In 2008, I participated in a work exchange program called BUNAC, and chose to reside in Edinburgh, Scotland. I chose Edinburgh because my best friend Erika would be studying at the University of Edinburgh, and because we adored the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Ever since we were fourteen years old, we dreamed of living in Scotland together. Unfortunately, I didn’t find my own personal Jamie Fraser, but I did find a deep and lasting love for a city and a country that have become a home away from home.
I hadn’t returned to Scotland since living there six years ago, so when Erika called me up and asked if I’d go back to Edinburgh to celebrate the marriage of her former roommate, I jumped at the chance. As soon as we arrived, we hit the ground running.
Our first order of business was to get breakfast and coffee from Elephant & Bagel, a cute little café off South Clerk Street. (By the way, “Clerk” is pronounced like “Clark.”)
Once that task was accomplished, we caught a bus across town to meander along the Water of Leith walkway.
Our friend Andrew, whom we were staying with, came with us and shared his knowledge of the city as we took our time on the trail. Although we only saw about a mile and a half, the path itself is over twelve miles long and mostly secluded from any roads. I never knew about the walkway the first time I lived in Scotland, but I wish I had! It’s free and absolutely gorgeous, and a perfect activity if you’re visiting on a budget.
Later that afternoon, we visited a craft beer store that was just down the road from our friends Andrew and Hamish’s flat. The Great Grog Bottle Shop is reportedly one of the best craft beer shops in the whole city. I picked up an IPA (India Pale Ale) called “The Core” from the Scottish brewery Top Out, and from another Scottish brewery Swannay, I got a special edition of their “Orkney Porter,” which was aged in Arran Bere whisky casks. Then, I proceeded to pick up a couple ciders from Thistly Cross. It’s a great place to grab some unique gifts for those craft beer lovers in your life!
Next, it was time for afternoon tea—a custom we observed every single day of our visit. I sat down with the crew to a cup of Earl Grey and an almond croissant from The Wee Boulangerie. Yum!
That night, Andrew prepared us a classic Scottish feast of neeps, tatties, and haggis. “Neeps” are turnips, but in Scotland, their turnips are what we call rutabaga in the US. “Tatties” are mashed potatoes, and haggis is a traditional Scottish dish that consists of the heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt all mixed with stock. Historically, it is encased and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. Nowadays, haggis is usually sold in sausage casing rather than the stomach. Even though it may sound weird, try the haggis! It’s delicious.
The next day, Hamish and Andrew went to the registry office at Lothian Chambers to convert their civil partnership into a proper marriage.
From what I gathered, in Scotland, marriage laws are written so that people have to announce their marriage to the public and then wait two weeks before they can make it legal. Though same-sex marriage technically became legal on December 15, a lot of same-sex couples had to wait until December 31. Since Hamish and Andrew were already in a civil partnership, they didn’t have to wait those initial two weeks before tying the knot. They were married at 11:15 a.m. and were one of the first same-sex marriages in all of Scotland!
And of course, you can’t have a wedding without a party, so we spent the rest of the day at The Southern, where all of their friends and family gathered to celebrate this joyous occasion.
The next day we hiked up Arthur’s Seat, one of the most famous landmarks in Edinburgh.
On our way down, we walked past Holyrood Palace—the queen’s official residence when she visits Edinburgh—and Parliament. We were quite famished after our big hike, so we all went to The Edinburgh Larder just off The Royal Mile. (If you’ve never heard of The Royal Mile, it’s a road right in the middle of the city that stretches from Holyrood Palace at the bottom all the way up to the castle at the top of the hill.)
At the restaurant, all of their ingredients are sourced from Scotland, and the food is made fresh and from scratch daily. I scarfed down half a chicken salad sandwich and a cup of celery and leek soup. To finish it off, I had a pot of Earl Grey and a slice of lemon cake—a little treat after my hike!
Unfortunately, our fairy-tale week was coming to an end, but there was one thing Erika and I were determined to do. So we begged Andrew to drive us an hour outside of Edinburgh to visit Doune Castle.
Previously, Doune Castle had gained some notoriety from a famous Monty Python scene where a Frenchman stands on the ramparts shouting insults at Lancelot. However, the year before, some scenes from the Starz adaption of “Outlander” were filmed there as well. When we arrived, no one else was there. Not a single tourist! We had the whole castle to ourselves.
Although it was quite chilly in the castle, there’s a lot to be said for visiting a country during tourist off-season. We took a gazillion pictures and pranced around with happiness every time we saw a spot we recognized from the show.
The man working the front office even told us where the main actors Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe sat between takes. Of course, we had to sit there, too!
A few hours later, we stopped to visit The Kelpies in Falkirk on the way home. They were built to commemorate Falkirk’s industrial boom. The monuments are impressive when you see them from the roadway, but they are simply magnificent when you see them up close.
If you’re planning to visit Edinburgh or Scotland, I hope this gives you some ideas on what you can do. It is a magical city, and I think it could steal your heart the way it stole mine.