Though not many may know this, but the University of Nottingham kicks students out over the winter break. I could have chosen to stay in my room, paying around 15 pounds a night; however, I am in a beautiful country during Christmas time (in my opinion, the most magical time of year). Thus, my fellow foreigners and I decided to travel as much as possible during our time away from University. My journey started a little before noon on Monday the 17th. It began on a train with that would take me all the way up to Inverness, Scotland. Though I love train rides, after nearly nine hours on a train, stepping foot on the platform in Inverness nearly had my yelling ‘Hallelujah’ from the top of my lungs.
Inverness, for those who don’t know, is called the capital of the Highlands. However, despite its nickname, Inverness is still located in a remote region of Great Britain. Thus, it is a fairly large city with a sleepy, know-your-neighbor sort of atmosphere. Most of my time in Inverness was spent walking along the river Ness, which runs through the city, and the various walking paths running throughout which provide wonderful views of the city.
One of the other reasons I went to Inverness was due in part to its close proximity to Loch Ness. On my last day in Inverness, I took a coach out to Urquhart Castle, which sits on the banks of Loch Ness. Urquhart Castle was once a key location if someone wanted control of the Highlands; however, nowadays the Castle is naught but ruins. Still, it has to be one of the most unique and beautiful places I have been to.
Next stop on my journey was Aberdeen, oil capital of Scotland. I stayed there for just a night, knowing that there wasn’t much to do as a tourist. I had heard many people describe Aberdeen as the granite city; however, the name did not prepare me for the reality. Everything was grey – the buildings, the statues, the pavement, and the sky. Though the majority of the buildings retained their old-world beauty, the overwhelming grey rather made everything seem a bit dull. However, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the cinemas were open. Thus, I went to see the Hobbit for a second time to escape the unrelenting and chilling wind.
The next morning, I hopped on a train to Edinburgh, which is the most amazing city I have been to yet. The Old Town, which consists of the Royal Mile and the closes (aka alleyways) that run perpendicular to it, is spectacular and... alive. Edinburgh is full of vibrant energy that just runs through people, though I will admit it may have had something to do with the fact that Christmas was just days away. However, for myself there was so much to see and do, and only a few days to do it in.
The next three days were full. I wandered up and down the Royal Mile, visiting the Writer’s Museum which showed mementos from the lives of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and St. Giles Cathedral, a beautiful cathedral which has seen the likes of Mary, Queen of Scots. At top of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle. It has to be one of the most impressive castles I have visited as of yet, very imposing and dark. Built on top of a dormant volcano, Edinburgh Castle’s walls climb straight out of naked rock. Smoke blackened walls enclose the grounds which include the Scottish National War Museum, the Royal Apartments and Great Hall, St. Margaret’s Chapel, barracks, the Scottish National War Monument, and much more. On the opposite end of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Hollyroodhouse and Hollyrood Abbey. The Palace is the official residence of the Queen whenever she is in residence in Edinburgh. Thus, I was able to visit the Queen’s bedroom, as well as the sitting room where she entertained the Pope and other important people of State. However, the highlight of this visit was up in one of the towers, accessible via a narrow winding staircase from a closet attached to the Queen’s bedroom. It was the royal suite of Mary, Queen of Scots. This was filled with various items of importance to either her life or that of her son Charles, rechristened James I upon his coronation. Two of these items were a vellum illuminated copy of the bible which was used by Mary and her jewelry box, which (if I remember correctly) had been painted in every one of her paintings. It was a dark stained box with embroidered panels on the top and sides which were sadly torn and frayed.
Attached to the palace is Hollyrood Abbey, or should I say the ruins of Hollyrood Abbey. What was once a stately house of God is now a beautiful ruin. Lichen covers the remains of the Abbey walls and pillars, outlining the grey stone in vibrant green. It’s very serene, and a photographer's dream – so I spent quite a bit of time indulging myself taking photos.
Speaking of which, I was told the best views of Edinburgh came from the top of Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is the peak of another dormant volcano whose shadow cloaks the Hollyrood grounds. On a good day, the “Radical Road” trail is a demanding hike. However, the morning was sunny, yet brisk, and the path ran in front of the Salisbury Craigs, thus offering me magnificent views of the city as I walked. So I decided to be stubborn and take this road. However, as the day wore on, the sky became overcast and started spitting rain just as I reached the most difficult part of my ascent – the stairway to Arthur’s Seat. About halfway up, the wind decided to unleash itself on Edinburgh. Going up the stair was not too difficult, especially after climbing my way to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. However, the tiny, what some might call a goat path, at the top of the stair was where things became rather treacherous.... The wind nearly knocked me off the side of the cliff. Looking back, I am very proud and happy that I chose to make the hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat. At the time, all I was thinking was “The views better be worth it.” Thankfully, they were. After another steep climb, luckily out of the wind, I made it to the top of the volcano where I met some other hikers who took my photo and walked with me back down the (by Scottish standards) mountain.
For now I will end my tale, which I’m sorry to say is, for the parts that were in Edinburgh, not in chronological order so much as told based on the monuments’ geographical location near one another. I am cutting off my story in the middle of my stay in Edinburgh because the next bit is all about my Christmas and Boxing Day; thus I say “Happy Holidays!”, and will bid you farewell.