The first thing that greeted me upon rising from the steps of the Waverly train station was the sound of bagpipes wailing through air.
The second was the sight of a homeless man, wrapped in blankets against the city’s chill, with a cap and a cardboard sign resting against his knees, dead-eye stare unfocused amongst the crowd.
These two motifs would stay with me throughout my weekend in Edinburgh, where I was constantly met with both the height of Scottish pride and the depth of civilized weakness.
On my first afternoon, I experienced the curse of Edinburgh: its public transportation. The Edinburgh buses are so disorganised and poorly labelled that I ended up making a loop to the outskirts of the city and back, even after hopping on a second bus. By the end of my excursion, I was hot, tired, and ready to lay ancient curses on the city and all its modes of transportation.
The day was not a complete waste, however. On a busy, pedestrian-only avenue I found the best fish-and-chips shop I’ve eaten at so far in all my UK travels. I also checked into my hostel, the Lighthouse, a very clean, safe establishment that went a long way to putting me at ease.
Later that evening, I also went on a Literary Pub Tour of Edinburgh. It was a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment decision in a strange city – very unlike me. Nonetheless, I couldn’t have been more delighted with the results. Our hosts were informative and entertaining as we crawled all over the city listening to Scottish poetry in the real Scottish voice, in many cases mere steps from the pubs where they were composed.
The next day, I had another run in with the infamous buses, ending up at a golf course rather than my actual destination of Rosslyn Chapel. Finally fed up, I called a taxi and had him deliver me to the gates of the Chapel itself.
Although initially miffed with my rough start and the price of the taxi (I had already paid for a bus pass for the weekend) the Chapel ended up being all I could hope for and more.
I’ve been aware of the Chapel through Scottish and Arthurian lore for a while now, but a few summers ago as I was doing genealogical research, I found out that I have ancestral connections with the St. Clairs and Rosslyn as well, so being on the grounds was sacred for me in more ways than one.
After inspecting and photographing the outside, listening to the delightful guide inside (she was a cross between a pixie and Dame Judi Dench), and purchasing gifts for the family in the shop, I struck out for Rosslyn Glen. Again, Rosslyn was waiting to surprise me. What I came upon was a beautiful forest clearing, complete with hollow trees and a merry beck running through. All that was missing was a ring of faeries cavorting about.
Coming back from this excursion I also met my new friend, Kasper. Kasper is a Danish gentlemen who was in town for a business meeting but had the day off for sight-seeing. After making small talk, we decided to spend the rest of the day together on a free walking tour of the city proper. I couldn’t have been more blessed than with his company, for he made me feel infinitely safer, and was very warm-hearted….plus, he helped me get on the right bus back to the city!
The next day, I spent the morning in two free museums that I would highly recommend to anyone. The first, the National Museum of Scotland, was almost ridiculous in the quantity and quality of its exhibits. The only museum I’ve been in to compare is the Museum of the Horse in Lexington, Kentucky, but I think I’m a little biased.
The second museum I went to was the Writer’s Museum of Edinburgh. They had the most excellent exhibits on Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns, not to mention the building itself, which was something of a masterpiece.
After the Writer’s Museum, I headed for the train station, guided by the sooty black tower of the Scott Monument. As I left, I reflected on that monument, thinking back to my introduction to Edinburgh. The Scott Monument is the largest in the world to a writer, but is covered in the black carnage of the Industrial Revolution.
Edinburgh is a fine city for a writer, probably a fine city for a traveller as well. But as I boarded the train, there was no question that I was longing for the wide, green stretches of field surrounding Harlaxton. Even London’s busy, but comparably clean, streets would have been welcome to me after this.
To be honest, I don’t miss Edinburgh, but I do miss Scotland, and I would welcome the opportunity to give the country a second chance.