I awoke on my last day in Scotland to a sunny, breezy 70 degree climate. Figuring that this was a sign from the gods that I should spend it outdoors, I loaded up on my last hearty Scottish breakfast at the University of Edinburgh’s dining hall and headed over to Holyrood Park. Holyrood Park is a massive outdoor park that is the size of both old and new town together. The crowning jewel of the park is Arthur’s Seat, which looms large over the University’s Campus. I figured I had no excuse not to hike it if I had been enjoying a kick-ass view of the Salisbury Crags from my dorm room every day.
Fortunately, Holyrood Park is right next door to campus so I walked there. The park is surrounded by a massive track where you can bike, walk or run. A walk around the track offers you awesome views of Edinburgh harbor without even climbing Arthur’s Seat.
First stop though, was actually Holyrood Palace, right next to the park. Usually I’m not that into palaces (confession time: I found Versailles boring!) but I heard that Holyrood had a really interesting abandoned abbey adjacent to it and it is a setting in the second Outlander novel so I decided to give it a whirl. I am so glad that I did. In addition to being a working palace to this day (the queen and her fam likes to hang their when they are in Scotland), it is also rich with really interesting and important history. I got to see Mary Queen of Scotts’ bedchambers and a really interesting gallery of her artifacts. I also saw the state room with the famous pictures of all the Stuarts. Just like the character Claire mentions in the second Outlander book, all the portraits really do have the exact same nose because the artist had no idea what all the Stuarts looked like so he copied one person’s nose onto all of their faces so there would be a family resemblance. Unfortunately, the person whose nose he copied had quite a shnoz.
Then on outside to Holyrood Abbey, which was really my favorite part. It really was very ancient, haunting and romantic, I am not surprised that there have been symphonies written about it. I spent a long time just bathing in the other-worldliness of it and fiddling around with my camera trying to take some cool artsy shots of it’s weathered, ruined walls.
Once I had thoroughly explored the abbey I ventured back to the park and Arthur’s Seat. I took the second most difficult route to the top, which proved to be challenging for me but not overtaxing. Most of the ascent was on a dirt path, flanked by long green grasses and thistle. I would occasionally look back to catch a breathtaking view of the city. The final climb to the summit is actually quite steep and rocky. I have a bit of a fear of heights (why then, do I always feel the compulsive need to hike to the top of tall things?) so looking down made me feel a bit dizzy. It was worth it though, because the view from the top is beyond amazing. I looked down to spot most of the places I had visited over the last two weeks. My dorm at the Pollock Halls was clearly visible from the summit, as was the castle, the Scott’s monument, Princes Street, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Waters of Leith, Calton Hill, and the Steeple of Pilrig Church, on the corner of Pilrig Street where I stayed in my luscious bed and breakfast. I saw even more that that, down beyond to the harbor and it’s misty islands, and to the neatly parceled suburbs and golf courses of greater Edinburgh. I said my last private goodbyes to each lovely part of this wonderful city and then slowly began my descent. From there I took a leisurely stroll around the track, enjoying views of the harbor as I went.
I returned to the area around Holyrood Palace and caught a glimpse of the Scottish Parliment with it’s wildly modern architecture. Then I took the bus straight up the Royal Mile where I enjoyed my last big meal in the city, fish and chips and a Tennant’s ale. I strolled by the castle one last time to say my goodbyes and then took a slow walk up through Grassmarket and over to Underbelly’s Hullabaloo, where my first show of the day took place in a circus tent like theater. Hullabaloo is a beautiful beer garden festooned with colorful lanterns, so I took a pause and had my very favorite British refreshment, a glass of Pimms, as I sat out and enjoyed the fresh air.
The rest of the day was like that, I strolled, said goodbye to the places I loved and made silent promises to come back someday. I fell thoroughly in love with Edinburgh and with Scotland. I found it every inch as romantic as Paris and almost as interesting historically and artistically. The Scotts are truly the friendliest people I’ve ever met, even friendlier in my opinion than the Irish. I met so many kind people who were genuinely open, welcoming and interested in if I was having a good time, even though I was just a tourist they were never going to see again. There is so much more of Scotland to explore, and I definitely will go back again someday. Throughout the trip I was just so overwhelmed by how amazing it was and how incredibly lucky I am to be living this life where I can travel and do so many wonderful things. I almost had to pinch myself a few times to make sure it wasn’t just a dream. But no, I was there. It seems strange to me that I’m back home again and life is going on in a strange and beautiful city I was just getting to know. What an amazing birthday gift I’ve given myself!