The right way to drink whisky

Up and out by 9 so Mirinda could get a train to Livingston for a meeting – the secondary reason for our visit. A short walk to Waverley station, a bagel breakfast and Costa coffee and then she was gone. Meanwhile, I had planned a Gazday Special. Hold on to your hats and prepare to be bored as we see Edinburgh through the eyes of someone who likes to look at dull, uninteresting things.

My first stop was the National Museum of Scotland. This is a very modern looking building with an amazing layout inside. I didn’t manage to get further than the lower ground and ground floors, they were so packed with interesting things. I’ll not go too far into the rocks and fossils except to say that the landscape of Edinburgh was formed by the same volcano that created Calton Hill. That’s it for the rocks. It was actually really interesting but I shall leave my readers wanting more…”yeah, right,” I can hear Mirinda saying.

Roman cavalry helmets in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Throughout the lower ground floor of the museum is a massive display of the people of Scotland from 8000BC to AD1100. According to the museum guide there is over 5,000 objects on display! I’m pretty sure I didn’t see quite all of them. They have a splendid collection of Roman artefacts including some beautiful decorated Samianware which had me drooling. I know at least two weasels who would have loved to have dug them up. Better than an Anglo-Saxon pin!

Right down the bottom, against one wall with a nicely padded bench opposite, is a video display, which was excellent. It is made up of three big flat screen TVs and a series of images move from left to right across them. Each image is a drawing of a period of Scottish occupation. They change slightly as the ages pass. The images are concerned with how people lived so there’s an evolution of building construction as well as farming methods. Well worth sitting through. Sadly, I haven’t really explained it well enough. It was excellent.

On the ground floor is a disparate grouping of Scottish artefacts from a copy of Mary Queen of Scots’ effigy in Westminster Abbey to the original Lewis chess pieces (which look EXACTLY like the resin ones I have) to the Maiden! The Maiden is a Scottish version of the guillotine. Amazingly portable, efficiently deadly. Apparently beheading by the axe was not seen as very efficient – sometimes it took a few chops for a start – and a better method was required. The Scots being canny, decided not to build lots of them all over the place but, rather, make a portable one that could go where they wanted. It was very clever and reduced down to just three bits. It was also, by all accounts, very, very good at its job.

Leaving the museum (after two hours) I popped over the road with the intention of visiting Greyfriar’s Church. Naturally I stood and admired Greyfriar’s Bobby, sitting in the middle of the footpath between two roads, queuing to take a photo. Across the road and through the ornate gates, stands the Greyfriar’s Kirk. The little grave that the little dog slept at for 14 years is just as you enter, right after you pass the ‘Eerie Wee Shop in the Graveyard’, which was closed.

Greyfriar's Bobby, Edinburgh

I wandered around the graveyard for a bit then entered the church. I then very quickly exited the church as there was a rehearsal on for something. Next Sunday’s service, maybe? There was a lot of people sitting down is all I can say. There was nothing for it but to pop into the Greyfriar’s Bobby’s Pub, just outside the church gates. I settled into a lovely booth in the window and had a pint of Caledonian, a beer I remember well from the beer festivals they regularly hold at Ember’s Inns in Woking.

An interesting story from the Greyfriar’s Bobby’s Bar. It is built at the end of a group of buildings called Candlemaker’s Row. This is an entire street, full of candle makers. At one stage, when the boundaries of the town were laid out, this Candlemaker’s Row was put just the other side of the city walls because no-one living in the timber framed houses of the time was particularly keen on living next to such flammable neighbours.

My next stop was to be the highlight of my non-Mirinda day: The Scotch Whisky Experience. What a fantastic place! It’s a lot like the Jorvik Centre in York except, rather than travelling through the gradually changing city of York, we sat in half oak barrels and travel through the distilling process of whisky! While interesting, obviously, the highlight is the ghost of the Master Blender who pops up all over the place and tells you about the process as it happens. The actor playing him is very good! Unless it was a real ghost…

Having travelled through the process just like a grain of barley, we were then taken to a room where we sat and received a talk from a lovely Scottish chappie. He told us about blended and malt whiskies and why they taste as they do and where they all come from. He threw the statistic out that a bottle of Johnnie Walker red is sold somewhere in the world every 3 seconds. Not sure how they work that one out. We were then given four bottles, each filled with cotton wool and asked to guess what they smelled of. They range from citrus to wood smoke and signify the four different whisky producing regions of Scotland.

And then the good bit. Before each of us was placed two nosing and tasting glasses. The chappie poured a measure of blended whisky into one of them. We were then instructed through the process of looking at it, swirling it to inspect it’s ‘legs’, having a couple of good sniffs to detect any hints of subtle flavour then, finally, to taste. The blended was a McCallums and not bad, though definitely the sort of spirit I’d have soda water with. Next came the malt. What a difference! No soda with this one. A lovely Speyside malt…the distillery escapes me as I sit and type but it was very nice!

Having finished off our samples, we were given the glasses as a token and shown the way down to the bar where we could sample more whisky at £2.50 a glass. I was rather taken with the idea of a nutty malt from the Highlands and tasted a 12 year old Fettercairn. It was very nice. I then bought a bottle in the whisky shop. I also bought Nick a small bottle of Auchentoshan 18 year old because the full bottle was very expensive.

I then took a big detour via the hotel to dump my various purchases before setting out once more for the Royal Mile in search of food. On the way I stopped off in the Calton Hill Cemetery to check out David Hume’s grave – pretty impressive I must say though, oddly, shared with a bunch of other people. Also, the monument to the Americans with a rather serious looking Abe Lincoln on top was a bit odd. Though maybe not…who knows?

Overcome with a desire to see Greyfriar’s Kirk, I decided to lunch in the pub where I’d had a beer earlier. A lovely plate of gammon and eggs and pint of Caledonian later and I went up to the church to find…it was locked up tight. Obviously they didn’t want me to see it! Disappointed but unfazed, I decided to wander round the Royal Mile a bit. I ended up at Starbucks for my usual – the girl had no idea what my ‘usual’ was so I had to give the full order. Mind you, she was Schumanian. Actually, that is odd. There are an awful lot of Schumanians working and, I assume, living in Edinburgh.

While sitting in Starbucks thinking on this and reading some of the tourist bumfph I’d picked up, I came across a piece of news that gladdened my heart. Apparently it is possible to climb the Scott Monument! I hurriedly gulped down my latte and ran down the road, across Waverley Bridge and skidded to a halt outside the little wooden door to the monument. My luck was seriously not going very well! The place was empty. No-one anywhere…actually that’s a lie. A jolly Scot took my £3 and showed me the stairs.

287 stairs to be exact. Up a very narrow, spiral staircase. I climbed the lot. But what fantastic views. 360º views. Totally amazing. The height to the top of the finial is 200ft 6in which, in new money is 61.1m. I think it sounds more of an achievement in imperial. It took about four years to build, completed in 1844 and cost £16,154 7s 11d, which was a lot of money back then! Actually, it’s not bad right now. I felt like the King of Edinburgh up there. I didn’t even mind the tight squeeze when people were on the way up as I was on the way down. I just told them they had a very long way to go. It was 287 stairs coming down, as well.

Jenners, Princes Street, Edinburgh, from the top of the Scott Monument

I was, having wound myself down the monument, pretty bushed so I decided to head back to the hotel and wait for Mirinda to call to say she was on her way back. Which I did and which she did. When I left the hotel, the fog had returned. According to someone at Livingston, this happens often and it rolls off the sea. Whatever it is, it’s quite weird to go into a hotel with the sky blue and seeing for miles then come out about an hour later and it’s white and you can’t see a thing.

Anyway, we managed to get home, feeling our way along the walls, and had room service for dinner and watched Madagascar II – Mirinda’s choice.

Mirinda reports that, according to the folk at Livingston, we were insane to go to Calton Hill as it’s known as a disgusting place full of drunks and drug addicts.

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