Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ending in Edinburgh Castle

Our last stop in Scotland was to visit Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Not one of my favorite castles, but definitely worth a visit. It was well fortified and stood upon a cliff of granite rock high above the city. However, the city (like you would expect from a capital city) surrounded the castle. I think what I was missing was gardens and greenery.

The castle walls were definitely thick and the castle itself was made to provid for a long seige- unlike Buckingham Palace or the Hapsburg Palace. Wonder if that is the difference? A castle is a place for royalty that is fortified and a palace is a place for royalty that is not fortified. Hmm... Must consider.

Anyway, being close to the North Sea, they also have the one o' clock gun, which fires everyday (except Sunday) at 1 o'clock. The purpose of this is to let the sailors know which time zone they have entered (and so they could determine their location based on speed of sound). There are only a few such guns (used for telling time) around the world.

Not all the weaponry there is used for "telling time", in fact Mons Meg is a huge cannon capable of firing a 330 pound cannon ball 2 miles.

Brian used his foot to show the scale of the cannon balls.

And of course there is the Half Moon Battery, which guarded the entrance in case you made it near or inside the portcullis gate.

We also sent to St. Margaret's Chapel, which is said to be the oldest building in Edingburgh. It was actually built before the castle, who was the mother of King David I of Scotland. She was actually a Saxon Princess who fled during the Norman Invasion and married King Malcolm III. She is the only royal Scottish saint.

Funny story, apparently, Queen Mary of Scots actually had St. Margaret's head placed in a gilded cage and brought to her during the birth of her first and only son- King James IV. Interesting baby shower gift.

We also got to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland, but like in England- no pictures. There was also the Stone of Destiny. The Stone of Destiny (a really big freaking rock with metal rings on the side for carrying the thing), was first used to crown the monarchs of Scotland. Later when Edward the Longshanks (Edward I- King of England) took over Scotland, he had the rock taken over to Westminister Abbey), where it was placed beneath the coronation chair for all the English monarchs. Recently, Queen Elizabeth II (who also used the Stone of Destiny at her coronation), ordered that it be sent back to Scotland where it belongs- but will return to England for future English coronations.

We went inside the castle to the Great Hall with a wood beamed roof.

And then into Mary Queen of Scot's bedchamber.

Another funny story- Mary Queen of Scots gave birth in her closet- not in a nice comfortable bed. Nope- a chair. Wonder where she put St. Margaret's head in this small space?

During the 1700s and 1800s, the English used Edinburgh Castle as a prison for enemies, you could view where they housed them. What they ate, where they used the bathroom (yuk), and what they did with their time there. If you look closely you can see prisoners names carved into the door. Also the mini ship was made of wood shavings by a very bored prisoner.

Other museums there for Royal Scottish military units. While we had opportunities to take pictures here I didn't do much of that- it was mostly a collection of weapons, uniforms, stories, and pictures of Scottish military units. However, I did take a picture of the gas masks.

And I also took a picture of a statue of General Haig.

Why General Haig was made a hero was beyond me. Not a fan. Really don't know why?  Well, I think this Blackadder video sums it up nicely for those people who aren't very educated in World War I.

After our trip to the castle, we did a bit of shopping. We almost bought a kilt for Brian. Yeah, he would have looked really nice in one. However, no we didn't buy one. Because I was informed it might only be worn once and even that was not a guarantee.

On our way back to England we drove along the North Sea coast. It was very scenic. I kept trying to convince Brian to let me take some sheep back to Texas. Unfortunately, we did not bring back a sheep. Or 2 or more.

And that is pretty much our whole trip. I actually have more pictures and more stories to share, but as for all of our "tourist stops" and even some of our incidents- we've really given you the highlights. However... don't stop reading now... we plan to cover maps, our stay in 2 castles, our spreadsheets and any tips we think that might be helpful for planning a trip like this yourself- should you be interested. This trip took a LOT of research and planning before our flight landed in Berlin. And most of that work is due to Brian. I did a lot of the fun stuff saying the places we "need to go", but he was the one who made it all happen so that way we could accomplish so much within 16 days.

Chauffeur's Corner:

The visit to Edinburgh Castle took place on a stereotypical English Isle day – chilly, damp and overcast/foggy. It didn’t dampen the visit too much though. As Stacey mentioned, the castle is situtated rather perfectly for the area. However, it was also felt somewhat smaller than the other castles on our visit, but that may have been due again to the constant feeling that you were on the pinhead of a rock cliff. It was interesting how the castle was built directly into the mountain rock – which you could easily see the several points where they met.

I again wasn’t very aware of the history of the Edinburgh Castle and it was interesting to learn about the Mons Meg and how it was a technological leap during its time – such that forces would surrender rather than have it used against them (though it was very difficult to transport far and wide).

The entire castle walking areas were covered with pavers, which you can see in many of the pictures – it helped with the romanticism of the site, but with the weather it also made walking adventurous. The Scottish Highlander Regimental museum was a nice surprise, as there were several pieces of military hardware including their uniforms. I believe I recall seeing that the sporran (pouch that sits in front of kilt) was only worn by those of Sergeant and above.

St. Margaret’s Chapel was literally a chapel (unlike many modern-day ones) – measuring roughly 15’ x 40’. Though it was small, it was rather pretty and had a certain amount of sanctity to it, beyond its rich history.

We had not expected to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland, but it compared uniquely to those of England. England’s were clearly more ornate and more numerous. However, Scotland’s display was more soaked in history (and blood) than that of England. The fascinating tie-in was having been to Westminster Abbey where we saw the coronation chair and reading that it was lacking the Stone of Destiny. Then we saw the Stone of Destiny in person, which by itself is rather unremarkable…however, again it has been witness to remarkable human history. I will admit that even after all of the history lessons, I still cannot follow along with all of the lineages and rulers.

The Great Hall was outstanding in its grandeur, however I believe it had been rebuilt, as it had been through several revised uses over the decades. The wood-beamed ceiling was beautiful.

Again Stacey was able to flex her History degree to explain to me about General Haig, which definitely altered our perspective on the presentation of his material at the castle. As we left the castle, we had an important decision to make – drive the short route to the final stay or take the more scenic route which was an hour or two longer. We wisely chose to explore the scenic route along the North Sea coastline.

In case I forget to cover this later, there are some important things about this trip. First was that I actually enjoyed doing research for this trip as I had to look through what I would want to do, research the specifics about what Stacey wanted and the nitty gritty of getting around (rules, train schedules, etc).  Another big thing was that as we worked through the details of the trip, I was fortunate to have Stacey who was willing to do much more (and often cheaper) than most people. This translated to a very aggressive, but a schedule packed full of great things to do. We also lucked out with the timing to make my desire of a 2-3 week vacation a reality. Also, the driving proved to be much more manageable than I had worried about. Other than navigating out of Berlin, Stacey was a great help in traversing the thousands of miles and dozens of sights. 

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