The brisk cold wind danced upon my face, bringing with it little snowflakes that settled on my oversized coat. My eyes were lit upon the sparkles of the early morning frost that froze in time the splendour of the architectural gem of a city laid before me. My gloved hands gripped the cup of tea, its steam whirling away to the green hills into the distance. As my dry lips found the warmth of the beverage, I couldn’t help thinking that Edinburgh in the throes of deep winter would prove to be one of the best UK destinations to visit at this time of year.
I had just stepped off a delightful overnight train journey with the Caledonian Sleeper from London and I was pretty excited to have a long weekend in the capital of Scotland. The sight of Edinburgh Castle in the distance towered over the city serenely, protecting the Celtic inhabitants who were yet to still awake.
First of all, to immerse myself in the local way of life, I had to conceal my English roots by buying a tartan hat. I positively screamed Scottish. With my dark hair and dark eyes, surely I could pass as a William Wallace wannabe? My first test came when I found myself on the Royal Mile, a long street running from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official Scottish residence.
Turning into a homely cafe, I pulled out a wad of Scottish banknotes and tried ordering a Banana Cake in my best Scottish accent, inspired by Billy Connelly. Needless to say, it didn’t go down very well.
Edinburgh woke up gracefully as I observed from my window seat, the locals on their way to work with a smile on their face. The sky was crisp blue and the weather was good enough to take a Sandeman New Europe Walking Tour of the city. Meeting in the middle of the Royal Mile, you can’t miss the crowd of underdressed visitors, some perhaps with their kilts on backwards. To my surprise, I was the only English person in the group but upon questioning my name by the tour guide, I skilfully replied, ‘Angus MacBeth.’
Starting off with a brief and hilarious history of Scotland, I really enjoyed this three hour long walking tour. So much so, it still ranks as the best out of the 57 I’ve done around the world. Undertaking an epic tour full of the architectural delights that looked like something out of Harry Potter (yes, we even saw the cafe where J.K Rowling wrote her books), you will be astounded as you observe St Giles Cathedral, the Flodden Wall, the old brothels of Old Town Edinburgh and pretty much anything you see in the skyline. We also delved into the quirky customs and traditions of the Scottish life here. You are encouraged to spit on the ‘Heart of the Midlothian’ to gain good luck before weeping at the tale of Bobby the dog who captured the hearts of Edinburgh’s residents. The gruesome and gory history is also played out through the gristly storytelling of the infamous Burke and Hare bodysnatchers and Half Hangit Maggie and you are led in the dark snooks side streets for dramatic effect.
Finishing up the wonderful tour with a warming Haggis lunch, I immediately latched on to the next Scottish attraction – The Scottish Whiskey Experience. How can you not?
Edinburgh Castle was next as I walked through the portcullis and the ancient castle walls. Standing on Castle Rock, it’s the perfect vantage point to view the city, but the real attractions are within. Hosting the Scottish Crown Jewels, you can find out more of Scottish history in its grandiose Great Hall and the barracks that may be haunted by the ghosts of angry prisoners. Don’t forget to sample the delicious scones at the top of Crown Square but before you do that, pay homage to Shannon the Cannon. At exactly 1pm every day upon Edinburgh Castle since 1861, the Shannon Cannon is fired to help ships moored in the River Forth set their clocks. Good job it’s not used as an alarm clock!
Finally, to get the best view of a wintry sunset, I would heartily recommend scaling the top of Edinburgh’s extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat. It’s actually within the city of Edinburgh in Holyrood Park. Armed with a Scottish fizzy drink, Iron Bru, the hill is relatively easy to climb that can offer wide ranging breathtaking panoramic views of the city and its white harbour cliffs in the distance.
Lochs, moorland and outdoor pursuits can be found here but the true magical feeling you will receive will be at the summit. At 250m high, it’s the perfect vantage point to sit back against the beacon and marvel at the wonderful day you had in this historic city as you watch the sun lazily set; the air punctuated with the sound of bagpipes ringing away from the Sword Dance. What a wee day!
*This article first appeared in the December Edition of The Journal (East Yorkshire)
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