We know what you’re thinking.
3 days spent in the very capital of Scotland already, and not a word about kilts, haggis, castles, tartan, or Loch Ness, right?
(If you missed it, or just need a recap, you can jump over to Part 1, here.)
Well, it’s not like we weren’t seeing any of those things (except Loch Ness – that unfortunately wasn’t in our itinerary for this trip). Actually, we were literally around the corner from Edinburgh Castle, bagpipe players (VIDEO) (usually wearing kilts) were out in force, performing for tourist donations in the streets, and we DID eat haggis, which wasn’t the terrifying experience that Gabby thought it might be!
So – in August, the population of Edinburgh effectively doubles. This is due to several festivals/events that all take place over the whole month of August – you got things like: Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as a few other happenings – all in the SAME month!
If you take into account the slightly milder summer weather (it still rains, though!) and all these things going on, you can understand how Princes Street, the Royal Mile, and most of the rest of the capital can get quite busy during August…
Anywho, here’s some more of what we did next during OUR Edinburgh vacation…(if you somehow missed it, the first part of our trip is detailed here – meanwhile, read on to see what we did next….
The only thing we had scheduled for this day of the trip was an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in the evening.
But what to do with the day? Well, there’s a fantastic museum we want to visit, preceded by a walk along Princes Street, over to the Royal Mile and a couple of shops near the castle.
The National Museum Of Scotland is FREE – as are a lot of museums in the UK. The day we visited, one of the feature exhibitions was ‘Fashion’, which piqued Gabby’s curiosity and featured designs through the ages, right up to the current time.
Regular exhibits showcased prehistoric through recent times in Scotland, and were very interesting indeed. The taxidermy specimens (stuffed animal displays) are scarily realistic and not in the typical ‘diorama’ type setting, behind glass. These animals are posed in open scene setups, where you feel like you could just reach out and touch them – although you really shouldn’t!
From Roman artifacts to Viking exhibits, from Egyptian statues to dinosaur skeletons, from the Industrial Revolution to the Space Program – this museum truly has it all!!
The museum also features 2 cafés with quite delicious food. We enjoyed a lunchtime meal in the balcony café on the second floor, in the large central hall/atrium area. And, although it no longer especially concerns us, as ours are grown up now, we were pleased to note the high number and quality of interactive displays and learning areas geared towards children – this is essential to make history relatable to young minds.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time spent in this wonderful museum.
Back to the hotel to drop off purchases & freshen up a little, then a short walk over to Charlotte Square to attend a talk/interview with one of Ken’s all-time favourite authors at the Edinburgh Book Festival: Ian Rankin, who is the author of the John Rebus book series, which has been adapted for TV (it’s on Hulu, if you’re interested in gritty crime shows, or just want to see more of Edinburgh & its environs) and, more recently, as a stage production, which is getting good reviews.
Ian Rankin is a relaxed and entertaining speaker, and held the audience’s attention for the entirety of the session. He spoke of his early days, his influences, his interests, his creative processes, and much more. Shown here is a photo of Ian Rankin that Ken took in Brooklyn, New York when he met him at a previous book-signing event, a few years before:
It adds a certain other dimension and familiarity to reading the books of any author, when you hear insights and anecdotes from the authors themselves. This author is so much in tune with his readership that when Ken tweeted about having gone to see him, he replied to the tweet with a ‘Thumbs Up’, in very quick fashion!
We left the Book Fair and went to eat at The Cambridge Bar, which was at the other end of the block that our hotel was on, and then the only thing left was – bed!
This was a nicely scheduled day – The Outlander Adventure Tour via Rabbie’s, followed by a leisurely evening meal at Mussel Inn, on Rose Street, in the New Town, then off to see Val McDermid being interviewed at the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Early start at Rabbie’s Café – sausage sandwiches & tea before getting on our tour bus at 9:15am for The Outlander Adventure Tour.
For those with no clue (like Ken!!); Outlander is a TV series, popular mostly with the ladies. Here is a very brief synopsis from IMDB: “… After serving as a British Army nurse in World War II, Claire Randall is enjoying a second honeymoon in Scotland with husband Frank, an MI6 officer looking forward to a new career as an Oxford historian. Suddenly, Claire is transported to 1743 and into a mysterious world where her freedom and life are threatened. To survive, she marries Jamie Fraser, a strapping Scots warrior with a complicated past and a disarming sense of humour. A passionate relationship ensues, and Claire is caught between two vastly different men in two inharmonious lives. `Outlander’ is adapted from the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon.”
So, there is lots of intrigue, romance, historical events, witchcraft, time-travel, castles, swordplay, and probably even more romance…
This tour visits some of the most well-known locales used in the filming of the series, and therefore includes a rich mix of castles, stately homes, etc.
If memory serves, our driver & guide was Amy (Amie?) – an enthusiastic & very knowledgeable young lady. The tour was – like many of Rabbie’s trips – a whole day out, which gave us ample time to visit many locations, which included:
1. Our first stop – the 17th/18th century village of Culross, which is ‘Cranesmuir’ in Outlander. This is where Claire’s herb garden is located. The houses & other buildings of the village were very, very picturesque…
2. After going past Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, we arrived at the 13th century Doune Castle, which is Castle Leoch in Outlander, and was also heavily featured in the 1974 film, ‘Monty Python And The Holy Grail’, and also, more recently, the new Netflix film, ‘The Outlaw King’. The versatility of Doune Castle, to essentially become ANY castle on film, was quite fortuitous, because while Gabby is a huge Outlander fan, Ken is most definitely not. BUT, he IS a fan of Monty Python, so this particular castle held relevance for the both of us – just for very different reasons!
Incidentally, we recently watched ‘The Outlaw King’ on Netflix, and were instantly able to recognize several different locations that we’d been to – including Linlithgow Palace, Doune Castle, Sterling Castle, and Blackness Castle. This definitely heightened our sense of connection not only with the film (which is pretty good), but also with the actual real history of the sites themselves.
3. Next, we went to Linlithgow Palace, built in the 14th century and most famous for being the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. In Outlander, the palace remains are repurposed to represent Wentworth Prison on the show, where Jamie has some baaaaaaad things happen to him at the hand of Captain Randall…
Luckily, the the sets are all dismantled & taken away, because with all the creepy stuff that happens to Jamie, there might’ve been more than a few emotionally traumatized ladies getting back on the bus…
Anyway, this was also our lunch stop, and so we enjoyed a nice meal at an establishment near the main gates, before getting back pon de bus. We really didn’t have enough time available to explore the palace, eat lunch, AND be able to explore the town to the extent we might’ve desired. Maybe next time!
4. Short hop from Linlithgow over to Blackness Castle (which has to be THE best name for a medieval castle, EVER!!!)
This 15th century castle is known as “ the ship that never sailed”, because of its resemblance to a giant stone boat. This castle features as Fort William on Outlander. The courtyard, in particular, is recognizable to fans of the show, because apparently, Jamie caught one hell of a whupping there…
Gabby was particularly surprised at how much bigger this castle is made to appear on TV, which is a testament to the amazing camerawork and set design used in the production of the show.
5. Next stop is 16th century Midhope Castle, which is actually classified as a ‘tower house’. It’s really quite small, looking more like a tall farmhouse than anything else.
In Outlander, Midhope Castle features as Jaime Fraser’s family home – Lallybroch. You can’t go inside, but most fans of the show will readily recognize the exteriors. According to Gabby, very little set dressing was actually used in the show, as this location was instantly recognizable to any Outlander devotee.
6. The final stop of the day is in the harbor town of South Queensferry, which has views out onto the Firth of Forth & the bridges which span it…very picturesque.
This was a great trip for any Outlander fan to go on. The variety of locations visited, combined with the knowledgeable commentary of an enthusiastic driver, really bring this trip to life. Having said that, it is also a worthwhile trip for someone who could really care less about Outlander, since you will visit several amazing places, each with their own place in Scottish history…you might get a bit tired of the constant sighing and swooning every time Jamie’s name is mentioned on the bus, though…!
Gabby also thought that this trip gave her a greater appreciation for the skills and vision of the set designers, costume designers, and camera operators, who transformed the sites we visited into often completely different-looking places for the TV show.
From South Queensferry, it’s a short 10 mile ride back into Edinburgh city center, where we found ourselves ready to eat our evening meal, before going to see author Val McDermid at the Book Festival…
We chose to eat at this place on Rose Street that we’d passed a few times over the previous days & were curious about – The Mussel Inn.
We found The Mussel Inn to be a basic, all show & not much go, tourist-trap-type establishment. Stinky bathroom, bland food (in terms of both flavour AND presentation), lax service. Not impressive, at all.
Our Advice? AVOID. THIS. PLACE!
Next, as the skies over Edinburgh faded to darkness, we made our way back over to Charlotte Square, wherein resided the tented venues of the Edinburgh Book Festival, and we were to see the prolific author Val McDermid talking about herself, her books, her creative processes, and her influences & inspirations. We first became aware of the Val McDermid via the excellent ITV series ‘Wire in the Blood’, which originally aired from 2002 to 2009. We enjoyed the characters (especially Tony Hill) so much that we sought out & enjoyed the actual books from whence they sprang!
This was another enjoyable author-chat session, which actually went over the allotted time, but since we’d been out all day already, and were thoroughly pooped, we bailed on the last bit & bee-lined back to our pillows…
What was originally scheduled for today had to be scrapped. This is when it’s good to have a bit of flex in both, your plans and also in your personal approach to travel. Circumstances forced a change of plans upon us, and so, after a slightly late start to the day, we decided to go………..pretty much nowhere????!!
Looking back through our itinerary, notes, receipts, and pictures, it seems that Ken got up early(ish) and took a little photowalk around the part of the New Town that we were staying in – ending up atop Calton Hill, before getting rained on & driven back to the hotel for the rest of the morning. After taking care of something at noon, we seem to have just did some shopping on Princes Street & not much else! Here’s some pics from this day, anyway…
This was a nice, relaxed, drizzly – yet satisfying day. No muss, no fuss. That only leaves 4 more days, but they were fantastic days, too – just you wait & see….in the next & final installment!
We hope this glimpse we are giving you of Edinburgh and the surrounding sights in Scotland are perhaps making you think you might want to visit Scotland and/or the U.K. – That’s our whole objective!!
If you’re curious about anything mentioned, or just have something to say about any of this – please feel free to leave a comment. We promise we’ll read it !!