HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 8 – Hiking the Old Man of Storr

After enjoying our lunch in Portree, we were off to explore more of Skye on Day 8 of our Compass Buster tour!

First up was a stop at the village of Sligachan – a good spot for viewing and exploring the Cuillins.

This is River Sligachan. Legend has it that if you dip your face into the waters of the Sligachan, you will be granted eternal beauty. The important point is that you cannot just splash the water onto your face, you must get on your hands and feet to dip your face into the magical waters.

We scrambled down the rocky riverbank to have a look at this legendary river.

Even though we didn’t dip our faces into the waters, we did get some lovely photographs of the picturesque Sligachan bridge from this vantage point.

After some of our group attained “eternal beauty”, we piled back onto the bus headed for a wee hike!

Our destination? The Old Man of Storr.

Before heading out, we were told that we only had a limited amount of time here and that we had better hike fast if we wanted to make it to the top and back in time. We had been so used to taking our time, enjoying the scenery and exploring with Andy and Greg, that this was a surprise to us! We were also used to having Andy and Greg leading our group on these walks and sharing tidbits of what we were seeing, the legends, myths and history with us. But this would not be the case today as we were sent off on our own for the walk with a stern warning to come back on time!

So with that warning, we ran out of the bus and started up the trail.

Even just a couple minutes up the trail, we were afforded this beautiful view!

We did have quite a ways to go! 😥

The weather was forever changing – with a mix of blue skies and then dark, angry looking clouds rolling in! We were just glad it didn’t rain – as we heard that it can get quite muddy and slippery in the rain.

Looks a bit different in a different light!

Still a long ways to go!

The dark clouds created some lovely shadows and lent a moody atmosphere to these photos – completely different from the ones bathed in sunshine and blue skies! We promise all of these photographs were taken on the same day!

Even way up here, we made an animal friend!

Here we are – getting closer to the Old Man of Storr.

There are many myths and legends surrounding the Old Man of Storr. Some say this is actually the thumb and fingers of a giant who died here. Another legend tells of a man and his wife who were running away from some giants. As they ran, they looked back at the giants and were instantly turned to stone. Yet another tale tells of a man who died of a broken heart following the death of his wife. This man had a friend in a Brownie – a mythical creature. And when the Brownie heard of his friend’s death, he carved out the man and his beloved wife here as a tribute. I’m sure if we asked all the locals of the surrounding area, they would each have their own version of the tale!

We made it!

Taking it a bit further, I scrambled up the rocks to get closer…

At this time, we had to make a decision… We wanted to keep going to what we were told was a spot to view the Old Man of Storr from another vantage point, but fearing that we wouldn’t make it back to the bus in time, we decided to play it safe and head back down. We didn’t want to get left behind! 😓

After seeing the photographs that our group mates took – looking across at the Old Man of Storr, I think we will have to come back to Skye so we can complete the hike!

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Once we were all back on the bus, we headed off to our home for the night – Saucy Mary’s Lodge.

Ah Saucy Mary… Legend has it that a Norwegian princess named Mary lived around here, near present-day Castle Moil, with her husband who was a clan chief. She charged a toll to all ships for the right to pass through the narrow channel between the Mainland and Skye. She would then thank them for paying the toll by flashing the ships as they passed through – thus earning her the name of Saucy Mary.

What a gorgeous view of the sunset and Skye Bridge from the hostel – just breathtaking!

We reheated a quick microwave dinner and relaxed in the kitchen with some cider. Great way to chill and recap the day.

We headed down to the bar for some drinks after dinner. There was music, chats, jokes and we even met a guy who had apparently been wandering the wilds of Skye before being invited to stay at the hostel. We were so busy chatting and laughing away that we didn’t even realize when the bar closed. We only noticed when staff started putting the stools up and sweeping the floors… oops!

We were going to head off for some beauty rest (seeing as we didn’t dip our faces into the Sligachan, so didn’t gain eternal beauty 🤣), but our OG 10 Day squad was going to follow some of the guides/hostel staff to another bar and convinced us to go. Unfortunately, or fortunately, our OG group got left behind at the hostel – so we found a little lounge area and continued chatting, swapping stories and reliving memories from earlier in the trip. What a great night with these guys! (Even though we were confronted with the infamous beach incident again – Guys, honest we didn’t mean anything by our seating arrangements that day!) We were still smiling to ourselves as we wandered up to get some sleep.

Next up? Day 9 and a special day that we had been looking forward to since we booked the trip. This is the day we head to Hogwarts!!! (I knew I would get that Hogwarts letter one day!)

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. 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!

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 7 – Searching for Nessie!

After our wee walk around Invermoriston, it was off to Loch Ness for some monster spotting to end off Day 7 of our Compass Buster tour! 🐉

With or without Nessie, Loch Ness is famous in its own right. Loch Ness is the second largest loch in Scotland by surface area and the second deepest. This freshwater loch is the largest by volume and contains more water than all of the rivers and lakes in England and Wales combined!

Besides being an incredible body of water, Loch Ness is also surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands. There are beautiful little villages on its shores – like Drumnadrochit, Fort Augustus (our home for tonight), Foyers and Invermoriston. There is even the beautiful Urquhart Castle on its Western shore. Even without Nessie, all of that would be enough to convince me to visit!

Because we arrived here towards the end of the day, we had this view pretty much all to ourselves!

The weather was forever changing… When we first arrived, it was a bit cloudy. Then the clouds parted slightly and we were bathed in the rays of the setting sun.

Can you see that the water of Loch Ness is not crystal clear – but a bit murky? That is due to the high concentration of peat particles in the water. It is said that visibility in the loch is only 4 inches. We didn’t jump in to test this fact – so we can only assume this is true!

Murky waters might be a reason why it is so difficult to get a clear photograph of Nessie!

We did try to look for Nessie, but I think she was being shy today! I like to imagine her popping her head out of that wave in the middle of this photograph.

Nessie is indeed a famous Scot – with hundreds of thousands of searches on google each month. The first recorded sighting was in 565AD, where St. Columba supposedly encountered a water beast and banished it into the waters of River Ness. In more modern times, thousands of people claimed to have seen Nessie, with some providing photographic “evidence”.

There she is! This is evidence enough, eh?

Many of these have now been proven false, yet Nessie continues to capture our imagination. Various searches and investigations using modern day technology have been conducted and the scientific community is leaning towards Nessie being a myth. But then again, you never know – Nessie might just be very good at hiding. Or there are also whisperings that she can move between lochs and rivers and even that she can teleport to different bodies of water around the world! Perhaps Nessie is friends with our own Ogopogo – who supposedly lives in Okanagan Lake a couple hours drive from us! Who knows 😉🤔

She’s not behind me, is she?!

Walking back from the edge of Loch Ness, we came upon the Canal.

Loch Ness is part of the Caledonian Canal – a series of 29 locks spanning the 60 miles along the Great Glen between Inverness with Fort William. This canal system crosses the entire span of the Scottish Highlands and provides a way to get from the East to the West coast of Scotland. Nowadays, you can explore the Caledonian Canal by boat, canoe, bike or on foot!

For more on how you can explore the Canal, check out this website here. I think this would be a really unique trip and it would be a great opportunity see the beauty of the Scottish Highlands and to see this engineering marvel.

The Caledonian Canal was engineered by the famed Scottish enginner Thomas Telford – the same man behind the old Telford bridge that we visited earlier in the day. Telford’s work took him to England, Wales and even to Sweden, where he oversaw the construction of the Göta kanal – sister canal of the Caledoninan Canal. Although his work took him to places far and wide, he never forgot where he came from. He undertook lots of projects in Scotland – from bridges to churches to entire towns. He also took on the task of making communications and travel throughout Scotland easier by building miles and miles of roads in his home country. I’m sure within our 10 days exploring Scotland, we must have traveled on one of his roads. Check out this Visit Scotland post on Telford’s top 10 greatest Scottish Constructions!

Although we only got a glimpse at one section of the Canal, we were impressed at how something built in the early 1800’s is still functional almost 200 years later!

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Having had a full day of adventures and exploring, we were on our way to our home for the night – Morag’s Lodge. This hostel had cozy rooms, homecooked dinners available for purchase, a large communal dining area, a bar and tartan throughout its building!

When we sat down for dinner, we noticed another large group of people with the yellow Haggis Adventures wristband. This was when we realized another change in tour group and tour guide was coming tomorrow… 😔 Part of our group would be returning to Edinburgh with Andy and the rest of us would be joining another group to finish off our 10 day tour. It wasn’t off to a good start when our new group mates were already insisting that they had reserved certain seats on the bus and would not be allowing anyone else to sit in those spots… We decided to worry about them tomorrow and just enjoy tonight!

After dinner, we wandered over to the bar. Our OG 10 day squad (❤) would be continuing on together but a couple of our new friends would be leaving us tomorrow. (Don’t worry – we would all be reunited in Edinburgh in a couple of days!) So it was time for some drinks, chats, some live music and dancing to cap off our time together!

Some time in the evening, a loch monster costume was brought out, along with a chest of tartan fabric. Andy helped all of us to fashion our own traditional Scottish wear – kilts for the guys and a kind of “earasaid” for us girls.

We loved it!

We came to Scotland prepared for a night like this. And tonight was the perfect night to break out these socks and matching red flats to finish off our outfits!

Modelling the latest in tartan with our dear friends D and M!

Whilst wandering the halls of the hostel, we can across this poster – which quickly became a favourite 😉🙄😍

We ended off our night stargazing outside – chatting with our friends, wrapped in our tartan and gazing at the Milky Way. It doesn’t get any better than that 💙

Day 8 is next – stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. 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!

From Seattle to Keflavik!

With our luggage, passport and ISK curency in hand, we headed off to catch the Quick Coach from Vancouver to Seattle – more specifically to SeaTac airport to catch our Icelandair flight to Keflavik! Since Icelandair only provides limited seasonal (summer) service through YVR, we had to take a bit of a detour through Seattle.

Our journey down to SeaTac was very smooth. We got through U.S. customs very quickly – as it was 7am on a weekday. The bus also made good time through downtown Seattle – we must have missed the busy morning commute! So we arrived at SeaTac wayyyy early at 10:30am for our 3:30pm flight. At least that’s better than being late!

The Icelandair check-in counter wasn’t open yet, so we had lots of time to hang out before we could drop our luggage off. So, of course, we amused ourselves with people watching and selfie-taking!

Ioana spotted this group of blue-hued flight crew making their way through SeaTac!

Once we dropped off our luggage and went through security, we went off in search of food!

The Icelandair flight did not have complimentary in-flight meals, unlike all of the other transatlantic flights that we have been on. We found it a bit strange for an almost 8hr international flight. If you upgrade to Economy Comfort or Saga Class, then you do get a complimentary meal from the in-flight menu. There is, of course, food and alcoholic beverages for purchase on board. There is even a discount if you pre-order your food before your trip.

We decided to get some food from the small food court by our terminal so we could have a bite to eat during the overnight flight.

Finally, it was time to board our plane!

A pleasant surprise awaited us when we got to our seats – a pillow and a cozy blanket! Haven’t seen these on a flight in a while and they kept us comfortable and cozy for the whole flight 😏

Once we had taken off, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the Cascade mountain range surrounding Seattle.

Travel Tip: If you are taking an Icelandair flight, check to see if meals are included with your fare. If not, you might want to consider pre-purchasing your in-flight meal, bringing your own food and snacks or purchasing something from the airport before boarding. During our flight, we got complimentary beverages (juice, coffee and tea) but no snacks. And 8 hours is a long time to go without food!

There was an in-flight entertainment system on the back of the seats, with some new movies and older ones, as well as TV shows to keep you entertained on this transatlatic journey. The girl sitting next to us had some trouble with her entertainment system and the flight attendant quickly offered her an entertainment system on an iPad.

We tried to catch some sleep, so that we would be ready for out first day of exploring and adventures when we landed!

We smoothly landed at Keflavik Airport and cleared customs – earning a new stamp in our passports! Before we arrived at the baggage claim, we passed through a large duty-free shop. We had read that locals prefer to purchase their alcohol here, as it is cheaper than buying it in the city. So following the locals and the many flight crew members who were purchasing their alcohol here, we browsed the selection and came away with some wine and cider. (No Thistly Cross though, to our disappointment!)

Keflavik is about 50 minutes away from Reykjavik. We booked our transfer through Icelandair. We exchanged our paper tickets for a FlyBus+ “orange zone” ticket. This meant we did not have to change buses at the BSI. Others with different colour tickets had to get off at the BSI and change to smaller minivans and buses.

About an hour after getting on the bus at Keflavik, we pulled into the Icelandair Reykjavik Natura – our home for the next few days!

Stay tuned for more on Iceland! Next up? Off to explore the city and take a walking tour! Follow us on Instagram for our Icelandic adventures 😏

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. 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!

HAGGiS Adventures – 10 Day Compass Buster!

After a couple days in Edinburgh and at Dalhousie Castle, we were off on another adventure – a 10 day Compass Buster tour of Scotland with HAGGiS Adventures.

We definitely busted some compasses on this trip!

After having been on a Shamrocker Adventures’ 7 Day All Ireland Rocker Tour, we had a bit of an idea of what to expect going into this trip. We knew it would be shared accommodations, there would be exploring and adventures (legs day! 🙄) and that there will probably be switches in tour guides and tour groups.

And we knew it was going to be epic – of course! It is Scotland, after all! From all that we have read, seen, heard and probably from our imaginations as well, we had built up an idea of what Scotland would be like and how amazing it would be! And sometimes… you end up disappointed because you had such high expectations to begin with.

But for us, we absolutely LOVED it – from the history and the standing stones, to castles, scenery, glens and lochs! 💙 We had an amazing time exploring Scotland!

Loved the time we spent walking in the great outdoors!

Loved the time we spent walking in the great outdoors!

We felt taking this tour was a good way to see this beautiful majestic country – with our limited budget and time. Sure, it would have been nicer if we could have done a road trip around Scotland ourselves and stopped wherever we wanted to (*ahem* Speyside Whisky Trail and Walkers Shortbread factory!) and spend more time in the places that we liked (The Hebrides and Isle of Skye!). But I don’t think we would have seen as much of Scotland in 10 days time, on our own.

Plus, then we wouldn’t have met our wonderful group mates and friends! 😊

I think we have said it before but we’ll say it again here – the people you’re with definitely make or break your trip! Especially on a group trip… Especially on a long 10-day group trip like this one! This trip, just like the Shamrocker’s trip we took earlier, also combined several different tours together – besides our 10-day group, there were people on 5-day, 7-day and 3-day tours all combined together as well. So… we did have people join and leave our original 10-day group and we may not have meshed well with the last group that joined us… But our original group of people? I would go on another trip with these guys in a heartbeat. Sure, introductions and group dynamics can be… interesting sometimes (like the Isle of Harris beach incident of 2015) but we are so lucky to have met these wonderful, kind and fun people!! I’m smiling like mad right now – reminiscing and looking at all of our photographs from this trip!

So, what did we think of the trip?

We loved that there was lots of exploring and adventures. To traverse a country as vast as Scotland, there was, of course, travel time spent on the bus. But even on long travel days, stops were scheduled quite frequently and we were able to at least get off for a quick ramble and stretch our legs. I think we went on a (long) walk pretty much every single day – even when it was blustery and pouring rain (We’re from Raincouver, so we enjoy a good walk in the rain!) The scenery and landscape was amazing – from the mountains to the waterfalls to the beaches – yup, I said beaches!

Look at that water!

There were some things that could be improved upon – the route was a bit circuitous and there was some unnecessary (to us – but necessary for operations) doubling back. It seems like this was common feedback from previous groups. While we were on our trip, we were told that HAGGiS Adventures was planning to change the route for the 2016 year so that it would flow a bit better. So it’s nice to see that they take feedback from previous groups and are working to improve things for future guests!

Over the next couple of weeks, we will share our trip and experiences with you all. We hope that our posts and reviews will be helpful for independent travelers trying to decide where in Scotland to visit and what attractions to see, as well as for those considering taking a guided tour of Scotland – such as the HAGGiS Adventures trip that we went on.

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We will make a note here that we paid for this trip ourselves and did not receive any compensation for writing about our experience. Our blog posts and reviews are of our own experience in October 2015 (better late than never?!) and are our honest opinions.

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Here’s the Compass Buster tour description from the HAGGiS Adventures website:

“Think you can take 10 days of it? All the creepy castles, all the crazy history and all the eye bursting beauty? Yes? Then be brave and do the Compass Buster. It spans Scotland from pub to mountain, from beach to monster and all the best bits in-between. And if that wasn’t enough, you get to absorb a ton of knowledge from our legendary guides. So be bold, be smart and take our most complete tour of Scotland.”

The current trip route has changed from when we went but I think most of the locations and stops are still the same. One thing about this trip that was different from our All Ireland Rocker trip was the structure of the trip. The Ireland trip had more of a set itinerary for each day. This Compass Buster trip was less structured and depending on the driver/guide, the places you visit might be in a different order or you might visit a completely different place compared to the group going on the same trip a week after you!

This 10-day tour was a pretty complete tour of Scotland – taking us from Edinburgh out to the Hebrides, then up north to the Orkneys, back through Loch Ness, then out west to Oban and back to Edinburgh. Of course, there were some places that we didn’t stop at or didn’t spend a lot of time in, but at least now we know where we want to go when we plan our next trip to Scotland!

Here was the itinerary for our 10 day trip:

Day 1: Edinburgh → Dunkeld → Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Mesach → Ardmair → Ullapool → Stornoway (Overnight)

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Day 2: Stornoway → The Butt of Lewis → Gearrannan BlackhousesDun Carloway Broch → Callanish Standing Stones → Stornoway (Overnight)

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Day 3: Stornoway → a visit with our new friends – the Hairy CooIsle of Harris and Beaches! → Tarbert → Portree (Overnight)

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Day 4: Portree → Fairy Pools → Eilean Donan Castle → Inverness (Overnight)

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Day 5: Inverness → Duncansby Head → John O’Groats → Tomb of the EaglesItalian Chapel → Kirkwall (Overnight)

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Day 6: Kirkwall → Skara Brae → Ring of Brodgar Standing StonesYesnaby → Kirkwall (Overnight)

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Day 7: Kirkwall → BadbeaUrquhart Castle → Invermoriston → Loch Ness → Fort Augustus (Overnight)

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Day 8: Fort Augustus → Glenmoriston → Eilean Donan Castle (repeat) → Old Man of Storr → Portree (repeat) → Kyleakin (Overnight)

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Day 9: Kyleakin → Armadale → Mallaig → HOGWARTS! → Glencoe → Oban (Overnight)

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Day 10: Oban → Doune Castle → The Kelpies → Edinburgh

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We can’t wait to share our stories and photographs with you all! Stay tuned for Day 1 of our Scotland adventures coming up soon!

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 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 – the 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 – making 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 – from 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 – admiring 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 – aptly 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 – they serve a Champagne Afternoon Tea at the café!

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Café at the Palace – set 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! 😉

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

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!

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! 😏 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 – Robert 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 😉 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! 😉

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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 – whether 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

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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!