I was so mesmerized by the beauty of the English countryside, that it was hard to say goodbye to the Lake District. But exciting things were waiting for us in Scotland, UK's northernmost country and the final destination of our week long adventure. It was my first visit to this breathtakingly beautiful country, so deep rooted in history and culture, that I'm actually surprised at how much Todd and I managed to squeeze in in just a short amount of time. One thing's for certain, however. I'll be back . . .
LAKE DISTRICT TO EDINBURGH
The near three hour drive from Lake District to Edinburgh is incredibly picturesque and rather swift, that is, if you can resist taking pit stops at all the incredible textile industries along the way. Obviously, I had to but that just made the drive all the more exciting! Hawick was our first stop - a town best known for manufacturing cashmere. You can take a factory tour of Johnsons of Elgin, who has been creating the finest woolen and cashmere scarves, knitwear and blankets since 1797. Our second stop was at Lochcarron of Scotland, the world's leading tartan manufacturer since the mid 20th century. They've designed tartan patterns for royal families, fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren, Dior, Supreme and Chanel, and national sports teams. Did you know that every tartan pattern must be registered with The Scottish Register of Tartans, which is a a national repository of tartan designs? The Scots take their tartans seriously. After all, tartans date as far back to medieval times, where tartans were an ancient symbol of allegiance and kinship amongst Scottish clans. If you have a Scottish-related surname, you are sure to have a designated tartan. This was just the perfect way to start our experience in Scotland. I loved walking through the weaving mills, and understanding the process from beginning to end, which is actually extremely lengthy and highly specialized. One woman was hand removing shreds of woven threads off a scarf to create a soft fringe - in lightening speed, might I add. Impressive. And of course, at the end, my tartan-obsessed self took home far too many woven blankets, ponchos and wraps that could have possibly fit into my luggage. No kilts, though. At least not this time around.
The minute I stepped foot into The Dunstane House, I was already planning my return. The privately owned mansion housed merchants, musicians, doctors, distillers, bankers and newspapermen over the last 150 years, serving as the gateway to Old Town Edinburgh. Today, the family run hotel has 16 recently renovated rooms and suites, each one absolutely different and with decor inspired by the Orkney roots of its owner. Every little detail has been carefully thought out here, from the quality of service from staff members that have been with the hotel for decades to the oh-so-charming design details. I bought into the lifestyle, taking home a couple of Noble Isle Whisky & Water room diffusers used throughout the hotel. It was that good. I loved the common area, where guests are free to dine, read a book or just enjoy a glass of complimentary whisky at their leisure. The conjoining bar was also a treat and open all night long for guests. It was the perfect place to unwind after a long day on foot and to enjoy The Dunstane House's newly launched gin: the Dun Gin. A little note: The Dunstane House is about a mile and a half from Old Town Edinburgh. Don't let this deter you from staying here. It's actually a beautiful 25 minute walk, that can include a short detour along the Water of Leith in Dean Village and Circus Lane (see below) if you wish to take it. There's also a bus that will take you directly to the Old Town, down Princes Street, with a stop right outside the hotel. Point being, although it's not directly in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, staying here is so so worth it. Trust me!
Antiques, tweed, tartan and oh, more antiques. Expect to stumble upon a multitude of textile shops selling tartan and smart tweed, as well as antique shops, selling books, silver and art. Marchbrae, James Pringle Weavers, House Of Edinburgh, and Tartan Weaving Mill are all well established shops selling authentic tartans. As for the antique shops, I highly recommend walking along the Royal Mile, down Victoria Street, where you'll be lured into one treasure shop after another. You might even find some Harry Potter swag along the way . . .
With only two nights in Edinburgh, we knew we would only scratch the surface of the burgeoning food scene here. When we first arrived into town, however, first thing was first. Fish and chips. Thankfully, our one and only shot of battered fish and chippies was a total winner and the perfect start to our, albeit short, culinary adventure in Edinburgh. Head over to HonestlyYUM to for more delicious recommendations from Todd!
EATS . . .
- The Fishmarket: Newly opened Fishmarket prides itself on the freshest, most sustainable fish and seafood. You must get the fish & chips here and their daily selection of fresh seafood, served chilled over ice.
- Cairngorm Coffee Co.: This independent coffee shop serves up their own coffee, which they roast in the Cairngorms in Scottish Highlands. What you might not know, however, is that they make a damn good grilled cheese sandwich - a secret that only regulars might know about.
- Oink: Stop into Oink while you're cruising historic Victoria Street, in Old Town, for the best pulled pork pot roast sandwich, topped with homemade apple sauce or chili jam, in Edinburgh.
- Mary's Milk Bar: Hot chocolate ice cream floats. Need I say more? Choose from an incredibly wide range of uniquely delicious and decadent ice cream flavors, like Fried Bananas & Butter, Chili & Pineapple or Spiced Cherry, to customize the ultimate frozen hot chocolate.
- The Gardener's Cottage: At the foot of Calton Hill in Edinburgh's Royal Terrace Gardens is a humble little cottage, originally built as a home in 1836. Today, it's a small restaurant, with just two long communal tables, where inventive dishes are served using the only the best local produce.
- Voyage of the Buck: The story of William "Buck" Clarence is told throughout the menu at West End's Voyage of the Buck. It was the world traveller's home in the early 1900s so all the cocktails and dishes are inspired by Buck's travels to Paris, Taipei, Cairo and Havana.
- head to HonestlyYUM to check out Todd's discovery of some of the best pastries in Edinburgh!
The best way to explore Edinburgh is on foot. I encourage you to stumble upon all the historic streets and vantage points throughout Old Town and its surrounding areas. We had opportunities to go castle hopping, on a whisky tour, and an underground ghost adventure but we chose to use our time exploring this walking paradise with its secret closes, hidden gardens, picturesque promenades - and of course, with the occasional stopover at just about any charming pub.
MORE SITES TO SEE . . .
- The Edinburgh Castle: Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position on the Castle Rock. It's a must-see when in Edinburgh but also a great reference point when walking throughout the city. You can always look up and have a sense of where you are in relation to the castle.
- The Royal Mile: The Royal Mile runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, connecting Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It's full of tourist shops and the occasional antique stores and in some areas, it's restricted to pedestrians.
- Victoria Street: Victoria Street is one of Edinburgh's most colorful streets with its brightly colored facades and old world charm. Here you'll find a great selection of independent boutiques and if you're a Hogwarts fans, a handful of Harry Potter shops!
- Grassmarket: At the end of Victoria Street is Grassmarket, is home to some of the best and oldest pubs in Edinburgh.
- National Museum of Scotland: Explore the diversity of the natural world, world cultures, art and design, science and technology and Scottish history, all in beautiful building. Admission is also free!
- Dean Village & The Water of Leith: Walk along the pathways and bridges of the Water of Leith and through Dean Village for some of the most picturesque views of Edinburgh.
- Calton Hill: Calton Hill is one of Edinburgh's main hills, set right in the city center. Climb up the steps that will get you to the very top for the most spectacular sunset views.