Enchanting Edinburgh part three

Morning all. Happy Sunday. It’s a bit of a miserable day outside today so it’s ruined my plans of getting out in the garden. Apparently Storm Freya is on her way. She’s not headed our way but I guess we’ve got her to blame for the pants weather. It feels a world apart from this time last week when I was headed up to Edinburgh.

Speaking of which, here’s the third and final instalment of my Edinburgh trip. This one will be mostly pictorial I think.

I had some work to do first, so I was up early and headed back over to Waverley Station to get the Airlink 100 back out nearly to the airport where I was meeting some colleagues. That went well and before I knew it I was back on the Airlink 100 again headed for the zoo, which is in between the airport and the city centre. I’ve mentioned my quandary with zoos before. I don’t like to see caged animals, but I do find myself drawn to zoos and safari parks because I just love to see animals in the flesh, and I know that zoos work incredibly hard to maintain endangered species and that they need entrance money to do so. I have to say, on this sunny day the animals seemed to be loving basking in the rays, even the penguins to whom it can’t come naturally.

The zoo has lockers available to rent which I made use of to store my laptop bag whilst I wondered round. I’m so glad they have this facility because my laptop bag is pretty heavy, and the zoo is built on quite a steep hill so I’d have struggled if I’d had to carry it all afternoon. My back was really achy as it was by the end of the day.

First port of call was a cafe! It was about one o’clock by this point and all I’d had to eat was Belvita Breakfast biscuits on the bus so my tummy was somewhat rumbly. I grabbed a sandwich and a scrummy piece of rocky road and headed outside. Picnic in the sun, in February, in Scotland! Bet that doesn’t happen often. I was sat in my shirt sleeves and the sun was beating down on me. Bliss!

My train home was just before five o’clock so I prioritised the animals that I really wanted to see most in case I didn’t have time to get round the whole zoo. Edinburgh Zoo is the only zoo in the UK which has koalas and giant pandas and I was very excited to see them so I headed in their direction first.

There are two adult koalas, a male and a female. I couldn’t get a clear photo of the female because she was hidden up safely at the top of her enclosure because she has a tiny joey that she’s very protective of. The zoo keepers don’t even know yet whether the joey is a girl or a boy.

The male koala was in the next door enclosure, and he was just hanging around in a tree seemingly unperturbed by all the people gawping at him.

Their enclosures weren’t huge, but I’m sure I’ve read that koalas don’t have a big territory in the wild. I remember images of them in wild fires in Australia where people were having to climb trees to rescue them because they were too lazy to bother moving. Amazing that they found the energy to make a joey really! Having seen them in the flesh now, I’m even more convinced that they should officially be called koala bears even though they’re officially marsupials, because they just look so cuddly like bears.

Next off to the giant pandas. There are two, a male and a female on a ten year loan from a Chinese zoo, but I only saw one of them. They’re in identical adjacent enclosures, but they only come together for the small mating window between March and May. Giant pandas on average only spend two to four days a year with a potential mate – this could be the secret to a happy marriage! She’s perfectly free to arrange her bamboo however she fancies with no one to mess it up!

I made my way over to the penguin enclosure next. At two fifteen every day they do a penguin parade. This was accidentally started in 1951 when a keeper inadvertently left the gate open and the penguins followed him round the zoo in single file! The keepers don’t encourage the penguins out using food so it’s entirely up to the penguins if they want to come out or not. I wasn’t in luck – apparently it was vaccination day the previous week and the penguins were still wary of the keepers. There are some great videos like this one on YouTube though if you want to have a look.

I headed over to the grey kangaroos next. There are four of them, an adult mating pair and their adolescent offspring and, I was delighted to see, a joey still living in its mother’s pouch. I haven’t got a photo of it, but I saw the joey poke its head out and have a look around. It was just like a scene from Winnie the Pooh with Kanga and Roo. I stood there, camera poised, for ages after this hoping to catch it on film, but it didn’t reappear. You can see from the first pic below though that there’s definitely a sizeable joey in that pouch.

I also saw the mother and the teenager have a boxing match over some minor disagreement. Maybe he’s annoyed that he’s having to play second fiddle to the new baby!

I was right to prioritise the animals that I really wanted to see because I didn’t have time to make it round the whole zoo before it was time to head back to the bus stop unfortunately. I won’t bore you with every animal that I did see, but here’s a few of my favourite photos that hopefully need no explanation.

So here endeth my Edinburgh ramblings. I had such a fantastic time and I would love to spend some more time up there. I was so so SO lucky with the weather and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do so much if it’d been wet or super cold, but really, there’s a lot of indoor stuff to do as well so it really is an all weather destination. Five stars to Edinburgh!

Enchanting Edinburgh part two

Hello, it’s me again, harping on about Edinburgh some more!

Day two and I woke up in my hotel feeling refreshed and ready for a full day of sightseeing. I got ready, grabbed my Belvita Breakfast Biscuits and headed off down Princes Street to the tour bus stop outside Waverley Station.


I prebooked tickets for a hop on hop off bus with Edinburgh Bus Tours. It was £55 but I could hop on and off three routes, the red City Sightseeing bus and the green Edinburgh tour which both concentrated on the central sights, and the blue Majestic route which went all the way out to Leith. I also got fast track entry into three attractions, Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and it just so happened that these three were top of my wish list.

I decided to start furthest away from the city and work my way back, so I jumped on the Majestic bus and grabbed a seat on the open top. Admittedly there was a roof over about a third of the top deck, but it was mostly open, and I was warmer than I was on top of the open top bus in Malta! Bizarre weather for February, in Scotland! I was given headphones so I plugged in and listened to the commentary as we drove.

Soon we arrived in Leith and I hopped off excited to see the Royal Yacht. The way they’ve arranged this is really good. The entrance is on the top floor of the adjacent shopping centre and you enter the Yacht via a gangway straight on to the top deck. As you finish on each deck you go back down the gangway and down a flight of stairs to the gangway on to the deck below. An audio guide is included which gives you loads of interesting info.


On the top deck, fairly obviously you find the bridge and an open deck which must’ve been fab for all those honeymooning Royals in warm climes. Four Royal couples chose to start married life aboard Britannia. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones sailed around the Caribbean for six weeks on her following their wedding in 1960 and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips endured twenty foot high waves and severe sea sickness on their 1973 honeymoon also to the Caribbean. Prince Charles and Princess Diana sailed round the Med and the Greek Islands for sixteen days in 1981 after they tied the knot. The state room that they slept in is the only one to have a double bed, which Prince Charles specifically requested for their honeymoon (somewhat ironically given subsequent events!) Finally Prince Andrew and Fergie enjoyed five days cruising round the Azores following their 1986 nuptials. I would recommend that anyone considering marriage doesn’t go anywhere near Britannia in the weeks following their marriage given that in the working lifetime of the Yacht, all those Royals who honeymooned on her ended up divorced!

Next deck down are the state rooms of the Royal Family. The Queen and Prince Phillip had adjoining rooms, both with single beds.

Both were decorated specifically to each occupant’s preference.

Throughout the ship you will also find various reception rooms, some of which are available to hire. I imagine it costs quite a few pretty pennies, but how cool would it be to hold an event on the Royal Yacht? I did wonder how they vet the requests because I noted that there were plush carpets throughout most of the rooms and I don’t think they’d take kindly to some raucous hen do spilling red wine everywhere!

Speaking of alcohol, there was no shortage of opportunity to enjoy a few jars or tots. On the upper decks there were sophisticated bars where the Royals could’ve relaxed before dinner.

And further down you find your pubby type drinking establishments more aimed at the navies where they could wind down after their duties were done for the day.

There were more than two hundred and fifty crew on the Royal Yacht including a military band, all headed by an Admiral.

Their living quarters were somewhat less palatial than those of the Royal Family.

Except the Admiral, of course, who had his own separate quarters near the bridge that were much more suited to his rank.

The ship was built with the dual purpose of being used as a hospital ship in times of need, and it could be completely converted within a week if the need arose (which it never did).

I loved wandering, and wondering, around the Royal Yacht but I had a lot to fit it, so I headed back to the hop on hop off bus, which turned up bang on time, and headed back towards the city and Holyroodhouse Palace.

Holyroodhouse Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, and she spends a week there every July (lucky lady) to undertake Royal engagements and investitures. The photo above is the fountain at the entrance to the palace. The water only flows when the Queen is in residence or on special occasions to save it from damage. It’s forbidden to take photos inside the palace so I’m struggling to remember everything that I saw, but I was left with an overwhelming feeling of awe. It’s a wonderful place to visit, full of history and legend. Its walls are covered with the most fantastic tapestries and paintings.

Mary Queen of Scots is probably the most famous former resident. She lived at Holyroodhouse Palace from 1561 to 1567. I walked through her bedchamber with its tiny bed (which must’ve been uncomfortable given that Mary was six feet tall) and through to the outer chamber. This is where Mary was eating her dinner on 9th March 1566 when she witnessed the brutal murder of her private secretary David Rizzio by her jealous husband Lord Darnley and his henchmen. He was stabbed fifty six times! Clearly jealousy is a powerful weapon!

Bonnie Prince Charlie also resided here for six weeks in 1745. He came to claim the throne of Great Britain. It seems he was quite a character! You can walk through the Great Gallery which he used to greet his audiences by day, but then transformed it so he could party the night away in the same space. He slept in the Lord Darnley chamber and the very bed he slept in is still there.

Back outside, I came to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. This was a grand mediaeval abbey, and although it is now in ruins, from what is left, you can imagine how grandiose it once was. The photo ban is lifted for the abbey, and you don’t have to tell me twice!

There’s a great view of Arthur’s Seat from the front courtyard of the palace. Next time I find myself in Edinburgh, I will definitely attempt to get to the top because the views must be stunning.

Next stop, Edinburgh Castle. So, back on the hop on hop off bus, this time the green Edinburgh Tour. This one had live commentary rather than prerecorded. I wasn’t on the bus long, but I learnt about Greyfriars Bobby.

Bobby became famous because after his owner of two years died and was buried in Greyfriars Cemetery, Bobby slept on the grave every night until his death fourteen years later. He is commemorated in this statue and his grave can be found in Greyfriars Cemetery also, not far from his owners.

Isn’t that heartwarming?

Edinburgh Castle looms over the city. There’s not many places you can’t see it from. It was a Royal residence as early as the twelfth century right up to sixteen thirty three, but from the fifteenth century it was used less and less as a residence and it was principally used as a military base.

There’s evidence inside of the Royal connection, not least through the presence of the Scottish Crown Jewels. No photos allowed, but they’re pretty impressive, although perhaps not as much so as I anticipated. I think I was dreaming of something like this.

I peered into the tiny tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (and I of England). It’s got incredible painting on the walls and ceilings.

I’m sure she wasn’t really paying attention to that whilst in the throes of labour!

The castle was fortified to the hilt. This cannon could send its contents flying two miles away. TWO MILES!

I have to include this next photo of another cannon purely because I like the photo!

I don’t think I did the Castle justice. I paid for the audio guide, but having spent all day listening to audio guides and absorbing oodles of interesting information, I’d reached saturation point and I couldn’t take much more in. Perfect excuse to go back!

Now, after all this historical culture, I decided it was time for some more up to date exploring – Harry Potter! Of course! Edinburgh is the home of JK Rowling, and Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are fictionally (I think, although as a muggle, I may just not be able to see them) located somewhere in Scotland.

I’d already seen for myself where a lot of the inspiration behind Harry Potter must’ve come from. As soon as I arrived in the centre of Edinburgh, I said to myself (actually out loud I think) as I trotted down Princes Street ‘Hogwarts could NOT have looked any different!) This is what you see as you head away from Waverley Station.

Doesn’t it just look like Hogwarts could be hiding behind the more modern buildings?

Then as I looked around Edinburgh, I saw the spires, turrets and arches of Holyroodhouse Palace …

… the Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle …

… and the Scott Monument in Princes Park …

… and I knew without a doubt that Harry Potter could only have come to life out of the imagination of someone who knew and loved Edinburgh.

I found the elephant house which is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the early books.

I didn’t have time to go in – another thing on the list for next time. Apparently the toilets are daubed with Harry Potter themed graffiti.

I sauntered down Victoria Street which is said to have inspired Diagon Alley …

… and I searched Greyfriars Cemetery for the grave which allegedly gave rise to Tom Riddle, who as any devotee will know, became Lord V …. nope, can’t do it! He who must not be named!

I spotted various miscellany dotted around Edinburgh that made me wonder if JK had seen the same and used them in her writing.

In the castle I saw this crest …


In Princes Park there’s a statue of Allan Ramsay, the poet.

See his headwear? Did JK see this and imagine a creature living in that scarf? Is that how Professor Quirrell came to be?

A unicorn at Holyroodhouse Palace. This is not an isolated unicorn. They’re all over Edinburgh because, I learnt, the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland! Did this spark all the magical beasts (and where to find them!) in Harry Potter. You saw in part one all I learnt about faeries on my walking tour. It seems perfectly natural now that JK’s imagination gave rise to all these magical, mythical animals.

By now I’d clocked up nearly twenty thousand steps so I was feeling in need of a quick pit stop and then my bed! I found Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar which I had previously researched on tripadvisor so I gladly fell into a window seat to rest my weary bones.

When in Rome and all that! I had to give haggis a try while I was there. I’d already enjoyed several Irn Brus (although they were in plastic bottles and I’ve since learnt that it tastes much better from a glass bottle) so I upped the Scottish ante and ordered mini haggis, neeps and tatties (otherwise known as haggis, potato and turnip) which promised to be a perfect beginner’s option for those new to haggis.

Yum! It didn’t last long! I followed this up with Bonnie Prince Charlie char-grilled chicken in a whisky, peppercorn and mustard sauce. You get to choose from eight different kinds of mash and I opted for Scottish cheddar/chive cheese mash.

Double yum! I couldn’t finish it, although I really tried hard, and I had no room for dessert.

It would appear that I had rather a lot to say about Edinburgh, and I haven’t even mentioned the zoo yet! I think I’ll save that for another day because regular animals (impressive as some of them were) seem rather misfitting next to unicorns and other magical beasts. Suffice it to say that I had an amazing, awesome, outstanding day. Thank you Edinburgh!

Enchanting Edinburgh – part one

I spent two and a half days north of the border this week, combining a work trip with pleasure, with the balance happily tipped towards pleasure. This was my first ever trip to Scotland and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. I had such a good time and I squeezed so much sightseeing into my short time there that I may have to split this post into two entries, but I’ll see how I go.

I flew up from Birmingham on Sunday afternoon and arrived in Edinburgh to blue skies an hour and a bit later. I got the blue Airlink 100 bus from the airport to the city centre which was really quick and easy. Half an hour on the bus with announcements of what the next stop was (and a lady signing what I assume was the same information on a screen) so I knew exactly where I was. I got off at Waverley Station but I later found out that the previous stop was right at the end of the road that my hotel was on. Not to worry – it meant I got oriented straight away and I needed to know where Waverley was for the next morning anyway. 

My hotel, Frederick House Hotel, was super cheap (thirty quid a night) and I can’t for the life of me work out why! My room was very comfortable. I had a squishy double bed, a dressing/work table, a decent TV, plenty of hanging space and a nice clean bathroom with a power shower. 


I even had tea and coffee – I don’t drink either, but the four cartons of milk came in handy when I had indigestion and hadn’t got any tablets!

I could see Edinburgh Castle as soon as I left the front door … 


… and I was ten minutes walk from the station so I couldn’t really have been more perfectly located. There was no restaurant at the hotel, not even for breakfast, but there are loads of restaurants and cafes moments away. I took Belvita Breakfast Biscuits with me so I didn’t have to waste precious sightseeing time eating in the morning!

On the day I arrived I had a walking tour booked for six thirty in the evening which lasted for two hours, so I headed out about fiveish so I could eat beforehand. I’d found a Chinese restaurant with great reviews on tripadvisor called Karen’s Unicorn so I decided to try it. I went for crispy shredded chicken with boiled rice, and I wasn’t disappointed (although it was probably what gave me indigestion!)


Nicely presented, huh?

I wandered over to the Royal Mile (thank you google maps) after I’d eaten to meet the tour. 


I was met by Melanie from Canada who was the tour guide and we were soon on our way. I don’t have many photos, and the ones I do have are a bit rubbish because it was dark and iPhone cameras aren’t great in the dark, so I’ve consulted google for some illustration. 

I already can’t remember what route we took, so this is most probably not in the order in which it happened! 

We went up Calton Hill and Melanie told us about some of the structures up there. There’s the part built Parthenon replica called the National Monument that was intended to commemorate Scottish soldiers killed in the Napoleonic wars, but that they ran out of money for and is nicknamed Scotland’s disgrace.


Told you the iPhone’s no good in the dark!

Right next door is the Nelson Monument. This has a time ball at the top which was supposed to act as a time piece so ships in nearby Leith Port on the Firth of Forth could accurately set time so they didn’t get lost at sea, but unfortunately given how prone the Firth of Forth is to significant levels of fog, this proved ineffectual and led to the start of the one o’clock gun at Edinburgh Castle which still operates to this day.


While we were up the hill, in the dark, Melanie told about the faeries of Scottish folklore.

There are the Brownies who clean and tidy your house in the night, but who you mustn’t take for granted otherwise they’ll burn your house to the ground. Moral of the story – appreciate kindest shown to you.


Then there are the Selkies who are seals who can shed their skins and shapeshift into human form. The tale is that a Selkie fell in love with a human man and married him, but the draw of the sea was too much and she was compelled to put on her seal skin every so often. When her husband found out that she was a Selkie he couldn’t accept that she hadn’t trusted him enough to tell him and she was heartbroken. Moral of the story – don’t pretend to be something that you’re not.


The scary one is Redcap. In the story Melanie told Redcap is totally naked apart from his cap and his modesty is kept only by a long white beard. Google seems to prefer a clothed version! Redcap lures people off their path into the wilderness when they see flashes of his red cap in the distance. He then brutally murders them and soaks his cap in their blood. Moral of this story – fairly obviously, beware of strangers (particularly naked ones with blood dripping from their cap!)


Finally there are the Kelpies. Kelpies are beautiful horse spirits which live in water. The legend is that people, particularly children, are drawn to them and will go to stroke them and entwine their fingers in their silky manes, but then the manes would turn into tendrils that grab the children’s arms and drag them under water to their death. Moral of the story – beware of wild animals.


We went in two graveyards where we were told tales of people being buried alive. Medical knowledge wasn’t what it is now so people who were unconscious or had suffered a stroke could be mistakenly thought dead and buried! On one exhumation more than thirty coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside. This led to a piece of string attached to a bell being tied to ‘corpses’ fingers or toes so that could ring a bell if they woke to find themselves six feet under. This became known as being saved by the bell. The person employed to listen for such bell ringing was known as working the graveyard shift.


We were also regaled with tales of grave robbers. This was common centuries ago because corpses could command a hefty sum from the medical community who turned a blind eye to where they came from. One pair of grave robbers dug up a recently buried lady only to discover her fingers adorned with ruby and emerald encrusted rings. They tried to get the rings off but her fingers had swelled so they decided to saw her fingers off. As they did so the body let out an almighty scream! She wasn’t dead, she’d had a stroke which rendered her temporarily paralysed and the act of sawing off her fingers had shocked her body into waking up! They were arrested and she lived for another ten years minus a couple of fingers.

I’m not sure whether I’m one hundred per cent sold on the accuracy of these tales, but it made for creepy listening in the middle of a dark cemetery!

What follows is accurate though. The more intact a corpse, the higher a price it could command, so two entrepreneurial Irishmen, William Hare and William Burke, decided in 1828, rather than go grave robbing, it would be much less effort to simply find people who wouldn’t be missed – loners, prostitutes, the deranged – and kill them by smothering so as to avoid visually damaging them. Essentially they became professional serial killers! Their terror came to an end when a lodger discovered a body hidden under a bed and called the police, but not before they’d profited from seventeen murders! Hare admitted the crimes and gave evidence against his accomplice in return for his freedom, known as turning the King’s evidence.


We learnt the history of what is now Waverley Station and the Princes Street gardens. Centuries ago they were a Loch called the Nor Loch. Sanitation back then left a lot to be desired and people had no choice but to use a chamber pot, the contents of which were unceremoniously thrown out on the street, and as Edinburgh is built on a hill at the bottom of which lay the Nor Loch, the waste used to flow down the hill and settle in the Loch. In short, Edinburgh is wonderfully sweet smelling now, but back then … not so much.

The Scots were very superstitious (hence all the faeries!) and very fearful of witchcraft, so much so that they suspected anyone even vaguely out of the ordinary of being a witch. So, if you had red hair, if you’d reached a grand old age, if you had a birthmark – watch out! Even King James VI (I of England) was fearful of witchcraft. Melanie told us how he went ‘Princess shopping’ in Denmark, and after having acquired one, it took him several attempts to leave because there were such strong storms that his boat couldn’t sail. This he decided, was the result of witchcraft (clearly nothing to do with the notoriously rough North Sea!)


One of their favourite ways of testing whether or not you were indeed a witch, was to tie your fingers to your toes and then throw you in the Nor Loch. If you floated, clearly you had magical powers and you’d be hauled out and put on trial and if found guilty, strangled at the stake. However if you sunk, then you were vindicated …. but unfortunately you were also dead! It’s said that fifteen hundred women were found guilty of witchcraft and put to death. Now as mentioned, the Nor Loch was full of all sorts of stinky waste so if you did sink and weren’t easily retrievable, they would most likely leave you there (God rest your soul as a non-witch). Decades later when they came to drain the Nor Loch so they could develop the land, they found several skeletons at the bottom! Creepy!

At the end of the tour I scuttled off back to my hotel tout suite lest I be suffocated for medical science or hung as a witch (I have a small skin tag on my neck which I’m sure would be deemed as sufficient evidence!)

I have rambled on quite some, and I’ve only covered my first evening in Edinburgh so far, so I think I should heed my own advice and split this up into two parts to save bombarding you all in one go. I’ll be back soon with the next installment.


Och aye – Bye for noo!