Category: Scotland

Elegant Edinburgh’s wow factor

First impressions are important.

For example, we‘ll never forget our first flight into London. The plane seemed to snake along the River Thames as it wound through the English capital.

It’s a similar story when your first glimpse the romantic bridges of Florence; the water wonderland that is Sydney harbour; the towers of Rome and Paris reaching up at you; the multi-deck roadways of Los Angeles; and the Mediterranean coastline into Barcelona.

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Edinburgh castle photo courtesy: Kim Traynon Wikimedia Commons

But, for sheer WOW factor, it’s hard to beat the approaches to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.

Before our first visit to Scotland, we were advised that Edinburgh was one of the world’s most beautiful destinations, well worth spending a few days exploring. It proved to be sound advice indeed.

We fell in love with this remarkable city on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. And first impressions got us off to a great start.

For example, the iconic Forth Bridge, about 14 kilometres from the centre of Edinburgh, provides a jaw-dropping welcome to the city.

A symbol of Scotland instantly recognisable around the globe, the cantilever railway bridge spans the Forth between the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry. Opened in 1890 at 2,467 metres, it was the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world until 1917. And, it is truly a sight to behold.

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However, as the visitor to Edinburgh quickly discovers, this wonderful structure is only part of a collection of architecture that is the envy of many of the world’s biggest cities.

At almost every turn in the Scottish capital are buildings and architectural styles that you cannot help but stop and admire.

Naturally, the centrepiece is Edinburgh Castle, which literally looms up from the centre of the city atop the volcanic Castle Rock .

The oldest wing of this striking fortress was built in the 12th Century and some of the city virtually stands in the shadow of the castle.

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Other wonderful buildings in Edinburgh include the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.

The palace is as grand as it is large and is surrounded by landscaped gardens. Highlights include impressive ornamental iron gates; towers that flank the central block; and its infamous resident ghost, Bald Agnes, who is said to roam the apartments.

Another eye-catcher is the gothic St. Giles Cathedral, which is situated on the historic Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. The current building dates to the 14th Century after the original burnt down in a fire in 1385.

The modernist Scottish Parliament buildings; Edinburgh University; the Scottish National Gallery and George Heriot’s School are other outstanding buildings in Edinburgh.

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We love Calton Hill, yet another high point in Edinburgh which is also set right in the city centre. The hill is unmistakable with its Athenian acropolis poking above the skyline.

The acropolis is in fact an unfinished monument – originally called the ‘National Monument’.

Initiated in 1816, a year after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, it was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, as a memorial to those who had died in the Napoleonic Wars.

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Another more unusual but popular Edinburgh destination is the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who became known in the 19th-century for supposedly spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died himself on 14 January 1872.

The Royal Botanic Garden is a another landmark Edinburgh site, that specialises in the study of plants, their diversity and conservation.

Originally founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants, the garden’s collection consists of more than 13,302 plant species, whilst the herbarium contains in excess of three million preserved specimens.

Visitors to Edinburgh should take a stroll to the city’s Old Town, where much of the medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings have been preserved.

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The “Royal Mile” is a name coined in the early 20th-century for the main artery of the Old Town which runs downhill from Edinburgh Castle to both Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey.

Narrow closes (alleyways) – often no more than a few feet wide – lead steeply downhill to both north and south of the main spine which runs west to east.

Notable buildings in the Old Town include St. Giles’ Cathedral; the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland; the National Museum of Scotland; the Old College of the University of Edinburgh; and the Scottish Parliament Building.

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The area has a number of underground vaults and hidden passages that are relics of previous phases of construction.

With all this – and a lot more – we readily understand why readers of the popular travel publication, Rough Guide, have named Edinburgh the fourth most beautiful city in the world for the past two years.

This year, the city was beaten only by Rome, Florence and Paris.

Announcing the fourth placing, Rough Guide said visitors who scale the ridges around Scotland’s capital never question “why it’s been voted the fourth most beautiful city in the world.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Go up and take a look!

For Edinburgh accommodation, we suggest a check of Trip Advisor or Airbnb

Watch Memorable Destination for more on stunning Scotland.

Photos of Forth Bridge, St Gile’s Cathedral and Royal Botanic Garden herbarium are © 2013 Edinburgh-Scotland.net. See here.

 

Scotland fine-tunes your senses

Scotland has always been close to our hearts; but more because of its subtleties than its well documented tourist trails.

Who could possibly forget the softness of rain, the intensity of changing light, the swirl of mist and the constantly altering scenery of the Scottish highlands?

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The clean air remains in the memory as long as the unforgettably smooth taste of fine Scottish whiskey.

It gives you an urge to breathe deep: to suck in and retain as much of the crisp atmosphere as possible.

We had been in Glasgow, a fine city where stately art galleries and museums rub shoulders with lively eating and drinking places and where – like much of Scotland – it can be difficult to separate past and present images.

The silent glory of Loch Lomond

Highland-bound, we found  that green countryside, criss-crossed by streams and rivers, was upon us while the city could still be seen in the vehicle’s rear-view mirror.

Picturesque towns came and went:  Dumbarton, Alexandria and Helensburgh – before the splendour of Loch Lomond opened before us like a picture-postcard.

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And what a scene it was!  Barely a ripple disturbed the mirror-like surface of the famous waterway, as we picnicked by the bonny, bonny banks.

By now, the compact variety of Scotland was obvious.

Lowlands were gone; replaced by an amalgam of moors and snow-topped mountains.

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Cliffs towered above the roads as we passed Tyndrum and Glen Coe; the latter, of course, made infamous by the MacDonald massacre of 1692.

How could we forget?

And, to this day, the final few miles into Fort William, late in the afternoon, is imprinted on our memories.

Ahead of us lay the simple beauty of Loch Linnhe and Scotland’s west coast, where water and sky merged in what seemed to be complete stillness.

Behind stood the western end of the shadowy Grampian Mountains and their host of springs, streams, waterfalls and rock columns.

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If you haven’t enjoyed this sight, I suggest it be added to the Bucket List. It is natural scenery at its most breath-taking.

Refuges from the everyday

Our rambling then took us further into the highlands, stopping at the village of Newtonmore, where much of the television series ‘Monarch of the Glen’ was set.

Experiencing the gentle friendliness of local residents convinced us that highland life was truly at one with the incredible natural environment that revealed more of itself every day.

Highland  body clocks run slower than ours and are seldom wound as tight.

As we walked village streets and obligatory golf courses, stress was replaced by a sense of serenity.

Nature’s refuges from the workaday world were all around.

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Alas, for us, there were still deadlines – and, reluctantly, we left the highlands behind and headed for St Andrews and the elegant city of Edinburgh.

Wonder and appreciation

In our journey, we had travelled from seashore to highland;  across rivers; through forests; beneath mountain ranges; past lochs; and into cosmopolitan and entertaining cities.

The over-riding impression had been one of wonder and deep appreciation of this unique country of many landscapes and remarkable natural environment.

Letting go and trusting our senses

As in no other travels, Scotland had been a case of trusting our senses.

Walking down highland roads, inhaling the Scottish atmosphere, tasting the food, listening to the music and feeling against our skin, the soft resilience of the famous local wool, had been sensual in the true meaning of the word.

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We left the country marvelling at the Scottish environment, convinced that this was squarely behind Scotland’s reputation for producing the very best natural products.

There’s a popular Scottish tune that suggests that when the Garden of Eden was put on earth, it was “north of the Tweed”.

We’re firm believers – and plan to return to this Eden.

Photo attribution:

“Amazing loch lomond” by Abubakr Hussain – Digital Camera. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amazing_loch_lomond.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Amazing_loch_lomond.JPG