We passed the Queen’s dry cleaners as we made out way to Holyrood Park and the big hill there. It was convenient for her, just a couple of hundred yards up from the palace gates, on a small side street. Peered in the window but didn’t see anything particularly royal-ish . She was in Edinburgh a day or so ago to break a bottle of whisky over a part-built aircraft carrier – a small mishap and that dry cleaners would have been busy.
From the open space between the royal palace and the Scottish parliament buildings Arthur’s Seat seems a long way up. It doesn’t seem much nearer after 30 minutes of largely uphill walking. No rush though, we stopped to look and listen. An unseen bird singing in the gorse led me to speculate it could be a whinchat (whin being another word for gorse), but Steve suggested that, as we couldn’t see it and didn’t know the song, it might as well be a Dartford Warbler. Another rare sighting duly noted.
Less than an hour to get to the summit and join the crowds. Fed a piece of blueberry muffin to one of the pair of crows which seemed to think we were there specifically for them.
As I stood beside the trig. post that marks the very top of the hill, and adds an extra 1.3 metres to the height, and eastern European runner drenched in sweat, proceeded to climb onto it and asked me to photograph him with his i-phone. He flung his arms out like the football venue hilltop Christ, jumped down, thanked me, and said, “Now the easy part” and set off at a run, downhill.
We found a lesser-used path downhill. In fact, until we stumbled on (and I mean that literally folks) some steps near the bottom I was convinced the path was the product of some sort of annual adventurous sheep migration. At the bottom we thought a quick look in the parliament building would be good. And it would have been, but its not possible. By the time I’d taken off my watch, shoes and belt, added them to a tray containing my jacket, shoulder bag, keys and coins, and pushed the lot under an x-ray machine, walked through one of those machines that always makes me think I will step onto another planet with a flash of CGI lightning, and then put all my clothes back on again we had spent all the time we’d planned and not seen anything not available at Gatwick airport. The big thing on show inside was a multi-panelled tapestry of Scottish history – starting with the opening of the Iapetus Ocean some 500 million years ago. This was not going to be a short history.
There were a group of panels about Picts, Celts, Scots and Irish, all of whom either lived in or took over all or part of Scotland at one time or another. This is helpfully summarised in Sellar and Yeatman’s ‘1066 and All That’, as follows:
“IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Scots (originally Irish but now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and vice versa).”
Then came the Germanic Angles. The tapestry explains:
“In the 7th and 8th centuries a Germanic people known as the Angles pushed north into the Tweed valley and Lothians. They brought an early version of English with them, which later developed into Scots. In 685AD the Angles were defeated at Forfar by Bridei, King of the Picts. This victory ensured that Scotland did not become Northern England.”
With our understanding of Scottish history thus boosted we left for a pint of Dead Pony at the Brew Dog bar on Cowgate. Thus revived we headed west for the Waters of Leith, a river set in a deep valley, with a big weir which once powered 11 mills. One mill remains, and has been converted to flats.
Nearby is a stern warning, set on what was probably the house of a rich mill owner, so he’d be alright then.
We saw a heron and some diving ducks before hearing an unlikely sound in Scotland – leather on willow – and a call of ‘Howzat?’ We decided to find the source of this sound – perhaps they play in tartan? But no, just whites. The map revealed there is an Academy of Cricket here – England giving the rudiments of a sporting culture to our Scottish cousins? Or perhaps a post-Independence Scottish plan to enter the Commonwealth and beat England at our own game?
After a late lunch at the Botanic Garden we made our way to Rose Street and the Abbotsford bar where we sampled a few halves delivered by the rapidly disappearing air pump system. According to a barman we met, this style of pump cannot be fitted under present regulations, and it is hard to get them repaired. Fyne Ale’s Hurricane Jack, Cromarty’s Ghost Town (a mysteriously malty porter) and a very hoppy Tempest Brewery’s Infidale.
After dinner in a New Town bistro we stopped for a wee dram in a bar, and watched Holland pound the goalmouth of Costa Rica without scoring. We left as extra time was announced.