Tag Archives: Scotland

Goodbye Edinburgh, Hello Dublin

Sunday was our last day in Edinburgh. We booked a “silver tour” (recommended for families) at the Scotch Whisky Experience. It is quite touristy, but since Reed got a wee bit of the real deal by going to Cadenhead’s, I thought we should take it in. The Whisky Experience is located right next to the castle, so we walked up the Royal Mile one more time amongst the crowds and raindrops. In this tour, you are educated about how whisky is made while riding along in a whisky barrel. There is a ghost that takes you through the steps, and you are immersed in the sights, sounds, and even smells (smoky peat!) of the process. It was well done and sort of like a slow ride at Disneyland.

After you depart your barrel, you enter a room with a guide (ours was very cheerful and animated) where you continue your education about the whisky regions in Scotland. You are given a scratch-n-sniff sort of card where you can smell scents in the whisky from each region. One of them smelled fresh like citrus, another kind of like bubble gum, and of course one was very smoky. Then it was time to decide which one you wanted to taste. The four grown-ups chose one of each so we got to try them all; the kids got a glass of Irn Bru, Scotland’s soft drink (an orange soda).

Next we entered another room where we were surrounded by the world’s largest Scotch whisky collection. Here we were told how to tip the glass, swirl it around, sniff, and then sip. I sure didn’t taste any of that citrus or bubble gum, but it was fun and informative. The one I disliked the least was from the Speyside region…I’m not going so far as to say I liked it, but I could appreciate it a wee bit. My dad liked the one from the lowland region; Reed loved them all but especially the Islay. My mom didn’t like any, and the kids downed their Irn Brus like good Scottish children. As part of the tour, you get to keep your sipping glass (Glencairn), which will make us a nice set at home (so come on over for a dram!). 🙂

We watched a little Commonwealth Games “lawn bowls,” packed up our stuff, and took a bus to the airport (even the bus seats are Tartan plaid!). The airport is surprisingly small, and we navigated the process much easier than when we left Dublin. We enjoyed a nice dinner while waiting for our plane; I had a pint of Caledonia, a Scottish beer, and Reed got ready to return to Ireland with a Guinness. Our flight was just 40 minutes or so, and our bags arrived safe and sound (no broken glasses or bottles!). Another bus dropped us right off at Trinity, and I got my folks checked into their room. They depart Tuesday, so we will share one more day together in Dublin.

A Scottish Saturday

We took it a bit easy today, trying to get Reed on the mend through forcing him to rest. He was able to go across the street to Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop, Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, which was definitely a highlight for him. 🙂

Mom, Dad, Abbie, and I set out after lunch to explore Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (graveyard) in search of Greyfriar Bobby’s tombstone. We easily found it, but we weren’t as lucky with finding Tom Riddell’s or a good view of the castle. Oh well. I still enjoyed walking on the old town streets of Cowgate, Candlemaker, and Grassmarket.

Next we headed up the hill toward the castle to visit the Tartan Weaving Mill. The looms weren’t running which was kind of a bummer, but still we saw them and were impressed. You are fed through a bunch of shops at the mill so that is kind of lame, but again, oh well. The crowds on the streets are bonkers today…a jazz and blues festival is in town, and the Commonwealth Games are being held in Glasgow, which also brings a lot of people to Edinburgh (they are kind of like the summer Olympics, only just within the British commonwealth).

We strolled back down the Royal Mile, getting ice cream and a few souvenirs on the way. Dinner was next door to our flat at the Tolbooth Tavern, established in 1820 (building dates to 1591). We sampled a couple of whiskies (not my thing, sorry Reed!), and we enjoyed some Scottish cuisine. Mom and I had vegetarian haggis (made of kidney beans, lentils, oats, and seasonings rather than sheep innards), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes). Yum. Reed enjoyed a steak and ale pie. Yum. Then we went back to our flat to watch more of the Commonwealth Games – I’m not sure whether to root for Scotland or South Africa!

Scotland, England, and Scotland

After a bit of airport stress (super security procedure and missed visa checkpoint!), we made it on our 6:35a flight from Dublin, arriving in Edinburgh less than an hour later. Our guide for the day, James Farrell, picked us up on his “wee red bus” in kilt and all. Pretty cool. 🙂

We booked an all day tour knowing we wouldn’t be able to check into our flat until later in the day. My sister and I (& our families) “gave” this tour to our folks for their 50th wedding anniversary, which will be on August 1. We chose the “Wizards & Warriors” Heart of Scotland tour as it seemed to have a nice combination of nature, castles, and Harry Potter. Much of the tour took place in England, but we heard a lot about Scotland and it’s history along the way.

We drove to Holy Island first, which is accessed by a road (no bridge) during low tide. We were able to stay about 90 minutes before the tide started to rise. There are little wooden platforms for people who get caught by the tide and have to wait out the 8 hour high tide period! Before reaching the causeway, we again traveled along the Atlantic coast. Once on the island, we visited Lindisfarne Castle…Reed and Jackson paid for the inside peek while the rest of us sought out coffee (we hade been up since 3am, about 7 hours by this point!).

We reboarded our wee red bus and went about 40 minutes to Alnwick Castle. This is where much of the exterior of Hogwarts was filmed in the Harry Potter films. It was massive and really impressed us all. We poked around the grounds, in the various buildings, and explored the sites and activities for a couple of hours. It was fun to imagine what life in the castle would be like, both in terms of the English royalty and the fictitious Hogwarts worlds. It was really fun to share this time together.

It was about 90 minutes to Edinburgh from Alnwick, and we made a “comfort stop” at the cute little village of Etal along the way. It was a warm, sunny day, maybe around 75, so we felt extra lucky to enjoy all of the sites in the full sun. James Farrell must have been roasting in his wool kilt, wool sweater, and wool socks! He found our flat, right on the Royal Mile, and our host was there to greet us. Reed and I found a grocery store and we brought home dinner and breakfast provisions.

Friday morning we set out on foot for the castle a little after 11:00. Reed and my dad waited in line quite a long time for our tickets. It seemed as if every tourist in Edinburgh had the same idea we did! We entered the grounds and were impressed, though I think perhaps we had built it up a bit too big (at least I had). The view of it from a distance is maybe more awesome than when you are in the midst of it. Jackson said afterwards that it is his #3 of 5 we have seen so far. Luckily, our timing was good to witness the 1:00 canon fire.

We walked the short distance to The Elephant House cafe for lunch. This is where JK Rowling wrote some of her Harry Potter books. It was fun to sit inside and imagine the characters coming to life there. Then we went down the street just a bit more to find the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the little dog who guarded his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard (written by Eleanor Atkinson). I was happy to see it as I’m reading the book now (thanks, Chris!). It was fun to explore a bit of the “Royal Mile” today – the apartment we are staying in is right on it!