Kilts, haggis, bagpipes, architecture and more charms in Edinburgh

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When our oldest granddaughter decided to study for a college semester in Edinburgh, she asked my husband Fred and me to visit her and experience the life and culture of the city.

After our return home at the beginning of this week, we realized that we are changed forever, a common result of travel to another country.

To our delight, we had sunny days all week, no rain and mist that we had expected in Scotland this time of the year. We were thankful, however, that we had packed scarves, gloves, heavy coats and comfortable walking shoes for the cold and wind and the uphill walking on cobblestone and brick streets in much of the city.

All our experiences in Edinburgh would cover many pages. This space will tell about some of the most unusual and famous characteristics of the city.

On our first full day in Scotland, we traveled by train and bus to visit the Old Course at St. Andrews, thought to be the oldest golf course in the world, dating from the early 15th century. Although Fred is a golfer, he did not play golf, but we did have fish and chips at the Jigger Inn and took pictures of each other on the bridge on the 18th fairway. Seeing the Old Course at St. Andrews in a golfer’s dream.

Our accommodations were one block from the Royal Mile, which starts down at Holyrood Castle where Queen Elizabeth II resides and has her garden parties when she visits Edinburgh each year and performs her duties as queen, all the way uphill, about one mile, to Edinburgh Castle, which looks over the city. Historians believe the Edinburgh Castle dates from the 12th century.

The Royal Mile is the busiest street in the Old Town and an exciting place for tourists. The amazing architecture was constructed centuries ago, and shops, churches, restaurants, museums and so many other attractions, so charming and so inviting, line the street. Walking down the Royal Mile is easy, but walking up is strenuous at best.

All along the way, tourists encounter kilt-wearing bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace,” “Auld Lang Syne” and other familiar tunes that make you want to sing along. There is nothing quite like seeing a bagpiper in full, traditional Scottish regalia.

Old Town dates from the 12th century, while New Town was started in the 1760s and is the result of urban planning. The “new” in New Town seems old to most of us in the United States.

Edinburgh is situated across valleys; therefore, the city has numerous bridges under which there is no water, but streets and buildings. Buildings are located on the bridges. Our hotel was located on North Bridge, which provides a spectacular view of the city all the way to the Firth of Fourth, an estuary that links the city to the North Sea.

On our city bus tour we saw the Scottish Parliament, a modern building that looks out of place among the examples of old architecture; we saw Queen Mary’s Bath House, where she went for her two baths a year, as the story goes; we saw the memorial to Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier that became beloved and famous for guarding his master’s grave for 14 years; we saw memorials to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, John Knox, David Hume, St. Andrew and other memorials to famous people associated with Scotland. All memorials were in prominent places and in good condition.

Our tour guide pointed out several of the “closes” in Edinburgh, the narrow alleyways along the Royal Mile in Old Town that lead to the north and south of the city. More than 100 of these alleyways were called “closes” because they were closed at night for security. Each “close” is named for a person or place.

We also learned of the importance of education in Edinburgh. We saw the University of Edinburgh, which was founded in 1582 and is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and has five main campuses.

The Royal Botanic Garden, a magical display of flora and landscape, was one of the last tours on our trip. Daffodils were still in bloom and gave us a taste of spring, although the air was cold and the wind was brisk. The expansive, manicured lawns and gardens are a sight to behold and a must for visiting Edinburgh.

We constantly heard about haggis, a favorite dish in Scotland that is made of the internal organs of sheep, along with onions and spices and other ingredients, and cooked in the animal’s stomach. We were told that if you go to Scotland, you must try haggis. Being good sports, we did.

Although we did not have the time to experience everything that Edinburgh had to offer, we came away with a good feeling about the culture and people.

We did tour the city on a bus and see many of the famous buildings and memorials; we did see lots of kilts and hear Scottish music played on bagpipes; we did walk through St. Giles Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh; we did enjoy walking through the National Scottish Gallery with its fine collection of art; we did purchase one item of clothing made of Harris tweed; we did try haggis; we did walk the Royal Mile and take pictures of the spectacular view of the city from Edinburgh castle; we did develop an appreciation for the architecture, art and education in Edinburgh; and we did have afternoon tea every day.

The best thing about the trip was seeing our granddaughter and having her show us around town.

Next week’s column will focus on some of the writers associated with Edinburgh.

In the meantime, look up some of the sights of Edinburgh. You will be amazed.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life. Email her at srbhight8@gmail.com.