I have visited Edinburgh twice before. Both with the person I thought would be my life partner. Clearly, that did not work out. Our first trip was to do what was erroneously described as a “walking” tour through the Highlands. In Vermont it would have been described as a strenuous hike up mountainsides and through rough terrain…but most assuredly worth all your effort. Before meeting our walking group in Inverness, we spent some time in Edinburgh. We loved it so much that eventually we returned to Scotland with our ten year old daughter. So much of my travel to this mystical land involves sweet and gentle memories of those times infused with the magick of seeing it anew, with my own eyes, my own vision, unadulterated and unencumbered.
The breakfast room here is a bit more structured…there are assigned seats and less give and take between diners..at least until the conversation evolves about a terrorist attack in London on the previous day. Someone drove a van through pedestrians on London Bridge. The carnage: 6 dead, 48 injured. My thoughts dart back to the Canadian couple I met in York, they were headed to London. I would later discover that they were not involved in the incident. I would also answer a zillion emails from friends looking for reassurance that I was well and out of London. I am grateful for their love and concern and I take a few moments to send love and healing to all those in London.
It seems strange to be planning a holiday in times of such sadness. I remember that Tolkien, in his wisdom, wrote in his Rings Trilogy “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” This is my time, I climb the stairs to my room to pack for the day.
A chance of rain today, well, after all, I am in Scotland. I have learned in all my travels that the key to a good holiday is a good raincoat. Do not skimp on the rain gear. For this trip I have purchased a Kuhl rain jacket with attached hood. It falls to mid thigh and folds easily into one of its pockets. (I ordered it through the REI website.) It tucks easily into the bag I use for my daily activities and I make it a point to always have it with me. I also wear my fleece. The high temperature today will be 63 degrees and I will step out the door to a temperature of 52 degrees….just a wee bit chilly to this Vermonter turned Floridian! The brisk wind in my face validates my good decision.
I leave Queens Crescent for Dalkeith Road to begin the walk that will lead to Arthur’s Seat. If you search Wikipedia, you will discover that Arthur’s Seat rises 822 feet and is a “relatively easy climb.” The operative word here is “relatively.” Relative to what? I have climbed Arthur’s Seat and do not remember it as an easy climb. I remember sometimes struggling with the steps, stopping to catch my breath while my daughter trotted along some distance ahead, patiently stopping from time to time to permit her parents to catch up. But I also remember the magnificent view from the summit. I remember sitting on a rock and journaling with wonder, and I also remember the gaggle of tourists and locals who, like me, were not deterred from making it to the top. I have since learned that the path from the east, the path we took in the times past, is the easiest path, of course I now find myself approaching from the west.
I turn to something I have not experienced before… the rugged beauty of Salisbury Crags. As I walked the base of the Crags, I did gaze up at the extinct volcano that is Arthur’s Seat…did I want to climb it? The moment of decision as the path veered to the left… I saw the steep path up to the Seat to my right…a narrow path that included multiple walkers making their way up, up, up. I could not do both…the Crags beckoned me, far fewer walkers and promises of the new…I veered to the left and climbed to the top of the Crag.
I love the serene beauty of this place, the clear blue skies, the sound of birds, the smell of the air, the crispness of the moment. I etched it in my mind as it permeated my soul. I am so blessed, so very blessed. And so grateful for each step, each breath. I am living in the present tense.
Eventually my path leads me away from the Craigs, out of the Park, past the Scottish Parliament building and into the gates of the Palace of Holyrood house. I am interested in visiting the Palace, so I plunk down my 12 pounds stirling, plug in my earphones and begin the audio tour of the Palace. Needless to say, the Palace has a complicated history, and has many aspects that defy my meager attempts at description. The Palace is closed during royal visits and the private chambers on the third floor are also closed to the public, but many of the rooms on the second floor are used by the Queen to this day. I was particularly interested in the Chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots. First, because as a historical figure she fascinates me, and secondly because her chambers are located in the oldest remaining part of the Palace. I climb the steep, winding and somewhat narrow steps to the rooms where James VI of Scotland was born, and where Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio was stabbed 56 times by Scottish Lords and Mary’s jealous husband, Lord Darnley. I must confess that I was unable to see the bloodstains on the floor of the Outer Chamber which are purported to be clearly visible.
Adjacent to the Palace is the ruin of Holyrood Abby. The Abby dates back to 1125 and King David. Its name refers to the fragment of the True Cross that was brought to the Abbey by David’s mother, St. Margaret. After the the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, the English housed the fragment in Durham Cathedral. It reportedly vanished around the time of the Reformation.
I love exploring old churches, cathedrals, sacred sites, most built with pagan hands, all built on sacred land, each stone holding the memory of all that is past. Here at Holyrood Abbey I here the echoes of pagan builders, the chaos of Robert Bruce convening his Parliament, the grandeur of the coronation of James II, I see the disastrous collapse of the roof in the 18th century and yet I still feel the glorious beauty of its triumphs testifying to all that has come before…yes the stones do hold that memory and keep it sacred for us to experience.
There is a lovely cafe on the Palace grounds; The Cafe at the Park. I go through the line to order my belated lunch, then open up the pages of my journal as I sip a pint of Innis and Gunn and munch on a turkey with coleslaw sandwich on seeded rye. I turn from the decadent desserts….reluctantly, and instead opt for a cup of cappuccino before heading up the Royal Mile to the castle.
From the peaceful walk on the Crags to the jostling energy of the Royal Mile, even this early in June, the High Street is clogged with tourists and even a local or two. I am not disappointed. Cities should be vibrant and their energy palpable. I love the movement of Edinburgh. Canongate Kirk, St. Giles, John Knox House, Midlothian Heart, Mercat Cross, the sites, the shops, the restaurants and a Starbucks! The Royal Mile has it all. It is as I walk the Royal Mile that I remember my Heritage Pass. It is a 7 day pass that allows me entrance to historical sites…ummm, did not need to pay that 12 pounds for the Palace. Oh well, I have easy access to the Castle, no ticket lines for me.
Approaching the castle I remember that during one trip I saw the Royal Tatoo on these very grounds. As i enter I see that they are building a huge staging…most likely for seating during a similar event. I wander the castle visiting the Royal Apartments, and sitting briefly in St. Margaret’s Chapel. I wait patiently in line to see the Honours of Scotland and once again experience the goosebumps of seeing that jeweled crown, the sword, the scepter and then the red oblong block of red sandstone that is the Stone of Destiny. Yes the stones hold the memory and the experience is worth the wait.
I had planned to confront my fear of buses this today, so with map in hand I explore bus stops and bus routes, trying to absorb where, when and how. By the time I boarded the bus on South Bridge, I realized I had walked almost all the way back to the Appin House. Well, now I know. I am smiling as I open the door thinking how crazy it was to be so apprehensive and I am greeted by my host Jim. We chat for a time and he gives me the bus route to Rosslyn Chapel which is tomorrows destination. Bus 37 all the way…I can do that.
After choosing my breakfast time and menu for the next day, I climb the stairs to my room. My legs are telling me I logged in a few steps today and my hot shower is particularly delicious. I settle in with some notes on Rosslyn and a glass of wine. It is getting close to the Solstice and the light lingers, I do not see that waxing Gibbous Moon as I snuggle into bed, but, thank you, Goddess, how I feel Her energy.