Monday, March 08, 2010

Edinburgh, February 2010

I thought I’d share some snippets and a few photos from our recent short break in Edinburgh (and, in fact, if you follow all the links you can practically have a virtual tour!)

The trip was part leisure, part for research. The leisure side started with the Scotch Whisky experience. This is a fun learning experience that is based immediately south of Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile. The basic tour takes around an hour and (with a taxi ride to the venue) it’s an ideal visiting place for those with limited mobility, because you undertake the first half of the tour seated in a whisky barrel! I first took the tour about (adds up sums) 18 years ago (gasp, I feel ancient!) but Mark hadn’t been, so we did the tour on his birthday. It had changed a lot in the 18 years, and was even more fun. The tour involves more high-tech gadgetry, as well as a huge whisky collection. More on that in a moment...

For the price of your ticket you learn about the process of whisky making, it’s history, tradition, and all about where the different flavours come from and why different regions produce different flavours. You also discover the difference between single malt and blended, how it happens and why. We saw some great footage of the landscapes while we learned! As part of the interactive experiences you get four sample bottles, and each one represents the fragrance of a different region of Scotch whisky production. You choose which one you think you’ll like the most, and you get a sample of a single malt from that region in a Glencairn tasting glass. You learn how to appreciate it to the max, and the tasting glass is yours to take home. As you sip your whisky, you move into the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection – the largest collection of Scotch whisky in the world, almost 3,500 bottles! :)

Claive Vidiz collected bottles of whisky over a number of years. He grew so famous for collecting whisky that people started to give him special occasion bottles. As part of the refurbishment of the visitor attraction the Vidiz collection was shipped back to Scotland in its entirety and is now part of this visitor experience.

Mark was delighted because when he began to look around the collection he found the first ever whisky tried as a young fella, Sheep Dip. Great way to celebrate your birthday, ay, reminiscing over the first time you got, enjoyed a wee dram. ;) The photo on the left shows just a fraction of the collection.

The photo with me in it, below, is taken in front of the first six bottles that started the Claive Vidiz collection. These are the ones immediately behind my head.

Part of the newly refurbished experience is a viewing gallery at the end of the tour. Here you can look out across the rooftops of Edinburgh. As you can see below, we had glorious winter sunshine whilst we were there. I’m looking across at a building (one of the many buildings…) that is said to be the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. J K Rowling is said to have written in the Elephant House coffee bar, which we saw later in our visit. We didn’t go in, but we peeked in and the windows at the back of the Elephant House do look directly across to the building with the pretty towers.

We also visited the National Gallery on Princes Street, which I had visited many years ago when I was taking my masters degree. At that time it was the 18th and 19th European collection that was my predominant interest. This time it was the Scottish collection I wanted to see, because viewing paintings done during the period I am currently writing about is a great way to catch a window into the time. (As an ex art historian I'm kind of brain washed and will always try for primary sources as my first choice for research!) That was very useful indeed, but the absolute highlight of this visit was a trip to the National Museum of Scotland. I hadn’t visited this collection before and was absolutely amazed, not only at the stunning collection of artefacts, but the amazing building and how well it works as you explore Scottish history throughout the ages.

We only worked our way through to the start of the Industrial Revolution. There was so much to absorb, and at this point in time I wanted to concentrate on the period I’m writing in. It’s on the to-do list to go back and view the rest of the collection. The collection includes artefacts from before the time when history was written, the time of the Picts. Beautiful Celtic brooches still exist from this time, and it was awe-inspiring to see them there. From around the period I am writing in there was furniture, weapons, partial buildings and churches, and especially useful items such as a comb, fabrics, tapestries, and coins. It was a real feast of information, and the best was yet to come…

Anyone who has read my blog before now knows that my recent and current writing for Harlequin Spice is set in Scotland at the time of the persecution of witches. I was first inspired to write in that setting when we visited Fife, several years ago. Edinburgh is also rich in paranormal legends, including some great ghost stories. Check out the Witchery sign on the left. Can I get one for my office? :)

At the museum we turned a corner into an area that was devoted entirely to artefacts from the time of the Scottish witch-hunts. You can imagine my absolute glee, considering I didn’t know these items were there! Items on show included manacles, stocks, and all manner of hideous torture devices. Yes, my glee did dissipate as the sobering thought hit me—these were actually used on folk who were condemned because their knowledge and beliefs led them to lead a life closer to nature than to religion. Often times the people who were persecuted were what we would perhaps call herbalists.

On the picture on the right you can see a set of thumbscrews. *shudder* These were things I had read about in my research but not seen, and nor did I think I ever would. I’ve got a few more photos from this part of the collection (I’m breaking you in slowly with the thumbscrews, believe me...) that I will share at the beginning of April. I plan to do a series of posts featuring background details for RAMPANT, and the subsequent book, THE HARLOT, (my current work in progress, due out in July 2011) which is also set in Scotland during the time of witchcraft and persecution.

Edinburgh is a wonderful cultural city, as you can already see from the few details I’ve already shared. I don’t think I could cope with it at its busiest times of the year, the Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Tattoo, but even in February the streets were alive with pipers busking and traditional Scottish music was available at several pubs. We stopped at a pub called The Tass the night before we left and found a live folk music event taking place. Just brilliant.

Whilst we were there we also got to see the Royal Mile projection by CARRY A POEM. This project was one of my favourites to follow on Twitter during February. Carry a poem caught my attention when I read about the plans to project poetry onto Edinburgh Castle on Valentine’s Day. Check it out! We hadn’t realised that there would be a projection on the Royal Mile itself while we while there – another surprise discovery that brought much excitement! You can see a superb interactive photograph of the Royal Mile (including the poetry projection) by visiting the site of photographer Brendan Macneill.

No summary of a trip to Edinburgh will be complete without more mention of the pub life. Vibrant, busy, populated by locals as well as tourists from all over the world, it really is one of the most appealing things to sit in a Royal Mile pub and watch the world go by. Below is a photo taken in Deacon Brodie’s, a popular stopping place on the Royal Mile. The pub commemorates William Brodie, a man who lived two very different lives during the 18th Century–a deacon and cabinet maker by day, a burglar and gambler by night. The story goes that Brodie inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The pub is another literary landmark that gives us a chance to appreciate the inspiration that the people and architecture of Edinburgh has had on writers.

Many of the pubs on the Royal Mile—and in the city in general—date back in time and feature gorgeous wood and brass features, as you can see in the picture. I love how the photo shows the rich seam of history and (in the background) the reflection of people who come from all over the world to enjoy it. Quotations and snippets of history are everywhere to enjoy. One of my favourite sayings is written around the bar: “drink little so that you can drink lang.” Here I am, drinking a little, lang. :)

All in all, a fab short break, packed with wonderful and surprising moments. Edinburgh can be an expensive city, but you can also do it on a shoestring, as we did. The museum and galleries I've mentioned are all free entry. Off season, you can pick up sale rooms at Travelodge, and super rail deals. The train journeys were great, no delays, and good weather—no snow-filled landscape and beaches like we had last year. (If you want to check out those photos, go here) Okay folks, I’d better stop reminiscing and get back to work…


Portia Da Costa said...

Wow, what an incredible account of your trip. It sounds as if you had an amazing time North of the Border!

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