Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

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My three previous visits to Edinburgh, Scotland all took place during summer or fall months. However, for many years, I’ve dreamed of traveling to Edinburgh in December, to experience the city’s Christmas Market.

COVID closed down the event in 2020 and 2021, postponing my plans. When I learned the city intended to open the Christmas Market in November 2022, I booked my trip…in August.

What an incredible experience, exploring Edinburgh in winter. Not only did I enjoy the Christmas Market, I discovered many other fun things to do during the colder months.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter title

Edinburgh in Winter

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, offers so many exciting experiences year around. During the month of August the city hosts the Fringe Festival, which draws a huge number of tourists from around the world. I’ve experienced Fringe, and everyone who enjoys art and media should. Lasting the whole month, Fringe features more than 60,000 performances of 3800 shows in 320+ venues, including along the Royal Mile.

The other eleven months of the year, the streets are still busy with throngs of people, but less crowded. I found that while the Christmas Market area was packed during the weekend, weekdays were less crowded and the rest of the city very easy to navigate.

Normal temperatures during December average 45 degrees Fahrenheit by day and drop to mid 30s at night. I began watching the weather in Edinburgh two weeks before my trip, using the Weather App. Rain is a daily occurrence in Scotland throughout the year. So snow was a possibility in December. And, watching the predicted weather pattern I saw that temps were expected to be lower than normal, in the 20s and 30s. This knowledge helped me to prepare for outdoor adventures in cold weather. Watch for an upcoming post about what I purchased, for adventuring in the cold.

I planned out what activities I wanted to do during my week in Edinburgh, leaving some free time for spontaneous adventures. Here’s where my explorations took me.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter wheel
Exploring Edinburgh in Winter – The Wheel at the Christmas Market. I rode it and loved the views from the top.

The Christmas Market

This event is what drew me to Edinburgh in winter and I was not disappointed! The Christmas Market opened November 25 and closed January 3. Stretching along Princes Street, in New Town, the market includes stalls with vendors selling crafts, gifts, Christmas items and clothing. Everything imaginable, really, is available there. There are also lots of stalls selling all kinds of food including German food, fair food, nachos, crepes, burgers, fish and chips, Scottish food and even vegan fare plus drinks such as beer, wine, hot tea and hot chocolate, soda and water.

The Wheel offers riders the chance to see Edinburgh from above while a few other rides appeal to people of all ages. Music plays throughout the market, from fiddles to bag pipes, lights decorate stalls and trees and there is a festive atmosphere that permeates the area along with the tantalizing aroma of food.

The Christmas Market is free while The Wheel and other rides have a small fee. Restrooms are available on site. As noted, the market was extremely busy Friday night through Sunday evening. I visited during weekdays and only walked by over the weekend. My last day in Edinburgh, which also happened to be the coldest, I enjoyed vegan nachos with haggis for lunch and a hot chocolate.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter stalls
Stalls with goods and food for sale, at the Christmas Market. This is a small section of the market. It covered a large area.

Santa Land

At the other end of Princes Street, down in the gardens, is Santa Land. This event is geared toward younger children. A variety of rides, fun booths and food stalls invite families to stay and play. The event is free to walk through with the rides requiring a ticket.

I enjoyed walking through the area and capturing photos of Santa Land with Edinburgh Castle perched high above. The Ross Fountain is in that area as well and worth taking a photo of.

Santa Land in Edinburgh
Exploring Edinburgh in Winter – Santa Land

Christmas Decor

Edinburgh certainly decorates for the holidays! I enjoyed walking around, camera ready on my iPhone, looking at the decorated store fronts, restaurants and townhouses. New Town seems to decorate more than Old Town, however it’s worth walking the streets in both areas. Lights strung across the cobblestone streets lend holiday cheer and some of the storefronts are astounding!

Walk around St Andrew Square and along George Street, both in New Town, for some of the best Christmas decor.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter Christmas decor
This storefront was one of my favorites!

Christmas at the Botanics

The Edinburgh Botanic Garden hosts a lighted trail walk every year during the holidays. I visited the garden for the first time on my last visit, in July 2019. What a magical experience to visit again for a nighttime walk through enchanting gardenscapes.

While the botanic garden is free during the rest of the year, there is a fee for the Christmas tour. It is worth the price! There are timed entries, every half hour. Once in the garden, you can stay as long as you like. It took me about an hour to slowly wander the trail.

The themed displays all feature light and music. You can’t get lost. The trail is well marked and personnel are posted throughout the garden. Restrooms are available, in the heated main building, and there are stalls in several places selling food and hot drinks.

Beautiful display at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden
Beautiful lighted display on water at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden.

Ice Skating Rink

The ice skating rink opens when the Christmas Market does and closes on the same date. This year the rink set up at the end of George Street, in an enclosed rectangular structure. There is a fee to rent the skates and enter the rink however there is space at one end with tables and chairs for spectators. Food and drink stalls are in this area as well.

I have never ice skated and didn’t attempt it…this time! Rather I enjoyed watching the skaters glide by. A large carousel is available outside, for those who would rather ride in circles instead of skate.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter ice skating
Exploring Edinburgh in Winter – ice skating

St Andrew Square

At the other end of George Street is St Andrew Square. It’s decorated with lights and trees. And this green space partnered this year with Social Bite’s Festival of Kindness, spreading goodwill and helping others.

People could donate meals, gifts and accommodations for those in need. Social Bite, with the help of Essential Edinburgh, set a goal of providing 250,000 meals and essential items during the winter months, for the city’s most vulnerable, the homeless. The charity installed huge lighted Christmas Trees in the square and asked people to purchase one extra gift during the holidays, to donate to those in need. St Andrew Square served as the collection site for those gifts.

I was very impressed and moved by the work of Social Bite. Hopefully this is an event that continues year after year.

St Andrew Square
St Andrew Square focuses on helping others.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

Exploring the city is a fun activity on any visit to Edinburgh. Add in frosty temps and a dusting of snow and familiar landmarks and locations take on a fairytale quality.

While exploring Edinburgh, I visited two new to me areas, The Vennel in the Grassmarket area and Circus Lane, in Stockbridge. I also revisited one of my favorite Edinburgh gems, Dean Village, and explored many of the closes off of the Royal Mile.

The Vennel

This scenic location, with an excellent view of the castle, requires a bit of hunting to locate. An old, steep stone staircase, separating two buildings in Grassmarket, leads to a platform where you can turn and see the castle in all its glory.

While this spot isn’t well known, more and more people are finding it, thanks to photos on social media. When I climbed the stairs, coated with a thin layer of ice and snow, a handful of people stood on the platform. We all took turns capturing the shot of the castle. I needed to catch my breath anyway, after all those stairs!

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter the vennel
The Vennel offers a spectacular view of the castle.

Circus Lane

I saw photos of this pretty lane on social media as well, which is what inspired me to walk there to see it myself.

Circus Lane in the Stockbridge area is a favorite for photographers, with its narrow curved street and cute mews houses. It’s not far from Dean Village and only required a 10 minute walk from my accommodations on Rose Street.

Circus Lane is, indeed, extremely picturesque, even in winter. I loved walking along the lane and taking photos. And afterward, I ate lunch at an amazing vegan restaurant in the area. Check out vegan eats in Edinburgh HERE.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter circus lane
Circus Lane is a wonderful street to take photos on.

Dean Village in Winter

This hidden gem in Edinburgh is one of my favorite locations in the city. If I could live in Edinburgh, I’d want to have a flat in Dean Village. Tucked in a valley, and lying along the Water of Leith, this area once housed mills and the people who worked in them. Today it is a quaint village that still retains the charm of the past.

I walked to Dean Village on the coldest day during my visit. Temperatures never rose above the low 20s. And when I first descended into the valley, fog hung over the water. It looked so magical though, with the wispy fog and the snow. I enjoyed walking around the village and standing on the bridges. And I gratefully bought a large hot chocolate from a vendor with a small cart.

Beautiful Dean Village
Beautiful Dean Village in winter.

Royal Mile Closes

Closes are narrow alleys that connect the Royal Mile with other streets and areas in Edinburgh. Originally there were about 250 closes. As medieval Edinburgh grew, tall tenements sprang up along the closes. Some of these lanes were eventually filled in, or sealed off, as is the case with the most famous one, Mary King’s Close.

It’s fun to wander down these closes and see where they lead. I had time to explore many of them, seeing new sights. And I took the Mary King’s Close tour for the first time, an experience one pays for. I discovered the Writer’s Museum, in the Lady Stairs Close. And found the Bakehouse Close, where they filmed scenes for the Scottish series Outlander.

On a couple of different days, in all kinds of weather, I wandered the length of the Royal Mile, exploring the closes and stepping back in time, it often seemed.

A gorgeous capture in Advocate's Close.
A gorgeous view through Advocate’s Close.

Walking and Taking Photos

My favorite activity, exploring Edinburgh in winter, was simply walking the city, Old Town and New Town, and taking photos. I’ll never tire of this city. Every visit I see something new and discover different areas to explore.

In Scotland, the days are very short in December. The sun rose about 8:40 am and by 3:40 pm, it set. The golden hour, the best time for taking photos, occurred between 2:30 and 3:30 each day! That meant I got up early and headed out so I could see as much as possible in daylight.

It’s magical to walk at night in Edinburgh as well, although being a solo traveler, I never stayed out too late. I loved seeing familiar streets dressed for the holidays and watching the lights come on, late afternoon.

Cockburn Street in Old Town
Cockburn Street in Old Town.

Have You Visited Edinburgh?

What an incredible trip, exploring Edinburgh in winter. This first international solo trip taught me things about myself. (I can handle navigating HUGE airports and make it to my gate on time.) And I learned more about this marvelous city. I feel a deep connection to Edinburgh and it will continue to haunt me and draw me back.

I can check Edinburgh Christmas Market off my bucket list. I think I’ll add Edinburgh Hogmanay though! I’d love to experience the city’s new year celebration.

Have you visited Edinburgh? Or have you experienced a European Christmas market?

Edinburgh in LIghts

 

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CoDE Boutique Hostel

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When I’m planning a trip, the first thing I focus on, even before checking flights, is accommodations. Where I stay is important, especially since I’m on foot during most of my stay.

My ideal accommodation is located near the area I most want to explore, has a kitchen or mini kitchen and is unique.

As I searched in Old and New Towns, in Edinburgh, I browsed through many hotels. I found several that met my criteria, however the price per night was high for all of them. I hoped to spend 5 – 7 days in Edinburgh so I kept searching.

I’m not sure how I ended up on the CoDE Boutique Hostel sites. I apparently clicked a link or a photo and rather than click away, I kept scrolling through their info. CoDE features sleek, comfy pods in dormitory style rooms, similar to Japanese hostels. Intrigued, I considered booking a pod in a female only room.

And then it happened. CoDE operates two hostels in Edinburgh, one off of the Royal Mile and the other on Rose Street. Rose Street felt perfect, location wise. As I looked at the dormitory rooms I discovered that the Rose Street location offered a top floor “penthouse” with a full kitchen, private bathroom, incredible floor to ceiling windows AND a balcony.

My heart beat faster, a sure sign that I’d found my accommodations. And, the price was incredible. I could stay a full week at CoDE for less than the cost of 3 nights at the hotels I’d been perusing. My trip to Edinburgh came together quickly after that remarkable find.

CoDE Boutique Hostel title

CoDE Boutique Hostel

With their private pods, ear plugs and sleeping masks, this luxury hostel offers a great night’s sleep with an emphasis on privacy and security.

They provide cozy common rooms to encourage social interaction among the guests and the CoDE Court Hostel off of the Royal Mile offers waffles for breakfast every morning. Amenities include free wi-fi, storage lockers, toiletries and a place to stash luggage if you arrive before check in time.

The Court in Old Town is so named because the building formerly served as a courthouse and jail. The cells are now individual rooms and the courtroom a sleeping studio with pods.

The pod beds feel private with curtains that close at the foot of the pod. The pods contain a shelf, LED lighting, hooks and USB ports. Each pod has a corresponding locker with a digital lock that securely holds luggage and personal items. Female only and coed dorms are available.

The CoDE name comes from the fact that each guest receives his or her own unique personal code for access to the building and dorm room or apartment.

CoDE Boutique Hostel Loft

The hostel I chose, located at 50 Rose Street North Lane, provides long term living options in a beautiful old building in the heart of New Town. This hostel offers discounts for stays from a week to several months, making it ideal for my trip.

There’s also a family room at this site, with a double pod and two single pods, perfect for parents with kids who want to share the same space. Each of the floors contain two pod rooms with shared bathrooms. The penthouse, a cozy and cute studio style apartment, sits at the top of the building. My guess is that this is a recent add on.

On the ground floor is a full kitchen for guests to prepare meals and a common room for social interaction, watching tv or working on laptops.

The spotless apartment contains a spacious bathroom with walk in shower, a kitchen with mini fridge, full size electric range, microwave, plates, glasses, mugs and silverware and cooking essentials, dining area/workspace and a double bed. The large windows look out over charming buildings in the area and at the end of the apartment, a sliding glass door opens onto a large private balcony.

Take a tour of the penthouse apartment with me as I point out some of the amazing features!

CoDE Boutique Hostel exterior
The exterior of the CoDE Boutique Hostel.

Common Room and Shared Kitchen

Using the personalized code, I entered a hallway that leads to storage lockers and stairs going up to four floors of rooms. There isn’t an elevator.

Immediately inside the entrance and to the right is the common room with a shared kitchen, tables, sofas and a television mounted on the wall. I don’t believe the pod rooms contain a tv although the apartment does.

The kitchen is stocked with cooking essentials and free coffees and teas.

There isn’t a check in desk. Arrangements are made online and my card was charged right before I arrived. There are helpful staff onsite. The young man working the day I arrived graciously carried my luggage to the top floor!

I met several of the other guests although I never used the shared kitchen or hung out in the common room. Everyone seemed kind and thoughtful.

CoDE Boutique Hostel common room and kitchen
CoDE Boutique Hostel common room and kitchen

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Hallway

The industrial style door opens onto a hallway with storage, hangers and cubbies for clothing. At the end of the hallway is the bathroom. The living area/bedroom opens off of the hallway as well.

A perfectly placed full length mirror made the clothing storage area a wonderful spot to get dressed and don coat, hat, gloves and scarf before heading out to explore. I really appreciated this handy area.

Apartment hallway with clothing storage area.
Hallway with clothing storage area.
Bathroom at the end of the hallway.
Bathroom at the end of the hallway.

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Bathroom

I loved the large bathroom! Subway tiles, an awesome shower, dual mirrors, the ledge near the sink for toiletries and the cheerful orange rug all enchanted me. Plus, it absolutely gleamed!

CoDE provides two hand towels and two bath towels, shower gel and a hair dryer, which meant I didn’t have to pack one or use electrical adapters.

A small wall radiator kept the bathroom cozy. Also, blue mood lighting installed along the baseboards served well as a nightlight.

CoDE Boutique Hostel bathroom
CoDE Boutique Hostel bathroom
Awesome shower
Awesome shower

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Sleeping Area

A double bed, two bedside tables and lamps and a wall mounted television occupy one end of the studio style apartment. The thick, comfy mattress provided the BEST night’s sleep after a day of exploring.

Above the bed, the words “Wake up and be awesome” inspired me every morning.

Charging ports built into the walls made it easy to plug my phone in for charging and again, I didn’t have to use the electrical adapters that I brought.

The two exterior walls contained large windows and a sliding glass door opening onto the balcony. I loved the light and the views.

Wake up and be awesome
Wake up and be awesome!
What amazing views
What amazing views!

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Kitchen and Dining Area

At the other end of the apartment an island with four stools provided dining and work space near the windows.

And the kitchen offered a full sized stove/oven, a microwave, mini fridge, toaster and my favorite, an instant water kettle for making hot tea. The kitchen contained everything I needed to create meals. Because I’m plant based, it’s easier for me to make my own breakfasts and dinners and eat lunches out at various vegan restaurants. Cooking saves me money and I know I’m eating healthy. A corner grocery store a few blocks away made shopping convenient.

 

CoDE Boutique Hostel kitchen
CoDE Boutique Hostel kitchen
Dining/work area
Dining/workspace area with a peek at the private balcony beyond.

My Experience in the CoDE Boutique Hostel

I immediately fell in love with this apartment!

Yes, at least twice a day I climbed four floors to reach my apartment. By the third day, I made that climb easily without feeling out of breath. And oh, that climb was worth it!

I raised the shades first thing every morning, ate my oatmeal and berries sitting in front of those windows, watched the sun rise, the snow swirl, the clouds gather, darkness fall. The views from that top floor apartment melted my heart.

In fact, my first evening in the apartment, after exploring for a few hours, I stood at those windows and said aloud, “I’m in Edinburgh!” And I promptly burst into tears. It was such an emotional experience.

I loved everything about the apartment: location, beauty, kitchen, balcony, dressing area, bed. By nature I’m a tidy person, so I kept the apartment clean… picked up, bed made, dishes washed, clothes put away tidy.

One thing the apartment does not have is an indoor chair. There are the stools at the island and the bed but no chair. So I brought in one of the eight outdoor chairs on the balcony and set it up in front of the window. It became “my place” to greet the day, eat meals, plan for the next day and meditate.

And on the day of heavy rain and snow, that comfy chair served as a drying rack near the radiator for my coat, hat, gloves and scarf!

A snowy day in Edinburgh
A snowy day in Edinburgh.

Who Might Not Like This Luxury Hostel

CoDE Boutique Hostel perfectly fit my needs and exceeded my expectations.

I’m aware, however, that not everyone would appreciate this type of accommodation.

Why you might not like this hostel:

  • you can’t climb stairs
  • there’s zero parking for a rental car…the location is ideal however for walking
  • while staff are onsite, there’s no check in/check out desk
  • instead of a room key, you receive a unique to you code to punch in on a keypad
  • there’s no daily room cleaning service in the apartment…it’s cleaned between guests
  • pod rooms share bathrooms
  • Rose Street is a busy pedestrian street, which means you might hear some noise late at night as people walk down the street (this didn’t bother me or keep me awake)
  • guests come and go at all hours of the day and night (again, this didn’t bother me or keep me awake, since I was at the top of the building)
  • there’s no gym, pool, business center or complimentary breakfast at the Rose Street site
This is Edinburgh
My apartment was the Edinburgh Suite. I loved that.

Would I Stay at CoDE Boutique Hostel Again?

So…would I stay here again?

Yes! I absolutely would. The apartment became my home base as I explored Edinburgh. Its convenient location made it easy to stop by after lunch to drop off any purchases and refresh before heading back out.

The staff answered all my questions and when the heat didn’t kick on the first night, a quick email resulted in an even quicker fix. They were able to turn on the radiator remotely.

I so enjoyed my stay at CoDE that I felt genuinely sad when I left for the last time, to catch a flight home. For a glorious week, that little apartment WAS home and it served me well.

I can’t really say I experienced a traditional hostel stay, since I had my own private space, but I loved this new to me type of accommodation, nonetheless. My stay at CoDE contributed to my Edinburgh trip in very positive ways. I’d definitely stay here again or even consider a stay in the females only pod room.

Would you stay at CoDE Boutique Hostel? Why or why not?

CoDE Boutique Hostel balcony
Enjoying a light snowfall on the balcony at CoDE Boutique Hostel.

Other Unique Places I’ve Stayed:

citizenM Hotel Washington DC

Sailor’s Rest Airbnb

Culture Boutique Hotel

 

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The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny

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I first toured Edinburgh Castle in 2014, with my cousins Mindy and William. On that dreich day in August, we stood huddled around our tour guide Jonathan as he spoke passionately about Scotland’s Stone of Destiny, housed nearby in a room of the castle.

With his long red hair blowing in the wind and fire in his fierce blue eyes, Jonathan epitomized the proud Scots warrior, ready to defend his beloved country. I shivered as he spoke in his heavy Scottish brogue and it had nothing to do with the cold. He shared how the stone left Scotland for a time…a very long time…and eventually returned home where, he declared vehemently, it will remain.

And he intrigued me with a tale of the infamous theft of the Stone of Destiny.

When my cousins opted to leave the castle complex to attend a whiskey tasting, I chose to stay behind and see this Stone of Destiny that stirred such passion in our guide.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny title meme

The Stone of Destiny Backstory

The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone and in England, the Coronation Stone, is an oblong block of red sandstone. This rather ordinary looking block of stone served for centuries as the coronation stone for the monarchs of Scotland.

The Scone Abbey near Perth, Scotland originally housed the artifact. Historian Walter Hemingford described the stone as “hollowed out as a chair on which future kings were placed for their coronation, according to custom.”

The stone measures 26 inches by 16.7 inches by 10.5 inches. A roughly etched cross decorates one surface while embedded iron rings aid with transport. It weighs 335 pounds.

In 1296 the English king Edward I took the stone as spoils of war and moved it to Westminster Abbey. A special wooden coronation chair became the stone’s resting place. Edward sought to claim status as the “Lord Paramount” of Scotland with the right to oversee its king.

All subsequent English monarchs sat in the chair, above the stone, when crowned. Queen Elizabeth II last used the coronation chair in 1953.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny coronation chair
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – illustration of the Coronation Chair with the Stone

A Daring Rescue Plan

In 1950, more than 650 years after the stone left Scotland, a group of Scottish college students concocted a bold plan…steal the Stone of Destiny and bring it home.

A law student at the University of Glasgow, Ian Hamilton joined with Alan Stuart, Kay Matheson and Gavin Vernon to break into Westminster Abbey and recover the stone.

Ian read everything he could find about the Abbey and scouted out the building several times. On one visit, he deliberately stayed past closing time, hiding near the Coronation Chair. A janitor discovered him and thinking the young man drunk, offered him a coin and let him out a side door.

During these surveillance trips, Ian found the side doors made of pine, making them easy to break into after hours.

On Christmas Eve, 1950, Ian and his companions drove to London in two separate cars. Arriving early on Christmas Day, the group parked near the Abbey. Kay remained in a running car, ready for a quick get away, while the boys stealthily entered the Abbey. That’s when the plan began to fall apart.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny top view
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – top view

Stealing the Stone of Destiny

The heavy stone rested in a chair made specifically for it. The young men found it difficult to remove the stone and ultimately broke part of the chair. Tugging the stone free at last, it fell to the floor, breaking toes on one of the men’s foot. More alarming to them, the stone broke in two.

Ian quickly grabbed the smaller piece and carried it to the car where Kay waited. He stashed the stone segment in the back seat. As he re-entered the Abbey, he heard a police officer approaching. Dashing back to Kay, Ian took her into his arms and kissed her. Questioned by the policeman, the pair claimed to be a couple searching for accommodations for the night.

Once the officer left, Kay drove off with the smaller stone segment hidden beneath a blanket. When Ian returned to the Abbey, he discovered the other men had fled. With great determination and ingenuity, the lad used his coat to laboriously drag the heavier stone segment out of the building.

As he heaved the stone into the trunk of the second car, his comrades returned. They all left together.

The theft discovered, roadblocks sprang up on all streets out of London. Kay did not draw suspicion, as a single girl driving a car. She made it through and crossed the border, taking her part of the stone to her family’s farm in Scotland.

The young men chose to hide the larger segment in England, fearing they could not make it across the closed border. They buried the stone in an empty field in Kent. Eventually they returned for the stone and successfully transported it to Scotland.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny side view
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – side view

Back to England

With the help of the Scottish National Party leader, the courageous college students had the stone repaired by a stone master. The theft made international headlines and brought a united sense of joy to the Scottish people.

As the investigation into the theft of the Destiny Stone came closer and closer to the perpetrators, the four decided that they had accomplished their purpose. By stealing the Stone of Destiny and bringing it home they raised awareness of Scotland’s subordination to England.

The four contacted two Arbroath town councilors and turned over the stone.

On April 11, 1951, the councilors helped the college students set up the stone on an altar in the abandoned Arbroath Abbey and called the authorities. The English got the stone back and returned it to the Coronation Chair. The students disbanded and never met again. Ian completed his studies and became a criminal lawyer.

The way was paved, however, for the stone to return to its rightful place in Scotland. In 1996 the English handed over the Stone of Destiny, on the condition that they may “borrow” it for any future coronations.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny Robert the Bruce
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – statue of Robert the Bruce

Viewing the Stone of Destiny

Twice I’ve viewed the Stone of Destiny in Edinburgh Castle. Both times I felt deeply moved.

The stone rests within a plexiglass case along with the Crown Jewels of Scotland. I can’t touch it yet I feel the hum of sacred energy that flows from it. My Scottish DNA responds, causing my eyes to fill with tears and my heart to beat faster. Photographs are not allowed so I spent several long minutes studying the stone, searing its image into my mind and soul.

What an amazing history this stone possesses. I love the courage and resourcefulness of the four young adults who accomplished what no one else dared. They took back what was rightfully theirs. That feat ultimately resulted in a permanent return of the stone and the Scottish are extremely protective of it now.

As an older adult, Ian said:

“When I lifted the stone in Westminster Abbey, I felt Scotland’s soul was in my hands.”

What a marvelous representation of Scotland’s hardy, warrior soul is the Stone of Destiny. Long may it remain in Edinburgh.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny group photo
Group photo at Edinburgh Castle, September 2017

Want to watch a fun depiction of this true story? Check out the Stone of Destiny film, available through Amazon Prime. Click on photo to rent.

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Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde

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There’s a fun, popular pub on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Called Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, the pub serves up classic Scottish and British fare, an assortment of cask ales and a rich history. The tavern bears the name of one of Edinburgh’s most fascinating residents, William Brodie. A respectable cabinet maker by day, Brodie led a sordid secret life by night.

In fact, he’s commonly referred to as Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s real life Jekyll and Hyde.

Read his stranger than fiction story!

Deacon Brodie Edinburghs Real Life Jekyll and Hyde title meme

Who is Deacon Brodie?

Born in Edinburgh on September 28, 1741, William Brodie was the son of a successful cabinetmaker and the grandson of two renowned lawyers.

William grew up in the trade, becoming a fine craftsman specializing in domestic furniture such as cabinets and cupboards. Additionally, he was a skilled locksmith.

Because of his talents and his family connections, Brodie served as a representative, or deacon, of the guild and a city councillor. This position of influence brought him respect throughout the city…and a great deal of business.

Brodie socialized with the gentry of Edinburgh. He met poet Robert Burns and painter Henry Raeburn and enjoyed a membership at Edinburgh Cape Club.

When his father died in 1768, young Brodie inherited 10,000 pounds, a fortune in those days, along with four houses and the family cabinetmaking business.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde tavern sign
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – one of two tavern signs

A Dark Secret

While Deacon Brodie garnered respect during the day, at night he shifted into a darker life of crime.

Because of his work he gained access to the homes of Edinburgh’s wealthy citizens. Making wax impressions of the household keys allowed him to fashion duplicates, which meant he could return at night or while the owners were away, and commit robbery.

For more than a decade he led a double life, craftsman by day and thief at night. However after his father’s death, he took his criminal activities up a notch.

In spite of his inheritance, Brodie required more and more money to fund his gambling habits and expensive lifestyle. He also supported two mistresses and five children that he kept hidden from society. As he continued to run up debts at night, his respectable daytime business failed to keep up.

Deacon Brodie teamed up with three other criminals. Together they preyed on businesses and large private homes in Old Town. Growing bolder, they eventually attempted to steal the revenues of Scotland, at the Excise Office in Chessel’s Court.

The botched robbery resulted in only 16 pounds and the gang disbanded. One of the members turned in two of the others for a reward, while Brodie fled the country. Authorities found him hiding in a cupboard in Holland. He returned to Edinburgh to stand trial.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde second sign
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – alter ego

The Trial

Deacon Brodie stood trial for theft, along with one of his accomplices. The trial lasted 21 hours.

Found guilty, he was hung on October 1, 1788, in Lawnmarket, just steps from his birthplace and childhood home. A sizable crowd of 40,000 gathered for the hanging.

Deacon Brodie appeared for his execution in high style, sporting fine, tailored clothes and a powdered wig. One tale suggests Brodie also wore a silver tube around his neck, beneath his finery, in an attempt to survive the hanging. He supposedly bribed the hangman to ignore the tube and arranged for others to quickly remove his body and revive him.

The plan failed. Brodie’s body rests in an unmarked grave at St. Cuthbert’s Chapel. He was 47 years old at the time of his death.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde painting
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – painting

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Author Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father owned furniture made by Deacon Brodie, wrote a play called Deacon Brodie, The Double Life. Although the play was unsuccessful, Stevenson remained intrigued by Brodie’s double life. This paradox between the cabinetmaker’s light and dark personalities inspired him to write the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydein 1886.

This tale became a classic, adapted throughout the years into films, musicals and plays.

In Edinburgh Deacon Brodie is remembered with the pub on the corner of Lawnmarket and Bank Street, and a close (covered alleyway) off of the Royal Mile called Brodie’s Close. The family’s residence and workshops were there.

Visit Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for a hearty, traditional meal and fascinating bits of Edinburgh’s darker history. The girls’ group I traveled with enjoyed a fun, leisurely dinner there and a couple of rounds of ale and cider.

The pub also serves breakfast and a delightful afternoon tea.

Have you heard of Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s real life Jekyll and Hyde?

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde drinks
Drinks and a meal at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern.

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Greyfriars Bobby World’s Most Loyal Dog

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When I visited Edinburgh, Scotland in 2017, along with my mother, sisters and niece, one site we all wanted to visit was Greyfriars Kirkyard and a nearby monument.

The monument honors a small Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby. This little dog displayed an incredible level of faithfulness to his owner, earning him the title “World’s Most Loyal Dog”.

Learn his story, in this Tales from Scotland post, and discover visit-worthy sites in the area.

Greyfriars Bobby Words Most Loyal Dog title meme

Greyfriars Kirk

Located in Edinburgh’s Old Town, Greyfriars Kirk is a parish kirk (church). It stands on the site of a pre-reformation establishment of the Franciscan Order, the Grey Friars.

Built in 1612, the kirk is located south of Grassmarket and east of George Heriot’s School.

Greyfriars Bobby Worlds Most Loyal Dog kirk
Greyfriars Bobby, world’s most loyal dog – Greyfriars Kirk

Greyfriars Kirkyard

The kirkyard is the cemetery surrounding the church. A number of notable Edinburgh residents rest there.

The kirkyard is moody, in a gothic sort of way, and fascinating to wander through. Elaborate mural monuments along the east and west walls of the oldest burial section feature intriguing symbols of mortality and immortality.

Many graves are protected with stone walls, iron railings or ironwork cages called mortsafes, to protect against grave robbing. In the early 19th century, resurrection men supplied Edinburgh Medical College with corpses for dissection, in exchange for fees. The common practice of plundering graveyards provided those bodies.

And, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, drew inspiration from the kirkyard for character names in her stories. You can find burial sites for people with the names McGonagall, Moodie, Scrymgeour and Potter. Check out the grave of Thomas Riddell, whose name inspired one of the most terrifying villains in literature. In the Harry Potter series, Tom Riddle becomes Lord Voldemort.

Near the entrance to the kirkyard is a gravestone for John Gray, an Edinburgh City nightwatchman. And not far from that grave is another, marked with a similar headstone, for the dog known as Greyfriars Bobby.

Greyfriars Bobby World's Most Loyal Dog John Gray grave
Greyfriars Bobby World’s Most Loyal Dog – John Gray’s grave

Greyfriars Bobby

Although slightly different versions of Greyfriars Bobby exists, the most commonly told tale is the following.

Bobby belonged to John Gray, the nightwatchman. For two years they went everywhere together. When John died of tuberculosis 15 February 1858, burial took place in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The dog earned the nickname Greyfriars Bobby because from that time forward, until his own death in 1872, the faithful companion stayed near John’s grave. In spite of various weather conditions and frequent shooing away by the kirkyard caretaker, Bobby refused to leave.

Residents of Edinburgh felt compassion for the dog. They adopted Bobby, feeding him and caring for him. Each afternoon, at the firing of the 1:00 gun at Edinburgh Castle, Bobby trotted to a nearby cafe for a meal and then returned to the kirkyard. Although not officially allowed, kind people even built a small shelter for him near John’s grave.

Sir William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, paid for Bobby’s license and provided a collar for him. That collar is on display in the Museum of Edinburgh.

Bobby remained vigilant near John’s grave for 14 years. After his death, the city buried him in the kirkyard, near his owner. The stone is red marble, like John’s. Inscribed are the words: “Greyfriars Bobby – Died 14 January 1872 – Aged 16 Years. Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”

Visitors leave sticks, for Bobby to fetch, on his grave and John’s. Occasionally dog toys and flowers adorn the graves as well.

Greyfriars Bobby World Most Loyal Dog grave
The grave of Greyfriars Bobby World’s Most Loyal Dog

The Greyfriars Bobby Monument

A year after Bobby’s death, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, moved by the story, paid for a memorial monument. William Brodie created it as a drinking fountain with an upper basin for humans and a lower one for dogs. A statue of Bobby adorned the top.

The city filled in the basins with concrete in 1957, due to a city-wide health scare. After damage by a car in 1985, the base is newly created, however it copies the original exactly. An attached plaque reads:

“A tribute to the affectionate fidelity of Greyfriars Bobby. In 1858, this faithful dog followed the remains of his master to Greyfriars Churchyard and lingered near the spot until his death in 1872. With permission erected by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts.”

Greyfriars Bobby monument
Greyfriars Bobby Monument

Inscribed on the statue is “Greyfriars Bobby, from the life just before his death.” W.H. Brodie Sc RSA 1872

Greyfriars Bobby is a popular destination spot in Edinburgh. People gather around the monument, taking photos. And as attested by the shiny spot on the statue, they reach up to rub Bobby’s nose for good luck. Such superstitions necessitated two nose restorations for Bobby!

The Greyfriars Bobby monument stands near the entrance to the kirkyard. The pub behind it, affectionately known as Bobby’s Bar, is a popular tourist spot. You can find postcards, toys and works of art commemorating Bobby throughout Edinburgh. Additionally, Walt Disney created a film about him in 1961.

 

Greyfriars Pub
Greyfriars Pub – also known as Bobby’s Bar

Other Sites to Visit Near Greyfriars Bobby

These nearby sites are all within walking distance from the monument:

  • Greyfriars Kirkyard
  • George Heriot’s School, the inspiration for Hogwarts in Harry Potter
  • Grassmarket, pubs and shops, and a rich history. This STORY took place near here.
  • Victoria Street, full of shops and cafes
  • The Elephant House, cafe/pub where J.K. Rowling wrote the first chapters of Harry Potter
  • National Museum of Scotland
  • The Royal Mile, containing many shops, attractions, cafes and museums
  • Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile

I hope you’ve enjoyed Bobby’s story. His loyalty and devotion tugs at the heart. If you see Bobby, the entrance to the kirkyard with his grave and John’s is right there to the left. It’s free to wander about the cemetery and well worth a visit.

Have you seen Greyfriars Bobby World’s Most Loyal Dog or the kirk and kirkyard? Share your experiences in the comments!

Greyfriars Bobby girls trip
Standing in the Greyfriars kirkyard

Greyfriars Bobby Inspired Treasures:

 


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Wrong Way Sister

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Today’s travel story comes from Scotland. I intended to craft a tale from another country, such as Italy, since I posted the Scottish story The Pole Dancer last week. However, this story is the one that surfaced again and again. Perhaps it’s because yesterday was my sister’s birthday, and she features in this account.

This is Wrong Way Sister. And yes, I have my sister’s permission to share these snippets from our trip.

Wrong Way Sister title meme

Sisters’ Trip to Scotland

Last July, my sister Debbie and I experienced a series of firsts together. We grew up in the same household and see each other often as adults. And we enjoyed a girls’ trip to the UK in 2017, traveling with our mother, our other sister and Debbie’s daughter through Ireland, Scotland and England.

We’ve shared many adventures and yet we’ve never traveled together, just the two of us.  For this trip, we flew back to Scotland to take part in a clan gathering. Debbie and I are members of the Maitland Clan. The gathering gave us the perfect excuse to return to a country we both love and to meet with other clan members from around the world. Check out this post for more about that amazing time with our clan chief and family that we met for the first time.

Knowing how full the clan gathering schedule was, we tacked extra days onto our trip, so we could explore Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh. Debbie and I share many common interests, including a powerful love for this extraordinary city. Before the clan gathering began, we spent our days happily wandering the city, riding the hop on/hop off buses, and popping into quaint shops and cafes.

Wrong Way Sister adventure
Wrong way sister – the adventure begins

Wrong Way, Sister

Sharing a cute little self serviced apartment, cooking our own plant based meals, sleeping in the single bedroom and big comfy bed, my sister and I bonded. People mistake us for twins, because we both choose to embrace our silver hair and wear it long. We often think the same way about situations or say the same words out loud. I woke up one night and discovered we slept in identical positions, a phenomenon we jokingly called synchronized sleeping!

During shared meals and tea times, late night chats and explorations in Edinburgh, we learned new things about each other. One trait I discovered is that my sister does not have a good sense of direction!

Our apartment on Thistle Street became home for ten days. Every morning we exited the building, off on adventures. Charming Thistle Street is populated with pubs, cafes and blocks of apartment buildings. It’s conveniently located a block from Hanover Street, which leads to Princes Street and the bridges that connect New Town with Old Town. Perhaps because of my many years as a realtor, I’ve learned to navigate by directions rather than landmarks or using “right” or “left”. I could mentally call up Edinburgh’s grid of streets in my head as we explored.

Debbie, on the other hand, generally headed in the opposite direction from our intended destination. It became humorous, watching her stride with great purpose…in the wrong direction! On one occasion, I stood at our apartment building door, watching with amusement as she walked down the block to Hanover Street and prepared to cross. Not sensing me behind her, she turned to see where I was.

“It’s this way, right?” she asked. On this day, our destination was Charlotte Square. “No,” I called out, laughing and pointing down Thistle Street. “Exactly the opposite direction.”

Wrong Way Sister Thistle Street Apartment
Wrong way sister – Thistle Street Apartment
Wrong Way Sister Hanover Street
Wrong way sister – Hanover Street

The World’s End

On another day, the hottest ever recorded in Scotland, Debbie and I decided to walk to a section of Edinburgh’s original wall.

In Old Town, on what’s known as The Royal Mile, there’s a pub called The End of the World. It marks the outer edge of Old Edinburgh. The exterior wall of this 16th century building formed part of the Flodden Wall that surrounded Old Edinburgh as a defense against intruders.

For the residents of the city at that time, the wall truly was the edge of their known world. People lived and worked and died within that protective barrier. To go beyond it meant entering a dangerous unknown.

After mentally determining the location of the remaining section of the wall, we set off. Debbie and I walked…and walked…and walked. In the record breaking heat, we quickly became hot, draining our water bottles and rolling up our sleeves.

At last we spied our destination ahead. With a sigh of relief, we remarked that the wall section was much farther from The Royal Mile than we anticipated. I was thinking of the long return trek back to our apartment when Debbie voiced the same concern. Our conversation went like this:

Me: “This was a lot farther out than I realized!”

Debbie: “It was! I’m tired and thirsty. At least we are walking toward our apartment, right?”

Me: ….

Debbie: “Right?!”

Me: Laughing. “No. No, our apartment is in the opposite direction. We’ve been walking away from it all this time!”

We stopped at a pub on the way back, for a much appreciated rest, snack and cup of tea.

Wrong Way Sister Lauderdale Bus
Wrong way sister – it was fun to see coaches with our last name on them
Wrong Way Sister Flodden Wall
Wrong Way Sister – a section of Flodden Wall

Until We Return

I treasure the memories from that trip. I loved spending those 10 days with my sister. As the oldest sibling in my family, I always felt protective of my younger sisters and brother when we were children. I still feel protective, even now all these years later. Wandering about Edinburgh that protectiveness showed itself again. I wanted my sister to enjoy the experiences and arrive at our destinations, without getting lost!

In return I recognized that Debbie trusted me, completely. If I said, “It’s this way”, she turned around without question and headed the other direction. The only time we ended up not lost, but traveling to our destination the “long way around”, it was because we followed the GPS on my phone. Instinctively, I knew how to get to Dean Village in Edinburgh. I learned that day to trust myself the way Debbie trusts me. After exploring beautiful Dean Village, we arrived back at our apartment via the shorter route, the phone’s GPS silenced.

I look forward to more shared trips with my sister. One of my greatest desires is to travel and share experiences with my family members. My big WHY involves seeing that desire become reality.

After 10 glorious days in Scotland, Debbie and I bid Edinburgh “farewell until next time” and headed home. At JFK International Airport in New York, we sat wearily, waiting for our flight to Atlanta and then home.

Debbie excused herself to go to the ladies’ restroom. I watched her enter the restroom and happened to see her exit it as well a few minutes later. She hesitated for a moment, and then with confidence turned left and strolled down the wide hallway, away from me!

I chuckled. Wrong way sister was at it again. I knew she would eventually figure it out and turn around. I’d be waiting for her.

Wrong Way Sister sibling love
Wrong way sister – sibling love

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The Pole Dancer

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I’m excited to expand my writing into more travel related posts, as I have more travel experiences. One of my biggest dreams is to work remotely, from my laptop, anywhere in the world.

However, what is a traveler to do, when the whole world is under a travel ban? She revisits the places she’s been, via photos and memories. And she crafts stories from those previous trips.

Today I introduce the “Tales from…” Series with a funny story, The Pole Dancer, from a trip to Scotland in 2017. I hope you enjoy it. And watch for travel tales here each Friday…until this wanderer can wander again and deliver new content.

The Pole Dancer title meme

Tales from Scotland, The Pole Dancer

Stepping off the tour bus, we disembark into a changed Edinburgh. When our girls’ group began exploring the city that morning, people overflowed the surrounding landscape, covering streets and parks like an international patchwork quilt. Visitors from around the world jostled shoulders as they scrambled for buses or pulled up maps on their phones and set off on foot.

Now, nearby streets empty as weary wanderers move toward cheerful pubs and cafes, intent on refreshment. Even the piper on the corner has vanished, taking the signature sound of Scotland with him.

I glance at my tired traveling companions, my mother, sisters and niece, and shrug.

After spending the day wandering the city, including a tour of Edinburgh Castle, and shopping along the Royal Mile, we thankfully boarded the last hop on/hop off bus for the day. We looked forward to a hot meal and hotter showers and a good night’s sleep. Except…we missed our hop off spot. The bus parked for the night, with us still onboard.

It’s up to us to find a way to our lodging.

The Pole Dancer Hop On Hop Off Bus
The Pole Dancer – Hop On/Hop Off Bus

George to the Rescue

We have options. The bus tours begin and end on Waverley Bridge, near the train station tucked into the heart of Edinburgh. The three span iron bridge we stand on literally connects medieval Old Town with 18th century New Town. Cabs regularly swing through this area, assured of a steady stream of arrivals.

“Are you ladies lost?” 

A guide approaches us, a smile on his round face. An unruly thatch of gray hair caps his head, and in spite of the long day, his good humor remains intact. Laugh lines frame bright blue eyes that disappear when he chuckles. His rumpled white shirt stretches over a rounded belly. GEORGE is etched across his name tag.

George sees damsels in distress. He nobly offers assistance. We like him immediately.

He listens as we share our dilemma. We aren’t lost, we explain, only temporarily displaced. Perhaps George can flag down a cab for us? He concocts a better plan.

“Where are you staying?” he inquires in his soft Scottish brogue.

The Pole Dancer Edinburgh Church
The Pole Dancer – Edinburgh Church

A Private Joke

I supply the name and address of our serviced apartment near Grassmarket, south of Edinburgh Castle.

George’s reaction surprises us. He rocks back on his heels, his smile widening. Laughter bubbles up and George waves other guides over. As he tells our story, they raise eyebrows and chuckle too. The band of guides shares some private joke and we aren’t in on it.

Wiping his eyes, George steers us toward a bus, empty except for the seated driver. “My friend, please take these ladies back to their apartment,” George instructs. “They’ve had a long day in our city.”

The Pole Dancer Girls Trip
The Pole Dancer – enjoying the Royal Mile

An Impromptu Game of Charades

The driver nods. George gives him the address. His mouth quirking into a lopsided smile, the driver looks at us with amusement as we settle gratefully into seats.

“Okay, what’s so funny about where we’re staying?” I ask.

In response, George hops into the bus. With an infectious grin, he prances toward the metal pole nearest us. Placed there to steady standing travelers, George has other intentions.

Humming, the Scotsman grabs the pole and dances, surprisingly agile. He twirls around and throws back his head, amid cheers from guides gathered near the bus door. Hooking one leg around the pole, George looks at us, expectantly.

Our dancer plays a spontaneous game of charades. My family members exchange glances as understanding comes. He’s pole dancing, as a clue!  

We are incredulous. “Are we staying in Edinburgh’s red light district?” 

Applause from the guides confirms the guess. The driver snorts and waves George off his bus. He exits with a wink and an admonition to behave ourselves.

The Pole Dancer View of Castle
The Pole Dancer – Our view of the castle, from our five star lodging

A Street with a View

As the bus pulls away from the curb, we look back at George and wave. Laughing, he performs another little twirl on the sidewalk and bows. 

Walking up to our apartment building, we stop and really look at our surroundings. We arrived late the night before, eyes captivated by our first sight of Edinburgh Castle perched high on its volcanic rock.  And we left eager for adventure that morning. Now, turning slowly in a circle, we realize that our five star lodging is located in the middle of strip clubs, lap dance parlors and adult shows. No wonder George and the other guides laughed. We are amused too.

My sister Debbie recently returned with me to Edinburgh, my favorite city in all the world. We stayed in a different serviced apartment, in New Town. However, every time our hop on/hop off bus passed through Grassmarket, we peered up the hill toward our previous lodging. And we smiled, remembering George, our rescuer, our pole dancer.

The Pole Dancer Edinburgh Castle

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Wandering Through Edinburgh

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While in Scotland, my sister Debbie and I spent five wonderful days connecting with new family members from Clan Maitland. The other meaningful connection that we deepened was with the city itself.

Edinburgh captured our hearts on previous visits. This trip, with Edinburgh as our home base, we set out to get to know the city better and strengthen the bond.

Wandering through Edinburgh became a daily, intentional adventure.

Wandering Through Edinburgh Title Meme

Fun Facts About Edinburgh

  •  capital of Scotland and second largest city, with Glasgow the biggest
  •  population of 512,000 (as of 2016)
  •  Scottish Gaelic name – Dun Eideann, meaning “hill of Eidyn”
  •  nickname – Auld Reekie, so called because the smoke from chimneys hung over the city in ancient times
  •  earliest known habitation, a Mesolithic Camp on Castle Rock about 8500 BC
  •  documented evidence of royal burgh in early 1100s with a charter signed by King David I
  • divided into Old Town and New Town, with “new” being a relative term – building began in the 1770s
  •  Edinburgh was surrounded by a high stone wall until the 1700s – the limited space birthed 10 and 11 story dwellings, the first “high rise apartments”
  •  27 year old architect James Craig won the 1766 competition to design New Town
  •  Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  •  Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle both rest atop extinct volcanoes
  •  Edinburgh Castle houses the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny
  •  Leith is the port of Edinburgh – last shipyard closed in 1983 – now used for cruise ships and to dock the Royal Yacht Britannia, the queen’s former floating palace
  •  Temperatures average 72 degrees in the summer – the hottest temperature ever recorded was 88.9 degrees on July 25, 2019 (Debbie and I experienced that record breaking heat!)
Wandering Through Edinburgh Wall
Part of the original city wall, near the pub called The End of the World. To those living within, the wall marked the true end of their known world.
Wandering Through Edinburgh Leith Port
Leith Port, on the Firth of Forth.
Wanding Through Edinburgh on Hop On Hop Off Buses
Wandering Through Edinburgh on Hop On Hop Off Buses

Getting to Know Edinburgh

Those facts about the city offer important information, just as personal details about a new acquaintance does. Green eyes, dark hair, shy smile. Capital city, located in Lothian, hosts the largest performing arts festival in the world. However it takes going beyond the facts to create a relationship. And how do we get to know someone better? We spend time with her, listen to her stories and walk alongside her for a while. We look for strengths to appreciate and choose to accept differences.

To get to know Edinburgh better, Debbie and I did the same. We spent time with her, explored her lanes and listened to her stories.

We began with the bigger picture….riding the hop on/hop off buses around the city to get an overview. Then we tugged on our walking shoes and hiking boots and hit the streets.

Our apartment on Thistle Street, located in New Town, provided an excellent base of operations. We found it easy to explore both Old Town and New Town from that strategic place.

New Town

New Town offers such lovelies as Dean Village, Charlotte Square and Princes Street Gardens, which actually serves as the dividing line between the old and new parts of Edinburgh. Shops and cafés are plentiful in this district.

Wandering Through Edinburgh Princes Street Garden Cottage
A fairy tale cottage in Princes Street Gardens.
Wandering Through Edinburgh Museum Context

Inside the Museum Context on Victoria Street, home to Harry Potter merchandise.

Old Town

Old Town features the Royal Mile. Edinburgh Castle sits at the top of the cobblestone street, which slopes down to Holyrood Palace at its base. Other favorites in Old Town are the Elephant House that J.K. Rowling frequented as she wrote the Harry Potter stories, Greyfriars Kirkyard and charming Victoria Street with its colorful storefronts. Museums of all kinds reside in Old Town, along with a vast variety of shops, cafés and attractions.

Farther out, requiring a bus ride, lies the Royal Botanic Garden, Leith Port and enchanting residential neighborhoods with their Georgian style buildings.

Wandering Through Edinburgh New Town
Looking down Hanover Street, in New Town, toward the Firth of Forth.
The Elephant House in Old Town
The Elephant House in Old Town. We enjoyed a vegan lunch and cups of tea here while it rained.

Wandering Through Edinburgh

As we wandered, we got to know the city by listening to her stories. The knowledgeable tour guides on the buses entertained us with tales from the ancient past and the recent past. Every guide shared different parts of Edinburgh’s story, so the more buses we rode, the more we learned.

Occasionally we used a taxi to reach our destination. During those short rides the drivers kept us laughing and inspired questions, which they happily answered.

Every person, every city has its dark side. Edinburgh does as well. The Dark Edinburgh Walking Tour shared stories about witch trials, mythical creatures, public executions (marked on the street by small gold plaques) and the daring escapades of body snatchers Burke and Hare. Those two enterprising men killed people and sold their bodies to the medical institutes! They eventually paid the price for their crimes, with their lives.

Mostly, though, we learned by following curiosity. If we wondered about something, we checked it out. Interesting shops drew us inside. Wandering through Edinburgh, led by curiosity and the desire to know more, created amazing days of exploration that most certainly deepened our knowledge and our love for the city.

Canongate on the Royal Mile.
Canongate Tolbooth on the Royal Mile.
Looking down the Royal Mile.
Looking down the Royal Mile.

Saying “Until Next Time” to Edinburgh

Debbie and I said our goodbyes on a Saturday evening to members of Clan Maitland. And we said our goodbyes to the grand old city the next day. Wandering through Edinburgh on Sunday, we shopped a bit, took photos, gathered memories. (Read this post about creating art from memories.) We occasionally sighed.

Connection is all about developing a relationship. We did that with our kinsmen. We did that with Edinburgh as well. The best relationships, the ones that endure, grow through gratitude, exploration and discovering fresh ways to love and appreciate each other.

My relationship, Debbie’s relationship, with Edinburgh continues to grow. I look forward to discovering more about this city and seeing it with ever wondering eyes. I’m open to every opportunity to visit again and wander the streets and closes and lanes. I love Edinburgh. I think the feeling is mutual. So it’s not goodbye. It’s until next time….

 

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Dean Village

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On this activity-light day with Clan Maitland, in between two very full days, my sister and I checked another “must see” location off our list. I’ve been drawn to Dean Village, in Edinburgh, for years, based solely on beautiful photos that I’ve seen.

Checking the map app on my iPhone, our destination seemed walkable. On this gorgeous sunny day, Debbie and I left the apartment and set out on our own on foot, bound for one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems.

Dean Village Title Meme

Dean Village History

This former medieval village, founded in the 12th century, began as home to the milling industry. A river winds through this valley, located a short distance from Edinburgh’s New Town. Mills sprang up along the Water of Leith, and cottages soon followed, to house the mill workers. The area became known as the Water of Leith Village.

The village was a successful center of milling for 800 years. However, due to the development of larger, more modern mills the village fell into decline. By 1960, the community was filled with poverty and decay.

Fortunately, in the mid 1970s the area’s beauty and tranquility inspired restoration. The warehouses, mills and workers’ cottages transformed into desirable residential homes. Now called Dean Village…”dene” means deep valley…the area attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Dean Village Well Court
One of the most well known renovated buildings in Dean Village…Well Court.
Dean Village Upstream
View from the metal bridge.

Walking to Dean Village

From our apartment on Thistle Street, Debbie and I walked three blocks to Charlotte Square. Intuitively, we knew which direction to go from there, to reach Dean Village. However, my map app took us along a longer, out of the way route.

Ultimately, we came to Queensferry Street and walked down it to Bell’s Brae. If you continue on Queensferry Street, which becomes Lynedoch Place, you cross over Dean Bridge. The village lies below, in the valley.

Walking down Bell’s Brae, we arrived at Miller Row and the Water of Leith. There is a circuitous path through the village that crosses two bridges, a stone one and a metal one. The gorgeous photos that I’ve seen posted are taken along that path and from the metal bridge.

Dean Village Metal Bridge
The metal bridge in Dean Village.
Dean Village Stone Bridge
The stone bridge

Exploring Dean Village

This area is still residential. There aren’t any pubs, cafés, shops or public restrooms. Instead, there are flats and cottages, a school and at the edge of the village, a museum.

We walked Dean Path, exclaiming over the adorable stone cottages, the abundance of flowers and the incredibly homey vibes of the village. Even though there were many others strolling in Dean Village, people respected the fact that this is a neighborhood. It’s a charming neighborhood, to be sure. But people live here and raise families in this beautiful place. Visitors remained quiet, talking softly as they walked.

We all paused to take photos, and smiled at each other as we traded places along vantage points. However none of us laughed loudly or called out to one another or behaved in a boisterous manner. I appreciated that. I’m sure the residents of Dean’s Village do as well.

Laundry in Dean Village
Such a homey scene in Dean Village.
Container Garden in Dean Village
A cottage in Dean Village. I love the Scots’ appreciation of flowers and gardens.

Another Dream Realized

Walking through Dean Village was another dream realized for me. And the photos don’t really do it justice. It is such a gorgeous place. Beyond that, Dean Village is peaceful and idyllic. How wonderful to stroll along the Water of Leith and experience the incredible feel of the village, basking in the warm Scottish sunshine.

Realizing that dream birthed another. Debbie and I peeked into a vacant flat and imagined what it must feel like, to live in this tucked away place. Although Dean Village is only a 15 minute walk from Princes Street and Old Town, it feels like a country burgh, far from the busy hub of the city.

As we climbed back up Bell’s Brae….brae means steep bank or hillside and this road is aptly named…we paused to rest on a bench and allow our dreams of living in such a beautiful place to expand. I don’t know how or when it will happen, but that day, my sister and I released into the universe the desire to own or rent a flat or cottage in Dean Village. The strong desire is released and out there now. I just need to be me and stay in the flow of life, trusting the guidance of the Dream Giver. I’m content with that.

Dean Village Upstream 2
Gazing downstream from the metal bridge.
Dean Village Upstream
Gazing upstream from the metal bridge.

Gratitude for Dean Village

I’m so glad we had opportunity to discover and walk through Dean Village. After the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, this was the other place I absolutely wanted to see while in the city. I’m grateful Debbie was willing to explore this hidden gem with me and appreciated its beauty as well.

Walking back to the apartment I put the map app away. We trusted our instincts to get us back. They served us well, guiding us quickly and unerringly along picturesque narrow streets back to Charlotte Square. Technology is often helpful, however, I can always trust my instincts.

Have you heard of Dean Village? Would you love to visit it as well? Someday, I’ll be back there. I know it.

Check out these Scotland and Edinburgh finds:


 

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Clan Maitland Gathers

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Beyond my desire to explore Edinburgh, another purpose drew me to Scotland this year. Members of Clan Maitland, the Scottish clan I am part of, gathered in the city. To meet kinsmen I am connected to has long been a dream of mine. Five days after arriving in Edinburgh, that dream became a reality.

Clan Maitland gathers in Scotland every ten years.  Family members descended from Maitlands and Lauderdales arrive from the countries they’ve scattered to.  This year the US, New Zealand, England, France and Scotland were represented.

The next few posts will share details about our fun time together and the family related historical sites we explored.

Clan Maitland Gathers Title Meme

Clan Maitland Gathers…for Tea

Clan members met for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon for a very Scottish tradition, Afternoon Tea. My sister Debbie and I walked the short distance from our apartment on Thistle Street to the Garden Room at the Kimpton Hotel on Charlotte Square. A few of our members, including our Clan Chief, would not arrive until evening, however this casual afternoon gathering proved a great way for people who are family yet strangers to break the ice.

What a joy to meet people I am connected with on Facebook whom I’ve never met face to face. We quickly embraced each other as kin and before long conversations and laughter flowed merrily around the room as we enjoyed a wonderful tea time.

That evening we all gathered at the Angel’s Share Hotel for dinner. The group from England arrived and I met Ian, the 18th Earl of Lauderdale and our Clan Chief. He immediately put us all at ease and entertained us with family stories. I learned that the Maitlands descended from the Mautalents of Normandy about 1000 to 1060.

Clan Maitland Gathers Tea Time

Afternoon Tea with Clan Maitland

Clan Maitland Gathers…on the Bus

The next morning we met early for our first full day of traveling and exploring together. Debbie and I smiled when we saw the bus, called a coach in Scotland, waiting for us. Lauderdale is such an uncommon name in the US. It’s fun to see it featured more prominently in Scotland.

Lauderdale Bus

Once on board the coach, we journeyed south to the small burgh of Haddington and our stop at St. Mary’s Parish Church and Lauderdale Aisle.

St Marys Collegiate Church

The Light of Lothian

St. Mary’s in Haddington dates back to 1139. With a length of 206 feet, it’s one of the longest churches in Scotland. Twice, in 1355 and again in 1548-49, the structure experienced extensive damage due to English invasions. The town repaired the west end of the church, erecting a barrier wall to seal off the east end, which remained roofless for hundreds of years.

In the 1970s restoration on the remaining section of the church began. Once completed the barrier wall came down and the church, called the Light of Lothian, continues to shine brightly in the community.

St Marys Interior

St Marys Organ
The magnificent pipe organ of St Mary’s, installed in 1990.

Clan Maitland Gathers…in Lauderdale Aisle

On the north side of the church, a small chapel awaited us. Because of the size of the room, our group of 30 plus people divided. Half of us toured the church while the others sat quietly in Lauderdale Aisle with Ian. Then we switched places.

I’ve read about Lauderdale Aisle, which once served as the sacristy of the church. It became a burial aisle for the Maitlands after the reformation of 1560. Entering through a stone archway, the marble effigies immediately draw the eye. The Renaissance monuments memorialize Sir John Maitland, Chancellor of Scotland under King James V, his son John, 1st Earl of Lauderdale, and their wives.

Beneath the aisle is a burial vault for the interment of the Earls and Countesses of Lauderdale. The  Duke of Lauderdale rests within this chamber as well. There are also niches for the ashes of other clansfolk.

The Doorway to Lauderdale Aisle

Marble Effigies

A Sacred Space

My group sat reverently on narrow wooden benches and listened to Ian share stories about the ancestors buried within Lauderdale Aisle. As he spoke a sacredness filled the room, shimmering in the soft light that filtered in through the window high on the wall.

I’ve so wanted to see this place. To experience it with my kinsmen, to hear stories told by my Clan Chief, created a surreal dream-like reality. I felt connection and awe, and deep gratitude for these men and women, long dead but surrounding us in spirit in this tiny room.

Ian concluded our time in Lauderdale Aisle by telling us that if we so wished, we could have our ashes brought here for interment as well. And he meant it. That amazing offer touched me in the part of my heart that declares itself Scottish and brought tears to my eyes.

St Marys Stained Glass Windwo

Clan Means Family

St. Mary’s Church and Lauderdale Aisle were the beginning of a long day together. We enjoyed lunch in Haddington and journeyed onward to two more places before returning to Edinburgh.

Ian told us that clan means family. I learned when Clan Maitland gathers, connection happens. When Clan Maitland gathers, stories are told. And when Clan Maitland gathers, adventures unfold.

I’ll be sharing more of those adventures in upcoming posts. Come discover my family roots, and some of the finest historical sites in Scotland, with me.

Clan Chief Ian with family
Ian sharing info and stories with us.

If you are a Maitland or Lauderdale, join our clan or read more about us HERE.

And check out these fun travel items by clicking below.

 


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