After literally months of planning our trip to Scotland, the decision was eagerly made by my family to drive to Edinburgh from London with a one-night stopover in Wales so we could see Stonehenge along the way.
After landing at London's Heathrow Airport, we enthusiastically waited in the customs line to embark on our highly anticipated cross-country adventure. The border control woman took our passports, stamped them, and asked where we would be staying. On hearing we were driving to Scotland, she replied that it would be much cheaper to fly considering the cost of petrol and the length of the drive. She even shook her head as if to chide us for our poor decision.
Were our spirits deflated? Nope. Did we reconsider and buy plane tickets? Absolutely not. Did we load up our rented Volkswagen Beetle and head out of town? You bet we did!
Stonehenge was terrific, a literal must see if visiting England. Cardiff, Wales, was fantastic, too, especially the castle by the same name.
Then we came to Scotland. Oh, wow! Let me try to paint a picture of how fabulous Scotland was.
We drove for approximately nine hours from Wales, through England, and across the Scottish border into Edinburgh.
Fluffy clouds cast purple shadows on rolling green hills separated only by stone walls or hedgerows. Sheep were everywhere, with one or two spring babies frolicking about, nibbling grass and languidly napping. They were so cute we had to stop multiple times just to take pictures.
Tiny villages with thatched-roof cottages and blooming gardens dotted our journey and were every bit as charming as we dreamed they would be. We had lunch al fresco by the side of a loch and enjoyed shepherd’s pie while watching the boats navigate the waterway.
The drive was made even more interesting because of the steering wheel on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of the road. Luckily, my wife was very helpful in that endeavor, giving me useful advice all along the way!
Bed and breakfast accommodations are plentiful in Scotland. We stayed at the delightful turn-of-the-century Heriott Park Guest House about three miles from the city center. The room was huge and the breakfast very tasty. It was a terrific way to start our day each morning.
Talk about colorful histories; Edinburgh could not possibly be outdone by any city I’ve ever visited. Participating in just one of the city's ghost walking tours would shock even the most jaded tourist. We actually joined in two; the Underground City Vaults tour and the Greyfriars Cemetery and Covenanters Prison expedition. Not only were they both very scary and entertaining; but both were extremely educational.
For those questioning whether to take their kids or not, we took our 10-year-old son and he had a great time on both.
Greyfriars Cemetery is the same cemetery depicted in the Disney movie about Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who never left his master’s side even after he was buried. However, the actual history of the cemetery is nothing like a Disney movie.
Of course we couldn’t miss Edinburgh Castle. I mean this literally; it is so large that it is visible from anywhere in the city as it sits majestically on a central hill at one end of the Royal Mile. Even more impressive than the distant view was walking along the ramparts and buildings of the actual fortress. Ancient cannons and gargoyles protect the environs every step of the way, too numerous to count, and we even got a chance to view the Scottish crown jewels, which consist of a crown, a scepter and a sword.
At the other end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace, the residence of the queen when she is visiting Scotland. In between are some of the most intriguing businesses, historical residences and fun shops you could ever imagine.
At the famed “Elephant House” coffee shop where Harry Potter was born, I thought about how much time I would need to spend there to write my own novels. Maybe some of J.K. Rowling’s talent could rub off on me there by osmosis or some other phenomenon.
Just a short drive from Edinburgh, and either obtainable by private car or tour bus, are two very impressive and historic sites.
The first is Rosslyn Chapel. Yes, the same Rosslyn Chapel that was depicted in the movie "The DaVinci Code." We were impressed by the interior decorations. Carvings depicting everything from green men to all kinds of Christian symbolism adorned every visible surface. Sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures inside.
The second place, and my favorite attraction on our trip, was Melrose Abbey. Founded in 1136 by Cistercian Monks, what is left is truly inspirational to behold. Many sections of the roof are missing as well as a few walls, but what remains are enough to impress visitors with the magnitude of what was once there and to impart an appreciation of how the monks lived and worked.
Views of the surrounding countryside from the roof were incredible even in the rain. And the cemetery on the property was fun to walk through.
The most famous inhabitant of the Melrose Abbey cemetery, or at least part of an inhabitant, is the heart of Robert the Bruce. The king of Scotland during the fourteenth century instructed that his heart be taken on one of the many crusades and it was buried there upon its return. The inscription on the simple stone reads “A noble hart may have nane ease gif freedom failye.”
If you want to experience the local cuisine, the Hard Rock Café in Edinburgh offers its specialty, a haggis burger; our son heartily enjoyed his.
The people of Scotland are jolly and cynical, with a sense of humor uniquely their own. The landscape is winsome and the weather wearisome. It is a place with a dark history and a bright outlook. We were completely captivated by the many contrasts Edinburgh had to offer.
There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh, we feel like we barely scratched the surface. We missed so much and yet we treasure everything we were able to see and experience.
Now that I’m home, I’m so grateful we weren’t soured by the customs officer and her negative comment about driving. We would do it again in an instant!
Chris Hale is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline who has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time he writes novels inspired by places he's been. Find out more about his books at www.Chrisahale.com