Visiting The Land Of Our Forefathers

Taking Tea on the Queen’s Yacht

Our first 3 days were spent enjoying the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, after unpacking our bags in a modern, spacious flat situated in the centre of the city overlooking a lush green botanical garden. The flat was close to all the major sites and attractions, including the famous Royal Mile, which is book-ended by Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House, home of the Queen when she comes to visit. The wide sidewalks, calm, relaxed traffic, and many, inviting high-quality boutique shops were pleasant surprises, and a welcome absence of impersonal department stores delighted us. The food, whether in a classy restaurant or pub, was very good and the service first-rate.

The population was very ordinary-looking, and people on the street did not seem to take pride in being well-dressed, but heir city was immaculate. They generally spoke without much trace of a strong Scottish accent and were friendly as well as polite. More than 90 per cent of the city’s population worked in the service industry. No wonder we were treated so well. The hop-on, hop-off bus service helped us obtain a quick overview of this orderly, substantial “stone” city and zipped us to our planned sight-seeing destinations.

The permanently-anchored Britannia, the Queen’s Royal Yacht, is a must-see. It clearly elevated British royalty above the common man and made everyone who toured this impressive vessel realize just what enormous sums of money can buy. The sleek ship served the Queen well for more than 40 years. It sailed more than one million miles throughout the world, before being decommissioned in 1997. Listed as a charity, it is now Edinburgh’s top tourist attraction. Surprisingly, however, it was very simply, if comfortably, furnished. The Queen’s bed, for example, housed in an ordinary-looking bedroom, was a 3-foot wide cot that one might see in a cheap motel. But I can now forever claim that I was served afternoon tea and scones on the Britannia. The Queen just happened to be out that day.

The exterior of the new Scottish Parliament is spectacular, odd, and quirky. It must have given the Spanish architect and his Scottish second-in-command barrels of fun designing it. No doubt, the construction foreman didn’t laugh much as he must have experienced endless frustration and agony when building it, and later when some large wooden beams suddenly dislodged. The ultra modern design, built of steel, wood, and granite, juts out in unexpected ways to represent some imaginary architectural perception. One unusual wall contains 26 stone panels with English, Gaelic, and Scots’ quotations (poetry, proverbs, and psalms). My 2 favourite quotations are, “Say little and say it well”, and, “It is Scotland, Highland and Lowland that is laughter and warmth and life for me”. Once inside, the spacious debating chamber and viewing gallery feel comfortable and inviting.

On a leisurely walk along the famous Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House the window displays, kilted pipers, and alluring specialty shops slowed our pace at almost every step. We strolled up to the steep hill to the main entrance of Edinburgh Castle, but the 25 pound entrance fee and fast-approaching closing time discouraged us from searching for the Crown jewels inside.

The next day we toured the National Museum, with its exquisite exhibition of Celtic history that delved back into the murky centuries of Scottish human habitation. As mentioned, many diverse groups of humans, speaking very different languages, over thousands of years, migrated to Scotland’s shores and eventually amalgamated to form the modern Scottish race. From our quick overview we came away thinking that we definitely have the bloodlines of more than a half dozen ancient racial groups that once inhabited Scotland, including fierce warriors. In fact this dominant trait stayed with the Scots for centuries after the Romans departed. The history of Highland clans down through the centuries until their last tragic battle, 1746, was marked by countless bloody battles, not only against the British forces, but among themselves. They were a truly violent, warrior society that lived by the sword.

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Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
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