And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till all the seas gang dry.
– Robert Burns
Where do I even begin? Scotland is incredible, and I will surely love it for the rest of my life. I probably could have stayed in Scotland forever; it felt like home. We arrived in Edinburgh around 6 pm, and took the bus to Leith to find our Airbnb. The flat had a cozy vibe and a decently appointed kitchen; though even if the flat had been awful, I don’t think we would have cared! Leith was the perfect place to stay. Once we were settled, we went in search of dinner, having been told by our host that we were in the best food neighbourhood- and in fact, one of the Michelin starred restaurants that we planned to late to get a reservation for was just a block over from the flat.
Our first dinner in Scotland was also our best. We ate at the Kings Wark Pub in Leith. For a beverage, I had the best gin of my life! Thank you, Scotland, for your sensational gin. Dinner was chicken, stuffed with sun blushed tomatoes (also the best I’ve ever tasted- do you sense a theme?) and wrapped in bacon, on a bed of rich lentil stew.
After we ate, we picked up a few groceries to have some snacks and breakfast food and then we went back to the flat to unwind and get a good sleep. First, a few photos of the city in the evening:
The morning light was stunning as it filtered through a delicate mist. A more perfect January day in Scotland could not have been possible. Having heard great things about a nearby cafe, we took a casual walk over to The Haven Cafe.
To drink: I had peppermint tea made with fresh leaves. It’s the only way I’ve received peppermint tea when I order it in Europe and the UK and I definitely think this is a thing we should be doing in Canada! There’s nothing like the freshness and simplicity of mint leaves. To eat: a proper Scottish breakfast made gluten free! Yay!
From there, the light was so beautiful that we wandered the neighbourhood, and eventually found ourselves walking down a hill, past some beautiful houses, as a water view opened before us. Smelling ocean, I ran like a giddy toddler until I was as close to the water as I could get. We had found the Firth of Forth (the estuary (firth) of the River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea. Now, locals wouldn’t call this ocean, but it looked like ocean and smelled like ocean and that was enough for me! I hadn’t realized until that very moment just how much the ocean centres my soul. I felt so fully happy in that moment. We walked along the water until we came upon a pub, where we stopped in for a drink and to take in the “ocean” view. With the dark timber beams, friendly atmosphere, and beachy view, I could imagine that I was home in Victoria. It was lovely.
Warmed by our beverages, we walked back up the hill until we found the city bus and rode it into the city. We visited Edinburgh Castle, where we listened to recitations of Robert Burns’ poetry, took in the Scottish National War Memorial, and enjoyed magnificent views, the best of which was the west-facing view as we were preparing to leave, with the sun glowing through heavy grey clouds. The castle is home to St Margarets Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh. Though it has been restored, the original decorated arch is still in tact from the 1130 construction, and despite it’s more recent modifications, you step inside and still gain a sense of the solitude and peace that royals once would have felt when they prayed there. The walls are incredibly thick, and it’s a tiny, intimate space.
We spent some time in the Woollen Mill when we left the castle, looking at the various tartans and family crests, and settling on a new pair of ear muffs before heading back to Leith for dinner at Mint Leaf. The food was fine but the service was awful, I’ll leave it at that.
Day trip! Woo! We planned for a bus tour to get out of the city and see the lower Highlands. It was the best decision ever. We chose the Hairy Coo bus tour (thanks to fellow blogger Samantha In Transit and her post on Edinburgh that you can read here).
We were greeted by our tour guide Paddy (not Patty! As he declared he is neither a hamburger or a woman.. his humour at the start of the tour was a good indicator of what was to come). I didn’t sleep much the night before, so I fell asleep every time we got on the bus! I missed many of Paddy’s awesome stories, heard only a few of the songs he played, and I don’t even remember Lake of Menteith. At all. (Lake of Menteith was a refuge for both Robert Bruce, and for Mary, Queen of Scots when she was an infant. It is Scotland’s only lake as the rest are actually Lochs). Oy. One more reason to come back!
We had a short stop at the Forth Bridge, and drove through a lovely small village before we hit the highway to our first main stop: a short hike up through the fog to the Wallace memorial, built to honour William Wallace, a man celebrated as “a hero of Scotland and a true patriot [with] a burning desire for peace and freedom” (care of the monument website). The Forth Bridge is actually a UNESCO heritage site, and was built in the late 1800s (VisitScotland has some great info here).
The tour included a stop for lunch, though I can’t remember where we ate OR the name of the village (oops) and getting to feed Hairy Coos! These highland cattle have long hair, and we learned from Paddy that their outer coating of hair is oily to repel water and help them to keep warm in the cold highland weather. We fed them bread, and they stuck around afterward as we admired them and took photos. I felt a bid of a kinship with them when Paddy told us that usually they take off to the back of the field once the bread runs out. They had massive horns and tongues, and because of their long coats are plain adorable to look at. Don’t worry – there are photos coming in the daily slideshow, just be patient 😉
The highlights of the day for me were twofold:
- Doune Castle. Built in the thirteenth century, it has a rich and beautiful history, but T and I were excited because this is where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed! So cool! More recently, it was represented Castle Leoch in the tv adaption of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (I read and loved all of the books but can’t bring myself to watch a tv version. Those characters are people for me!). No matter what modern reference draws you to this castle, it is completely special in its own right. From the grand hall and stunning views to the massive kitchen with chimneys wider than our entire flat, and complex series of rooms, it’s a place where you could easily spend hours exploring. T and I sadly didn’t get to see the entire thing as we were busy listening to every single stop on the audio tour, complete with “optional Monty Python detail” read by Terry Jones. Definitely take a look at the website gallery and listen to the clip! And the best part? They even have coconuts to lend!! T took on the task of carrying our coconuts so we could clip-clop our way through the castle. SO much fun! We needed at least another hour but it was still spectacular.and
- Loch Katrine. This beautiful loch is nestled against the Trossachs, and is 14.5 km long (that’s 9 miles), and is the freshwater loch for Glasgow. It’s name means “highland thief” but it did nothing but give when we visited: a sense of calm, beautiful fall views and a heaping dose of joy. We had about an hour to walk around the loch, and I felt like I could have been at Thetis lake. I was totally at peace, and only wish I could have stayed longer. I had always heard and read of Scotland’s highlands as so rugged and wild that I didn’t imagine they’d feel so much like home.
We arrived back in the city at dinner time, where we were dropped off at the Royal Mile where we had begun. Which reminds me! This tour is really unique because there’s no set price. You don’t pay to book it, you simply book your space and then at the end of the day pay what you can afford and think is fair. Given what most tours like this would cost, we thought about £50 for two of us was fair, given that the cost of running the trip is about £17 per person.
We ended the day with a traditional Italian dinner at Giuliano’s in Leith, and were fully exhausted. We watched a bit of British tv (always a treat as we don’t have cable at home in London) and we were off to bed.
The trip was coming to a close much too quickly. In the morning, T made us fantastic bacon egg baps for breakfast. The sun was shining, so we quickly got ready for the day and packed up. Our hosts generously allowed us to leave our bags at the flat after check out while we explored. Once again, we hopped on a bus and headed into the city, preparing to hike Arthur’s Seat. Set in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is an ancient volcano, and according to VisitScotland, it is also “the site of a well preserved fort” and is “one of four fort hills dating from around 2000 years ago.” We began as we always seem to do, at the back end, coming up Queen’s Drive (the main road) and past Dunsapie Loch. There, we veered off the road and climbed to the top, at 250 meters above sea level.
It was quite the climb but wow was it worth it. It offered stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, the Firth of Forth, and 360 degree views of the city all around us. We couldn’t have had a more perfect day for it, as the sun shone and the breeze was gentle. Given the cloud in the highlands the day before, we didn’t dream we’d get such perfect weather.
On the way down, we decided to take another route and accidentally came upon the ruins of of an old church. We later learned that this was St. Anthony’s Chapel, a 15th century medieval chapel overlooking St. Margaret’s Loch below. It was such a great surprise, and the perfect way to end our incredible last day.
We popped back to the flat to get our stuff, and for our final meal went to Mimi’s Bakehouse where they made me gluten free french toast with bacon and maple syrup, and even used my almond milk instead of cream so it could be dairy free! Huge win and such accommodating staff. Paired with a cup of earl grey tea, it was the perfect meal to end the weekend. The bus took us back into the city where we met with the airport shuttle, and with a final glimpse up at Edinburgh Castle, we were off to the airport.