A castle at every corner, history in every lane and the call of a bagpipe piercing through somewhere in the background; these were promises enough for my husband and I to pick where the first anniversary should be spent. Scotland it was, and we packed our bags for its capital city, Edinburgh, for a trip in August, last year.
August is special
There was more to our choice than putting together a special occasion and a city filled with stories to tell. August is special to Edinburgh. It’s when the city, warmed by summer, gregariously hosts the Ed Fringe, an arts festival that literally spills onto every street with performances of all kinds, free and paid. The Royal Mile, a stretch in Old Town, part of the city that dates beyond 300 years, is the centre of the Fringe and wears a festive look all-day and night long.
The pride of the festival is The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, though organised separately. Held against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, massed pipes and drums and massed military bands from various countries put up a show, that’s spectacular. The goose-bump inducing lone piper at the end of the Tattoo made the long run-up to holiday spent researching and making bookings worth it.
It is said that Edinburgh’s population of about five lakh triples during the Ed Fringe. Which means tours, shows and places to stay fill up way ahead and prices rise, a caution we had heeded, starting with our prep months in advance. If you bump into anyone promising you a ticket to the Tattoo then and there, be warned.
Away from the festival, Edinburgh makes for a good base to explore the rest of Scotland on day trips. Except the Highlands which will take longer. With a few touristy musts on our list like visiting Loch Ness, famed for its fabled monster Nessie and the Wallace Monument (Braveheart, anybody? Though the locals pretty much snigger at Mel Gibson’s telling of the Scottish legend William Wallace’s heroics), we got on to two coach tours. Hairy Coo does tours of sights in and around Edinburgh like the Stirling Castle, Forth Bridge and Doune Castle, made famous by the film Monty Python and works on tips-only basis.
The other was a paid service that took us to foot of the Highlands.
Each tour made sure to stop by the lakes or lochs that dot Scotland and are beautiful no doubt, surrounded by verdant nature, often finding a place in history, if not modern-day legends.
The history of the city of Edinburgh, much of it bloody and sordid, has made it a treasure trove of tales, locations and myths. Everything to delight a traveller. Scores of tours take you through a gamut of city walks. You could go ghost-hunting, pub crawling or discover the old markets. Or you could pay ‘obeisance’ at The Elephant House, ‘the birthplace of Harry Potter’ where J K Rowling downed cups of tea as she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, conjuring character names inspired by names she spotted on graves at the Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery) that the coffee shop overlooks.
So far from home, what took us by surprise at Greyfriars was a plaque dedicated to victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. “In remembrance of the thousands killed by the Union Carbide Gas Disaster in Bhopal, India on 3rd December 1984. Your friends in Scotland have not forgotten you. ‘Never think you stand alone,’” it reads. Startling end to a great tour.