This blog is about my travels. At home in New Zealand, in other parts of Oceania, North, Central and South America and in Europe.
The next day my friend and I went for a walk on the estate in Aberdeenshire. It is an interesting place, little clumps of springtime daffodils grow near very old stone churches, wizened old oaks grow slowly, as they have done for hundreds of years. There are also stands of the 'old Caledonian forest', Scots pines that are the same ones that were there before any humans ever arrived. In some parts of the estate there were signs of bronze age dwellings. The U.K. has some ancient human history!
From Edinburgh I took the train up to Aberdeenshire to stay with a friend at her cottage.
While I was there, we went for a walk around a beautiful lake in the Cairngorms, a mountain range on the estate of Balmoral - which is owned by the Queen! Ordinary people are also allowed to wander around in it, a bit like a national park in New Zealand. It had been predicted to rain that day, but instead we got a lovely day.
As we wandered around the lake we came across a hunting lodge - this was built for Queen Victoria and her family back in the day. As we wandered by a picturesque little boat house, clouds had started to arrive. Thankfully we were back in the car by the time the first drops of rain started to patter on the windscreen.
I headed out from Edinburgh on the train to Stirling Castle.
I signed up for a very entertaining guided tour of the castle. It has a history dating back to the 12th century, and has been the site of numerous battles (including those of the wars of Scottish independence), and the coronations of Scottish Kings and Queens. It is an atmospheric place, with views across the surrounding countryside and right up to the highlands.
We visited the great hall which has been restored to a lot of it's former glory, with replicas of the medieval thrones of the Scottish Kings and Queens on display.
Inside the castle there were a whole lot of careful reproductions of tapestries and the ornate furnishings of the time. Brightly coloured crests on the wall and painted ceilings have been restored the colours that they were painted in medieval Scotland.
The King and Queen's bedrooms were the most beautiful rooms in the castle. The walls were hung with beautiful tapestries which included Scottish symbolism (plenty of unicorns).
The Castle is situated on a high hill, and on most sides drops away steeply into a cliff. An early attempt at human powered flight was made in 1507 by Giovanni Damiano de Falcucci, an Italian at the Scottish court. The whole court trooped out to the loftiest part of the castle to watch, and waited with bated breath as Giovanni, wearing a pair giant feathered wings took a running leap from the battlements. Unfortunately instead of soaring off into the distance, he simply fell inelegantly into the forest below. He did survive but injured his thigh (and possibly his pride) in the process.
Still, you have to give him full marks for enthusiasm.
The next day I headed to the Scottish National museum. I took one of the free guided tours there (definitely recommended). The part of the museum I liked the best was the section on Scottish history. It started with prehistory, in a room containing Pictish artworks carved on stone slabs which were many thousands of years old. The symbolism of these was regarded as mysterious for a long time, but apparently recent research has created a greater understanding of the symbols of the remaining artworks.
Some of the images contained mysterious figures and scenes. The strange bird-men kind of reminded me of medieval plague doctors. The stone carvings of fish and birds were pretty straightforward though!
I also saw the Lewis chess men. The museum guide said that little 'beaters' used to be given hallucinogenic mushrooms to stir them into battle. The beater (the one gnawing on the end of his shield) does look a little out of sorts.
Another room I liked was about the natural history of the British Isles. There is a great display on what it would have looked like before humans got there. It was covered in forests and wolves roamed the hills.
I headed to Holyrood Palace, which is just down the hill (the Royal Mile) from Edinburgh castle. The Scottish royal family moved there in about the 16th Century, and Edinburgh Castle was used more for military purposes.
The tour inside the palace was quite interesting, however, taking photos was not permitted. It's kind of a shame because some of it was quite interesting. From the narrow winding staircase up to the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots (she comes up a lot in Scottish history) there is the corner where her Secretary David Rizzo was brutally stabbed to death by a mob including the dissolute Lord Darnley (who was concerned at the influence that Rizzo had over Mary). Poor chap. There is a faint mark on the wooden floor on the spot where he was murdered. Now, I am not exactly an expert on bloodstains, but this spot had a suspiciously pinkish and un-bloodstain-like colour. It turns out it has been painted on for years for the tourists!
Next to the Palace is a ruined Abbey. It was destroyed in the 16th century, but it is still an atmospheric place.
It was a short flight from Iceland to Edinburgh. I arrived in the evening and woke up to a beautiful day and a great view across the city. I had recently watched the documentary series 'A History of Scotland' by Neil Oliver (it is fantastic, highly recommended), so I was looking forward to seeing some of the sights that were mentioned.
My first visit was to Edinburgh castle. It was all the more interesting because Edinburgh castle had been the scene of all sorts of interesting historical events.
It is located on the site of an ancient Volcano which provides a natural fortress and has been occupied since the iron age. The castle has withstood many sieges and attacks over the centuries.
Walking up to the Castle there are masses of daffodils on the slopes beneath it. Spring had well and truly sprung! In the courtyard just down from the castle there was a plaque commemorating women burned as 'witches' in the middle ages. Widows, single women and traditional healers were scapegoated for anything that went wrong, such as outbreaks of the plague and accused of being witches.
I signed up for a guided tour (which was awesome) and we wandered up to the top of the castle - it was quite a clear day from the top of the castle and you could see right across the harbour.
We visited the tower of the palace that the Scottish crown jewels are kept in (taking photos is not permitted). In the rooms of the palace that the Kings and Queens slept in were paintings commemorating the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, however, the marriage soon soured, Mary depicted him as a 'social climbing turtle' in her embroidery. Ouch! The relationship did last long enough to produce an heir (Prince Charles) in 1566. In one corner of the building there is a tiny wee room that Mary queen of Scots gave birth in. It is about the size of a largish wardrobe. As well as becoming King of Scotland, he went on to inherit the rule of England and Ireland from Queen Elizabeth (as you do), making it the United Kingdom and inventing a fancy new flag.
One of the prettiest buildings in the castle (and the oldest - nearly 1000 years old) is a beautiful little chapel dedicated to St. Margaret, who was once a queen of Scotland but was also a compassionate person who helped the poor and needy.
Another interesting room of the castle is the 'great hall'. After Oliver Cromwell arrived in 1650 it was used as an armory, so there are plenty of suits of armor and swords on display.
After the tour of Edinburgh Castle I decided to take a walk up to the top of Arthur's seat.
Some historical accounts claim that this is where the legendary King Arthur ruled from, but it is kind of lost in the mists of time. It is very popular with walkers and has a great view over Edinburgh.
Iceland has a lot of geothermal activity because it is located on a rift between between two tectonic plates. A lot of its energy and hot water comes from geothermal energy and they also grow a lot of their vegetables in geothermally heated glasshouses in winter.
Then we headed off to the huge Gullfoss waterfall. There has been some talk of turning this into a hydro power station, but environmental campaigners are against it. People in Iceland seem very proud and protective of their natural heritage.
The weather was so snowy we had to turn back early, and it snowed heavily for the last couple of days. I went to the local hot pools each day. There are 170 hot pools in Iceland, and it is a big part of the local culture. It is quite lovely to soak in one as the snow falls down softly!
I also visited the local museums. It turns out Iceland was settled by human beings relatively recently. The first people to Iceland were Irish priests looking for solitude. Then the Vikings arrived. Life was really hard for a long time, and people measured their age in winters.
Iceland was an amazing, beautiful place and is certainly well worth a visit!
I am a traveller from New Zealand. My blog is to inform friends and family about my adventures. I hope you enjoy it!