After our good night's rest, Wednesday, day 4, began with a great buffet style breakfast. The Dalmahoy was one of the hotels we stayed two nights in, so no need to have our bags outside the room door that morning. The bus departure time was later too, putting us on the road a little after 9 and in Edinburgh's New Town about 30 minutes later, beginning our driving tour around the city.
The evening before, when Kevin was still with us, he told a few tales of Edinburgh including how it got its nickname, ‘Auld Reekie’ (translates ‘Old Smokey’). The name took hold In the seventeenth century when terrible smoke pollution from open fires in tenements and houses engulfed the city. Edinburgh has some of the finest sandstone-constructed buildings in Europe and the smoke clung to them. At one point the city was determined to remove the grunge and clean up the buildings, etc. However, the processes needed to be effective also had damaging and altering effects on the sandstone. In the late 80s a preservation group formed to stop the cleaning which was ultimately halted, so most of the city’s buildings, monuments etc. still have a dingy smokey look of the distant past which knowledgeable residents are just fine with.
“The initial plan for Edinburgh’s New Town was approved by the City Council in 1767, and is the largest complete example of town planning from the Georgian period anywhere in the world. Its mixture of classical architecture, grand squares and terraces, gardens and secluded lanes, means that a walk through its streets is a journey back in time to an age of elegance,” (quoted from Edinburgh World Heritage.)
Given New Town began in the 1700s, it’s clear “new town” can certainly have varying meanings in different places. A few glimpses of New Town and the incredible architecture and buildings there are in the Day 4 Gallery. Even while riding on a somewhat plush, climate controlled bus, it was easy for me to focus outside my window and be caught up in the look of days gone by. Mother Nature added to the effect by providing cloudy skies intermittently dropping rain.
From the New Town area we headed southeast toward Leith but didn't go that far. Snapping photos out the bus window was not the best as the light was low from the cloudy skies; and rain droplets still clinging to the window became part of my photos. One photo pushed me to, once again, spend “quality time” on Google Earth. I utilize Google timeline mapping which does not record exact streets, rather shows “as the crow flies.” Finally I landed on the street view that matched my photo. (I am always elated and celebrate, as it does take time and determination!) It was a shot taken while driving Regent Road (aka A1) just past the base of Calton Hill about a block before passing the Burns Monument in Regent Park.
Wendy and I didn’t see Calton Hill as we were on the opposite side of the bus and until we returned to the States, I was unaware of its existence. Below, left, is the photo I took 10.9.19 (9.10.19) and right is one John took 4.28.22 (28.4.22) when he went to investigate. The creamy white building across the way is the back of Cannongate Kirk on The Royal Mile.
Shortly we arrived outside Holyrood Palace. There we met up with the Scottish lady who would be our Tour Guide outside The Palace grounds and as we drove areas leading up to The Castle. She was the only guide whose name I did not hear announced and I'm sad to this day that I don't know what it was as she was quite nice and very knowledgeable.
We were given tiny earphones and a little transistor radio looking thing earlier which came into play there. Our Guide was telling us about Holyrood and as long as we didn't stray too far, we'd hear.
Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the Queen in Edinburgh but also has a fascinating history (links button below). We did not tour through but looked around the grounds outside. Tours were available at that point but our time for the day focused on The Castle tour. It was nice to look around outside and we did a little walking nearby past the Queen's Gallery as well as making a brief stop in the lovely Cafe at The Palace. I really want to go back someday and it's probably because Wendy and I had decided we would go back there for something to drink. However, we did not know it would be time consuming as The Cafe was at one end of The Royal Mile and we were being dropped off at the other-that plan didn’t happen.
Back on the bus after Holyrood, we drove through the Grass Market as well as other areas of the Old Town. Kevin had mentioned the Grassmarket several times. All kinds of things ran through my mind but I knew they probably weren't right as to what the Grassmarket was. The name dates back to when livestock was being sold there. I was interested to see the Grassmarket because I knew it’s where The Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place. I've never been but I supported a US team of artists to go, as well as volunteered one year in Kansas City’s Fringe Festival. Edinburgh is the “mothership” for all Fringe Festivals. Anyway, I had no idea we had actually been through the Grassmarket until about 6 months after the trip, when I started identifying locations of some of my photos with the help of my favorite Scottish man who makes frequent trips to Edinburgh.
It seems I would be remiss if I didn't share a bit more on Old Town. Obviously since New Town dates from the 1700s, we must travel much farther back for Old Town's origins. "Human habitation around Edinburgh stretches as far back as 8500BC, while the origins of the Old Town can be traced to the seventh century AD, when the Gododdin established the hillfort of Din Eidyn on or close to Castle Rock, tempted by its proximity to the River Forth and its elevated and highly defensible position," quoted from Hidden Scotland. There's much more to the story, so if you like to "dig" check out the links page.
At last we drove the Royal Mile and got dropped off, I think very near the Scotch Whiskey Experience-not that we were going to go in and partake at that point. We had done that early in the morning on Tuesday!
Our group walked up The Esplanade and stopped for a few moments with our Guide giving us instructions via the little closed circuit pocket radios. They were even more helpful there with 44 of us and plenty of other people around. She wanted to make sure we were clear about the rest of our day, as she would leave us after taking us into The Castle.
After many photo ops on The Esplanade, our group moved through the very impressive Castle doors and walked up the cobblestone path that curved into a more open area. We stopped there and listened to the Guide giving basic historical information about The Castle and an overview of where things were. The Castle is massive so the maps we had too were definitely needed. She bid us goodbye and wished us well-we were on our own in Edinburgh until meeting the first bus at 3 in the afternoon or the second at 6.
It had started out a grey day, as you can see in some of my photos with spots of rain moving through. Wendy and I had already experienced a torrential downpour at Loch Ness only two days before, so we could not help but wonder what the next 4 hours would be like. Even though we were prepared, a downpour is a downpour! Of course our curiosity was not limited to the weather. What sights would we explore in Edinburgh? If it came to that, would spending the day walking in an unknown city in a downpour really be fun? The answers coming in the next blog!