If you have had the chance to have a look at our previous two posts, here and here if you haven’t, you will know that we took a quick city break to Edinburgh following Christmas and New Year. We’re not big fans of giving each other things as gifts, since we can just go out and buy them for ourselves, so we try to gift each other experiences for Christmas and Birthdays instead.
We booked our trip through EasyJet as a package holiday. It worked out considerably cheaper and we even managed to pick the early flight out Friday and the evening flight home on Monday. Bonus! Since the trains have been an epic fail in our area recently we decided to drive to Gatwick and use Purple Parking. This is our second time using these facilities and we’ve not had any problems, either with the transport to and from the airport or with our car on our return. As always we highly recommend you shop around for online vouchers or discount codes, as there are always a few floating around, and always make sure to use a cashback site (our favourite is Topcashback) as they’re a great way to get money back on your purchases.
We stayed at Ten Hill Place Hotel in one of their “classic” rooms. It was just a basic double with ensuite bathroom but it was perfect for our needs, especially since we were only in the hotel to sleep and to stuff ourselves at the breakfast buffet! The hotel was easy to find, we just hopped on the Airlink bus at the airport and then walked from it’s final stop at Waverley Bridge in the city centre. The walk only took around 15 minutes despite the majority being uphill!
The following day Kelly had booked a tour for Anthony as part of his birthday present. The one-day tour was booked through Highland Explorer Tours and included a number of stops throughout the Highlands near Edinburgh but, more importantly, included the Famous Grouse Experience at the Glenturret distillery together with a tasting session. The tour we did was called Southern Highlands & A Taste of the Water of Life. We were on the tour with the people booked onto the Whiskey & Waterfalls tour, the difference being that we had the tasting session and lunch included.
The tour departs from the Highland Explorer Tour Office, which fortunately was just round the corner from our hotel. Once everyone was all accounted for we bundled onto the small but comfortable bus ready for our day out in the countryside. Our driver Duncan regaled us with a plethora of Scottish history as we made our way out of Edinburgh giving us details about Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace and the Wars of Scottish Independence. Sadly the weather was against us and we had a really thick fog covering the landscape for the majority of the morning. We did manage to catch a glimpse of The Kelpies, a monument to the horse powered heritage of Scotland, but we didn’t get to see Stirling Castle despite driving right underneath it.
Our first stop of the day was at The National Wallace Monument, a tower standing at the top of Abbey Craig commemorating William Wallace. We arrived too early to be able to enter the tower itself but we took the opportunity to stretch our legs and head up the steep but short track to get a closer look at it. On a good day we can imagine you can see for miles but we didn’t get to see much past the safety rails! Oh well, at least we have an excuse to go back.
Our next stop was at the Glenturret distillery for the Famous Grouse Experience. Unfortunately we were unable to film or take any photos during the tour or tasting session due to the highly explosive environment created by the malt and alcohol in the atmosphere. Our tour guide Amy was awesome, very knowledgeable about the process of making whiskeys but also very personable. When it came to the tasting session it was just us and her in the warehouse so we really got to chat more especially about her hometown in Australia and her background in biochemistry.
We got to sample four different single malt whiskeys, both with and without water, to see how the texture and taste altered. The first whiskey we had was the 10-year old single malt. Apparently a whiskey may be labelled as a 10-year old but it may contain a blend of older whiskeys in the final mix. By law all bottles have to be labelled as the youngest whiskey. We found this to be quite light and citrus-y.
The second one we had was the Triple Wood whiskey. This whiskey is made from a combination of American sherry oak, European Sherry Oak and American Bourbon Oak casks and we could really taste the caramel and marzipan.
The third whiskey we tried was actually available for bottling in the shop, a cask named after Gerard Butler, but sadly due to only having hand luggage we were unable to bring any home with us. This is a single cask 14-year old whiskey and it tasted really fruity and of vanilla. The distillery have had casks previously named after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Catherine, following their visit to the distillery as part of their duties as the Earl and Countess of Strathearn. The distillery then had casks for Andy Murray and Ewan McGregor since they’re both famous locals. Our guide was quite disappointed that Gerard Butler had yet to visit the distillery to taste his cask, unlike his predecessors. We hope he manages to make it before the cask runs out!
The final whiskey we tasted was the 16-year old Fly’s Masters Edition named after the sixteen stillman and the distillery manager’s collie dog from 1905. This one was really smoky with notes of leather and coffee.
If you fancy having a look at the notes or even purchasing a bottle of one of these for yourself, they’re available on the Famous Grouse website here.
Feeling slightly worse for wear we headed back to the distillery to eat our lunch before we got back on the coach to our next stop.
We were treated to a nice stroll through the forest alongside River Braan to the hermitage at Black Linn Falls. The area was popular with dog walkers and families and even with our group of 20 or so it was still peaceful.
Our final stop for the day was in Dunkeld to have a quick wander around the picturesque village and to see the gothic cathedral. The outside of the cathedral bears the scars of the Battle of Dunkeld. Inside the cathedral is the tomb of Alexander Stewart, also called the Wolf of Badenoch due to his rampant pillaging and because he fathered many illegitimate children. Legend has it that if you touch his tomb you will easily conceive. Suffice to say we didn’t touch it!
The tour returned us back to Edinburgh City Centre just in time to grab dinner. It was such a wonderful way to get to experience at least a little bit of the Southern Highlands but also to be able to taste some awesome whiskeys without the arguments over who will have to drive afterwards!
The following day we spent the whole day exploring the city, admiring the architecture and scoping out a variety of areas that are said to have influenced J.K.Rowling when writing the Harry Potter series. We saw the university accommodation Potterrow and The Black Medicine Coffee Co., which claim to have been the influence behind Potter’s name and the location which Rowling started the series. After this we headed to George Heriot’s School, which is said to be one of a number of buildings in Edinburgh that influenced the structure of Hogwarts. Then we hotfooted it across to The Elephant House to check out the fan graffiti in the toilets, trust us it’s worth stopping here just to see the insane level of writing in the ladies loo! Next on our list of places to visit was Greyfriars Kirkyard, which has a number of graves with names that will be familiar to many Potter fans. We were unable to find McGonagall’s grave, if you go you’ll be looking for poet William McGonagall’s grave. We found the Potter grave, it’s behind the church with a big cross on the top. Moodie and Tom Riddle’s graves proved very hard to find. There seems to be a ton of photos of both of them online but no-one has actually written where they are. For those who wish to visit, they are both contained within a walled area. There should be a small sign that says “Flodden Wall” next to a stone archway. Head through the archway and follow the wall right down to the bottom. Thomas Riddell’s grave is one of the last on the right and Elizabeth Moodie’s is about the third one down on the right side after the archway. Remember, these are real people’s graves so be respectful, don’t climb on them to take a selfie because it’s not cool. Our final stop of our mini Harry Potter tour was to walk down Victoria Street, one of the influences for Diagon Alley, before we headed up to the Castle. We didn’t pay to go into the Castle since we thought if we move here we might want to visit one weekend so instead we headed down the length of the Royal Mile, passing The World’s End pub that features in The Outlander series before reaching Holyrood Palace. Despite walking for miles we still had enough energy to stroll along the base of Arthur’s Seat before heading for a quick drink at Pear Tree House and dinner at the Auld Hoose.
Before our flight back home we had enough time to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit at the National Museum of Scotland. The exhibit and the museum were both free to enter and worth a visit if you have time. We had a look around a number of the other galleries and we can definitely see ourselves visiting again in the future.