Considering the shenanigans that Wednesday night witnessed, a great many of us were up and at ’em early enough on Thursday. Reed greeted me at breakfast with a fresh Bloody Mary, because that guy is a genius. Everyone looked a little rough around the edges except for Michael, who looked like he was rocking the hangover sweats writ large. Poor guy. I am more than a little surprised that I wasn’t hung over at all, despite my Professional Drunk In Public status. I’ve been pro since 1994, and have had less-boozy evenings that resulted in suicidal mornings. There must be something magical about Scotland (duh) that prevents hangovers. I might have to move there.
Anyway, once breakfast was done, we hucked our luggage down to the front door and said our goodbyes. The gang was headed into Tarbert so the GSH boys could visit the office there and the rest of us (Ashley, Jim, Freddie, and I) could do a whirlwind shopping trip at the Harris Tweed Shop (the 2nd one). I struggled mightily, but managed to restrain myself from buying more yarn. I did try, though. I hugged it and everything. It was only when Freddie reminded me that over-weight baggage costs eleventy million dollars to fly nowadays that I reined it in.
Across from the shop was a warehouse, and that warehouse was FILLED WITH TWEED. I’m very happy we didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend or I would still be in there. On the back wall, there was a loom like the one we’d seen earlier in the week. It was obviously in use, judging by the TV that sat on the table nearby and the Barbie-style Duchess Catherine doll next to it. I did NOT take a photo of that, but I totally should have.
Across the aisle was an example of an hand loom. It looks very complicated and scary but was really quite a beautiful piece. There were three spinning wheels next to it but I couldn’t get the best photo, unfortunately. I wonder if Freddie would let me get a loom?
On the wall between the two looms was this array of photographs, documenting the tweed process from sheep to store. It used to be done by one person (or family group or similar) and the last known person to do the whole thing herownself, from start to finish was Marion Campbell, who died in 1996. I’m kicking myself now for not picking up a copy of a book that was written about her, because the photos are fascinating.
Oh, you can just see the Duchess Catherine doll in the left-hand side of this photo! HA!
Tweed, from floor to ceiling, in every shade of tan and grey. The dyes are traditionally made from plants and other vegetation on the island, so if you’re kitted out in full tweed, you might as well be wearing camouflage.
We had a flight to catch, so we all got back in the van and went up the hill to the GSH office to pick up the others. Somehow or another, I ended up in the back of the van with Frankie (and Mark, I think), which was a bad idea because we were both a little bit green around the edges when we got to the airport. Luckily, I am cured by terrible coffee, and started feeling better almost instantly once that happened. Just to be safe, I took my Dramamine for the plane ride because the rule is: propellers = nausea.
[side note: Dear Scotland, an Americano is a shit cup of coffee. Get some filters and make me some NORMAL COFFEE next time I’m there. Love, Me]
While we were waiting to board the plane, I was playing with the settings on the camera and got this next shot, upon which I will not comment. [grin]
The island gave us many things over the course of those few days, and I think it was fitting that we were given a rainbow as we got on the plane to leave.
We flew into Glasgow and then piled into various cars and vans (Frankie and I in the middle this time) for the short ride to Edinburgh. I love that city and really need to spend more time there. Two days ten years ago and then less than 24 hours this time is not nearly enough. Our hotel in the city was a basic Holiday Inn (not the Parliament House, which would have been tremendously funny), within walking distance to the Royal Mile, which was our first destination. When we’d landed, the sun was almost out, and while it was a bit sprinkly during the drive over, by the time we were ready to head out into town, it was a full-on downpour. Yay for jackets with hoods!
Our first stop, THANK GOD, was a real, actual, what-I-wanted-in-the-first-place pub. Hooray and Hallelujah, plus it was nice to get out of the rain. The bartender was um, handsome, so I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what I wanted.
I can’t believe this is the best picture I got of Frankie, who is one of the most hilarious people I have ever had the good fortune to meet.
It turned out that the beer I’d ordered (with Freddie and Steve copying me like the good boys they are) didn’t have enough in the cask for three full pints, so Mr. Handsome Bartender did a very neat trick to make it two-and-change. Did I mention the bartender was kind of hot?
Finally, a photo with Jim and Ashley in it. Great people, those two. We had a wonderful time talking and sharing pictures of our kids and all that jazz.
Here’s one of Frankie and Jim talking to Ashley and Freddie. Action photos are my favorite.
It’s true that alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. The rain was pouring on us as we’d entered the pub, but as we left, the sun was out. Beer cures all, and that’s a fact. We made our way up to the Royal Mile and I got a good shot of it. In my head, the Royal Mile and Diagon Alley look exactly the same.
On our first trip to Edinburgh, we were wandering up the Royal Mile and at one point we’d lost our Freddie. Backtracking to the shop where he’d last been spotted, we found him inside here, talking with the proprietor, who was handing him samples. We were on a tight schedule, so he wasn’t allowed in this time.
At one point, we had stopped to wait while some of our number looked in the shops. We found ourselves standing near the statue of Adam Smith, and I watched as different groups of tourists would come up and get pictures taken in front of the statue, in various strange poses. It seemed like such weird behavior and made me wonder if these people knew that they were making stupid faces in front of the statue of the father of modern economics. I have always tried to avoid stupid vacation photos of that nature (indeed, I have tried to avoid MOST photos of any type) because it’s one thing to look stupid, but it’s quite another to look VERY stupid.
We stopped to wander through St. Giles’ Cathedral, which is completely gorgeous. I’m not a huge fan of religion but I love churches, and this one is just wonderful. The building dates from before 1385, when it was mostly rebuilt following a fire (though some sources claim the four main pillars are 200 years older) and from what I could tell, they built it all at once instead of starting at one end like a lot of cathedrals that date from that time. The late 15th century saw the addition of the crown steeple, which is a prominent feature in the Edinburgh skyline.
Because I should have paid £2 for a “photography permit” and I didn’t, I didn’t use any flash and a lot of my photos aren’t all that great. They wouldn’t have done the place justice anyway because the whole thing is inexpressibly lovely, with different memorials and plaques here and there. The Thistle Chapel is especially amazing.
I’ve never been accused of being straight and narrow, and I think that’s why geometric designs appeal to me so much. Looking upon order and harmony sometimes has a similar effect in my mixed-up brain.
George VI isn’t buried here, but there is a memorial to him in the Thistle Chapel. I love these kinds of things, because the churches here don’t tend to do them. I think it makes the building even more interesting, as a way of saying “HEY. HISTORY HAPPENED HERE. LOTS OF IT.”
According to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, over 3800 people were accused of witchcraft during the years between 1563 and 1736. Apparently, it has been extremely difficult to come up with any kind of reasonable number of people who were actually executed, but on the wall of the Tartan Weaving Mill, there is a small fountain with a plaque below, commemorating the site where “many witches were burned at the stake.”
“This Fountain, designed by John Duncan, RSA is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good. The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The Foxglove spray further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects.”
[Insert obligatory William Wallace/”Braveheart” reference here]
To my sadness, we were unable to get into the Castle. It was closed for the day by the time we made our way up there, which is a huge bummer because I wanted to get a photo of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce guarding the front door and maybe visit the Mons Meg and see the view Firth of Forth and pay my respects to St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, dating from the early 12th century). It was one of the highlights of our trip there in 2001 and it would have been nice to refresh those memories. Alas, we were too late.
Instead, we walked around, did some window shopping, and took photos of random things.
Stopped at another pub, obviously.
Calton Hill, home of St. Andrews House, which is the headquarters of the Scottish government. The Hill features prominently in a surprising number of paintings and photographs, and it’s easy to see why.
After all the wandering around, we went to dinner at The Dome, which was very fancy and nice. The original building on that site was built in 1775 and was the Physicans’ Hall. It was purchased in 1843 by the Commercial Bank of Scotland and promptly demolished. The building as it stands today was begun in 1844 and the caduceus stained-glass windows (added in 1930) are a nod to the original purpose of the site. The room was beautifully laid out, and our meal was great, but by then, I was just so over food. Everything was starting to be too much. But I rallied and had sticky toffee pudding for dessert so all is right with the world. I keep thinking I have to try my hand at making it, but then I realize that I would weigh 400 pounds if I were successful. So I shall save that particular dessert for my UK jaunts.
After dinner, we went on a tour of the supposedly haunted underground vaults. That started with a museum of sorts that featured various instruments of torture. It’s amazing the sorts of things humans invent in order to do damage to fellow humans. The vaults themselves were fairly interesting – I’m always amazed that cities are just built on top of people sometimes. I’m sure the tour was utterly fascinating, but as I can’t hear in the dark, I was left to watch the others. The vaults share a wall with a pub, and the band in there was playing “Tribute” by Tenacious D which made me laugh and took me completely out of the moment. Oh well. I got a huge laugh at one point because I could see Steve standing next to Frankie and, ever so sneakily, Steve was inching his way behind Frankie in order to scare him. I watched the whole thing happen and nearly fell over trying to stifle a laugh.
After the tour, we got to go to “Edinburgh’s Most Haunted Pub” (mmhmm, sure) for whisky and shortbread. I don’t know about haunted, exactly, but the ladies’ room was something out of Trainspotting and the jukebox was terrible, so close enough I suppose. Freddie and Reed went downstairs to explore a bit and found more instruments of torture on the walls. I was pouting (a little) because I was tired and not getting nearly enough attention (it’s a sickness), but I rallied and we closed out the night in a different pub, laughing our fool heads off.
I got this photo on Monday in an email from Reed:
The next morning, we were up and on our way to the airport by 9AM. After we checked in and all that, we went off in search of breakfast and I wound up sitting next to these gentlemen, who pretty much sum up Scotland.
When anyone asks “how was your trip?” My answer is always the same. “It was astounding.” Just really, really, really amazing on all levels. Every other vacation I take is going to be ruined when compared to this one, because I really could not have asked for a better place to stay or a better group of people to stay there with. Any other words I try to use to describe the thing are just not even close to being enough.