Edinburgh – The Wellington of Scotland

Kia Ora!

We’d been threatening to do this for a while but yesterday we finally went on a day trip to Edinburgh. A train leaves from Glasgow Queen St station about every 15 minutes and gets to Edinburgh Waverley about 45 minutes later (any capital city whose main train station is named after a fictional character is already in my good books). I’d already made use of this to work at the National Library and to visit Holyrood, and I’d also been to Edinburgh to visit my friend Shay a few years ago, but it was Bernie’s first visit there.

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Thanks to Bernie’s job at the Glasgow Science Centre and some passes he’d procured, we were able to visit any official ‘Visitor Attraction’ for free, and we decided to start with Edinburgh Castle. The fortress looked especially dramatic with a dark sky and howling gale surrounding it where it sits on top of dark and craggy rocks. We climbed some stairs by the cannons to admire the stunning views of Edinburgh, but soon climbed down again for fear of being blown into the sea. This photo was taken at a pretty high risk, you can probably see I’m holding on!

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Fortunately there is a huge amount to see inside the Castle. The room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI and I, the war memorial which is a modern addition but fits in perfectly with the mediaeval castle, the cells where Prisoners of War were kept, and of course the Scottish Crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, upon which Scottish monarchs have been crowed for centuries, and which lived underneath the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey until it was stolen by some students in 1950. It was recovered a few months later and returned to the abbey, but since the 1990s has been allowed to return to its homeland, and will move temporarily back to England for the coronation of future monarchs. It’s a fascinating piece of history, with so much significance attached to it, and I kind of like the fact that it’s such an unremarkable looking thing.

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There are a number of parallels with the Tower of London which we visited a few weeks ago. An old citadel, crown jewels, military history and prison cells. It’s a very different experience though, with much more of Edinburgh Castle open to the public, and, while still very busy, not quite the same crowd control issues. Contrary to my expectations, Edinburgh Castle is a lot creepier than the Tower of London, probably because you are able to enter very realistic mock-ups of former prisons, and go that much deeper into the castle, away from any natural light. There’s a fantastic variety of things to see at the castle, and there’s a whole lot of military history we didn’t get to yesterday as well. All of the rooms and halls and everything else are beautifully preserved and provide accessible information and great story-telling. From a museum geek perspective, I reckon they’ve got it pretty spot on.

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After a couple of hours in dungeons, we were ready for some sustenance and relaxation, so we wandered (or were blown) down the hill a couple of hundred metres to another freebee – the Scottish Whisky Experience. Scottish friends will be sighing and laughing at us for being such tourists at this point, but we were really impressed with the whole experience, again from a museum geek perspective, the whole thing is so well-managed and seamless, with customer service so friendly and informative I thought perhaps they’re allowed to sample some of their wares before each shift.

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The whole thing starts with a sort of theme park ride, where you get into a massive whisky barrel and are taken through the whisky making process by a ghostly Victorian with the most intelligible Scottish accent I’ve ever heard.

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You then get a presentation going over the different kinds of whisky, before choosing one you’d like to sample (kids get Irn Bru). You take it through next door to the world’s largest whisky collection where you get a wee master class on how to properly taste a whisky and you end the tour by checking out this epic collection that just keeps going and going.

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There was a whisky chess set, each piece containing a dram

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Several shaped like golfballs, royal occasion whiskys, and a grandfather clock whisky

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But our personal favourite, which was the world’s most expensive whisky, none other than our old friend from Omari, the Dimple whisky! Well, it wasn’t the exact same thing we’d bought Anton, but it was certainly the same family! So there you go Anton, nothing but the best for PresDimples!

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For lunch we stuck around and decided we’d better put our new tasting skills to good use…

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To end the day we spent a few hours opposite at the Camera Obscura (we really only experience about a mile radius of Edinburgh, shameful, but we will be going back!) If you’ve been to Puzzling World in Wanaka, New Zealand, imagine a tall, skinny version of that with elements of a science centre thrown in, and a 19th century spying device on top and that’s Camera Obscura.

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Again we got in for free, bringing our total debt for the day to Glasgow Science Centre to over 100 pounds. Cheers guys! A 3D Dr Who welcomed us in along with some psychedelic music.

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We gradually made our way through 4 floors of craziness that my Mum, a maths teacher, will go nuts for when she gets here.

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At Discovery World where we used to work in New Zealand, there’s an optical illusion that looks like a tunnel going through the earth. We used to tell people that it went to Spain. Well, I think we may have found the other end of it, or at least a nearby equivalent!

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So why is Edinburgh the Wellington of Scotland? Well, pf course they’re both capital cities, home to the political life of the nation, they also both see themselves as the cultural centres of those nations, to the disagreement of their respective largest cities. Almost exactly the same number of people live there, both populations clustering around turbulent harbours.

But most of all, I’d advise anyone going to either place not to being a hat, or any aspirations for retaining a nice hairstyle. Imageco

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