Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scottish Hols–Edinburgh again

The organised bit of our holiday was coming to an end with our last (of the tour) rail journey from Inbhir Nis back to where our holiday started – Dun Eideann (Edinburgh), the capital of Scotland. We were catching the early train out of Inverness, so early that the plan was to eat breakfast on the train. This meant that we were set  to travel first-class – perhaps the breakfast was not up to scratch further down the train.

I don’t seem to remember it being that early a train – 7:55am I think, but although the station was only a third of a mile from the hotel given the limited mobility of some of the tour group a coach had been arranged to take us.

It seems that our Tour Leader was perhaps a tad over-cautious when it came to timings, or perhaps he under-estimated the speed of movement of even the slowest members of the group. We first gathered in the lobby of the hotel, then the luggage was loaded and then we sat on the coach for a while before getting to the station (in no time at all).  Then a little bit more sitting.  Then the luggage was taken off and we strolled up the platform along aside a surprisingly long train. To find that we were early and despite being First Class passengers we had to hang around.

One advantage of this train was that it was scheduled to run from Inverness to Kings Cross on the East Coast Main Line. The train was a proper train, with a guard’s van – well a luggage compartment.  So our group loaded all our suitcases into that before finding our seats. Actually a couple of us walked the half a mile or so from the head of the train back to the station forecourt and bought newspapers.

Finally the train pulled out of the station and set off for Edinburgh. I think our group was a little unusual, in any case First Class seemed pretty full and there was a wee wait between ordering and the food arriving – it was pretty good. Certainly all the hanging around had sharpened my appetite.

The train was a high-speed train and although the windows were big and clean it was too fast to take pictures through the windows.

The route takes you down through Aviemore and past the Cairngorm Mountains.  The skiing looks good and they have a mountain railway. The route passes through a few places including Stirling which takes in into Edinburgh without crossing the Firth of the Forth Rail Bridge. The world’s first major steel bridge and is 1.5 miles in length. No matter after our tour holiday in Edinburgh we would be heading north back up to St Andrews to round out our holiday. It used to be said that the bridge required continuous painting – when they reached the end they had to start again straight away it now has a 20 year life paint job in Forth Bridge red.

When the train stopped in Edinburgh and we unloaded our suitcases we walked past the train – it was packed – loads of people seemed to be heading down to England.

We had a rather nice “attic style” bedroom, with large screen TV. Mind you irritatingly the Scots don’t seem to have gotten the hang of distributing digital TV around their hotels. In every hotel, but the one in St Andrews, the picture and sound quality was affected by chirps and blotches.  (I think it is the way they distribute it around the hotel.)

As this was out last day in Edinburgh we planned our time and after checking with the friendly and helpful receptionist set off. Our plan was to visit the Castle, then take an open top bus tour – either centrally or out to the Royal Yacht Britannia. We strode off up the Royal Mile, past an odd variety of shops and pavement acts and into the castle area.

I might have mentioned I have been to Scotland before and somewhere there is an old black and white picture of my brother and I sitting on one of the cannons in the gardens of the castle. So it was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me.

One of the things about Edinburgh Castle, indeed most castles is that they offer a commanding view. There are plenty of places around the castle to see the view really. Although we were amazed just how many people there were visiting the it – it seems to be one of the stopping points for a “do Europe” tour. This is the view over Waverley Railway Station, which covers an area of 25acres and 19.2million people use it annually. There is a lot of rebuilding work taking place at the moment so it is in a bit of a pickle.

You can also see the Nelson Monument which has a time ball. It was installed in 1852  and was dropped at one o’clock every day so that the people of Edinburgh and the ships in the Firth of Forth could check their clocks and chronometers.  The Castle has a one o’clock time gun which was also used for the same purpose. There were maps calibrated to show the time, in seconds, it took for the sound to travel.

Waverley Railway Station and the Nelson Monument, Edinburgh

These are not the time guns – rather they are the cannon that were used in the defence of the castle.

Edinburgh Castle – array of cannons

Another view over the Firth of the Forth you can just make out the red girders of the Firth of the Forth Rail bridge people out to the left of the picture.

A view across Edinburgh to the Firth of the Forth Rail Bridge (just)

That island is Inchkeith, (Innis Cheith) in the Firth of the Forth.

Inchkeith in the Firth of the Forth

Here is the castle entrance. – and where the Military Tattoo is held. I should mention that we had a sandwich in the Castle’s restaurant – despite the busyness we got a table and after days of bland food the mix of pear and blue cheese and ham was delicious.

 The entrance to Edinburgh Castle

Now the plan was to get an open top tour but just before we walked into the Castle we walked past a Camera Obscura. Now I rather like visiting them and have been in the Obscura in Dumfries and in Cheddar up Jacob’s Ladder – although I can’t find a modern reference to it – only this Lookout Tower (274 steps.).

So we went in just for a quick look and find ourselves enthralled by the five floors of all sorts of visual trickery and illusions. We enjoyed the Camera Obscura – but my goodness the illusions were really good. I was too busy trying them out to take many pictures though. There were all sorts from 3D holograms to the vortex, a tube you walk through where the moving images on the walls make it seem as if the tube is rotating.

We were also able to get out at the top and get more views of the surrounding city. The “valley” near Waverley Station was a small loch that quickly became a sewage pit until it got sorted out. I shouldn’t have to tell you what this is. You’ll recognise this.

Nelson Monument, Edinburgh

The view back down the Royal Mile. We spent several hours in the Camera Obscura and Illusions museum. So in the end we never did go on an open top bus to see the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The view down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Next – a weekend in St Andrews

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