bagpipes on every street corner. There was no mistaking that we were in Scotland!

Adjacent to the station there are a number of fine old hotels, The Caledonian, The Scotsman, The Royal British and the Old Waverley where we were staying. It was only a five minute walk from the station and we presented ourselves at reception and were booked in and handed our key and we made our way to the fifth floor. Edinburgh hotels are expensive and I was not expecting anything special but when we opened the door we were delighted to have a suite at the front of the hotel directly opposite the Scott monument and with a fine view of the castle.

From the tall windows there was a grandstand view of the city. There were soaring towers of granite with green copper domes standing straight backed and proud like soldiers of a Highland regiment, high pitched roofs to deal with winter snow, salt and pepper coloured buildings with symmetrical windows that would please a mathematician, terracotta chimney pots in orderly rows and flagpoles with waving Saltires but also quite surprisingly an equal number of Union flags. The 2015 vote on independence split the country down the middle and the evidence was here to see.

The buildings here rise imperiously above a narrow gorge where railway lines squeeze themselves into the city in between gardens of rain soaked velvet green and above it all stands the castle, a magnificent structure rising from the ground as though announcing the beginning of a volcanic eruption.

And opposite, almost within touching distance was the soaring Gothic memorial to the novelist and poet Walter Scott. Some people don’t like the memorial but I think it looks just fine.

On account of the view I could have stayed in the room all afternoon but that wouldn’t have got a lot of sightseeing done so as soon as we had unpacked and could tear ourselves away we went back to Princess Street with a plan to see the city.

Scott Monument Edinburgh

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Birmingham – More Canals than Venice

Birmingham Canal Boat

When visiting Birmingham it is almost inevitable to come across the proud boast that the city has ‘More Canals than Venice’.  Birmingham has been called the ‘Venice of the North’ but this isn’t a title that it holds uniquely because it has also been applied to Saint Petersburg, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester and Edinburgh amongst others.

It is important to understand that the city makes this claim on the basis of waterway length because it has over one hundred miles of navigable waterways compared with about sixty in Amsterdam and just twenty five in Venice. But thinking in terms of the number of canals, it is wrong; Birmingham only really has six canals whereas Amsterdam has 165 and Venice has 177. I am just saying.

After walking around the Civic Centre we made our way now to Brindleyplace which is at the heart of the canal infrastructure of the city and which has been regenerated and thoroughly reinvented as a tourist attraction.  By the 1970s Birmingham’s canals were in a serious state of disrepair, crumbling away, dirty and smelly and lined by derelict warehouses and  the City Council even considered a proposal to fill them in and turn them into cycle routes but canal enthusiasts would not allow this to happen and instead they approved a multi-million pound restoration scheme.

I have always been fond of canals because when I was a boy we lived near the Oxford Canal that had been commissioned in 1769 and built by the canal builder James Brindley.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the gates for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

If the canal was dangerous then the locks were doubly so but this didn’t stop us from daring each other to jump from the elevated tow path down about three metres and two and a half metres across to the central section of the double locks.  I shudder to think about it now.  We used to swim in the canal too and that was a stupid thing to do as well.  Not only was the murky water about two metres deep and lurking with danger but it was also full of bacteria and germs especially in the black cloying mud on the bottom that would ooze through your toes so it’s a miracle that we didn’t catch typhoid or something else really, really awful.

Talking of catching things, we used to go fishing down the canal and this wasn’t quite so dangerous except when my friend Colin Barratt (who was forbidden by his parents to go to the canal on account of not being able to swim) fell in while struggling to land a four-ounce Perch with a homemade rod and line.

One minute he was standing on the towpath with his garden cane rod and bit of string and there was an almighty splash and Colin was thrashing about in the water struggling for his life.  Between us we dragged him out without having to jump in ourselves and took him home and didn’t see him again for about three months after that but to make him feel better we told him that it was a monster Pike that had pulled him in.

The last time that I had lunch by the side of a canal was in Venice at the Ristorante Da Raffaele and although there were no gondolas gliding by in Birmingham it was just as nice to sit by the side of the water in the sunshine and enjoy a pasta in the UK Midlands and after lunch we walked for a while along the towpaths before heading back to the city centre, New Street railway station and a short return train ride.

I had enjoyed the day in Birmingham and look forward to going back some time soon.

Canal Boat British waterways