Edinburgh Castle

Dateline: 28 October 2009

Edinburgh Castle

The first official stop on the tour of Scotland was the ancient city of Edinburgh.  Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline.  We were amazed at just how dominating that is.  Castle Rock, an extinct volcano, has been the site of human settlement since pre-history and provides the most amazing natural defenses.  However, during Robert the Bruce’s time, a group of Scots scaled Castle rock and took the fort by force from the English.  The Castle was been a pawn (or a Rook, I guess) in the ongoing power struggles between the English and Scots until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.  I took tons of pictures (shocking, I know!), but don’t think I captured the sheer magnitude of height and forbidding nature of Castle Rock.

Walking through the Castle gates was overwhelming.  I’ve always loved history (thanks Dad!), but visiting the places where events that changed the course of history is indescribable.  A couple of years ago I read English History for Dummies, and, to be honest, I can’t really remember much from it.  I thought it was just my memory, but having been to the places and read the signs/listened to the audio tour (Erin Travel Tip:  totally worth the small extra cost!) it has come alive in my mind!  I could tell you all about who sat on the throne of England from Henry VII to James I and then all about the Jacobite revolts and Bonnie Prince Charlie.  And wouldn’t that just be fascinating – listening to a Canadian maths teacher waffle on about British history!  Currently there’s a show on BBC on Scottish history.  It’s so much fun to watch (beyond the eye candy of an attractive, intelligent man with a Scottish burr) because I’ve been to many of the places that are shown.  One of Piers’s favourite hobbies is to say “you’ve been there” while watching British TV.  And it’s a totally cool feeling.  Perhaps, even indescribable!

Portcullis Gate 1574-77 Built after the Long Siege of 1571-3 as the main gateway into the castle.

Yup, that’s Piers with the backpack.  He’s so sweet; he won’t let me carry anything unless there is absolutely no possible way for him to carry one more thing!  He lugged that backpack, filled with my large bottle of water, heavy guide books, camera gear, and any other ‘essential items’ all day with nary a complaint.

Just a little bit further ...

The castle courtyard is really uneven as it follows the shape

The tippy-top of Castle Rock

of the volcanic rock.  You keep spiraling upward, closer and closer to the center of the castle.  Again Piers was kept busy on ‘clumsy Erin watch’ and didn’t let me trip over my own feet or any other unexpected obstacle!

I'm the Queen of the castle and you're the dirty rascal

Once inside the gates, you have an inspiring view of the city.  Hard to believe, but the area between the castle and the Firth of Forth was once dotted with villages.  Oh, how I’d like to be able to step back in time to see that!  For those of you who, like me, have no idea what a firth is:

Firth is the word in the Lowland Scots language used to denote various coastal waters in Scotland. In mainland Scotland it is used to describe a large sea bay, or even a strait

courtesy of wikipedia.

Looking down at where we came up from

I suppose one of the most interesting aspects for me of traveling in Great Britain, is the juxtaposition of old and new.  Perhaps I should say the juxtaposition of old, older, and even older beside new.  I find it jarring.  I haven’t become accustom to it (and hope I never do, sightseeing would lose some of it’s magic) and marvel at it every time I see it.  I keep wondering how impressive Edinburgh Castle must have been to early medieval envoys and I suppose the medieval population in general.

St Margaret's Chapel

This is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.  It was thought that it was were St. Margaret, who was considered a “just ruler” and influenced her husband and children to be just and holy rulers,  worshipped.  Turns out it was likely built by her son, King David (not that one!) sometime in the early 12th century.   It’s an example of Romanesque architecture (which came just before Gothic) and is only 3m wide inside.  Cool, eh?

The most moving part of the whole experience was the War Memorial.  The building was fashioned out of what was once an army barracks (until 1914 the castle had been the main barracks for the Infantry garrison of Edinburgh and soldiers had lived there and guarded its walls for many centuries).  The official Edinburgh Castle website says:

The exterior emphasises the nobility of those who fell, with statues representing Courage, Peace, Justice and Mercy. At the centre, a figure rising from a phoenix symbolises the survival of the Spirit.

Inside, the atmosphere invokes a deadly quietness and you move around as silently as possible, overcome with the magnitude of loss.  Loss of life, limbs, dreams, hopes, innocence.  There are numerous large volumes, The Rolls, that contain the names of every Scottish man and woman who has died in service to their country since 1914.  There are over 100,000 names from WWI, another 50,000 from WWII, and sadly more are being added still due to the war in Afghanistan (the Brits have pulled out of Iraq).

National War Memorial

The Past is Prologue

While writing the first page of the brand new book of my life the pen skipped. I did what every person in my (multiple pairs) shoes would do and scribbled circles until the ink flowed again. And that’s where my analogy ends. During the flight from Winnipeg, the plane circled over Toronto and then was diverted to Hamilton while Pearson was closed due to thunderstorms.  Not even a 2 hour delay could wipe the wide smile off my face. I found myself smiling for no other reason than pure joy at being on this adventure.

While waiting in Hamilton I watched Duplicity, a moving I could watch over again. It had a complex plot that, I think, would unravel itself with each successive viewing.

My first glimpse of The Thames

My first glimpse of The Thames

I’m learning all kinds of things about myself. I can navigate through unfamiliar airports by myself, I can start conversations with other travelers, and it’s only after Holly asks me if I’m nervous that I acknowledge it. Apparently, as a way to deal with stress my body produces copious amounts of sweat (sorry Mom, I was sweating not glowing) along my hairline. You can imagine what this does to my coif (Selina you can let me know if I spelled that wrong in the comments). I remember Dad’s hair being sopping wet the first year I rode Captain at Winter Fair. Somehow, I don’t think his farm implement hat is going to blend in on the streets of London as it did along the concourse of the Keystone Centre. Just saying.

Erin’s travel trip: Don’t bother painting your nails, they’ll just get huge chips while manhandling the huge, heavy suitcases in which you packed enough clothes to clothe a small village.