Scotland Diaries: Chillin’ with the Ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots

Wednesday, August 21

Soundtrack: “Mary Queen of Scots” Scottish BBC Symphony Orchestra

Itinerary:

  • breakfast at Spoon
  • explore Victoria Street
  • whisky tasting
  • dinner in Edinburgh
  • overnight stay at Melville Castle in Dalkeith

Edinburgh
For breakfast, we went to Spoon, a cafe noted as one of many places where J.K. Rowling spent hours writing the first few Harry Potter books. The book series would dictate many of our stops for the day, as I was now focused on the pop culture pilgrimage aspect of our time in Edinburgh. Rowling drew inspiration from spots all over the city, including Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh Castle, and Victoria Street.

On my way to the Leaky Cauldron for some firewhisky

After fueling up on toast and jam, we walked to Victoria Street, the muse for Diagon Alley. We wandered in and out of shops (many of them Harry Potter-themed), tried a hog roll from Oink (perfection), and took photos with an owl for 3 quid. A violinist performed in the street, playing the theme from Game of Thrones. Victoria and the surrounding streets capture that magical, storybook feeling, with turrets and maze-like alleyways, centuries-old churches, and towering castles. Listen, I live in a neighborhood where our most historic building is a mattress store, so this was awe-inspiring.

Scotch Whisky Experience
I know nothing about whisky. I typically drink beer or wine, and I have little to no developed palette for spirits. But I’m also game to try anything new, and Kurt asked me to bring him home a bottle of Scotch, so I gladly signed up for a tasting. Our server was incredibly helpful in creating a tasting flight that suited our requests (we wanted to try options that aren’t easily found in the States, along with some samples from the Highlands, Speyside, and Islay). Elizabeth helped guide me through the tasting. It was fun to learn something new and expand my taste horizon; for example, I learned that I like a smoky whisky with some peaty notes. Also, my favorite bottle turned out to be £179, so I also learned that I am an expensive bitch.

A great thing about traveling with a group of friends is that you get to branch out of your typical box by trying out things that they enjoy that you might not done before. In my case, I did my first ever Old Time Photo. We touched down in the studio like a human tornado of various requests for capes, crowns, and swords, while also letting the photographer know that we only had 15 minutes before we had to get to a Fringe show. The photographer was a true professional, guiding us with the expertise of someone used to dealing with tourists: “You want traditional, or the Outlander look?” We sped through the photo shoot, and at the end, he thanked us for being decisive and quick: “If only you had more time, we could have done a beheading scene.” Damn.

The final, amazing result:

The Fringe show we had planned to see ended up selling out before we could get to the box office, so instead, we stopped for a pint, then took a leisurely stroll towards dinner at Scran & Scallie. Contrary to stereotypes of Scottish food, we’d been delighted with nearly every single meal, and this dinner was among the absolute best. Oh and as general rule, when in Scotland, eat oysters whenever possible–the  country’s abundance of clear, cool water makes them incredible-tasting.

Melville Castle
One of the overnight stays we were most excited for were our suites at Melville Castle, just outside of Edinburgh in Dalkeith. For one night, we were rolling all fancy like royalty. YOU GUYS, Mary, Queen of Scots(!!!) vacationed at this very castle, and supposedly haunts the first floor to this very day, searching for her secret lover. Spending the night here is even better than my childhood dream of visiting the castle from the 1988 Steve Guttenberg movie High Spirits.

Melville Castle

Midlife Crisis board game in the Library Bar

Upon arrival, we checked in then settled into our suites. My room’s window faced the expansive grounds behind the castle, including a fountain, wooden sculptures, and horse paddock. After a full day of exploring, we were pretty exhausted, so it was a good evening for long baths, curling up with a book, or taking a leisurely stroll on the castle grounds. Sometime in the evening, I ran into Elizabeth and Anita in the library bar, and we found a board game called Midlife Crisis hidden among the typical selection of Monopoly and Life. Obviously, we had to play it. Sample card: “At 3 a.m. on Thursday morning, you discover that you have no moral values. No answers as to what is important or worthwhile in life. This is cause for concern–or is it? Add 200 stress points.” I was the only one who didn’t land in Divorce Gulch or Bankrupt City, so I won.

After the board game, we found a second wind, so we poured a few glasses of wine for the castle version of wine hiking. Quietly tiptoeing through the castle, we peeked into turret staircases and checked out the antique art in the staircases. Anita and I went for a walk in the garden to see the view of the castle lit up at night. (If you’ve seen Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, you will understand why the appearance of a ‘red room’ at night freaked me out.)

whut

Eventually, we tucked ourselves into bed in our fancy chambers. After we turned out the lights, we braced ourselves for any ghostly visitors.

 

 

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