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Edinburgh Castle
 

story and photography Frank Greco

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, is beautifully set on a series of hills and is recognized as Scotland’s most historic city. As a tourist, I quickly had to learn how to pronounce Edinburgh properly - “Ed-in-burrrr-ah” (roll the “r”s). It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The name Edinburgh means "Fort of the Rock Face," a direct reference to the Edinburgh Castle. The castle is perched on top of Castle Rock and can be seen from miles around as it towers over the city overlooking both its Old and New Towns.

A little known fact about the Castle is that it has Canadian ties. Back in 1624 King James VI wanted to establish a Scottish colony in Canada... Nova Scotia (meaning “New Scotland”). The land would be offered for sale to Scottish landlords who didn’t actually have to travel to Canada to stake their claim. All they needed to do was visit the Castle and receive a handful of earth (symbolically from Nova Scotia) to own a piece of it.

Behind the castle walls, visitors are treated to amazing panoramic views of Edinburgh, The Crown Room (where the nation’s treasures are kept), The Great Hall (for the display of arms and armour), The Royal Palace (built in honour of King James VI), St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), The Prisons of War, The Mons Meg – one of the world’s oldest guns that fired stones, The One O’clock gun-firing, which has occured daily since 1861, The National War Memorial and The National War Museum are some of the treasures awaiting visitors inside.

There is also a Dog Cemetery garden. The small garden has been used as a burial place for officers’ pet dogs and mascots since the 1840s.
Below the Castle (southeast side) and Castle Rock, in the Old Town, is Grassmarket Square. There are stairs leading from the square up to Edinburgh Castle and believe me, negotiating them is a good workout. The Grassmarket area has numerous pubs, restaurants, eclectic shops, live music and buildings rich in history. Once a popular medieval marketplace for horse and cattle, it also became the place where public executions were held. 

Of course, this beautiful, centuries old city has numerous pubs - each with a unique story to tell. The Last Drop pub commemorates the last hanging in the Grassmarket Square. The gallows were located directly opposite the pub.

There’s a pub named after a woman who was hanged, but mysteriously awakened as she was being wheeled away for burial. In accordance with Scottish law, she was pronounced a free woman. The pub named after her is Maggie Dickson’s Pub.

The Royal Mile is at the centre of The Old Town and runs eastward from the Edinburgh Castle. Known as High Street, it is comprised of four streets that connect together and stretch slightly over a mile. This street connects The Edinburgh Castle at one end to Holyroodhouse at the other. Holyroodhouse is a royal palace used by Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, each year for official functions.

Tourists gather here to see the various government and historic buildings, churches, shops and restaurants and to explore the tiny cobbled "closes" or alleys off the main street. The popular Mary King’s Close provides a window to the past with architecture dating back to the 16th century.

Some of the homes were built seven or more stories below street level. Walking through the adjoining buildings with a guide, helps one to understand the difficult living conditions people endured in these closes.  Even in the nicer areas there was no natural light of any kind. Small one-room dwellings housed families of eight or more. Families could be living next to a butcher shop, a livestock holding area or even a mortician. One could get lost very easily maneuvering through the narrow dimly lit streets because there are no street names to guide you.

On the Northern side of the Castle and High Street is The New Town boasting high-end residences, trendy shops, malls and the Scott Monument (completed in 1844). It is the focal point of The New Town standing more than 60 metres tall. The Monument honours Sir Walter Scott - the famous Scottish author who wrote Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, and the Waverley novels.

The monument is a Gothic Victorian structure that looks like a cathedral situated in East Princess Street Gardens. It is the largest structure in the world honouring a writer. There are 287 steps and four levels to get the top. At each level one can enjoy breathtaking views of Edinburgh. The marble statue at the base of the monument is of Sir Walter Scott with his dog Maida who greets every passer by.

As I travel, food is an important part of my experience. Edinburgh provides every type of cuisine possible. One of the memorable venues that I experienced has exceptional character and service, stunning city views and of course fantastic food.

Kyloe Restaurant and Grill built its reputation as being Edinburgh’s first gourmet steak restaurant. The name (Kyloe) is an old Scottish word meaning Highland beef cattle. One can’t miss this restaurant, just look for the Highland Cow head sticking out of the front of the building. The rest of the cow is on the inside where some of the booths are covered in cowhide.

Another is positioned at the main entry showing customers its various cuts. Located in Edinburgh’s west end (Rutland Street), the grill menu features seasonal produce, shellfish, lamb, sea bass and other delights from the area.

Edinburgh is an amazing city that has blended its historical past with its modern future and has a second tie to Canada. It is also the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell (born 1847) - credited with the invention of the telephone. His final resting place is in Nova Scotia - the land King James VI started to colonize from Edinburgh Castle. 


Frank Greco is a world traveler, television producer and host of The Travel Guy broadcast through Discovery World HD.  Contact Frank at: frank@thetravelguy.tv; follow Frank on twitter (@iamthetravelguy) or on facebook. GL


The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile delights visitors with restaurants, shops and a walk
that starts at the Edinburgh Castle (main photo) and ends at
the Palace of Holyroodhouse


The Last Drop
The Last Drop Pub in The Old Town Grassmarket Square is a very
popular hangout due to of its unique link to Edinburgh’s past.
The gallows used to be located directly across the street.


piper
The piper's case has "thank you" written in over 30 languages.
Note the Canadian flag on the right.


Scott's Monument
The Scott’s Monument was built as a tribute to Scottish author
Sir Walter Scott. There are 287 steps to climb to get to the
top observation level.