Where: Edinburgh, Scotland
Plate of food: Some may think that writing about Scottish cuisine is like writing about Dutch big spenders. But I have always eaten well in Scotland, and I freely admit that I do not shy away from the traditional Scottish fare. No one has to twist my arm to eat the small package of shortbread that comes with my tea. No one has to scrape off the black pudding from my breakfast plate.
But I must speak now about – haggis! I am not afraid of this folkloric food and its dubious ingredients. Granted, I don’t consciously think about it or discuss it while I am eating, but I do enjoy it. I ate some vegetarian haggis while in Edinburgh which I thought was a bit pointless. I went straight back to the full and proper haggis. A day with offal and oatmeal cased in a sheep’s stomach is a great day! That is the saying, isn’t it? Well, in Scotland it must be.
The key for me is the gravy. This is essential to lubricating the haggis and, dare I say, masking some of the flavour. If the gravy isn’t perfect, the haggis is a sad, grey offering on a plate next to lumpy turnips and bland potatoes. But a gravy that is able to sing the praises of a haggis pulls the entire dish together, so that you are suddenly claiming some ancestry to the Macdonalds and you are willing to name your first-born Fergus. Such is the power of the haggis.
The best: Climbing up Arthur’s Seat. This iconic hill in the city is a must-see for any visitor. We were keen for the views from the top and the chance to simply set foot on a peak with such significance and history. It was a cloudy day when we set off on our walk, but we were not willing to wait for a sunny day as that may have meant waiting approximately 3 years.
All of the guide books claim that it is an easy and popular walk to the top. We shortly discovered that this was not the case. The grassy path disappeared as the track became rockier. We pushed on, but that required some impromptu rock climbing. I was happy enough until the cloud became rain and the rocks became slippery harbingers of death, then I felt uneasy. On we went, though, because the top was so enticingly near. My face was splattered with rain, my pants were covered in mud, and Matt yelled at me over the howling wind about where to find footholds: it was my worst nightmare. I was cursing Arthur and his seat.
We finally reached the top and stood there gasping and dripping, gazing out at the mist and the rolling clouds. We started to notice families with small children and elderly couples and people who clearly took the consumption of haggis very seriously. How did they manage the climb, we wondered. It must have taken days for them to reach the summit; my, what commitment! Then we saw a set of stone steps leading down. We followed them and saw more stones and a well-maintained pathway appearing out of the mist. People were streaming up the hill. There was no rock climbing, no concern for footholds. It was an easy, popular route….on the east side of the hill.
Note: we came up the WEST side.
Story that needs to be told: As we walked down the Royal Mile one day, we noticed a heavy police presence. It was so striking that I decided to ask an officer what was happening. He smiled like a schoolboy and said that “one of the Royal family members” was on their way to the whiskey museum. Well, say no more, my good man! Matt saw his afternoon in a pub with a pint disappear as I excitedly took my place along the sidewalk, camera in hand. Suddenly, three cars rolled up the street and a team of people rushed out with metal fences to create a perimeter around the museum entrance. I scuttled forward with everyone else and happily found myself very close to the front.
The doors to the cars opened and out came…Prince Charles! I mean, that is a proper Royal family member, is it not? It could have easily been Prince Edward or Princess Anne who, frankly, are the ‘B’ team in the Royal family. We agree on this, right? But, no, it was the heir to the throne! In a kilt, no less!
He waved and went to enter the museum, but turned and decided to do a walk-about along the fence. I couldn’t believe my luck! I was behind only one other woman in the crowd. I got my camera ready as he worked his way along. Soon he was directly in front of me and I was torn between taking photos which requires my right hand, and offering my hand for him to shake which also requires my right hand. In a split second I decided to continue taking photos, but offer up my left hand to him. Strangely, I also decided that I needed to waggle my left wrist and all of my fingers in front of him.
There I was with the future King of England and I had my face obscured by my camera, I was squinting into the viewfinder, and my left limb was having its own little seizure. He bypassed my hand, as if anyone can blame him. He completed his circuit and waved once more before disappearing into the museum. I was elated despite my own bizarre behaviour. If nothing else, I feel as though I made an impression (probably more so on his security team). As for Charles (we are on a first name basis now) I must say that he has a pleasantly deep voice and very blue eyes. Even with those unfortunate ears, he was surprisingly dapper in his kilt and with a thistle in his lapel. It is reminiscent of the gravy jazzing up the dreary haggis, is it not? Ahem.
“Edinburgh isn’t so much a city, more a way of life….” Ian Rankin
Dear traveling friend, have you ever been to Edinburgh? How do you rate haggis? Did you go up the east or west side of Arthur’s Seat? How do you really feel about Prince Charles? I would love to know….