Out of Scotland Already?!

Trip Start Jul 28, 1998
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Trip End Aug 13, 1998


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Where I stayed
Countryview Guest House

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, August 9, 1998

I don't think I can adequately put into words the feeling of waking up at Ratho Hall. But, since this is my travelogue and I don't have an editor, I'm going to give it a shot. The first sensation pulling one out of a slumber is a warm glow that fills the room. The glow comes from the light of the sunrise as it penetrates the cracks of the wood shutter that cover the windows. Accompanying the light is the faint smell of bacon and sausage being fried in the kitchen down the stairs. Slowly, one pulls off the down comforter and begins moving toward the window. Upon opening the wooden shutters, one is confronted by a view of the outside world. Usually, one sees rain. But, on some mornings, the rain is gone. On those days, one gets to see a slight haze in the air. The haze comes from dew that's evaporating in the morning light off of the lawns and pastures surrounding the house. At the edge of the lawns are the trees that mark the boundary of the estate. And just beyond the trees are the houses of the town of Ratho. If one looks closely enough, one can see the townspeople beginning their day. About that time, some of the other employees of Ratho Hall drive up the long driveway to start their work day. They enter through the front door, letting in with them a burst of moisture heavy, sweet smelling air. That air mixes with the scent of breakfast being prepared in the kitchen. The combined scent works its way up the staircase to the bedroom, where it hits the visitor with an intoxicating scent that causes instant pangs of hunger. And in that moment, with the scents, the morning light, and scenery, life just seems very, very good.

We headed down to breakfast. If you haven't read my account of Ratho Hall from my 1997 trip, then you probably won't understand my reference to croissants. But, for those of you that have, I'll just say that the croissants were back on the table at this visit, along with the fresh raspberry preserves. And we didn't even have to ask the Smalls for them. Yet another reason why to go back to Ratho Hall: these people remember the small details to make a stay memorable. Given all the effort they had made, I couldn't resist "the full fry" this morning. After breakfast, we headed up to our rooms and packed. A short while later, we were headed out the driveway toward Edinburgh. There was a strong sense of sadness in the car as we departed. Kelly and Denise had already received orders transferring them back to the United States. Thus, I thought it was likely that this visit was probably the last trip we'd make to Ratho Hall. My premonition was realized a few years later when the Smalls sold Ratho Hall and it became a private residence once again.

While it was goodbye, we left with happiness tempering our sadness. We have gotten to know some wonderful, giving people, who have made us feel like part of their family. It is refreshing to know that in this world of corporate hotels where one feels like a piece of machinery, there was a place where hosts still take the time to remember your names and make you feel like it's their privilege to have you stay in their house. We are grateful that fate brought us together with Janet and Freddy. I think Kelly said it best when he said that he felt that Ratho was his home in Scotland. And when was the last time that anyone said that about a place in which one only spends a couple of nights a year. Thank you, Janet and Freddy, for making us feel that we always have a place in Scotland to call home.

We headed into Edinburgh. After some shopping on Princes' St., we went to the last Fringe event for which we had tickets. It was a play called Day of the Dead. The play was a murder mystery set in a plastic surgery clinic. I thought it was the best performance that we saw at the Fringe on this visit. After the play, we headed over to Pizza Hut for some lunch. Then, it was back to Princes' St. to watch the parade of artists that is the traditional kickoff to the festival season in Edinburgh. The highlight of the parade was that some of the bagpipe bands from the Tattoo were playing. I never get tired of hearing bagpipes in Edinburgh. Of course, there are plenty around. I suppose that if I lived there, I would get tired of them. But, because I only visit, the sound of bagpipes echoing through Edinburgh just appeals to that side of me that demands that certain stereotypes be met.

After the parade, we headed over to the only tourist attraction we hadn't seen in Edinburgh in our previous visits: Holyroodhouse Palace. In general, I haven't been too impressed with royal residences. Yes, they are beautifully decorated, and they have art treasures that most museums in the world would kill for. But, all of them have a really weird quality to them. I felt it at Sandringham in 1995 and at the State Apartments of Windsor Castle in 1997. And that same quality existed at Holyroodhouse. The quality comes from the artifacts that are still in the rooms. Much (if not all) of the furnishings are rather old. In fact, I don't remember a thing in any room being more recent than the 1920's. It's understandable that these rooms would want to be kept in a form of historical preservation. But, one has to remember that they are still being used by the current batch of royals. In fact, I made a point of asking one of the guides at Holyroodhouse if the Queen had ever sat in any of the chairs in this particular room. The guide assured me that the Queen had held a formal reception in that room just a few months earlier. And those guests did use the old furniture. So, for me, the fact that these people use historical items in part of their everyday lives gives me the impression that they are trapped in the past. I'm sure their private rooms are very modern. Still, I don't believe that one can be surrounded with that much old stuff and not be stiffled by it. Perhaps that explains that sense of being "out of touch" that many people feel with regards to the Royal Family.

With those feelings in mind, we went to Holyroodhouse Palace. Overall, the palace was generally what I expected. Two rooms in particular stand out. The first is the Great Gallery. In here were pictures of every Scottish monarch from Fergus I to Charles II. It's a nice, quick lesson on Scottish royalty. The other room was Mary, Queen of Scots' Bedroom. This was the room where the famous Rizzio murder took place. It's rather eerie to know that you're walking in the same area in which history took place. Other than those two rooms, the palace is pretty boring.

While the palace is boring, the grounds are a site to see. They contain the usual fantastic gardens found in Great Britain. They also house a ruined abbey. I have to say that the grounds were much more interesting than the palace.

Overall, Holyroodhouse Palace is a lot like Edinburgh Castle: it's much more impressive from the outside than from the inside. But, like Edinburgh Castle, a first-time visitor should stop there in order to get a glimpse of history. But, don't expect to learn much about the lives of the royals or the history of the city from a visit.

We spent about an hour touring the grounds and the palace. After our visit, we headed up the road on Arthur's Seat. Arthur's Seat is a mountain on the edge of downtown Edinburgh, right next to Holyroodhouse Palace. Today, the mountain is a natural preserve and city park. My friends decided to climb the mountain (it's only 850 feet high, so it doesn't take that long to climb). I declined to join them because I was fighting a mild cold and didn't want to tire myself out too much. But, they told me that the views of the city from the top were magnificent.

We departed Edinburgh on the A1 highway. In the past, we've taken the A82 through Jedburgh to get back to England. But, we decided to follow the coastline this time. It took a little longer; but, the views were superb. I did miss the big rock in the middle of the road draped with signs that say Scotland on one side and England on the other that exists on the A82. But, there are other signs on the A1 that make it clear that you are entering England and leaving Scotland.

After driving for a couple of more hours through spectacular Northumberland scenery, we arrived in Durham. I had wanted to go to Durham because of the town's magnificent cathedral. But, I discovered that the town had much more to offer. Before we could get to the cathedral, necessity dictated that we stop at our bed and breakfast: the Countryview Guest House. Our room didn't have a bathroom, but it did have a sink, a telephone, and a television. I thought the place was a little run down. But, my perception may have been colored by the fact that I'd spent the previous night in the relative splendor of Ratho Hall. However, the hosts were very friendly, which made up for some of the building's shortcomings.

I pictured Durham to be a sleepy town. Actually, it was quite alive. There were several pubs that were very noisy. Additionally, there were a lot of people wondering around heading off to the different clubs. I thought that this energy might come from the fact that Durham's home to a major university. However, school was out of session when we were there. So, I guess that the town is just active by itself.

We spent some time at the Silver Street Bridge, admiring the view of the towers of the cathedral looming above the trees and the River Wear. The setting is as dramatic as I had read. We followed a path along the river to the cathedral. It was closed by the time we got to it. But, we didn't need sunlight to be able to admire the structure. The cathedral sits on the edge of the university's grounds. In fact, most of the town's old castle has been taken over by the university. It just so happened that in one of the university's buildings near the cathedral, the school's choir was rehearsing. We sat underneath one of the building's windows and listened to the choir while the exterior of the cathedral changed colors in the sunset. It was just another of those little moments that make a trip special.

We headed back toward the B&B after the impromptu concert ended. Along the way, we stopped in the Rajpooth Tandoori Restaurant which is across the street from the B&B. The host of the place put us in a parlor and put menus in front of us. He kept coming back to check on us, but would never take us to the tables. Finally, we asked when we would be seated. He said he would seat us after we ordered. He had been returning to see if we were ready to order. The bizzare seating arrangements were the only unusual thing about the place. The food was incredible. I had a chicken vindaloo that was superb. Everyone seemed very pleased with the taste and portions served. I have to highly recommend the Rajpooth. It didn't seem too crowded the night we were there; but, Durham's restaurants seemed to get filled quickly. It might not be a bad idea to call ahead.
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