HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 3 – Beachcombing

After meeting some hairy coos and visiting St. Clement’s church to start Day 3 of our Compass Buster Tour, we were off for a wee walk and beachcombing adventure!

Northton would be our next stop with some amazing beach views you wouldn’t expect to see in Scotland.

Our walking route can be found here, for anybody who is looking to explore a different side of Scotland.

We were really excited to be walking through the moors of Harris. The landscape was glorious and as the above website explains, it was created by sand being blown over the peat. It is a rather unique grassland habitat housing many species of birds and beautiful flowers in the summer!

We didn’t get to see any birds but we did catch a glimpse of some wild flowers! The landscape never fails to amaze us. The grandeur of the Scotland hillsides was amazing as expected.

Our ultimate destination at the end of this trail would be the ruins of a medieval chapel on the headland. But before we reached the ruins, we would wander around 3 beautiful beaches.

After exploring Ireland, I shouldn’t have been surprised at seeing amazing beaches yet again. Obviously having endless coastlines means that there are going to be some pretty spectacular beaches to be found!

The first beach we saw featured amazing turquoise waters, similar to what we had seen at Port Stoth beach. We didn’t get a chance to get close to the water here, but Greg assured us there would be more sightseeing ahead.

The second beach we encountered was Traigh na Cleabhaig. Going through another gate we came along and saw this gorgeous view!

If we had more time, we surely would have stayed much longer and explored each and every beach! But time was limited and we had to walk on.

Along the way, we found more of our hairy coo friends! ūüźģ We always get excited when we see Hairy Coo and this was not an exception ūüėč.

Finally, we reached our destination. The beach at Northton.

Once we reached this third beach, we all sat down to eat our picnic lunch. Before we set out at the start of today, we had stopped and grabbed a quick lunch so we were all well equipped to enjoy the scenery before us!

More than one of our tour mates will recall “The notorious beach incident of 2015.” HA! We won’t relive it here but, let’s just say that the guys and the gals got different views of the beach while eating lunch. Hahaha! This misunderstanding was cleared up in the end and we all had a good laugh over it! Definitely good times!

Below was our view of the beach!

After finishing our lunch we started our hike up to the Rubh’ an Teampuill headland and the Medieval Chapel there.

The Chapel was built on a prehistoric settlement mound and dates back to the 15th century

There is an eroding prehistoric settlement mound, which produced evidence from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Beaker, and Bronze Age periods. A little further along the shore, on the headland of Rubh’ an Teampuill, are the ruins of a small late medieval chapel. A closer look indicates that next to the chapel are the footings of an Iron Age broch, which probably supplied the source of building stone for the chapel. – Visit Outer Hebrides

Apparently there was once even a stone wall surrounding the area! The area also seems to have been inhabited many times during the previous centuries, even perhaps having a broch present at one time. Burials date back almost

9,000 years ! That’s pretty darned amazing!

The chapel has had work done in order to save it from total collapse. This is good news for travellers like ourselves, as we get to experience another ancient part of Scotland’s history.

On the other side of the Chapel, we found a glorious rocky outcropping! It was very epic with the waves crashing against the rocks!

And also a very good spot for some epic pictures with the landscape.

We also made some more animal friends who seemed to enjoy grazing so close to the water.

After exploring the Northton Chapel and its surroundings, Greg led us back to our Yellow Bus and we headed towards Tarbert, the main community on the Isle of Harris, where we would be boarding the ferry to Uig and the Isle of Skye!

When we reached Tarbert, what was the first thing we saw as we drove into the town? HARRIS TWEED, OF COURSE!

We couldn’t wait to get out of the bus and go explore the tweed shops. Harris tweed sold on the Isle of Harris is obviously authentic! This is a brief history of Harris Tweed:

From time immemorial, the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland have woven a beautiful and intricate cloth the world knows simply as Harris Tweed.

The islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra produce this luxury cloth entirely by hand and have long been known for the excellence of their weaving. However up until the middle of the nineteenth century, their cloth was used only on their crofts or sold at local markets, but in 1846, Lady Dunmore, widow of the landowner of Harris, the Earl of Dunmore, chose to have their clan tartan replicated by Harris weavers in tweed.

The results proved so successful that Lady Dunmore began to devote much time and effort to marketing the tweed to her wealthy friends further afield and as a result of her enthusiastic work, sales and trade of the island cloth were soon established with merchants across the country. – Harris Tweed Authority  

If you want to read a bit more about the background of Harris Tweed, you can do so here and here.

We obviously thought we needed a souvenir (or two) from the Harris Tweed shop! We got ourselves some oh-so-lovely wallets and matching coin purses ‚̧. We really had to stop ourselves from getting more, but that just means we will have to return again and get many more items to remember Harris by!

Soon after, we headed down to the pier and watched the ferry pull in. We piled onto the ferry and headed towards our lodgings for the night in Portree!

Stay tuned for a look at our first Haggis dinner and more of Portree!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 3 – Coo’s, Seals and Historic St. Clement’s Church

We left Stornoway on Day 3 of our Compass Buster tour and boarded our Wild and Sexy yellow bus, headed leisurely towards our destination for tonight – Portree, the largest town on the Isle of Skye! We were excited because this meant more adventures and exploring, of course.

Day 3 started with more epic skyscapes! You could literally be driving anywhere in Scotland and mother nature will treat you to a beautiful landscape.

We actually stopped by the site to take some pictures because of the particular beauty of the clouds and the rays of sun beaming through. It was a somber scene, because of the cemetery, but it was made even more epic because of the clouds above!

After getting back on the bus, Greg told us we’d see a number of different sites that day including a few beaches- which we would be surprised were located in Scotland, and a historic church, before heading to Portree and finishing our night there.

We were literally just back onto the road when Greg SLAMMED the brakes on our yellow bus and we thought perhaps we had hit something!!!

Little did we know we had finally come upon some of Scotland’s most majestic creatures (after the unicorn, of course!): the Hairy Coo! (Or also known as the Highland cow, Heilan’ coo or just… coo)

Just look at the stylish hairstyles these coos’ have! Adorable!

A little backstory on these Highland Cattle:

They seem to have originated in Scotland and are mentioned as far back as the 6th century. They are certainly in no danger of extinction!

“They are a hardy breed due to their native environment, the Highlands of Scotland. This results in long hair, giving the breed its ability to overwinter.”

As you can see below, we were more than a little excited to find some Hairy Coo!

After this, we would constantly be searching for Hairy Coo wherever we went! We fell in love with them!

Sidenote: we even went as far as searching for a hairy coo back at home! And voilà Рhere we are meeting a new friend at a farm about 20 minutes away from us. A little piece of Scotland in the suburbs of Vancouver!

The landscape and clouds continued to be amazing, matching our shadowy Hairy Coo on the cliffs.

Just look at that light glowing on that small loch. Mesmerizing! Somebody take me back to Scotland right now!

As we drove on, we continued our animal spotting and actually came across some geese…

And then we had to actually stop the bus because we found SEALS! Take a look at all those little heads bobbing in and out of the water greeting us. We took way too many pictures to count, even though we had seen seals on our trip already…

Leaving our new animal friends behind, we made our way to one of our main destinations for the day: St. Clement’s Church on the Isle of Harris.

St. Clement’s Church is very well preserved and built around the 1520’s, named after Pope Clement.

“The church was built using local Lewisian gneiss rock. Its ground plan is cruciform and there is a tower at the west end, accessible through a door at the west end of the nave and a set of stone staircases and wooden ladders.” – Wikipedia

The church was supposedly built for the Chiefs of the MacLeods of Harris, probably around 1520. Above is a photo illustrating the wall tomb that Alasdair Croatach MacLeod built for himself in 1528.

It is rather eerie how the shadow of the body still looks so present in the space!

The art work is exquisite and very well preserved.

The church had many uses throughout the centuries, from supposedly being a monastery to being used as a cow byre.

The 9th chief’s son William built his grave on the south wall of the church, while the 10th chief built a third grave in the south transept.

The graveyard which surrounds the church contains a number of MacLeod tombs.

It was in 1873 that the Countess of Dunmore restored the church and in 1907 the tower was rebuilt after being struck by lightning!

Here’s how it looks today – standing fast in the Scottish landscape.

The church was truly different than what we had seen before. It is currently under the care of Historic Scotland. For more information on visiting St. Clement’s Church, check out their website here.

The Isle of Harris was already proving eventful! The scenery was much, much different than on the Isle of Skye and we also came across some Harris Tweed which we will comment on in a future post!

Next up is some beach combing!

Stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 2 – Callanish Standing Stones

And we’ve finally reached my favourite part of Day 2 of our Compass Buster Tour: The Callanish Standing Stones <3.

After finishing with Dun Carloway Broch, Greg told us we’d finally be making our way to the standing stones! If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you’ll know that we did come across some standing stones at Blarney Castle in Ireland. Since then, I had been more than a little excited to get to Scotland and see these standing stones up close!

Again, as you may know, we have been searching for Jamie Fraser…yes, yes we tried again here. Obviously and sadly, it didn’t work but it was a lot of fun!

From the moment we stepped out of the bus, I knew this place would be magical! Just look at that view as we approached the site:

It’s not often you get to see a procession of standing stones so greatly preserved!

“The Callanish Stones (“Callanish I”) are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected in the late Neolithic era.”

They are near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

It was a great feat for the people who lived near the site to be able to build it over 4,000 years ago. The stones were supposedly moved with rollers, wooden frames and brute strength. This cost them a lot of time and effort, to be sure!

It is still a mystery as to why these stones were built. This is obviously not the first and only site to have standing stones. During the Neolithic period, many communities across north-west Europe constructed these monuments!

It is most likely they were built for worship or religious reasons. Another common finding is that they may have been built according to astronomical events such as the midwinter sunrise and sunset.

It’s so exciting to still be able to see these standing stones and to speculate as to what the site was constructed for and what the stones mean!

As noted above, this particular site is built in a cruciform pattern. Inside the circle is a stone burial cairn. Supposedly, the cremated bodies were despoiled with pots and beakers which dates to between 2000 to 1700 BC.

“The Callanish Stones consist of a stone circle of thirteen stones with a monolith near the middle. Five rows of standing stones connect to this circle. Two long rows of stones running almost parallel to each other from the stone circle to the north-northeast form a kind of avenue. In addition, there are shorter rows of stones to the west-southwest, south and east-northeast. The stones are all of the same rock type, namely the local Lewisian gneiss. Within the stone circle is a chambered tomb to the east of the central stone.”

Perhaps, the site being used for ritualistic purposes is the most realistic explanation for the stones after all.

Of course between the two of us, our imaginations got away with us again and took us on a hopeful journey towards finding Jamie Fraser. We tried several stones which we thought might work to transport us back in time, but alas, it didn’t exactly work.

Searching for Jamie was getting tiring! We tried several stones that called to us but no Jamie resulted :(.

That being said, it was amazing to be able to touch these stones, which had been erected by people thousands of years ago and it was even more incredible to be able to stand on the same land they had stood on, but for obviously very different reasons!

It was such a pleasant day out and our Irish Rainbow luck still hadn’t evaporated! We took the opportunity to fool around a bit and take some epic photos for our collection :).

Today, the stones, as with Dun Carloway Broch, are managed by Historic Scotland.

Perhaps the Historic Scotland website has the best way to explain the stones:

“This is a story with no ending. Against the backdrop of their 5000 years, the stones have witnessed countless changes in the people and the landscape around them. The story tells about developing landscape, the evolving environment, a land of circles, stones, archaeology and conservation along with many other topics.”

The site was so peaceful, with so very few tourists buzzing about, I am very grateful Greg let us stay and absorb the power of the stones for so long! He basically told us to ponder our lives within these surroundings :P.

And ponder we did. I literally sat there in the quiet landscape listening to the wind and looking at the stones and the sky and the surrounding lochs, not wanting to leave!!!

It’s true when they say Scotland is magical. It’s just a feeling you get when you are out and about viewing the natural and ancient landscape!

We unfortunately had to leave our lovely Callanish I stones and move on to the Callanish II and III, which were not quite as extensive as Callanish I, but made supposedly with the same purpose in mind.

Callanish II and III are located not too far away from the main stones site and comprise of similar stone rings. Callanish II, which was dug out of the peat in 1858, is in the shape of an eclipse, while Callanish III consisted of two concentric eclipses.

It was rather difficult to get to the Callanish III site as it was extremely muddy and not as touristy as the main Callanish site. Nevertheless, we were in Scotland! Which meant we must adventure and explore as much as we could! It was still worth it to get pictures like the ones below!

All in all, this was a definite experience. I don’t want to say once in a lifetime, because I know I will go back again! If you travel to the Outer Hebrides and to the Isle of Lewis, you MUST visit the Callanish Stones. Information on visiting this amazing site can be found here.

This is not a site to be excluded from your Scotland trip! And don’t just spend 5 minutes, take a photograph and leave! Make sure to allot enough time for you to take in the standing stones, explore the area and take some time to reflect and think – as was recommended to us! We think it would be an amazing place to experience a sunrise or a sunset – the rays of light dancing between the stones. Or even to spot the Northern Lights here, with the Callanish stones as a backdrop? Amazing! We’ll definitely have to come back for another visit!

This was one of our favourite sites and is likely to be one of yours as well!!!

We end day 2 with a little evening stroll around Stornoway!

Stay tuned for more on that coming soon!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 2 – The Butt of Lewis and Port Stoth Beach

After a good sleep at the Heb Hostel in Stornoway, we were off to start Day 2 of our Compass Buster Tour!

Greg informed us that Day 2 would be just as action packed as Day 1 had been and we were excited to be on our way! After grabbing some breakfast from Tesco (and maybe another snack or two), we were back on our yellow bus and headed towards more adventures and exploring in the Outer Hebrides.

The Outer Hebrides is a chain of islands located just off the western coast of mainland Scotland. Even in the short time that we spent here, we could see that people here have a very unique and special way of life – with Gaelic being the predominant language and their own traditions, culture and customs. They are also surrounded by some pretty wild, stunning and beautiful scenery, which we were lucky enough to explore on this trip!

As we were on the Isle of Lewis, it was only natural that we would have to visit its northernmost point: The Butt of Lewis!

“The¬†headland, which lies in the¬†North Atlantic, is frequently battered by heavy swells and storms and is marked by the¬†Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.”

Once we stepped off the bus, we already noticed the wind. This would be a common reoccurrence, as we would be visiting many cliffs while in Scotland. After seeing so much of the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland, it was a welcoming sight yet again!!!

Greg gave us free rein to explore as much as we wanted and we took the opportunity to take as many pictures as we could! Our gazing pictures, which started in Ireland, continued on this tour as well…

The Butt of Lewis actually has some of the oldest rocks in all of Europe! They were formed in the Precambrian period over 3000 million years ago! And look at us Рstepping foot on these historic rocks in the present day!!!

The wind was really picking up and we could tell by the waves that continued to beat against the base rocks of the cliff! They really do make a thunderous yet calming noise as they crash!

We even spotted seals just hanging out in the water, braving the choppy waters and peering curiously at us!

The basins around the cliffs were amazing in colour. I can only imagine what the water would have looked like on a sunny day. Another reason to return to the Isle of Lewis (as you will later find out).

The Lighthouse, which sits on the site, was built in the 1860’s by David Stevenson. It was built to aid in shipping. It was constructed of red brick and never painted. It was said to be one of his most benign works but even so it has played an important role guiding ships away from the cliffs!

There is not much known about the lighthouse station’s early days but it has changed much over the past century. A plaque outside of the station states that the current equipment was added in 1905.

“The lighthouse continued to be supplied by sea until as recently as 1960. The communications wires strung from the lighthouse are associated with its role in acting as a relay for the Flannan Isles lighthouse to the west. Since 1998 the Butt of Lewis lighthouse has itself also been operated automatically. Nearby is a foghorn which ceased operation in 1995.”

Even with the stormy weather, we couldn’t stop snapping pictures. We will let them speak for themselves:

When someone says “Let’s take a selfie.” And you BOTH take out your cameras… Hahaha!

After we had enough of this side of the Butt of Lewis (ha ha ha), Greg decided to take us to Port Stoth beach – which was on the other side of the road we came on.

Okay, imagine what this beach would look like on a sunny day. GORGEOUS! Even on a cloudy blustery day, the water was this colour. It’s almost tropical – if you forget about the wind and chill!

Port Stoth Beach was used to land all the materials for the building for the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse! It continued to be used to bring materials to the lighthouse until the 1960’s! The ramps that were used are still on the beach today!

Of course, I had to somehow prove that I had been there by writing my initials in the sand! Maybe if it was a warmer day and I wasn’t sick, then I would have gone into the water for a wee dip of my toes!

As we walked back up the slipway, we caught a glimpse of our lovely “Wild and Sexy” yellow bus waiting for us to continue our adventures!

After taking one last selfie, we had to say goodbye to beautiful Port Stoth Beach and head out towards the Trussel Stone and Gearrannen Blackhouses! Stay tuned for more of our Day 2 adventures!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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A Royal Day Out at Holyrood Palace

After a great first day in Edinburgh and a nice restful sleep that night, we woke up refreshed and ready for another day of exploring Edinburgh!

What was on the menu for today? Our plan was to visit Holyrood Palace in the morning and then explore Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and the New Town in the afternoon.

But first, there was something important to deal with – breakfast! So we wandered from our hostel down to Sainsbury’s for a grab-and-go breakfast! We loved how just walking from our hostel to the supermarket, we got to take in some iconic sights, like these telephone boxes/booths and even a castle!

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The iconic, world famous red telephone boxes/booths!

It was a gorgeous day in Edinburgh. So we got to see Edinburgh Castle with a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine. It certainly looks different in the sunshine!

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Check out the “Rock” that the Castle is built upon!

After getting our breakfast and a little picnic for lunch, we slowly wandered down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, enjoying the late September sunshine and admiring all the historic and character buildings along the way.

Walking down the Royal Mile

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The Heart of Midlothian on the Royal Mile

The Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile

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Looking across at Calton Hill – our destination for this afternoon!

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White Horse Close

As we neared the bottom of the Royal Mile, we walked by the Scottish Parliament building, which looks very contemporary and different from the other buildings along the Royal Mile.

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Finally, we arrived at our destination for this morning Рthe Palace of Holyroodhouse or Holyrood Palace.

This palace has been a royal residence for over 500 years. Over the years, there have been additions, destructions and changes to the palace and its grounds Рmaking it the way it is now! Today, Holyrood Palace is the official residence in Scotland for the British monarchy. The Queen usually spends 1 week at Holyrood Palace every summer.

As with our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we got our tickets ahead of time online. Tickets cost £12.00 currently and also includes an audio guide to tell you more about this impressive palace as you walk through it.

The Guardhouse

After getting our tickets checked, we strolled through the Guardhouse and entered the Forecourt. How impressive is this!

The Forecourt

The Forecourt Fountain

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The amazingly intricate details of the fountain

To pass through into the Palace, we walked through another set of doors, this one with the Royal Arms of Scotland majestically above it.

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No photographs are allowed inside the palace, so you’ll have to visit and experience this grand palace for yourself! We got to explore the palace with the included audio guide, which provided a lot of great information on the history and architecture of the palace, the people who designed the palace and the various additions, as well as the stories of the kings and queens who resided here.

We got to see the State Apartments, which includes the Royal Dining Room, the Throne Room and various drawing rooms. All of these¬†are still used by members of the Royal Family for dinners, receptions and other state events when they are in Edinburgh. All of these rooms are richly decorated, with velvet, ornate furnishings, paintings, intricate plasterwork and incredibly detailed tapestries. Several tapestries were brought up from Buckingham Palace by order of Queen Victoria during her reign and these tapestries still hang on the walls of Holyrood Palace today! We also had the chance to see the Great Gallery, the King’s Apartments, the Queen’s Apartments.¬†

What we found particularly interesting was the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her chambers were on the second floor of James V’s Tower. It was intriguing to hear about her life, what happened in her chambers – particularly the Outer Chamber where David Rizzio was murdered and where there is allegedly a bloodstain that could not be washed out. The Outer Chamber currently has on display a large collection of relics and treasures that are associated with Mary, Queen of Scots, the Darnley family, the Stuart family.¬†

After exploring the inside of the palace, we headed outside to explore the Holyrood Abbey. There are guided tours available during the summer months but we just spent our own time wandering through the beautiful ruins.

Holyrood Abbey was founded by David I in 1128, after which additional buildings were added to serve the growing community in this area. By the 15th century, there may have been guesthouses, and later royal apartments, built to accommodate royalty here at Holyrood. Many significant events such as births, coronations and marriages occurred here, as royalty preferred Holyrood instead of Edinburgh Castle. However, throughout the centuries, much damage had been done to the Abbey Рfrom wars, raids, mobs to the collapse of the abbey roof during a storm. Today, the nave is the only part of the original Abbey that remains standing.

Entering the Abbey ruins

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We really enjoyed our time in the Abbey Рadmiring the beautiful architecture of the ruins.

After visiting the Abbey, we explored the palace gardens. The Gardens of Holyroodhouse are very expansive and include amazing views of Arthur’s Seat. The Queen hosts an annual Garden Party here in July! (That would definitely be THE party of the year, if we were ever invited!)

The Fiddler

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Look at Arthur’s Seat peeking out in the background – what an amazing backdrop for a garden!

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Outlines of where some of the Palace outbuildings might have been…

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In a video we watched at the Palace, we saw the Queen exit the Palace and walk into the Gardens via these stairs. So naturally we had to find it and take a photograph!

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There is a café Рaptly named Café at the Palace, should you need some refreshments after your visit to the Palace and Gardens. They even serve Afternoon Tea here or for a special occasion Рthey serve a Champagne Afternoon Tea at the café!

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Café at the Palace Рset in the Mews Courtyard!

As our final stop, we walked through the gift shop, which was full of corgis, plaid-wearing teddy bears, gorgeous tea sets and some Christmas ornaments! We both got this Piper Teddy Ornament to remember our trip to Holyrood Palace!

Our biggest regret? That we didn’t buy all the Corgi-themed souvenirs¬†– from the stuffed animals to the cozy Corgi slippers and Corgi-topped pencils! Looks like a trip back to Holyrood is in order to stock up on these! ūüėČ

After waking out of the palace grounds, we crossed the street and looked up at… Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags.

For more on our adventures in Edinburgh, stay tuned for our next post!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

A Walk Through Edinburgh

After our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we wandered down the Royal Mile for our next adventure – a walking tour of Edinburgh.

We always like doing a walking tour when we are in a new city. We feel it gives us a good chance to get our bearings and get familiar with the city. We also get an idea of what attractions or locations we want to explore more of and visit on our own. And which ones we are ok with just seeing on the outside and taking a photograph. Doing a walking tour also allows us to chat with the guide and maybe get some tips on sightseeing, restaurants, pubs and the local area.

We went with¬†SANDEMANs New Europe tours¬†and took their “Free Tour of Edinburgh.”¬†This company operates tours in¬†many European cities – we did a tour with them in Dublin and I’ve also done their tours in London and Paris. Their tours are “free” in the sense that you don’t pay upfront. Instead, at the end, you pay what you think the tour was worth. SANDEMANs also runs several other tours in Edinburgh, like their Edinburgh Castle Tours and Pub Crawls. Check out their website for more details and the meeting times¬†of the various tours.

The Free Tour of Edinburgh meets right on the Royal Mile/High Street – at the Starbucks by the Tron Kirk. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you see the red umbrella and the crowd gathering around.

Walking Tour Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes – it’s not a strenuous walk by any means, but you are walking for around 2.5 hours! Since we explored Edinburgh Castle earlier this morning, we already had our walking shoes on. So we wandered down to the Starbucks and the red umbrella for the 2pm walking tour!

Once the groups and languages (there were also tours in Spanish) were sorted out, we headed out with our group and our guide – Greg. He was, as he described himself, “the quintessential Scottish stereotype – a big, bearded, bellowing flame-haired highlander with a love of tales and a flare for the dramatic.” He definitely had a flare for the dramatic and told us many tales of Edinburgh and Scotland in an animated and engaging manner, which kept us interested, amused and entertained for the entire 2.5 hr walking tour.

We won’t say too much because you really should visit Edinburgh for yourself! ūüėŹ But we will share some of our favourite photographs and let them tell the story – like an Edinburgh Photo Walk. We will also say that we particularly loved the architecture of Edinburgh – so full of character and history!

Here is St. Giles’ Cathedral. We didn’t have the chance to go inside on this trip, but we enjoyed admiring the outside of the beautiful cathedral – especially the intricate details on the windows and the archways.

Reminded me of the phrase – “Playing Devil’s Advocate”

Lady Stair’s Close and The Scottish Writers’ Museum – another attraction that we only saw from the outside this time around. We might have to add it to the list for our next visit to Edinburgh!

The Hub, in the background, on the Royal Mile.

We took a lane that branched off the Royal Mile and ended up here – overlooking Victoria Street.

I love this view of Victoria street and of the city from way up here! All these tall and narrow buildings have so much character… Imagine everything¬†that these bricks have seen!

After the little detour to see Victoria Street, we ended up walking past our hostel and gazing up at Edinburgh Castle again. Earlier today, we looked down from the castle. Now, we were looking up at the Castle, which sits on top of a GREAT rock, which you can absolutely see in this photograph here!

George Heriot’s School – a private (independent) school which is said to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts! (More on Edinburgh and the Harry Potter connection later!)

After walking through Grassmarket and hearing some stories about public executions and hangings (google the story of Maggie Dickson), we headed to the Grassmarket Café (part of the Grassmarket Community Project) for a break and some treats!

After the much needed break, we headed towards our last destination – the area around Greyfriars Kirkyard.

One of the most famous residents of Greyfriars Kirkyard is Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier, who was so loyal to his master John Gray – that after Gray’s death, Bobby spent the rest of his life (14 years!) standing guard at his former master’s grave. Not even the wind, rain or multiple evictions from the cemetery could keep Bobby away from his master. ¬†His story of loyalty and devotion is one that inspired a lot of people, leading to the creation of a statue, monument, books, movies and even a pub.

The monument and statue of Bobby on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge.

There’s even a pub named after Greyfriars Bobby.

Entering Greyfriars cemetery and kirk (church)…

Although Bobby couldn’t not be buried inside the cemetery with his master John Gray, he is buried just inside the gates of Greyfriars Kirk. A very inspirational inscription – “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all” is engraved onto the gravestone in memory of Greyfriars Bobby.

We were told that people sometimes leave sticks and toys for Greyfriars Bobby to play with!

Greg gave us a brief tour of the cemetery and we heard some stories about the individuals who rest here.

After walking through Greyfriars Kirk, we headed towards the National Museum of Scotland, where our tour ended and we unfortunately had to say goodbye to Greg. We really enjoyed getting to know Edinburgh with Greg. He was very animated, entertaining, knowledgeable and definitely passionate about Scotland! And it just got us more excited about exploring Edinburgh and Scotland in the upcoming days!

After the walking tour, we actually backtracked to Greyfriars… Because there was one thing that we didn’t see up close when we were at the cemetery earlier.

We are Harry Potter fans and we know that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Edinburgh while writing some of the books there – the George Heriot’s school being the inspiration for Hogwarts, for example. It seems that some of the characters’ names also have an Edinburgh connection – Tom Riddell and Professor McGonagall in particular. Here is the grave of a Thomas Riddell, who is said to have inspired the name for Tom Riddell. And nearby is the grave of a William McGonagall, whose name is said to be the inspiration for Professor Minerva McGonagall.

After that Harry Potter connection, came another! We came upon the Elephant House. This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the early books in the series. Flocks of Potterheads flood this cafe daily to say that they’ve been to the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling created the magical world of Harry Potter. (Potterheads have apparently been writing so many messages in the loo that toilet seats have been broken from people standing on them to write on the walls/windows and the staff have given up trying to paint over the graffiti!) We didn’t go in – it was super packed and busy inside, we just didn’t feel like jostling with the crowd!

The Elephant House – where J.K. Rowling spent time writing her Harry Potter series!

The advertising outside the cafe…

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Our first day in Edinburgh wasn’t over just yet! Our next stop: The Real Mary King’s Close!

A “close” as we learned, is an alleyway that leads off the Royal Mile. Mary King’s Close, situated underground beneath the Royal Exchange/City Chambers, is particularly shrouded in myths and legends – stories of ghosts, spirits, murderers and plague victims who were locked away to die. Ioana wanted to check this out. I was a little hesitant and wary – being a HUGE scaredy cat with a wild imagination and definitely NOT a fan of horror films! But I figured if this tour is suitable¬†for children as young as 5 years old, I could handle this!

We bought our tickets online and arrived at the Real Mary King’s Close at our scheduled time. We were taken on a tour of Mary King’s Close by a costumed character guide. Our guide was Mary King’s daughter – Jonet Nimmo, who led us around the area that she grew up in. We won’t spoil the tour for you but we enjoyed learning about the history of this close and a bit of Edinburgh history. We also got the chance to see how people lived back in the days – complete with laundry hanging out the windows of tall, “underground” buildings. There were a couple of scary stories, but it was bearable and I didn’t have any nightmares afterwards!

After the tour, we walked through the on-site restaurant – The Royal Exchange Coffee House. Unfortunately they were closed by that time but the menu of local and fresh food was so tempting that we decided to come back another time to try it out!

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We packed a lot into one day of sightseeing – with Edinburgh Castle in the morning, a walking tour in the afternoon and the Real Mary King’s Close in the early evening. We were pretty exhausted after all of this – plus we had only gotten a couple hours of interrupted sleep at Dublin Airport the night before! So we grabbed a quick dinner at a pub and headed back to our hostel to catch up on sleep!

Day 2 is up next with more adventures and exploring in Edinburgh – stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Exploring Edinburgh Castle

Having taken an early morning flight from Dublin, we arrived into Edinburgh tired but excited! After dropping our bags off at Castle Rock Hostel, where we would be staying for the next 2 nights, we grabbed a map from Reception and headed off to explore the great city of Edinburgh.

Our first stop? Edinburgh Castle!

We could see this historic fortress and world famous attraction from our hostel and it was only a short walk (plus some stairs, of course!) to get up there!

The view from our Hostel’s front door!

Once we climbed up the stairs, we came upon the Esplanade – the sprawling parade ground that hosts a variety of concerts and events. The most prominent being the world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which just started a couple of days ago on August 5! (Anyone going to the Tattoo this year?? It’s on our bucket list for our next visit! If you have any tips for taking in the Tattoo, drop us a comment below!)

The Esplanade and Edinburgh Castle

Before getting to the Castle, you have to pass through the Gatehouse. Standing guard at the Gatehouse are statues of 2 famous Scottish men РRobert the Bruce and William Wallace. Both had immeasurable effects on Scotland, its history and its course.

Once you pass the Gatehouse, on your right is the ticket office. Here, if you haven’t already, you can purchase your entry ticket, as well as audio guides.

Tips for Your Visit: We purchased our tickets ahead of time. This way, we wouldn’t have to wait in a queue and, instead, could go straight through to the Portcullis Gate. Tickets can be purchased online here and for no extra cost or processing fee – which is really nice! One adult ticket costs¬†¬£16.50 and when purchased online includes fast track entry, which can be helpful during peak season – like now in August, with Edinburgh’s many festivals and special events drawing large crowds of visitors. One drawback to purchasing your ticket online is that you must select a date when purchasing your ticket. So if you’re not sure when you want to visit Edinburgh Castle, you might have to purchase your ticket on the day of your visit.

Edinburgh Castle also hosts¬†special events throughout the year, such as¬†interactive and fun activities for the whole family! These are often included in the price of admission. For more details, check out “What’s On”¬†and plan your trip accordingly!

With our printed tickets in hand, we sailed right through to the Portcullis Gate where our tickets were scanned and we strolled into the castle!

Just inside the Portcullis Gate… Can you spot the Portcullis?!

We had planned on taking a guided tour of the castle to get our bearings. But, when we got in, we had just missed the start of one. So we decided to wander around a bit on our own, check out the views of Edinburgh from way up here and return for the next tour.

The view from Argyle Battery

Heading up to the Upper Ward of the castle…

The view from the Upper Ward…

It is pretty cool that Edinburgh castle is built literally on top of a “Great Rock”! And you still can see parts of the rock in various places around the castle grounds.

Heading back down for the guided tour!

We had a lovely guide for our brief tour of the castle and its buildings. He told us many interesting stories about Scottish history, the Castle’s history and its buildings. We won’t repeat the tales he told us – it’s better when you are standing there and facing this fortress in awe. It’s also 100x better when told with a Scottish accent ūüėČ But in all seriousness, taking the guided tour definitely helped us to understand what we would be seeing later on, as we explored the castle and its buildings on our own.

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Our tour ended in Crown Square. Since we were already there, we decided to check out the Crown Jewels of Scotland¬†–¬†also known as the Honours of Scotland. These are housed in the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace

There was a very interesting exhibition on the Honours of Scotland and at the end, you come face to face with the Crown Jewels themselves – including the crown, sceptre and the sword. These are considered the oldest Royal Regalia in the UK! Since you are not allowed to take photographs inside, you’ll just have to believe us when we say – there was a lot of gold, silver, pearls, diamonds, amethysts, other precious stones and velvet! The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, has had quite an eventful past and it is also on display here.

No photographs allowed inside, so all you get is this sign!

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Besides the Crown Jewels, we also visited the Royal Apartments to learn all about the building’s history, the kings and queens who have lived here and some of their stories.

Inside the Royal Apartments…

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Next, we visited the Scottish National War Memorial. It allowed for some quiet reflection, contemplation and some time to pay my respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace.

The Scottish National War Memorial

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Heading out of Crown Square, we came upon the Half Moon Battery and the Forewall Battery.

Peeking out from here gives you a really unique and cool view of the city! This is one of my favourite photographs from today!

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While we were exploring the Battery, we heard some shouting and went to see what was going on!

A very animated actor, dressed in period costume, was teaching visitors how to use pikes and demonstrating war cries! We think this must have been a Special Event hosted by the Castle – perhaps the Renaissance¬†Schiltron? We learned some interesting information from the actor’s instructions on this fighting technique.

First, you had to learn¬†how to hold the pike…

Then you had to make a scary war face and yell a war cry to accompany it.

Then on top of all that, there was an attacking formation to remember… while holding your pike properly, making your war face and yelling your war cry!

The “Commander” even had a drum, to accompany the charge!

This would definitely be a fearsome sight to behold! It looked like a really fun and interactive activity and history lesson, with people of all ages participating – jabbing their pikes, scrunching up their faces, sticking out their tongues and yelling at the top of their lungs!

And no, we didn’t participate this time… Maybe next time! ūüėČ

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After that entertaining display, we headed towards St. Margaret’s Chapel.

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building of Edinburgh Castle. It is actually said to be the oldest building in all of Edinburgh, built in 1130 by King David I to honour of his mother – Queen Margaret, and later known as Saint Margaret.

This chapel is still in use today for baptisms and weddings.

Stained glass of Queen Margaret and later St. Margaret.

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We planned our Edinburgh Castle visit so that we would still be at the Castle for 1pm.

Why? So we could watch the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. This tradition goes way back to 1861, when the One O’Clock Gun would be fired (at 13:00 or 1pm) to allow ships to set and synchronize the maritime clocks on board.

The One O’Clock Gun is located on the Mills Mount Battery. It was quiet and uncrowded earlier in the morning…

But by 1pm, a sizable crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle!

Getting the gun ready…

Checking the time…

Gotta make sure it’s right on the dot!

And BOOM! Even though I was expecting the gun to go off, it still made me jump – hence the blurry photograph! This was a cool piece of tradition and history and we were glad to have experienced it. If you’re at Edinburgh Castle around 12:55pm, head to the Mills Mount Battery to watch this spectacle!

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Tips for Your Visit:¬†Besides checking out the many exhibitions and attractions at Edinburgh Castle, don’t forget to look out from the castle at the views of Edinburgh from way up here! Since the castle stands on top of Castle Rock, there are sweeping views of the city from here – like this panorama looking North towards Princes Street and out at the Firth of Forth.

What can you spot in this next photograph? The Scott Monument, Princes Street Gardens, The Scottish National Gallery…

And this one? I can spot… The Balmoral, Calton Hill, Waverley Station, The Dugald Stewart Monument, The National Monument of Scotland, The Nelson Monument…

If you look out from the South¬†side of the castle, a different view awaits you! We even spotted our hostel from here, with Arthur’s Seat in the background.

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Tips for Your Visit: We spent a couple hours here and we still hadn’t explored all of the castle and its grounds. So if you have a couple of must-see’s for Edinburgh Castle, mark them down, along with their locations.¬†This way you can plan your visit route and make sure to see all of these, before spending some time leisurely wandering and exploring the castle grounds. The¬†Castle’s website also has some itineraries that you can follow, depending on how long you have for your visit and your interests. Hopefully the tips and suggestions on the website, along with our adventures exploring Edinburgh Castle, will help you out when planning a trip to this iconic fortress!

Review: We enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh Castle, learning a lot about Scottish history, Scottish kings and queens, its strife and conflicts but also its amazing culture and glories. The Castle is an amazing fortress and its architecture is exquisite Рwhether you are viewing it from the inside or admiring it from outside its walls. A really nice bonus? The breathtaking views of Edinburgh from the castle! We are definitely planning to come back to enjoy the Military Tattoo and all of its grandeur out on the Esplanade!

After grabbing a couple of souvenirs from the gift shop, we headed out of the castle and walked down the busy Royal Mile.

Now, it was onto our next adventure – a (Free!) walking tour of Edinburgh to get our bearings in this city! Stay tuned for more!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!