I am feeling so grateful that we were able to meet our friends in Northumberland before the local lockdowns started again. It’s certainly a difficult time to make plans, and we were lucky with the timing of our trip, we were able to meet them, and didn’t have to quarantine on our return.
Anyway, after taking in a section of Hadrian’s wall, we set off for Scotland. When you see warning signs about sheep on the road in Scotland you have to believe them!
We’d tried to book for the tour of Traquair House when booking the rest of the trip, but unfortunately it was already fully booked. The house dates at its earliest from 1107, and has had the same family living in it since 1491. Alex was keen to visit not just for the history, but also for the beer. Brewing at Traquair originally took place in the kitchens of the house but in the early 1700’s the present brewery was established in one of the new wings built in 1694. During the eighteenth century most large country houses would have had a brewery. We strolled in the grounds, visited some of the craft workshops, and bought some of that beer. I’m still disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of this stunning house.
We headed to Edinburgh where we stayed in the West End part of the city at the Bonham Hotel. City parking can be challenging, but the Bonham has its own car park to the rear of the hotel costing £15 per 24 hours. The hotel was originally three separate townhouses built in 1872, and as well as private residences has been a maternity hospital, university accommodation, and is now this rather lovely boutique hotel.
Being English we couldn’t wait to have a cup of tea when we got to our lovely room overlooking the gardens. We got a great insight into the hotels ethos when I realised that we were missing a teacup. I phoned to request an additional cup; received an apology, and then the service went beyond what was required – we were sent a waiter with a pot of tea and homemade biscuits.
Before heading off to dinner we enjoyed a drink in the rather lovely bar. This had just the right balance of chic and comfort.
We then experienced the second great service of the day and the only hiccup of the whole trip. Due to a booking glitch, the restaurant I’d booked had received it for the wrong day and was unable to accommodate us. The owner was wonderful and got on the phone to book somewhere else for us – at one point he was on both the landline and his mobile! So we ended up at the Kyloe. The name comes from the old Scots for beef cattle, and all the meat is from pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle. I’m not usually a big eater of red meat, but when in a steakhouse what else are you going to do?! We shared a sirloin on the bone. In all honesty I have to say that this was the best steak I have ever eaten – you really could have cut this with a spoon.
We returned to the Bonham for a nightcap; our first single malt of the trip from their special collection. After a great night’s sleep I thoroughly enjoyed a very generous portion of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast, and Alex a full Scottish. This was served in the restaurant area, a light room, full of art works.
We then set out to explore the city. We only stayed the one night in Edinburgh, so used this as an opportunity to get a feel for the city and the things that we will visit in greater depth when we return in December. You can’t miss Edinburgh Castle which seems to loom over the City, it houses Scotland’s Crown jewels (hidden in a medieval midden in WW2), as with most attractions booking is essential.
We walked up Calton Hill, where you get the most fantastic views of the city, with Princes Street, the castle, and the Old Town with Arthur’s Seat looming in the background. You can also see the Palace of Holyrood House below.
To the east and north you can see the Firth of Forth and the docks at Leith. At the foot of the hill stands the 13th-century Royal High School, where Sir Walter Scott was once a pupil.
Perhaps the most important of Edinburgh's many memorials is the impressive National Monument on Calton Hill, erected to remember the dead from the Napoleonic Wars. Nelson's Monument was unveiled in 1816 after Horatio Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and is supposed to resemble his unturned telescope.
From here we walked past New Calton graveyard complete with a watch to prevent body-snatchers. A very real fear for the families of the deceased in the days of Burke and Hare. We passed the new Scottish Assembly building and Holyrood Palace, before walking back up the Royal Mile taking in the shops and the quaint narrow alleyways leading off it.
Our morning walk gave us a good idea of what we want to do when we have 3 days to spend here in December.
We needed to leave to head to Fort Augustus on Loch Ness where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. We stopped for an un-booked late lunch besides the beautiful River Tay at The Taybank pub in Dunveld. It was a beautiful day and we sat right by the river in the newly re-opened beer garden. Besides taking contact details and ensuring distancing the only concession to Covid was that everything came in disposable packaging, the food was great quality; pigeon for Alex and smoked trout for me. I volunteered for the next leg of the drive, so Alex was able to enjoy a local craft beer.
Please join us again for Loch Ness and Harry Potter steam train in part 3.