Friday, January 4

Edinburgh Castle

Our northern road trip was dominated by castles. The third and final castle we visited is also Scotland’s second most popular tourist destination. Edinburgh Castle sits on a prominent rock in the heart of the city, rising some 80 metres above the surrounding area. It is unquestionably the most prominent feature in the city centre.

Access to the castle is via a natural rock ramp that rises from the east. Roads that trace the resulting ridge are collectively known as the Royal Mile. I was fascinated to learn that this ramp is a lingering reminder of the last ice age. It was created when slow moving glaciers scoured the summit, depositing the resulting debris on the trailing side. It's hard to fathom such a large land form being overwhelmed by a giant sheet of ice.

Today the Royal Mile is a fascinating street consisting of weathered stone buildings - their grandeur somewhat tarnished by an aging layer of blackened grime and soot. From a distance the towers, spires and gothic roofline give the city a distinct, almost regal, skyline. At night may of the building are carefully illuminated creating a memorable scene.

On Saturday morning we woke to a bright sunny, almost cloudless day. We couldn’t believe our luck. Throughout the entire road trip we’d managed to miss the worst of the poor weather sweeping across the UK’s northern reaches. Two days earlier, while we’d been enjoying sunshine at Loch Ness, Edinburgh had been buried under inches of snow. Now here we were in Edinburgh enjoying sunshine.

We decided to make the most of the weather and tour the castle. As we made our way up the Royal Mile the castle seemed to literally sparkle in the sunlight. It’s a fascinating place. So much about its character invokes childhood impressions of castles and their ilk. The site is filled with winding cobblestone lanes, towering walls and fortified gateways. As we made our way progressively higher on the rock, the views across the city and the nearby Firth of Forth became more and more spectacular.

Inside the castle reside several musuems. During our visit we elected to visit the Royal Palace where The Honours of Scotland, or the Scottish crown jewels, are displayed. These date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and are the second oldest crown jewels in Europe. As we toured the exhibits we learnt much about the Scottish Royal family. Until this moment I'd failed to appreciate that Scotland was once a separate nation with own royal family.

As we left the Crown Room the weather proved just how fickle it is at this time of year. The wonderful sunshine had gone; replaced by freezing, gloomy rain. The poor weather had clearly settled in for the rest of the day. We decided to begin the long journey home. Overnight we'd cancelled a planned stopover in York after the Met Office began forecasting heavy snow along the northeast coast. We thought it best to drive across to Glasgow and head south along the opposite coast.

Our journey home took about eight hours, including plenty of rest stops and a leisurely dinner break. We briefly saw snow flurries in North England but soon ventured into clear weather as London drew closer. Our week up north has been a wonderful diversion - and another fascinating lesson on this nation's rich and varied history.

1 comment:

rhonda said...

A shame you had to take the long road home because of the weather but it sounds as if it was the safer option.You'll have to visit York another time. It was a fascinating place.