When we arrived in Edinburgh the sky was cloudy and overcast, but nice.
By the time we hiked up the hill and through the narrow “close” to the Royal Mile it was drizzling.
But by the time we had walked up to the very top – to Edinburgh Castle – it was raining. Hard. And it didn’t let up for hours.
I had just been thinking that morning that I had bought a new umbrella for Alaska and Scotland and hadn’t used it yet …. And then the sky opened up.
We began at Edinburgh castle in the pouring rain – trying to share umbrellas and guarding expensive cameras from the water.
But with only a few hours to spend, we had to plough ahead – in spite of the rain!
FROM RICK STEVES:
The fortified birthplace of the city 1300 years ago, this imposing symbol of Edinburgh sits proudly on a rock high above you. While the castle has been both a fort and a royal residence since the 11th century, most of the buildings today are from its more recent use as a military garrison.
Edinburgh Castle is a collection of buildings within the perimeter of the outer wall … so every time we went from building to building it was out in the rain again.
Andrew got tired of trying to stay under the umbrella with me (and my purse) and got pretty wet. But he was wearing 2 jackets so he ended up staying pretty dry (except for his hair which was dripping wet in no time).
Andrew and I didn’t really want to do the guided tour at Edinburgh Castle. Mainly because since it was a free tour, there was a BIG group of people. But the other 4 did the tour and Andrew wanted to hear a Scottish person talk so we caught up with the group part way through.
Our tour guide was named Andrew (but bald with crazy teeth). He seemed nice and was knowledgeable – as far as we could tell in such a large group.
He walked us up by the Military prison, and then around near St. Margaret’s Chapel, and then dropped us off in the square near the Royal Palace and Crown Jewels.
FROM RICK STEVES:
Scotland’s crown jewels, though not as impressive as England’s, are older and treasured by the locals. Though Oliver Cromwell destroyed England’s jewels, the Scots managed to hide theirs. Longtime symbols of Scottish nationalism, they were made in Edinburgh – in 1540 for a 1543 coronation – out of Scottish diamonds, gems and gold… some say the personal gold of King Robert the Bruce. They were last used to crown Charles II in 1651.
When the Act of Union was forced upon the Scots in 1707 – dissolving Scotland’s Parliament into England’s to create the United Kingdom – part of the deal was that the Scots could keep their jewels locked up in Edinburgh. The jewels remained hidden for more than 100 years. In 1818, Sir Walter Scott and a royal commission rediscovered them intact. In 1999, for the first time in nearly 3 centuries, the crown of Scotland was brought from the castle for the opening of the Scottish Parliament.
The Stone of Scone (aka the Stone of Destiny) sits plain and strong next to the jewels. This big, gray chunk of rock is the coronation stone of Scotland’s ancient kings (9th century). Swiped by the English, it sat under the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey from 1296 until 1996. Queen Elizabeth finally agreed to let the stone go home on 1 condition: that it be returned to Westminster Abbey for all future coronations.
With major fanfare, Scotland’s treasured Stone of Scone returned to Edinburgh on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, 1996.
So our tour guide Andrew left us in the square near the Crown Jewels. Really, the HEART of Edinburgh Castle.
At this time, we had quite the option of sites to see … 4 different buildings/exhibits off of that square alone.
Since the Crown Jewels seemed to have the longest line, we did that one first. There was a line outside (all the way through the middle of the square in the rain) that skipped all of the exhibit and just passed you into see the jewels themselves and then out again.
Then there was a door around the side of the building that took you through a whole exhibit and taught you about the history and all … and then to the Crown Jewels… So we thought, “History? Yes!” …. I love history – and I think my dad loves it even more.
Turns out though that SO MANY people were crowding inside to see the exhibit that we A) weren’t able to stop and read the exhibit because the swarm of people just kept pushing us along …. And B) We were literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd so couldn’t get close enough to read the exhibit.
Oh well …
We DID get to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland – which are no longer actually used since Scotland united with England.
There is a sword, a crown and a scepter. All ancient. All luxurious.
Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed in the room … and I was just too close to a guard to get away with it.
Also with the Crown Jewels was the Stone of Destiny – only recently returned to Scotland. It’s a big, plain block of red sandstone (26”x16”x10”) used for coronations and must be returned to Westminster Abbey to sit beneath the coronation chair when Prince Charles (and/or Prince William) is crowned.
While being pushed and prodded along narrow hallways with WAY too many people, I was reminded of England’s Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. Those are kept in a much bigger space, and visitors are put on a conveyor belt. It’s a slow conveyor belt, but it still ensures visitors are all in and out in a timely manner.
*sidenote* As we were leaving the Crown Jewels, we passed through an open door that had 2 (count ‘em two!) combination locks set in the middle!
Then on to the Royal Palace (pretty sparse), the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial (so cool).