Sunday, October 14, 2018

...And Edinburgh and a touch of Haltwhistle

[Programming note: At the beginning of last month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is here. Part 2 of Day 1 is here. Here is day 2. This is Day 3.

This post will probably be a bit shorter than other posts, but then again, those sound like famous last words, don't they?

I woke on the third day of my trip in my room in Edinburgh. I was well-rested and had slept in until almost 8, which is unusual for me. First stop was breakfast in the dining room upstairs. It was a nice continental breakfast, so I had a mishmash of eggs, cereal, toast, and fruit. During this trip, I often didn't have much of an appetite even though I knew I needed to eat for the energy. For breakfast, mostly what I want is a nice bowl of cereal, full stop. But that wouldn't cut it when I was going to be hiking all over the place and might not get lunch until a bit later than usual. So I forced down more than I would normally eat.

In any case, it was another gorgeous day in the UK, with cool, clear blue skies and a promise of warmer temperatures as the day went on. I weighed my options as to where to go and what to do--Edinburgh Castle? Holyrood Palace? Both? St. Giles Cathedral? The cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter? Holyrood Palace was at the top of my list, and the cafe (Spoon, previously Nicholsons) was just behind. I figured I would have time to tour Holyrood, then go over to Spoon for lunch before picking up my bag and making my way back to the train station.

So I set off to Holyrood on foot, figuring it was a beautiful morning and it was much simpler to just walk. It was well worth it to walk around Edinburgh, enjoying its medieval heart. I found this a lovely sight (obvs its not a medieval sight, but that isn't what I mean):

Edinburgh.

I also stumbled across a little graveyard perched on the side of the hill. Just a centuries-old graveyard tucked in a corner. No big:

Cemetery just hanging out along the side of the street (New Calton Burial Ground).
The reason I put Holyrood Palace at the top of my list is its association with Mary, Queen of Scots. Since I was young, I've been interested in the Tudors and the Tudor era, and she was a Tudor (as granddaughter of Margaret, sister of Henry VIII and daughter of Henry VII). She was also a bit of a thorn in the side of Elizabeth I down in England. See, Mary had a nasty habit of considering herself the rightful Queen of England, to which the *actual* queen had some serious objections. Mary was actually raised largely in France to be the bride of the dauphin. She was briefly queen of France, but then her young husband died and she was sent back to Scotland, where she made a series of poor choices in husband, including Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. After Mary was implicated in the death of Darnley, her nobles got so fed up with her that she had to flee, and she went . . . to England, to Elizabeth. Which was . . . probably not the smartest decision. She was imprisoned for a very long time by Elizabeth, who was hesitant to do away with her because it would set a bad precedent for killing queens. But eventually Mary foolishly involved herself in a plot to murder Elizabeth, and there was really little choice at that point but to have her executed, and thus her head was whacked off.

Holyrood was one of Mary's main residences while she was in Scotland. There is a suite of rooms that she lived in, and in fact you can see the room where Mary and her attendants were having supper when Lord Darnley burst in with some of his men, dragged Mary's secretary (David Rizzio) into the next room, and stabbed him to death. Good times.

So, in any case, that was my reason for going to Holyrood. It is currently the Queen's royal residence in Scotland, and lots of fancy and important events happen here. But it's also been an important palace and residence for centuries. The James V Tower is the oldest part of the building. That's where
Holyrood Palace.
Mary, Queen of Scots's room are. The rest was, for the most part, built by Charles II when he came to Scotland as rightful king (he was descended from Mary via James VI of Scotland/I of England). Bonnie Prince Charlie held a ball here during the rebellion he led against the English (he was descended from Charles II's brother, James II). It was graced by George IV and was the residence-in-exile of the future King Charles X of France (brother of Louis XVI, formerly the Comte D'Artois). Queen Victoria opened the palace to public in 1854.

Like with many palaces, upon entering, you go up a fine grand staircase and begin on the processional route of state rooms. The further you go through the rooms, the closer you are to the presence of the sovereign. These rooms are largely furnished in a mix of 17th century and Victorian styles, with a lot of dark wood and red velvet. It's certainly cozy, if a bit cloying.

At the end of the state rooms is a long gallery hung with portraits of all the kings of Scotland, real and legendary, as painted by Jacob de Wet in the 1680s. Some of them sustained damage shortly after Bonnie Prince Charlie fled the palace and British troops moved into it. The soldiers slashed some of the portraits.

Just beyond the gallery are the queen's room, and the Mary, Queen of Scots rooms. To get to Mary's rooms, the ones where Rizzio was murdered, you take a narrow spiral stone staircase up. The dining room where they were all supping when Darnley burst in is absolutely tiny. I'm amazed it could fit more than three or four people, but apparently it did. It's just off the bedchamber, and beyond that is the larger Outer Chamber, which today has displays of artifacts like the Darnley Jewel.

Going down another, less narrow set of spiral steps, the visitor is led out a door to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, which is attached to the palace. The palace actually began life as an abbey, and it was because of that that so many people sought refuge at the palace through the years. The Abbey is currently, alas, a ruin, like so many in the U.K. Yet, to quote Jane Eyre, it was "a ruin but an entire ruin". That is to say, it was awfully lovely:
Me at Holyrood Abbey.

Holyrood Abbey.

Within the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.

Holyrood Abbey from the gardens.

Holyrood Abbey

On a side note, I do not have any pictures from inside Holyrood Palace because photography isn't allowed. For some rad pics, try this.

After trundling about the gardens and looking up at the crag of Arthur's Seat, high above the palace (and thinking, hell no, I'm not climbing that), I spent some time at the gift shop. I had to take care to buy things that were small and unbreakable. Tea cups wouldn't do at all. They were going to have to sit in my soft-sided bag for several days as I traveled by train and plane, and they wouldn't survive. I went with a lovely tartan-patterned (soft) Christmas ornament, some orange-flavored chocolate, and postcards. Yeah, I'm not extravagant.

But I was feeling rather flush, so instead of either walking or taking the plebeian public transportation
Spoon, formerly Nicholsons, Cafe, where JK Rowling wrote some of
the first Harry Potter book.
options, I took an Uber to my next stop: Spoons. This is the JK Rowling cafe, or it was. I was going to get lunch there, but when the Uber driver let me off and I stepped up to the door, I saw there was a sign on the door saying that there'd been some kind of event over the weekend and they (the owners) were still recovering, so the cafe was closed. Which . . . okay. Fine, I guess. But, like, don't you want to make money and stay in business, or . . . ?

My plans tanked, I had to find somewhere else for lunch. I spotted a place nearby that advertised itself as a grill with a selection of stuff. I thought a burger might do, so I went in and ordered a burger, but when it came, it just wasn't quite right. My appetite was off, and the burger wasn't the thing to tempt me. Still, I most definitely needed food, because I was currently hungry and still had quite a bit of a day left before me.

As an aside, it's interesting that when you ask for a soda in the U.K. you don't get a fountain drink. They give you a glass and a (rather small) bottle or can of soda. Which seems wasteful in many ways. You're using a can/bottle unnecessarily, and that's gotta be more expensive for the restaurants than fountain drinks, which are dirt cheap. But I digress . . .

I still had a few hours before my train left, so while I was waiting for my meal/forcing it down my throat, I pulled out my phone and looked at my options. I noticed that the National Museum of Scotland was just around the corner, so that's where I went.

National Museum of Scotland.
A headache was beginning to come on at this point, so by the time I arrived at the museum, I was feeling more than a little hazy. It's a very impressive museum, and I enjoyed what I saw, but, yeah, it was a bit of a blur. I wandered around for some time looking for the Lewis chessmen, knowing that they were there but not finding them, I'd actually seen a collection of them at the British Museum (the group of 93 is split between the two museums). I eventually did find them:

Lewis Chessman, National Museum of Scotland.

A few other items at the museum:

Monymusk Reliquary, National Museum of Scotland.

Argyll Flying Fifteen motorcar, National Museum of Scotland.

Along the way, I saw an early British-made car (see above) and a lot of cool artifacts from Scottish history. But again, I felt a bit off and wandered listlessly most of the time, until I decided it was time to get going back to the hotel to pick up my bag and get to the train station.

So that's what I did, taking the tram back, then walking from the hotel back to the train station. I paused to get a sample of Coke Zero Sugar that was being handed out and sat in the sun in a little seating area of AstroTurf above the station, right across from the Scott Memorial, listening to live music. It was really quite nice to relax, enjoying the sun, sipping some Coke, and listening to the music.
Enjoying sun, music, and a sample of Coke Zero Sugar
outside Waverley Station.

A busy, sunny Scott Memorial.

Then it was down to the train station, where I had to wait a bit for the platform to be announced. Then onto the train I got.

A parting view--from the top of the hill where my hotel stood, down
to the firth below.
This was going to be my first journey on this trip with a transfer. I had ten minutes between trains, which left little time for error. I'm a pretty experienced traveler, so I wasn't too worried, but I had to be on high-alert, you know, on peak performance. I'd downloaded the National Rail app with all my travels in mind, and it was a lifesaver. I was able to look up what platform I'd be arriving at and which one I'd be leaving from before I arrived at the next station. That way, I wouldn't have to look for an information board after I got off the train--I could just start off towards the right platform.

This journey required a transfer at Carlisle. It went smoothly. I had to go up and over the tracks, and there wasn't a heck of a lot of time to spare as my train had gotten in a few minutes late. But I got on the train, and off I went. I got off at Haltwhistle:




Isn't it a cute little station? I was charmed, while being painfully aware that I would need to get to the opposite side of the tracks the next day and that that would require going up the stairs, over that bridge, and back down again with my bag. No ramps, of course, and no lifts--only stairs--because this is the UK.

But anyway. Haltwhistle is a small village just south of Hadrian's Wall. I walked along, happily taking in the little town with its lovely stone buildings. There was a cross to WW1 dead at the center of a town, and a little square with a pub. I checked into my guest house, which was adorable and comfy and, of course, had no lift. The people who own and operate it also operated the post office and candy shop on the ground floor, and they were extremely kind and helpful.

By this point, I had a pretty raging headache. I knew I wasn't up for a pub or pub food, but luckily there is a Sainsbury's nearby, so I walked over there, got myself some odds and ends (enough for dinner, breakfast, and lunch) and went back to the guest house, where I spent the rest of the evening on the bed, watching TV. Not an exciting end to the day, but I'd had quite a day already . . .


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