With our scones in hand we headed out to Edinburgh for an afternoon adventure. Today we opted for the train to get us to where we wanted to go. Taking the train is a great option to get around the country but I will say its not inexpensive (about £30 a person round trip – I recommend buying them online in advance rather than the train station… There you will find a better deal). From Dundee, the train takes about an hour and twenty minutes and coasts along the water for a splendid view of water and rolling hills. Today was one of the Seattle-like days where the skies were overcast but the sun still caused a squint in the eye.
We arrived in Edinburgh at 10:00 AM where we were dropped off at city center (Waverly to be exact). From there you need to make the decision, do I go the route of old town or new town? To the south lies Old Town where the ancient city lies. The ancient city sprawls down the Royal Mile and to the north of Princes Street. It amuses me that what is considered “new” is late 18th century to present here. So much history to account for in this town!
Edinburgh is a beautiful city to wander around. So many hidden court yards and closes to explore. With our limited time on this day trip the husband and I decided to stick with the Old Town. As we exited the train station we came upon a grand monument for author Sir Walter Scott – The Scott Monument. Sir Walter Scott is considered one of the most important writers of Scottish literature (1771 – 1832). The monument was constructed after his death as a tribute to his life and work. With its imposing gothic tower the monument is quite impressive to look at.
We headed over to the National Museum of Scotland located in Old town. The building is quite interesting because it is comprised of two radically different buildings. The older of the two buildings and where the main entrance is located is Victorian in design, where as the building next door is very contemporary (opened in 1998). The National Museum of Scotland is free to the public. In the older of the two buildings one can find exhibits about art and science, natural history and cultural history around the world. In the newer of the buildings (designed by architect Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth) are 7 floors that tell visitors of Scotland’s history. Starting on the ground floor one can learn about the beginnings of Scotland and the country’s geological history). As you work your way up through the floors you can view some stunning artifacts of Scotland’s early people, the country’s history of Kingdom, up through the industrial boom and twentieth century. On the 6 floor one can view a video of how tweed is made and I must say it was quite fascinating. On the top floor is a beautiful outdoor roof terrace with wonderful views of the city. I even found a map on the second floor of the exhibit hall illustrating the diverse origins of people and their surnames in Scotland! The surname “Scott” originated in the southern region of the country. I realized I could have spent a few more hours in that museum without hesitation but we had more to see so we head out for a bite of lunch down Advocates Close at a places called The Devil’s Advocate.
This steep and narrow close is believed to date from 1544 (or at least that is what I over heard a tour Giuseppe saying as we headed down the close). Thanks to google magic I learned that the close takes its name from Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, the last Advocate of Scotland in office during the time of the Restoration, Revolution and Union. At Devil’s Advocate we tried some friend haggis bonbons with a horseradish mustard pure, parsnip and apple soup, asparagus, and a pork belly and angus burger with black pudding, beet slices, blue cheese and lettuce (aka pure heaven).
After lunch we attempted to see Mary Kings Close but the tour times did not work with our schedule so instead we headed over to the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Located in the tourist filled section of the town (by Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile). We decided on the silver level tour where you begin the tour with yet another Disney-like guide of the whisky making process. You enter your very own cask that whisked you through an Epcot-inspired tour of the process. I’m not going to lie, I kind of enjoyed the cheesiness of it all. After exiting our peaty cask we were shuffled into a room with more information about cask making (people who make casks are called “coopers”) and were shown examples of what whisky looks like in sherry verse American oak barrels (ranging from under one year to 15 years). From there we were brought to another room where our guide explained the 4 (leaving out Campletown) different regions where whisky is made, plus an explanation of how blended whisky is made (which included scratch-and-sniff card – totally Willy Wonka). After we were educated about the different regions and the types of whisky those regions produce we were asked to select our favorite for a single tasting.
Usually, these types of tastings include the familiar varietals of spirit, but this was an exception. All the malts were well-selected. Between the husband and I we selected the lowland malt (Auchentoshan) and the highland malt (GlenDronach). We passed on Glengrant from Speyside and the Smokehead from Islay though those would have also been nice choices. After the typical, swirl, smell, and taste we added a spot of water and enjoyed our drams, tasting the differences in character between the two.
The tasting was held in a phenomenal room which was surrounded by the largest privately owned whisky collection in the world. The oldest bottles were from 1897 and 1904. None of the over 3,384 bottles had ever been opened, which is a shame. The tour guide joked that the collection must have been much bigger if you included the bottles that had been poured between the collector and his friends. The collector was a Brazilian whisky enthusiast, Claive Vidiz, who built his record breaking collection over 35 years and for the next year will be on display at the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile (I’m not sure where it is headed next, if anywhere).
Once leaving the spectral of wall to ceiling scotch bottles we entered the final room which included another wall of rare scotches and, of course, the bar. The bar had over 100 bottles and the drams ranged in price from 2 to 10 pounds. 10 pounds being for a dram of 28 year malt, which by standards for drams in the States (according to the husband) is a steal.
At this point we unfortunately had to leave yet another adult candyland and head back to the train for our ride to Dundee. Edinburgh truly is a spectacular city to visit but next time the husband and I will need to plan for at least 5 days to see much more.