We were back to exploring central Edinburgh on Monday. Ever since we arrived the kids have been desperate to go into the castle and today was the day. Our guide for the castle was Maggie Frew. Maggie was Jo’s travel buddy the very first time she came to NZ back in 1975. We have seen her a few times since then and she stayed with us in NZ a few years ago, so it was lovely to see her again.
Edinburgh castle is an amazing fortress built on the top of a volcanic rock high above the city. There are sheer rock walls most of the way round the castle, so you can certainly see why it was chosen as a defence site.
The kids with Maggie at the castle gate
There was a half hour guided tour being offered so we decided to take that as an overview then go exploring on our own. Although we struggled at times to understand the guide’s broad Scottish accent, it was an interesting tour and it gave us a good idea of what we wanted to explore in more depth. We had arrived in the castle in beautiful sunshine, but by the end of the tour it was bitterly cold and drizzling. We had to keep moving and escape inside whenever possible to keep warm. We saw the Scottish crown jewels and also the dungeon where they were buried during WWII. The kids loved all of the castle, but especially the underground dungeons and prisons, the cannons and all the small alleys and steps.
We stayed long enough at the castle to hear the firing of the 1 o’clock gun – very loud! After lunch we visited the Camera Obscura just down from the castle. It is a giant periscope that projects moving images of Edinburgh below onto a viewing table. It’s based on the concept of a pinhole camera and has been there for about 150 years. In the 5 floors below the camera there is a World of Illusions. It was great fun with all sorts of optical illusions, holograms, mazes etc.
Who shrunk Anna?
After the World of Illusions we walked down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is actually 1 and 1/8 miles long (a Scottish mile) and runs all the way from the castle down to Hollyrood Palace. Since my last visit the Scottish parliament has been built just near Hollyrood Palace. We lost track of time a bit on the way down (too much time exploring tiny alleys and closes!) and suddenly realised it was nearly 5pm, we were due back at Jo’s for a Burn’s supper at 5:30pm and we had no idea which bus to catch to get home quickly! We pretended we were in The Amazing Race and thanks to a few friendly locals, Matt’s great memory for bus numbers and my reasonable knowledge of Edinburgh, we arrived back at Jo’s place only 5 minutes late.
The Burn’s supper was in full swing when we got back. A Burn’s supper is traditionally held on the 25th January to celebrate Robbie Burn’s birthday (a famous Scottish poet). The main course of the supper is haggis, neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed spuds). Jo had decided that we needed to experience a Burn’s supper even though it was the wrong time of year. Maggie Frew and her husband Mike came, along with Anne from next door, Bill (Magic Man) and Ivor and Marna from across the hallway. Ivor performed the Ode to the Haggis (penned by Robbie Burns to toast the Haggis). He had memorized every word of poem and performed it very dramatically, knife in one hand to stab the haggis. We didn’t understand much of it (although we were provided with a translation!) but found it hilariously funny. I couldn’t bring myself to eat the real thing, so declared myself a vegetarian for the day and had a non-offal version. The kids were even less brave so they got Scottish pies.
Over dinner we got talking to Ivor about geocaching. He thought it sounded like great fun so after dinner we went for a walk with him and Maggie Frew to find the nearest cache 400m away. I have been on many a geocaching mission, but never one with a kilted man! The cache was hidden across the burn (creek) from the access point, so Anna & Ivor took their shoes off and waded through the freezing cold water. The rest of us stood nearby and roared with laughter! I was a bit worried that it was a wasted mission as the last 3 logs were “did not finds”, but Anna & Ivor were successful. They placed the travel bug we picked up in Auckland into the cache,so it is now much closer to achieving its mission of getting back to England.
The Burns supper was the perfect end to a really Scottish day. Everyone is spoiling us rotten here, we feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.