Scotland is an amazing country with startling beauty, great people and culture, and an epic history. And quite surprisingly, those same people absolutely love the song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.
My girlfriend and I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capitol, in the late afternoon. From the train station we had a small hike to our hotel through the city’s winding streets, laden with brick and cobble pathways, and narrow alleyways that crisscrossed the city’s brown and gray stone buildings. You can see and feel that Edinburgh is an old city, proudly showcasing its long-spanning history that finely interweaves the historical with modern city life.
Shops, pubs, buses, cafes, and restaurants seamlessly mixed with the city’s towering, medieval church spires, historic buildings, and of course, Edinburgh Castle itself. While we trekked our way through the city center on our first ever trip to Scotland, Lisa and I heard the unmistakable wailing drone of the bagpipes. I’m serious. Amazingly, less than an hour after arriving, we just happened to see a bagpiper standing on the street corner playing a mournful Scottish tune.
As the sun’s rays died out across the land, surrendering the city to twilight, the piper’s tune played to convey the emotion and ambiance of Scotland and all its heritage. This bagpipe tune seemed to call out to all who passed by, beckoning to any of us who would listen. The pipes begged us to please, if we could, if it wasn’t too inconvenient, to just place a tip in the piper’s case. Just a quid would do.
Remember, always tip your bartenders, pizza delivery drivers, mummifiers, and bagpipers.
After checking into our hotel by Grassmarket Square, which just so happened to look right up at Edinburgh Castle, we found a nice pub for our evening’s drinks and entertainment called Biddy Mulligan’s. It was right on Grassmarket Square and it advertised live music and a lovely beer selection.
A fine pub will always have a great selection of frothy beverages ranging from all styles and from various parts of the world. And when I say the beers will be of many styles, I mean it. There will be ales, hefeweizens, lagers, pilsners, stouts, and JUST ONE IPA. I’m looking at you, Every Single West Coast Craft Brewery! Yes, you can serve something other than 10,437 IPAs.
At a fine pub, though, you will not find Natural Ice or Coors Light. Because great, respectable pubs only serve good beer. Not piss water.
Biddy Mulligan’s was quite crowded the night we visited with a large number of men wearing kilts and Scotland Rugby jerseys. That’s when I realized Scotland’s national rugby team had just played the New Zealand All Blacks that night, and unfortunately for Scotland, the All Blacks won. Again. And so, the locals were filling up the pubs to drown away their sorrows. Again. And the local Scots drank and sang along with the pub singer. Again. And the Scottish people acted very welcoming, friendly, and fun with the visiting tourists who joined them in their revelry/mourning. Again.
Honestly, the Scottish people reminded me of the Irish people in the way they were openly friendly, witty, and just down to have a good time. And everyone in the pub sang and danced along with the pub singer, a man with just his guitar and a powerful, charismatic voice. As a musician myself, I found it inspiring the way just one person, without a backup band, commanded the entire room with his music and songs.
The whole back of the pub jumped, sang, and danced along as the singer belted out renditions of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers, “Bad Moon Rising” by Credence Clearwater Revival, and even “The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond.” But the most surprising moment was when he sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” I think I was surprised because here we were, at a pub in Scotland, and each time the singer got to the chorus, a couple dozen drunk Scots shouted, “Country roads, take me home, to a place where I belong, WEST VIRGINIA!” The pub’s patrons went apeshit over that song, nearly starting a mosh pit.
Another highly entertaining song that night was not just because of the singer, but because of the people at the pub that evening. When the singer performed, “The Time of My Life”, that song from Dirty Dancing, a drunk Scottish couple got a sudden burst of inebriated inspiration. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Yep! This man and woman heard this song, and immediately thought, “We can do that lift jump thing!”
And yes. Of course, they tried it. Twice. First the man signals he’s ready, and the lady ran to him fully anticipating being hoisted into the air. But the pair of them, in their alcohol-fueled enthusiasm, only managed to have one partner crash into the other, causing them to become a tumbling heap of arms and legs on the beer-soaked pub floor. We all laughed. They laughed. And then they tried again with the same result.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that Scottish pub singers are just that fucking good.
The next morning, eager to visit some of Edinburgh’s great sites while pretending we didn’t have hangovers, we hiked up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. We arrived before it opened for visitors and used that time to visit a whiskey tasting establishment that’s just down the street called The Scotch Whiskey Experience.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience is a place that combines whiskey tasting, a tour involving the history of Scotch whiskey, and a carnival ride. I’m not kidding. The Scotch Whiskey Experience of Edinburgh begins by placing you in one of those conveyer-driven, haunted mansion buggies that whisks you away into the bowels of the building. The buggy guided us through paths and tunnels showcasing enlarged replica whiskey stills & equipment, displays of historical whiskey distilling, oversized (maybe) whiskey barrels, and scenes of Scottish scenery and heritage.
It was all narrated by the hologram of an 18th century Scottish gentleman who may or may not have been in a Charles Dickens book. The Ghost of Scotch and Mustaches. And at the end of this funhouse-for-grownups tour, we began the whiskey tasting. Leave it to the Scots to combine amusement park rides and alcohol.
As you can see from the photos above The Scotch Whiskey Experience contains an absolutely epic wall of historical scotch!
While admiring the vast collection of historical whiskeys, I happened upon the one in the picture below. I couldn’t help making a little meme out of it. Because I’m twelve.
By the time we finished tasting our scotch (only four of them) we were properly…relaxed…and ready to see the majestic Edinburgh Castle!
Edinburgh Castle is the place every history lover wants to visit. If you claim to be a history lover and think you don’t want to see this medieval Scottish fortress, then you’re wrong. Edinburgh Castle is a place that is so steeped in majestic antiquity, the legacy of Scotland’s past is practically dripping from its walls. Edinburgh Castle, with its dark brown and grey stone battlements, has stood watch over this city for a thousand years.
The centerpiece of Scotland’s capitol city, maybe even the centerpiece of the country itself, contains museums and memorials to Scotland’s soldiers and past wars, old dungeons, colonial era cannons, and even the crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny itself. The Stone of Destiny is the millennium-old carved stone upon which the Scottish kings have historically been crowned. The entrance to the castle is flanked by statues of Robert The Bruce and William Wallace (definitely not Mel Gibson).
There’s even a gift shop inside where you can buy tartan wool scarves and caps, Scottish flag pins, and Loch Ness Monster trinkets. Edinburgh Castle is so Scottish, I wouldn’t be surprised if the walls turn to plaid by themselves one day.
I don’t think my words alone can honestly convey the awesomeness that Edinburgh Castle, and Scotland itself, truly is. Therefore, I’ll let some photos I took attempt to do that for me, which you can enjoy below. This was my girlfriend and I’s first stop in this ancient, Celtic country, and we were already off to a great start.
Next stop: Inverness and the Highlands!