Sunday, July 28, 2013

Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat beside Duddingston Loch
Arthur's Seat is a notable landmark of Edinburgh as it is a mountain that serves as the backdrop of the city.  I have read that climbing to the top provides excellent panoramic views of the city and surrounding Scotland on a clear day.  However, there is not much literature on exactly how to climb to the top.  There are many different trails and ways to climb to the top, but no ONE this is the path you take with small children in tow.  Since it seemed that there were easy and difficult routes to take, but lots of chances to blaze your own trail as well; we did as much research as we could and then decided to just go for it.  We determined to hike up the west side from Holyrood Palace and down the east side to Duddingston Village.

I have been wanting to hike Arthur's Seat since we arrived, and was very excited when we decided to set off to take on the challenge of hiking Arthur's Seat.  The other problem with reading reviews on TripAdvisor and other travel sites is that everyone has different tolerance levels and athletic abilities.  When I read that it was very challenging and rock-climbing skills could be needed, I was very nervous about going with a 22-month-old and 4-year-old.  However, the route we took was not challenging at all and was a lot of fun!

Amelie wasn't too keen on the uphill portion of the hike, but with ice-cream as a reward for completing this quest she gladly took on the challenge without much fuss.  Liam was very patient to sit in the pack while we hiked up the mountain and provided us with some laughs as we allowed him to hike down the mountain.  With it being a Saturday and nice weather, we were not alone on our quest to hike to the top.  It was fun to see other families out doing the same thing as we were...bribing our children to continue to push through and get to the top! ;)

St. Anthony's Chapel ruins on the mountain.  Not much is known about this chapel, but it is thought to have been built in the 1100's.  It seems very likely that St Anthony's Chapel was closely associated with Holyrood Abbey.  The two were linked by a well-made stone track (now heavily worn) with prominent kerbstones that can in places still be seen.
Only climbing a couple of feet provided us great views of the city.
Bobby carried Liam up the mountain while I carried Liam down the mountain (a little that is).  Amelie walked on her own.  She and I enjoyed looking for yellow and purple flowers on our journey.

We loved the views of the Forth too.  You can see Inchcolm Island in the background.

A nice flat spot near the top to have our picnic lunch of PB & honey while looking to where we needed to head next.
After eating lunch, Amelie decided to relax.  You can see Holyrood Palace and Abbey in the background.
Liam is the collector and collected a couple of rocks to carry with him.   
Right near the top, there was a little more climbing...nothing too crazy though.
  Amelie did a great job picking the way for us to climb.  At this point there was no one path to follow.
Did I mention that this is an extinct volcano, which erupted around 340 million years ago?
At the pinnacle of Arthur's Seat.
As we were walking around on top, Amelie was stung by a bee on her pointer finger.  She cried for a couple of minutes and we watched it swell.  She recovered fairly quickly, but I think a bee-phobia has now begun.
This picture was taken right after she was stung.
Since I am a science teacher this was also particularly interesting to me as this mountain holds a special place in the history of science, for it was here in the late 18th century that James Hutton found evidence to support his theories about the workings of the Earth. He observed igneous and sedimentary rocks and understood that they had been formed at different times by different processes. He suggested that the Earth was very old, and continually changing; a startling new idea that changed forever the way people thought about our planet, and influenced other scientists such as Charles Darwin. James Hutton is now recognised as the 'father of modern geology'.  
It was smart to take different paths going and coming as we were able to see other Lochs and other great views.
 Also, since the east trail is more like rolling grasslands, Liam was able to walk down
(and I got to carry an empty pack!).

He would get running so fast that his legs could not keep up with the momentum of his body.  At one point, he lunged for some soft grass and rolled to a stop.  We all laughed so hard that he continued to throw himself down in the grass as he went down the mountain.  
After we descended the mountain, we arrived at Duddingston Loch.  Duddingston Loch has been used for ice-skating and curling for several centuries.  In an earlier blog post, I showcased a famous Scottish painting of the Reverend Robert Walker ice-skating on Duddingston Loch.  We made our way through the cemetery surrounding the Duddingston Kirk.  We walked through the small village to the Sheep's Heid Pub for treats for the whole family.  Sheep's Heid is said to be Scotland's oldest pub, dating from 1360.
The Loch is now a bird sanctuary.
The swan family behind us was fun to watch.
Bobby reenacting the painting...

Amelie's promised ice-cream.  She generously shared with all of us.  It went above her expectations as it came with a chocolate chip cookie, mint leaves, and a strawberry.  We also ate "chips".  

Every where is Walking Distance If You Have the Time

With summer school over and the Fall semester not quite yet started, we have had lots of time.  I really liked the quote by Steven Wright, "Every where is walking distance if you have the time."  I love walking without having time pressures and time schedules to follow.  I know this is a unique season of our lives, but I am hoping that even when we return to the States we will remember the benefits of taking strolls and exploring wherever we reside.

On Friday (July 26th) we set off to visit St. Mary's Cathedral.  It is a majestic church that we have seen from a distance, but not yet made a point to visit up close.  With chances of rain looming, we thought this would be a good escape from the apartment.

St. Mary's Cathedral is a cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church.  It's foundation stone was laid in 1874 and was paid for by Barbara and Mary Walker, spinster sisters.  We had the church mostly to ourselves as we walked around looking at the carvings, sculptures, and paintings.  Liam enjoyed hearing his echo and we had to work on making him whisper.  Amelie enjoyed "reading" the pamphlets about the cathedral left out for visitors.

This banner says Water of Leith at the top. 
The organ and choir area.  St Mary's Cathedral is the only cathedral in Scotland to maintain a tradition of daily choral services with choristers drawn from its own choir school.  

This painting caught our eyes.  "Christ healing the dumb."
This is the label for the painting above.  Can you believe it's from the 1500's?
Since the rain was holding out, we decided to continue exploring this south part of Edinburgh after we were finished looking around the cathedral.  A local had recommended that we go to Union Canal as it was a great area to walk around with children.  Since we were close by, we made our way to the canal that actually travels from Edinburgh to Glasgow.  The Union Canal was constructed to bring minerals, especially coal, to the capital. It was opened in 1822 and was initially successful, but the construction of railways diminished it's value and so wasn't used as much.  Now, it is popular for leisure purposes. We only walked a couple of miles until we happened upon a nice park with a playground.  After the kids played for a while, we headed home for Bobby's delicious chili.
The boats on the canal were different from any I've seen as they were very long and slender.
Amelie and Liam love to run.  We allowed them to run, but this is also a bike path so we had to be especially careful with Liam.  He was so accustomed to hearing us say "Bike" that he began yelling "BIKE!" over and over again as bikes were approaching and leaving.  At least we knew he was being mindful of the surroundings! ;)
Amelie and Liam talking to 4 baby ducks.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Three Hour Tour

One of the attractions that has been on the top of my Must Do Before We Leave list was Inchcolm Abbey.  A cool thing about the Abbey is it is located on the island of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth.  Therefore, the only way to access the island is by boat.  We signed up for a 3 hour tour (1.5 hours on the island and the rest on the boat) aboard the Maid of the Forth.

This is our boat as we are getting ready to board and leave the island.
This was probably the longest sightseeing day on record for the Walker family.  We left the apartment after breakfast to take a bus to the Waverly Train Station.  We then took a train to Dalmeny Station, which accesses South Queensferry.  Once off the train we had to walk through a forest to get to Hawes Pier which is located under the Forth Rail Bridge.  As you can imagine, this was no easy quest without a car but like I said above, I was determined to see before we left!  Thankfully, Bobby is good with directions and he got us there without any problems.
Amelie liked being "in the forest" as she put it.
The only negative was carrying Liam in the stroller down all of these steps.
The boat ride was fun as we were able to sit on the upper deck for magnificent views.  We were also able to see Grey Seals both coming and going to the island along with MANY species of birds.

Once on the island we had so much fun exploring the Abbey grounds.  The Abbey dates back to the 12th century.  Like Craigmillar Castle, we were able to explore at our leisure.  The kids loved finding staircases, tunnels, and crevices to climb in, on, and through.

Since coming back to the States, we now have The Bob Stroller.
With it's large wheels, we can take it anywhere.

The location of the Abbey was beautiful as you can see from the window.   Liam has been making a lot of silly faces lately.  He is also a collector.  You can see that he has found a rock that he is holding in his hand. He carried this rock around for a long time.  
This was the Warming Room of the Abbey where the cannons would congregate.  This is why the fireplace was so large.  Behind the glass on the side of the fireplace where I was sitting was Latin that was carved into the wall by one of the monks.  
Amelie enjoying climbing a very narrow spiral staircase.

The Chapter readings would occur in this round room with benches surrounding the room.  The abbot would sit in a seat of importance where Liam and I are sitting and the remaining cannons would sit on benches that lined the room.  Even in the current state of ruin, this room was beautiful.

In addition to the Abbey, the Island was also home to around 500 soldiers during both World Wars to protect the Royal Navy's base at Rosyth as well as the Forth Rail Bridge from attack by sea.  In 1916 an ammunition tunnel was dug through the eastern end of the Island by the Royal Engineers.  We were not able to explore this area of the Island as we would have wanted because of time and the large number of nesting birds.  Liam and Bobby tried to make a run for some of the buildings but were repeatedly attacked (nothing harmful) by the birds so they turned back.
Amelie walking on a path lined with birds and their nests.  There was SO much bird poop and feathers it was unbelievable.  Bobby and I felt we were being starred down by the birds as we walked along the path.  It was very intimidating.  There were warning signs at the start of the path about birds attacking during nesting season so we were understandably a little on edge.  
The bunkers and other buildings used by the soldiers during the war.   You can even see rail tracks which must have been used to transport ammo and other supplies up and down the hill.
Liam and I at the end of the ammunition tunnel.  You can faintly see the light on the other side in this picture.  There were no lights lining the tunnel.  It was extremely dark traveling through.  Amelie had me carry her because she was afraid of rats.  As she was telling me this, I was like "Oh great, I didn't even think of rats!"  We made it through safely coming and going. ;)
On the boat ride back to mainland, the kids were able to rest a little while Bobby and I were able to talk with a Scottish family about their plans to visit the Florida Keys.  We then walked to the nearby village of Queensferry for a delicious (fancy in Amelie's terms) dinner.  After dinner we walked on the beach next to our restaurant and had lovely views as the day drew to a close.  Bobby and Amelie were able to collect more sea glass while Liam found other treasures.  After the walk back to the train station, we then had to wait 45 minutes for the next train. :( To pass time, we talked to the only other couple on the platform.  They were from Maine.  We finally made it home at 10:45 pm.  The kids were such troopers!  Don't get me wrong, I do not plan on being out this late any time soon.  We had a couple of melt down moments, but overall I'm thankful for the ability of our kids to roll with the punches and have a flexible schedule.  

The Forth Rail Bridge.  Construction started in 1883.
It has the second-longest single cantilever bridge span in the world.
We sailed under it to travel to Inchcolm Island.
The weather has been more rainy over the past couple of days.  I was thankful that we did not get rained on at all!  Instead, it rained all day the following day which allowed us to play and rest around the apartment.