THE FLIGHT –
Thankfully, the flight (on Delta Airlines) wasn’t fully booked, and so, as soon as the door was closed, we were able to spread out a bit in the seats – a nice blessing when you’re on a 6 hour flight in Coach/Economy!
Then, even before taxiing out to the flight-line for takeoff, we had a bagpipe performance from a fellow passenger…(check out the slightly cruddy cellphone video from the back of the plane here! )…talk about setting the mood!!
Took the tram, right outside the airport doors, into the city. Purchased 2 ‘open-return’ tickets for £8.50 each (£17 total) so that we don’t have to worry about getting back to the airport at the end of our stay. The tram is smooth, runs very regularly, and is a very efficient means of travelling between the airport and the city center. Also – it’s easy to figure out the machines & which ticket to purchase.
After reaching the City Center, we endured a short, demoralizing, and very wet walk in the rain to our accommodations – the Fountain Court Apartments – Stewart, on Young St., where we were able to dry out a little bit, have a cuppa, and then a much-needed nap for an hour or two.
After the short rest, we decided on a quick walk – to get our bearings dialled in and to find some provisions for the room.
We satisfied our immediate grocery needs in Marks & Spencer, where we sat & had a decent, quick lunch in their cafe.
We found the John Lewis store – which is a particular favourite when we visit London, but this one is nothing like its Oxford St. counterpart. Quite disappointing & small & no food court & no expansive liquor department. Thank God we’re going back to London next summer!
We got a few more supplies, including our staple basics – Bombay Sapphire Gin & Fever Tree tonic water – in a nearby Tesco Express just off Princes Street.
On our way back to our digs, we stopped to enjoy a couple of the outdoor performances near the National Gallery, that were part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – a comedic escape artist (very good and very entertaining) and a guy from New York doing amazing Globetrotter-like tricks with basketballs. We sat & had drinks at the nearby Edinburgh Gin cocktail stand and recharged a little before continuing on back to our room.
Once home we self-medicated (more Gin & Tonics!), then turned in for the night, after setting early alarms for the following morning for our first excursion into Scotland proper…
So…it’s up, nice and early, to be at Rabbie’s Cafe Bar, on Waterloo Place, for an 8:15am start. This is easy, since we had a good nights rest AND we set multiple alarms on our phones!
We get to Rabbie’s to find it is crowded inside, with another small crowd outside. There is no chaos, though, only calm – as the very capable representatives, armed with waterproofed tablets, are checking everybody in and smoothly whisking away those groups whose tour is about to depart. We were soon escorted to our bus – a comfy-enough 16-seat Mercedes minivan, where we met our driver, Richard, who was both knowledgeable &, friendly.
Our first stop was Jedburgh Abbey – built over the course of some 70 yrs, in the 1100’s. This was a thoroughly impressive step back in time and a great start to our day. The remains of this Abbey are almost as awesome today as the complete building must have been back in its day.
From here, we next had to cross the border into England for the next stop on our trip – a crossing that was complicated by a severe enough traffic accident that police were turning everybody back or towards an alternate route. So we got to see more of the Borderlands than was planned, but it was cool.
Eventually, we crossed over into Northumberland, and arrived at Vindolanda – an excavated Roman fort and village, which was very fascinating and open to stroll around and through the remaining foundations of actual Roman buildings.
After a quick lunch on-site, we travelled on a short distance to Steel Rigg Car Park, which is where you go to most easily explore a well-preserved section of Hadrian’s Wall, which was built by the Romans over the course of about 6 yrs between AD 122 & AD 128, and stretched for 73 miles from coast to coast across northern Britain. As with Vindolanda, Gabby was struck by the sheer, real history that she could actually lay hands on, right in front of her.
After spending some time at Hadrian’s Wall, it was back on the bus and off to the tiny burgh of Moffatt – a quaint, historic sheep-farming town. Here we got ice cream (Vanilla is the ONLY correct choice of flavours!), wandered around a little, took a few photos, and bought a few souvenirs…before the final trip back up to Edinburgh.
This was Rabbie’s Hadrian’s Wall, Roman Britain & the Scottish Borders Tour and it was a really nice introduction to the history and geography of the Borderlands and Northern England region.
A pleasant dinner, consisting of items purchased at Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall, and cooked in the kitchen area of our Fountain Court apartment, rounded out a good day.
At noon, we had our Gin Making Tour at Edinburgh Gin distillery. This is one of our planned events that we were really excited about.
By day, it is Edinburgh Gin Distillery, but at night, the very same premises becomes Heads and Tales – a chic little underground bar.
It has been described as “a gin den”, in some reviews, and that’s pretty accurate. Entry to the distillery/bar is down a flight of steps, where you enter what I would call cosy, comfortable catacombs. Purple neon is the dominant lighting scheme, and it’s altogether kind of cool.
After a welcoming G&T in the lounge area, we’re off with our Distiller/Guide; Allan.
Allan gave us tastes of the distillery’s product range, and then showed us what looked like about 30 jars containing many different flavour-influencing items – seeds, leaves, herbs, spices, peppers, powders – and after a discussion (and taste/smell/feel !!) of the effects of each and every one of them, we each chose 6 that we thought would yield a specific flavour-profile in our individual gin creations. We added the advised amounts to the base liquid and set it to percolate for an hour. During this time, we joined a regular tour group to learn the history of gin and its evolution into the drink we enjoy today.
After the enjoyable history lesson and a close-up look at the 2 working copper stills – Flora & Caledonia – we returned to finish up our own gin creations. We decanted our distillates into 70cl. bottles, came up with names, applied the freshly-printed labels, corked and customs-sealed the bottles. Then we enjoyed whatever leftovers there were that didn’t fit in the bottles along with some very relaxed(!) conversation. But, except for a quick stop in the gift shop by the entrance/exit, this was the end of the experience, and it was a fascinating and very unique thing that we enjoyed doing and learnt a lot from.
…and thus endeth the first installment of our trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.