PART 6: ARTHUR’S SEAT & THE MILITARY TATOO
Please excuse the quality of the photos, we did not know that our new camera had a defective part when we went to Scotland.
The grand plan today was to travel to Holyrood Park and climb Arthur’s Seat. I mean, at an elevation of only 823 ft, how hard could it be?
Me and the kids exited the van as Mike set out to circle the parking areas to find a vacant spot. He did not want us to wait on him since there was a time urgency involving our oldest son, who had a limited amount of it that particular day due to work commitments.
I understand that there are five different ways to get up the hill and I am unsure which one we actually took because they are (To my knowledge) not marked.
We set out up the extinct volcano on a set of stairs that led quickly to a rocky path. Sturdy shoes are an absolute must on this path; the surface is uneven, muddy and has rocks that jut out at just about every step. It became clear rather quickly that I would be holding the kids back, so with my blessing I sent them rambling off up the mountain.
At the time of this trek I had an undiagnosed Vestibular disorder and so the hike was far harder on me then I had anticipated, however, I did not give up and I eventually caught up with my children further along the route.
A few moments later my husband popped up out of rock cropping like a spooked hare, and we all wondered from which direction he came? (Which is how we found out that there were different routes.)
Once the family was reunited, our oldest son suddenly decided that it was time for him to get back to work, so he and an annoyed dad left to get back to civilization, while other son headed off to climb to the pinnacle of the hill. My daughter and I decided to head toward the left and explore the part of the hill that you see jutting out behind Mike in the picture above.
About fifteen minutes into our journey a fierce rainstorm sent us scurrying for whatever cover we could find. Hunkered down behind a rock, I gave my daughter the umbrella I had stashed in my daypack, while I huddled into my raincoat as best I could. Thankfully, it was just a passing shower, and not completely soaked, we decided to soldier on.
We picked our way over to the side of the hill and snapped a bunch of photos. I was very surprised that I could see from that vantage point a collection of buildings that needed further explanation. A Roman acropolis and the Greek temple. The Roman Acropolis, also known as The National Monument of Scotland, situated on Calton Hill, turned out to be nicknamed, “Edinburgh’s Shame,” due to the fact that it was supposed to be a memorial to the soldiers and sailors who were lost during Napoleonic wars, but it was never completed due to the lack of funds, thus the shame.
The greek inspired set of structures are the Old Royal High School, later known as the New Parliament House. When it was built in 1826 it housed the oldest school in Scotland, The Royal High School, which was established in 1128. In 1970, after the school moved to newer accommodations the buildings became the home of the Scottish Parliament, however, in 2004 they moved on as well and the buildings have been used for many purposes since. It is currently under consideration to be refurbished and become the site of a luxury resort and hotel, although from what I understand from the articles that I’ve read, this is a huge source of contention within the community.
Having successfully reached our goal, and after marveling at the insane views, we were preparing to hike back to the van when this lot ↓ came galloping up the hill. I suddenly felt very proud of myself for soldiering through and making the climb, even if I was completely aware that these fellas probably ran up to the Seat.
Coming back down to city level via a different route, we met up with youngest son who had abandoned his accent to the top of Arthur’s Seat when the rainstorm hit, and had been patiently waiting for his sister and I ever since.
We received a vague text message where to meet Dad and were able to eventually navigated our way to him. But we once again found ourselves in the road, leaping into our vehicle, with the decent, hardworking commuters of Edinburgh blaring their horns at us.
The next morning Mike and I left our kids to sleep in while we left early to do a little local sightseeing. Our daughter had tickets for later in the day for more Fringe events, oldest son was working, and youngest son planned to hang out on the outside rooftop terrace of our rental home before joining sister later for a comedy show.
Edinburgh is a great walking city, although there are hills and cobbled streets here so comfortable shoes are recommended.
The destination for the morning was Prince’s Street. This street is the main shopping avenue for the city. We are not really shoppers so we exited into the West Princes Street Gardens where there was a glorious view of Edinburgh Castle.
One of my favorite sights of the excursion was of the Scottish-American War Memorial. Known as “The Call 1914.” This haunting sculpture was paid for by Scottish-Americans but was actually created by a Scottish-Canadian, R.Tate McKenzie, who was living in Pennsylvania in the United States at the time. It is dedicated to the bravery of Scottish troops in World War I.
There is a stirring epitaph on the memorial titled “Creed” by soldier-poet, Ewart Alan Mackintosh, who was killed in battle in 1917, which reads,
“If it be life that waits, I shall live forever unconquered; if death, I shall die at last, strong in my pride and free.”
Ewart Alan Mackintosh was just 23 years old when he died.
By the time we returned to the house, our offspring were awake and clamoring for food. We set out on foot to find substance and to enjoy more of the city. Unfortunately, at that time, I was not even considering writing a travel blog so the details of where we ate are no longer in my collective memory. I do, however recall that we had really decent food while in Scotland as a whole.
THE ROYAL EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO
Searching for things to do in Edinburgh prior to our trip, I ran across a forum question about the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Intrigued, I delved a little further to find out what it was all about.
The Tattoo has been held each August since 1950, it is an ensemble performance by military bands, singers, and performers. It is sold out months in advance and I read that tickets were impossible to come by. So of course I had to have them.
I immediately started researching where to buy the tickets and found to my surprise, that there were tickets to be had on the official website: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo . Tickets go on sale the first week of December each year, with early tickets on sale mid-November to those registered as Friends of the Tattoo.
Once I knew there were tickets available, I then needed to know where the best place to sit would be. After reading many forum questions and answers regarding this exact subject, I turned to my go to person, Rick Steves, for the final word on all things Europe. While I thought the best seats would be facing the Edinburgh Castle, which were the most expensive, the recommendations were to sit in sections 13 or 14 which were mid field, and also more in our price range.
After careful thought I pulled the trigger and bought two tickets in section 14 for the last night we were in Edinburgh. If you’re wondering why only two tickets? To put it mildly, my children were not the least bit interested in this event!
That evening we dropped our youngest son off to meet up with his sister for Fringe shows, while oldest son was fending for himself. Mike and I then hopped into an Uber and headed toward the drop off point near Johnson’s Terrace situated below the castle.
CROSS TIP: I have included this map of the queue area, but we found the event to be extremely well organized. There were signs pointing the way everywhere, as well as, volunteers stationed all along the streets leading to the event at the castle. If all else fails, follow the crowd!
They were calling for showers that evening and because the Tattoo is performed even in inclement weather, I had brought my raincoat and umbrella, but the evening was beautiful.
Or at least it started out that way.
We were inside the Castle venue and waiting for the event to start, generally milling around with all of the other spectators when an absolute monsoon hit. And even though we were covered under the grandstand area it was raining so hard that it was coming in sideways. We tucked into a dry spot next to a souvenir stand and were relatively well suited for the onslaught in our raincoats and my umbrella.
However, at some point a decision was made that we needed rain ponchos and hot chocolate. So Mike waded into the fray at the souvenir stand.
Out of visual range, I could not see what my husband was up against. Don’t let the age or frailty of the population attending the Edinburgh Military Tattoo fool you. When Mike came back a GOOD while later, madder than a wet cat, he confessed that he almost came to blows with another man.
Let me be clear here, if you cut in line and then try to take my husband’s blue plastic rain ponchos he will fight you!
It took awhile for both my husband and the storm to simmer down, but both eventually rallied to make the evening nice.
The rain stopped just moments after the official start of the event and so we headed quickly to our seats, which were completely drenched. Thankfully, we had rented two seat cushions for the evening and were able to sit on those to keep dry to a certain degree.
CROSS TIP: We rented seat cushions at the entrance for 1£ each. Worth it even if it isn’t raining.
And then it began.
Flash photography is not allowed during the event so some of the pictures are a little dark, but you will get the idea of how exciting it was. I was especially impressed with the laser light show that was projected onto the Castle itself. It was wonderfully done.
The night ended with every single performer and troop out on the parade ground, an impressive fireworks display, and a very stirring, audience participation requested, rendition of Auld Lang Syne. While it may not be for everyone, the Military Tattoo was perfect to me, and I am glad that we did not miss this extraordinary exhibition.
The next day we left the heathered hills and ancient cities of Scotland, with the smell of peat in our noses, the taste of whisky on our tongues, and the sound of bagpipes ringing in our ears. We said goodbye to our European children as they headed off to their respective cities, each having enjoyed the company of their parents and little brother, with promises of coming home for Christmas.
As the bonny hills of my ancestors receded below and I settled into my plane seat, I couldn’t help but think of this verse from the song we had heard sung last night, and thought how fitting it was.
“We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.”
Thus ends my Scotland series, I hope you enjoyed it, if you did, let me know by hitting the LIKE button please.