Edinburgh - Pubs, Palaces and Rumbledethumps


Walter Scott Memorial, Edinburgh

After a late arrival in Edinburgh last night, the family is pretty wiped out. A wedding will do that to you.

But in the time-honored Clay Owen tradition, I wake up way before anyone else, so I do a quick Google Map check, figure out the closest grocery store and head out. We’re out in the west end of Edinburgh, right next to the big rugby venue Murrayfield Stadium. I pass by a car dealership with Ferraris, Mercedes and Bentleys in the showroom and figure that we’re staying in a decent neighborhood.

A little Tesco grocery store offers a solid selection of breakfast foods, so I grab the family favorites and head home with a bag full of bread, marmalade, butter and English bacon. Add tea and coffee and it’s already a good day.

Pierce, Ghazal, Grainne and Garrett eventually get up and we plot out the day. Nobody wants a full day of touring, so we decide to get lunch in Edinburgh, conquer Holyrood Palace and leave it at that. Pierce actually has to work, so the rest of us get back into the rental car, return it in downtown Edinburgh and walk down Princes Street, Edinburgh’s famous thoroughfare.

It’s been many years since I’ve been to Edinburgh, and I had forgotten how beautiful and dramatic the city is. The Walter Scott Memorial dominating street level. Arthur’s Seat peering out over the Firth of Forth. The almost impenetrable Edinburgh Castle protecting the city.

It’s lunchtime and we want a good and cool place to eat. We do a bit of online research and strike gold. Tucked away just a few blocks from Princes Street is the Café Royal Circle Bar, a gorgeous Victorian Baroque pub and restaurant serving fresh fish, generous sandwiches, real beer and of course Scottish whisky. (Remember, “whisky” does not have an “e” in Scotland!).

Cafe Royal. Don't miss it

Garrett and I both order a steak sandwich, fries and a beer. Perfection. Grainne gets a craft gin and tonic along with her lunch. She's really happy.

The pub is an architectural showcase, featuring Doulton tile portraits of famous inventors including Benjamin Franklin. The fancy surroundings are a lesson in how to make a vice respectable. The story goes that the temperance movement was in full swing in Edinburgh in the 1820s because drinking establishments were nasty place filled with drunks. Fair enough. But an entrepreneur came along with the idea if he could construct a beautiful building that also served alcohol, then he could attract the social elite to his establishment. It clearly worked, even though they serve the likes of me these days.

Ben Franklin and other inventor adorn the walls of the Cafe Royal

After an hour or so of indulging in the delights of the pub, we try to walk off a few of the calories by heading off on foot to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s royal residence in Edinburgh and site of so much of Scotland’s dramatic and often tortured royal history. For the tourists among you, this is a must-do in Edinburgh. The audio tour that comes with your admission ticket provides an excellent overview of the history.

As you leave the palace, the tour leads you to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, which turns out to be one of my favorite spots. Only columns and arches remain of the abbey where Scottish royalty were once crowned. But what’s left is incredibly romantic, inspiring generations of artists including the composer Felix Mendelssohn and the English poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon, who wrote these haunting verses:

The moonlight fell like pity o'er the walls And broken arches, which the conqueror, Time Had rode unto destruction; the grey moss, A silver cloak, hung lightly o'er the ruins; And nothing came upon the soul but soft, Sad images. And this was once a palace, Where the rich viol answered to the lute, And maidens flung the flowers from their hair.

Ruins of Holyrood Abbey

Feeling inspired but thirsty, we made our way over to the concessions for afternoon tea. The afternoon was fine, so we had tea outside the palace along with – of course – delicious Scottish shortbread.

The afternoon sleepies hit us all at the same time, so we Ubered back to our Airbnb and enjoyed an afternoon nap. Ahhhh… vacation.

Once we were up and refreshed, and Pierce was finished with work, we returned to the serious business of… eating. Pierce, a professional industry analyst, had spent a few minutes analyzing the restaurant scene and made reservations at the Kilted Lobster. Good work, since the Kilted Lobster is among the best fish restaurants in the city. The place is tiny – seating only a couple of dozen diners - so if you want to check it out, make sure you get a reservation.

We loaded up the table with appetizers including Calamari and the amazingly named Morangie Brie Rumbledethumps with Tomato Jam. Fear not – the dish is composed of large brie potato cake and, of course, that tomato jam.

Just for the halibut

We dined on lobster, halibut, salmon and hake – fresh and artistically presented. Dessert brought delights like toffee apple panna cotta with shortbread and a variety of fresh Scottish cheeses (Blue Murder Scottish Blue, anyone?)

With dinner defeated, the younger crowd decided to stop off at a nearby pub for a nightcap. Grainne and I dragged our older bones back to the apartment where we collapsed, another day in our wedding adventure complete.


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