Irish Heritage Tour As Seen Through the Eyes of a Student: Day 11

The Honors Program just completed its Irish Heritage Tour, where twenty-one students and two staff members traveled to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland from May 8th through the 19th. We have asked a number of students to blog about the journey, so each day is written from the perspective of a different student or staff member. Today's post was written by Maria Kern, a freshman in the Honors Program majoring in Forensic Biology and Toxicology. We hope you enjoy reading about our journey!

Streets of Edinburgh
Day 11: Thursday, May 18th

We began our day by leaving the hotel after breakfast and beginning our guided tour of Edinburgh. The first thing we did was say goodbye to Hugh, who had been our driver for the entire trip. His humor and information about Ireland gave the trip a great deal of flavor and substance and we were sad to see him go!

Our fearless driver, Hugh.

The guided tour of Edinburgh was given by a kilt-wearing Scotsman, who focused on the various monuments and important locations in Edinburgh, as well as the parts of the city called "New Town" and "Old Town." Our first stop was Holyrood Park, which is a very large park on one of the hills in Edinburgh. We followed a winding path to the top, passing walking trails and lakes, before emerging on the top of the hill with a great view of the city.

View of Edinburgh from the hills.

After leaving the park, we made our way to the New town section of Edinburgh. On our way, we passed the new Scottish Parliament Building, and the Palace, which is where royalty will stay when they come to Scotland. When we got into the New Town, we passed several statues of famous people in Scotland’s history, other monuments to notable people, and even the houses where various famous people had lived at one time. During this part of the tour, we learned why Edinburgh is separated into Old Town and New Town. The Old Town of Edinburgh is the mile (also known as the “Royal Mile”) the connects the castle, at the top of the hill, to the palace at the bottom of the hill. The New Town is the section of the city that was built later in an attempt to reinvigorate the city and bring wealthier people back to live there.

One of the churches in Edinburgh

After we toured the New Town, we returned to Old town to learn some more about the history of Edinburgh. Originally, the Royal Mile was the best place to live in Edinburgh because it ensured you would have quick access to the safety of the castle if rivals were to attack the city. We ended our tour at Edinburgh Castle, which is located at the top of another hill in the city, but this hill has 3 sheer rock sides and one gradual hill/slope (which is the side that faces the Royal Mile).  It was the ideal place to build a castle because enemies could only approach from one side. 

Another beautiful church in Edinburgh.

The castle is also surrounded by a thick rock wall just in case. The enclosed castle grounds contain the one o’clock gun, a national war museum, barracks, St. Margaret’s chapel, a dog cemetery (for military dogs), a half-moon battery, the Great Hall, the Royal Apartments (which now house the Scottish Crown Jewels), the Scottish National War Memorial (which is actually built in the original cathedral for the castle), the military prisons, and the Prisons of War exhibition, just to name a few sights on the castle grounds. 

Inside the grounds of Edinburgh Castle.

The one o’clock gun goes off every day at exactly one for a time check. St. Margaret’s chapel is too small to actually hold services, as it only holds about 30 people, so it now simply serves as a tribute to St. Margaret. The Royal Apartments would be where the royal family would have stayed when they visited Edinburgh and stayed in the castle, but now the Royal Apartments house the crown jewels, and the royal family stays in the palace. The crown jewels of Scotland consist of the crown, a sword, a sheath for the sword, and a scepter. The Scottish National War Memorial honors all of the Scotts who have died throughout history for freedom. It's housed in a church, and is an amazing and detailed tribute to the Scottish people. The Prisons of War exhibition is set up in the old prisons of the castle, and demonstrates what these prisons would have looked like in 1781. You can actually walk into the various cells and get a small idea of what the life of a prisoner of war would be like. Along with all of these interesting historical sights, the castle also offered a fantastic view of the entire city.

Group photo outside Edinburgh Castle

After we toured the castle, we had free time in the city. Some groups chose to use this time to shop and explore the city, while others chose to return to Holyrood Park and do some hiking on the trails. Of course, we had a large group that decided to climb to the highest peak in Scotland!

Our brave mountain-climbers pause for a photo

At lunch time, a couple in our group were brave enough to try Haggis, which is a Scottish dish made from the stomach of a sheep mixed with vegetables and spices. It was served with "nips and tatties", which are mashed turnips and mashed potatoes. The opinions were mixed, but it was fun to try something different.

Kyle wasn't quite sure what to make of the Haggis!

For those who kept their feet on the ground, we loved exploring the city! One group found a wonderful museum called the Museum of Childhood, which had six floors of children's toys and books to see. We then went to the Financial Museum and spent a great deal of time trying to crack the code on a safe and were rewarded for our trouble with some chocolate coins.  

This group of code-crackers worked hard to earn these chocolate coins!

Finally, the Harry Potter fans in our group found Victoria Street, which was J.K. Rowling's inspiration for Diagon Alley and also browsed several bookstores.  

Harry Potter references could be found all over the city, including the shop where J.K. Rowling sat and wrote some of the books!

Everywhere we walked in the city were street performers and churches and bagpipers. 

Bagpipers performed throughout the day.

When it came time for dinner, our group ate at the World’s End Restaurant, which earned its name from being the last restaurant before the wall, which was essentially the “end of the world” to the people of a medieval Edinburgh, around the city. Then, a group of our students went down to see the castle lit up at night and enjoy the streets of Edinburgh one last time. Although we had a short time to explore Scotland, we were all glad we had the extra days on the trip to enjoy seeing it. It's hard to believe we'll be going home tomorrow!

Our last look at Edinburgh at night.


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