Wednesday – a clear morning and the sun shining! Energised by the blue sky and a quick breakfast, my first stop today was Edinburgh Castle, my walk this time taking me round the south side of the crag and onto the esplanade – crowded with couples and groups taking the required selfies in front of the imposing structure, the ubiquitous selfie stick very much in evidence. I decided to forgo the audio guide this time, letting interest take me around the buildings, artillery batteries, museum displays and viewpoints, conversing with the staff on duty about the history, people and stories of the place. Tiny St Margaret’s Chapel was a highlight, the oldest stone structure on the site, still maintained by volunteers and used for small weddings and services, the stained-glass windows added in the 1920s somehow adding to the beauty and peace of the space. Peaceful that is until disturbed by a group of foreign students following the audio tour who briefly filled the small room with chatter and then just as quickly departed, clearly not as struck with wonder as I was. Oh well, it takes all sorts.
The exhibition of the Honours of the Scotland (their Crown Jewels) was thoroughly fascinating and well laid out, the story of Scottish kinghood displayed in murals round the walls, key dates explained, the honours hidden upon the Act of Union with England, and then their rediscovery a century later, to the present day and the continuing use of the Stone of Destiny in British royal coronations. The Honours themselves are displayed in the final room and are as beautiful as they had been described throughout, medieval metalwork and craftsmanship really was incredible.
Another highlight at the castle was the Scottish National War Memorial – a cathedral-like building near the top of the castle site, which I discovered was built during the 1920s but uses the shell of a much older building so that from the outside it fits comfortably among its centuries-old neighbours. Again, no photos inside, but it truly was the most beautiful space. High vaulted ceilings, stunning stained-glass windows depicting and commemorating the various regiments and services that have defended Scotland in war, carved memorials and lists of the names of service men and women who have lost their lives in conflicts from World War I to the present day.
I treated myself to lunch in the restaurant and sat enjoying one of the innumerable vistas of Edinburgh before joining the crowd outside to witness the 1o’clock gun which is fired every day to mark the correct time. This is quite the ceremony with a uniformed officer taking his place to load and prepare the gun, and a sense of anticipation as we watched him check his clock to count down to exactly 1pm. Despite knowing (more or less) what was coming, the gun firing made everyone jump and I doubt anyone managed to get a steady photograph of the moment. I more felt than heard the shot, and then after a few seconds the scent of the gunpowder drifted over as the smoke was carried on a light breeze.
My next stop was the Royal Mile Tartan Weaving Mill experience where in the basement floor of a huge warehouse building you can watch the weavers at work at their machines creating the varied patterns of this quintessential cloth. If ever there was the perfect advertisement for the infinite possibilities of colour combination, surely it is tartan. Having no Scottish heritage that I know of, I couldn’t choose a clan tartan to bring back south with me, so instead I picked the World Peace Tartan, a design registered only a few years ago but whose message of interconnectedness, diversity and harmony in the face of war and violence is presented in its colours of blue, purple and green (for the Scottish thistle), black and red, and white for the light of hope. As well as a wonderfully warm lambswool shawl I was lucky enough to find a pack of small cut pieces of the woven cloth in a ‘remnants for sale’ basket that I've started to make into decorative hanging hearts - you can find the first batch for sale in my Etsy shop.
The afternoon took me briefly to St Giles’ Cathedral for a quiet walk around inside (paying a small donation so I could take a few photos), and then heading out towards the east of the city and a small local yarn shop I’d found online. Ginger Twist Studios on London Road is a lovely little Aladdin’s cave of gorgeous hand-dyed yarns in all weights and colours, and for a knitter like me it really was like being a kid in a sweetshop! After much deliberation and helpful, friendly advice I came away with a skein each of blue-purple aran and orange-yellow double knitting – no idea what I’m going to make with them yet but I’m sure inspiration will strike.
As the day had stayed bright and clear, with even some warmth in the sunshine, I ended my afternoon by heading back up to Calton Hill to join the crowd of sunset seekers taking photos, and this time was rewarded with a spectacular show, the city silhouetted by the fiery sky, and the fresh evening air gratefully filling my lungs (I’m clearly out of practice with this hill walking malarkey). Dinner tonight was a simple but infinitely satisfying ham and cheese toastie followed by a slice of chocolate cake in the café of M&S – sometimes you just need something familiar and comforting. Dragging my weary body back to the hotel, I was glad of a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.