Crossing the Tweed River at Berwick brings you into another, quite distinct, country. The road quickly starts to pass through deep forested hills, often offering a glimpse of the sea in the distance. This is the Lothians, the border country of Scotland.
A great place to stay is Gunsgreen House at Eyemouth. A self catering property, it is quite unique. A Georgian house overlooking the harbour, it is beautifully decorated. The fact that the ground floor is home to a museum of smuggling is a clue to the Gunsgreen’s unusual past. It was specially built by a local merchant – who also happened to be a smuggler. He was determined to ensure that his smuggled merchandise remained undiscovered by the Excise men. As a result, there are hidden cavities in the walls and floors, and even a tea chute lined with lead taken from tea chests. Lifting the doors and identifying all the hidden cavities certainly keeps guests entertained whilst staying here! It is superbly located for visitors, since both Berwick and Edinburgh are within an hour’s drive.
Edinburgh is a city divided almost in two between the historic ancient city on one side and the Georgian area on the other, The Princes Gardens marking this division. This is a city full of history, with countless museums, a dramatic castle high on a hill, a warren of ‘underground’ houses and superb shopping facilities. If you want to buy tartan; cashmere; woolen products of any kind – this is the place to come.
The vast outline of the castle dominates the entire city. The firing of the noon day gun always attracts attention. Unless you get there early, long queues await visitors wanting to see the Scottish crown regalia and the Stone of Scone, upon which every Scottish (and most English kings and queens) have been crowned for more than a thousand years. When the Prince of Wales is crowned, the stone will be taken down to Westminster Abbey and placed in the throne before the coronation service. One of the most fascinating displays in the castle is the Prisoner of War exhibition, relating to French soldiers held here during the Napoleonic wars of the early nineteenth century. It contains numerous items that were made by the prisoners and sold to the townspeople in order to raise some spare cash. There are banknotes that they forged, one of which bears the frustrated comment: “this item was taken in the course of business by Alex Blaikie who wishes he had not taken it”. Every summer the Castle is the site of the renowned Edinburgh Tattoo, which includes performances by pipe bands and dance groups from around the world.
Near the castle entrance is the Tartan Weaving Mill, where you can see tartan being woven on large looms. There is a massive collection of tartans on display, as well as tartan clothing and blankets for sale. The choice is enormous, and very tempting! Amongst the most popular are the Diana, Princess of Wales tartan, the World Peace Tartan and two traditional ones: Royal Stuart and Black Watch.
The Old Town holds many secrets, none more so than the underground vaults and hidden passageways. These are areas that were never intended to be underground, over time new buildings were placed on top, or were closely built together and so high that the light from above has been almost obliterated. To find out more about this hidden side of Edinburgh, a visit to The Real Mary Kings Close is a good start. The Close is embedded in the foundations of the buildings above, and would have originally been 18 or more storeys high. With low ceilings and little light, these would have been dark and gloomy places in which to live. One of the narrow lanes can still be seen, snaking up the mound and amazingly would have been not just a byway but a place with stallholders on either side allowing very little walking space.
There are also fascinating guided tours, such as the Mercat tour which takes you into the Blair Street Vaults. Reached by narrow stone staircases, it is now 2 floors underground. Many similar vaults are known to exist. These shops and tenements, from over a hundred years ago, are now very cold and atmospheric.
A short drive brings you to the port of Edinburgh where the former Royal Yacht Brittania is moored. Now a tourist attraction, it is possible to go on board and explore the rooms used by the royal family during voyages to far flung lands, as well as taking them on their annual visit to Scotland.
Overshadowed by the mountain known as Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s official home in Edinburgh. It has been the home of royalty for many generations, and has quite a bloody history, especially during the reign of Mary Stuart in the Sixteenth century.
Other nearby attractions include; the Falkirk Horses. These magnificent sculptures reach high into the sky, taking the form of two great horse’s heads. Sparkling white and surrounded by pools, they are totally incredible. You can even go inside to explore the interior. Close by is the Falkirk Wheel, a masterpiece of Victorian engineering, which was designed to provide an innovative way to move canal boats from a higher water level to a much lower one.
Edinburgh and the Lothians is an area which is steeped in history, myth and legend. It is also the location of fantastic festivals and events – the Edinburgh Festival pulls in thousands of artists, dramatists, comedians, musicians and others every summer. This is a festival which is open to anyone and has seen the start of many stage careers. Explore Edinburgh during the Festival period and at every corner there are: buskers; people promoting shows; and often there are famous faces to be seen. People travel from around the globe to experience the magic of the Edinburgh Festival.
Whatever the time of year or personal interests, Edinburgh and the Lothians clearly has much to offer visitors.
By Angela Youngman
Where to eat
Mintleaf Restaurant- HALAL
Tel: 0131 555 5552
Address: 28 Bernard Street, Edinburgh EH6 6PP
Website – www.mintleafrestaurant.co.uk
- Dishoom, Edinburgh- HALAL
Tel: 0131 202 6406
Address: 3a St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2BD
Website – www.dishoom.com