Historic Edinburgh, Scotland's Romantic Capital

Edinburgh doesn't need much help to bring the tourists in; its castle is the second-most visited attraction in the UK (after the Tower of London). Statues of William Wallace and his successor Robert the Bruce grace the entrance to the castle and below the end of the cobbled street of the Royal Mile sits Holyrood House with its 500 years of history including a famous assassination.

We are heading out of Crieff — the “Holiday Town.”

Perth lies 20 miles to the east almost in a straight line and Gleneagles in Auchterarder sits 10 miles from Crieff to its southeast.

Foreigners who think they can put on a Scottish accent, falter when challenged with the name of this small town in Perthshire: Auchterarder. If it helps, the original Gaelic spelling was Uachdar Ardair. It’s an old town. It was mentioned in a land grant sale way back in 1227. This small town today with a population less than 4,000, was later featured in “The Disruption of 1843” when it rejected the interference of its religion by the government and even declined the patronage of wealthy landowners to create the Free Church of Scotland.

But all that pales in significance to golfers and even travel writers when today’s reality intrudes. This little place is the home of one of the greatest golf courses and resorts in all of Britain: Gleneagles.

Auchterarder forms the point of an upside down triangle. So your drive from Crieff to Edinburgh gives you this intriguing (and somewhat expensive) option, the Gleneagles Hotel. Gleneagles is much more of a destination resort than the city hotels in Scotland’s capital and its parking, of course, is a lot easier.

Gleneagles hotel and an interior. A typical B & B in the student part of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh doesn’t need much help to bring the tourists in; its castle is the second-most visited attraction in the UK (after the Tower of London). Statues of William Wallace and his successor Robert the Bruce grace the entrance to the castle and below the end of the cobbled street of the Royal Mile sits Holyrood House with its 500 years of history including a famous assassination.

Despite medieval murders and executed grave robbers and a one-time church deacon who was, indeed, the basis for Stevenson’s classic horror novel Dr. Jekyl and Mr Hyde, Edinburgh is a popular, even romantic, place to include in a Scottish vacation. You are surrounded by historical museums, proud culture, beautiful gardens, one-of-kind hotels and something new (in a country where part of the joke is “Hell is a place where the cooks are British”), superb restaurants. Our favorites include the North Bridge Brasserie, great food in a fun atmosphere in a fascinating hotel, the Scotsman. The hotel, one of The Leading Hotels of the World, was converted in 2001 from the headquarters of Scotland’s famous newspaper. And just round the corner on Princess Street sits the Balmoral, a member of the luxury Rocco Forte group and winner of the 2004 Scottish Thistle Award — “Customer Care, Hotel of the Year,” with, arguably, the ultimate, perfect dining experience in Scotland, the so-named “number one restaurant.”

Every tourist attraction has its clichés and Edinburgh’s castle surely is one. But who wants to visit a destination and never check out its most popular attraction? One-and-a-half million visitors come for a look every year. The view from the castle rolls over the New Town and beyond to the Firth of the River Forth. And sitting at the bottom of the sloping Royal Mile, Holyrood House, the Royal Palace.

The Edinburgh rock, 40 million years old, stands 430 feet high. There has been a fort of sorts here from the 5th century. King Malcolm III (1057-93) reportedly was the first to build a proper castle on the rock and a chapel for his wife, Margaret, who became Scotland’s only royal saint. Malcolm remains an interesting Scottish monarch. The character Malcolm in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is based on him. His peasants called their king Malcolm Canmore. (Can means head and more means big so maybe, even then, royalty got a bit too big for its boots!)

The Scottish regiment the Royal Scots, formed in 1633 and the 20th oldest in the British Army, has its headquarters in Edinburgh and its museum in the castle.

Army histories reveal a regiment’s heroes to the public and 2 Royal Scots are shown in this castle museum: (Top Image) Private McBain at the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709, one of the wars of the Spanish Succession. Malplaquet, in northern France near the Belgian border, one of the bloodiest wars ever, lay in the same mass near Mons that was fought over in The Great War. That suggests the Western World hasn’t learned anything from history. The French army of France’s Sun King Louis XIV and their allied Bavarians were essentially fighting the rest of Europe. (Scots, Irish, Swiss and Germans fought on both sides!)

(Top image) Private McBain fought with his baby son in his knapsack because his wife had left him and returned to Scotland! (Middle image) Ensign Kennedy fell mortally wounded in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo — where France, more than a century later, was again fighting most of Europe. A sergeant could not free the Royal Scots Regimental Colors from Kennedy’s grasp so he carried Kennedy and the Honors Staff back to the lines. The French were impressed enough they held their fire until the enemy soldiers had returned safely. (Bottom image). Late 17th Century Scottish Dragoon. A cavalryman of 1916-18.

The Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle. A pub on the Royal Mile. A restaurant named after Robert Burns.

Top image: Royal Mile with John Knox’s House. Lawyers’ court. Bottom left: Display of swordsmanship in castle. Along The Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle.

A refreshing change from war is the long-established Museum of Childhood just across the street from the even more longer-established John Knox’s House. The first shows how much childhood has changed and how the awkwardness between Catholicism and Protestantism has not.

The Museum of Childhood in Royal Mile is easily found opposite the John Knox house.

John Knox, a blistering Protestant preacher, was a lifelong enemy of his Catholic Queen, Mary Queen of Scots

John Knox, a fire and brimstone Protestant preacher stands like a colossus — or a tyrant – on this era of Scottish history; he was opposed to the Catholicism of the French-educated Mary, Queen of Scots. There’s a lot to look at here even before you enter his house but there are several places nearby for a light pub lunch. Want to take a selfie? The Tourist Board often has period costume if you wish to play a role.

If you can still handle a half-mile walk, the Anatomy department of the old med school at what is still called the New Quad is as close as it’s ever going to be to tourist haunts. The Google map route is west on the Royal Mile, south on South Bridge. West on Chambers Street, south again on Bristo Place and west briefly on Teviot Place and then ask! The old medical school will be on your left.

The med school has moved south but the old Anatomy department is still there with its skeleton of the murderer William Burke, “the grave robber too lazy to dig,” who was hanged then publically dissected by the anatomist who was reportedly buying his bodies.

If you are done looking at skeletons you may be ready to book a room for the Scottish Music Show at Prestonfield House. Clarify with this very upscale and popular hotel if you want a room and the show. Very early reservations are a must. Visitors will often book their room and show here — before they book their flight. For some it can be the highlight of a visit to Edinburgh.

Photography by the authors

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.