Scotland Trip

Last-minute scrambling

Today was our last day to sightsee in the general Edinburgh area, so today was quite a bit less relaxed than the previous days had been. There were a few things that we wanted to try to see before we left, and it was a bit stressful to try to cram it all in.

Dave, Michelle, and I tried to get out earlier in the morning than we had been, and took the bus into the center of the city to eat breakfast at The Elephant House, a lovely coffee house that has the distinction of being the spot where J.K. Rowling wrote a good bit of the first Harry Potter book. (She wrote the end of the last book at the city’s fanciest hotel, the Balmoral – very telling about her change in circumstances.) Even without the Harry Potter connection, it’s great cafe – simultaneously spacious and cozy, with large tables (a good place for students to study) and an excellent view of Edinburgh Castle through the west windows.

After a quick breakfast, we went across the street to the National Museum of Scotland, which has several floors of exhibits that take the visitor through the entire history of Scotland, from pre-history to modern times. We knew we didn’t have enough time to see everything, so we focused on medieval up through Victorian times. It still wasn’t really enough time, and we felt very rushed to try to read things that we found interesting, skip things that weren’t so interesting, and see as much as we reasonably could. Although it sounds pretty linear, the truth is that each floor’s exhibits are arranged topically rather than in a timeline, so it was confusing to get the whole story of things. Their collection is quite good – from huge swords to a medieval church ceiling to a life-size mill pump and a train engine. It was worth seeing, but we should have planned to spend 3-4 hours in there instead of 1-2.

We had to rush off to try to catch a bus out to the countryside, so Michelle hailed us a cab and we barrelled down to St. Andrew’s Square, where the main bus station is located. Michelle left us to go off to work, and Dave and I then had a frustrating adventure trying to figure out what bus we were supposed to take, and when, and how to get change for our 20-pound note to buy our bus fare. It all went awry, based on bad information and unhelpful information desk workers. When the bus finally came, the bus driver wasn’t able to give us change, so we had to wait for another hour for the next bus. We were pretty grouchy, but we ducked into a sandwich place across the way, regrouped, and got change when we bought our sandwiches. We walked around a bit to kill some time, and ended up catching the bus on Princes Street.

Our ultimate destination was the Glenkinchie Distillery (which of course makes Scotch whisky), which is about 20 miles outside of the city. There are very few buses that go in that direction, the closest one being to the town of Pencaitland. We caught the 44B and rode it for over an hour, through various little towns along the Firth. It would have been a fairly pleasant ride if it weren’t for the stresses of the day, and the fact that we weren’t sure we’d make it to the Distillery in time to see anything. When we were almost to Pencaitland, Dave pointed out that we wouldn’t get to the Distillery before 3 pm, which is when we had been lead to believe they would have the last tour, because the Distillery closed at 4 pm. He asked if we were still going to try to go all the way to the Distillery!! Of course we would, after all that hassle and travel.

The bus driver told us where to get off in Pencaitland, and advised that we had quite a walk ahead of us to get to the Distillery. A woman getting off the bus with us told us that it was about 2 miles. Indeed! Two miles down a hilly, blustery, country road, not having any idea how long it would take or what we would be able to see or do once we arrived to our destination. Again, it would have been quite enjoyable under other circumstances, but we were so pressed, Dave didn’t even get a chance to take photos of the countryside.

We finally arrived at the Distillery – which was surrounded by what was basically a tiny factory village – and found the visitor’s center, and entered. We were greeted and asked what they could do for us, and we explained that we had been hoping to take a tour. They told us that there were no tours just now because this was the two-week period in the year when the distillery gets refurbished! So, we hadn’t missed the tour because there was no tour. However, there were some exhibits about the history of whisky and how it is made, and there was a tour guide on hand to give us a personal explanation of whisky and to offer us a tasting. The exhibits were well done and very informative, and the guide was a very nice older man, who was very kind in answering all of our questions. The tasting made it all worth it – not only did he give us samples of several different whiskys, but he explained a lot about where different types of Scotch whisky originate, and gave us a little map that explains which whiskys are lighter and which are stronger. Very helpful for my future Scotch buying excursions!

It was getting to be closing time, so we bought our discounted bottle of Glenkinchie whisky and got ready to leave. Our guide was kind enough to drive us into the town, since he was on his way home anyway, saving us a 2-mile walk against the wind (and slightly tipsy to tell the truth). He dropped us at a bus stop a couple of towns away from the end of the line, giving us a bit of a jump start. We got there with about 5 minutes to spare, so we didn’t even have to wait for very long.

Got back to Edinburgh and did a bit of shopping on Princes Street, then headed back to Michelle and Paul’s apartment. Paul had to go to his church to work on an Easter-weekend project, so Michelle, Dave, and I went to a nearby pub called The Bailie to have some dinner. Very tasty burgers! Then we headed out to Joppa, which is right on the Firth, and picked up Paul from the church. We were thrilled to get to see the church in which Paul and Michelle were married. We walked along the promenade on the beach for a couple of blocks to the nearby pub called the Dalriada, where we enjoyed a drink and some incidental bagpipe music. It was getting late, so we finally headed home, and got to bed perhaps a bit later than we should have.