Hogmanay Begins! Tuesday, Dec 30 2008 

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29 December 2008

What a wonderful day, it was! 

We arrived in Scotland, today!

We began our day with breakfast at The Oaks Hotel, and then prepared to resume travel toward Edinburgh.  On the way out of the hotel, we asked our innkeeper if there was anything there, in Alnwick that we shouldn’t miss.  He replied without missing a beat, “The Castle.” Turns out Alnwick Castle is the real-life stand-in for Hogwarts, and is therefore, a major site used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies.  We drove into town to find it, but as with most historical properties, it was closed for the winter and will be until April. We snapped a few good pictures of it, anyway, and then headed out of town.  Seeing more of it will have to wait until another trip.

We stopped to take photos at the border as we left England and entered Scotland.  We stopped for a quick pint (and I had the most delicious cup of cream of vegetable soup) at a little place not far into Scotland called The First and Last.  It was charming with its maritime theme, and very comfortable atmosphere.  And we stopped for petrol once, and learned that our hired car takes diesel fuel, and has a retractable glass roof!   If the temperature wasn’t hovering right around freezing, it might be tempting to drive around Scotland in a convertible!

We arrived at our bed and breakfast — 2 Cambridge Street— right on time.  Our marvelous host met us at the door and greeted us by name, welcoming us in.  We were awestruck at the fact that as we shook his hand, we could look over our right shoulders, up the steep hill and see Edinburgh Castle!  We are staying, quite literally, in its shadow!

And this place is wonderful.  Erlend and Helene Clouston own 2 Cambridge Street and run this very classy, and yet incredibly comfortable B & B.  They made us a pot of tea and we all sat and chatted for at least an hour, before Kyle and I decided we really needed to change clothes and head out to get our bearings and prepare for the Torchlight Processs.  Erlend walked us to the High Street on his way to the library, and took this photo for us!

Once on the Royal Mile, we walked down a bit, and located what we had understood was the starting point for the Torchlight Procession—the City Chambers building, all lit up for the holiday season.  We walked up and down a few blocks of the High Street, and poked into some of the little shops with an eye toward the gift and souvenir buying we plan to do.  About the time the gathering for the procession was getting underway, we found a perfect street corner to stake out and wait, hoping to get some nice photos when things really got going.  It didn’t take long for the crowd, at first quite modest in size, to double, then triple, and finally become a sea of people.  Of course, our curb was soon engulfed in the throng, and we moved forward to a better, front row vantage point. (Actually, Kyle stayed behind me, a bit, but since I’m short, no one seemed to mind looking over my head.)  I took my photo of the day just as we were trying to decide where to really stand.

It was almost exactly 6:30 p.m., right on schedule when the police escort started to roll, and torches got lit.  And just before the actual parade step-off, we were surprised by cannon fire from the castle behind us, immediately followed by a brief display of fireworks.  The official start to Hogmanay!  Then the procession began.  First the police on motorcycles, then the band of Viking warriors in impressive shiny mail and helmets and carrying targes and torches.  Then came the pipers!  And the drummers.  And, as if all that wasn’t exciting enough, that’s where the common folks got involved.  Behind all those official folks were people just like us, who had purchased a large “torch” made of wood and beeswax (the 6 pound cost went to charity) and wanted to walk in the procession.  We had seen the people gathering, and we knew there were alot of them.  But, we were completely unprepared for the overwhelmingly huge number of them! 

We watched them go by for a few minutes, followed along with them for a few more minutes, and took a few photos (yep, just a few! ;-))  We found a vantage point from which we could see across the carnival in the park, to Princes Street and we watched the bouncing points of torchlight  appear there, and progress down the street.  It wasn’t long before we decided to walk down to Princes Street and see the procession from there, up close and personal again.  By the time we got there, the front of the procession had reached the end of Princes street and turned a corner.  We could stand there, in the middle of the length of Princes Street and see a “sea” of torches—what had to be thousands of them, as far as the eye could see in both directions.   It was breathtaking.  Then, we realized that there was still no end to the procession!  Up the hill, we could still see torches.  Even, back down the High Street to where the procession began . . . we could still see torches.  They just kept coming, and coming . . . Amazingly beautiful.

We stood on a concrete sign pedestal for a long time, snapping photos.  But, they don’t do it justice.  I must have taken nearly a dozen, some ten or fifteen minutes apart from each other—-they all look the same!  The scene didn’t change, people and torches—only the faces of the people changed. It was phenomenal.  Finally we decided to go find some food and find a higher vantage point from which to watch for the bonfire and the fireworks we knew were still forthcoming.

We found food, staked out a spot for watching, and finally, about an hour and a half after the procession had begun, the bonfire glow began to light the sky.  The procession of torches had walked from the High Street, down The Mound, down Princes Street, and up Calton Hill—about a mile and a half. And it had taken over an hour and a half for the last torch to make it up that hill!

The bonfire grew for a little while (we could see the glow and the smoke, but the actual burning of the Viking ship was on the other side of the hill from where we were able to get to easily enough) and then the fireworks began!  Magic.   Absolute magic!

I’ve been very long-winded in telling all this, and yet, I know I still haven’t done justice to what we saw and experienced this evening.  The memories we’re making this week will live in our hearts forever.

Torches Pass the Balmoral Tuesday, Dec 30 2008 

29 December 2008
We left the Oaks Hotel in Alnwick (the castle of which, I am told, had substantial Harry Potter scenes shot here) and headed coastward on the A1. The drive from Alnwick to Edinburgh takes you through some truly superb landscape; it’s no real wonder that early man settled this area. Plenty of arid land for agricultural endeavours and easy access to both winding burns and creeks and the North Sea. It’s very definitely a windswept area and I was glad of the constant “Sidewind” warning signs along the road. We stopped once to fill up with Diesel at .99p per litre (somewhere near $7.00 per gallon if I did my numbers right), once more when we drove near enough the coast that we could see Bamburgh Castle and one last time at the First & Last pub on the Scotland/England border (on the Scottish side). We had promised our B&B hosts a 1500 arrival and after fighting horrible Edinburgh traffic (between visitors arriving for Hogmanay and the roadworks all over the place as Edinburgh puts in a city-wide tram system, how could it not be horrible?) we pulled into a slot in front of #2 Cambridge Street and gave the door a few hard knocks. Our fascinating host, Erlend, greeted us warmly calling us by name and invited us in. The road in front of his absolutely fabulous flat is private so after unloading quickly, I drove the car across the street to the carpark. We enjoyed a quick spot of tea with Erlend and Helene then walked on up to the Royal Mile (Erlend headed to the library, so accompanied us part of the way). The Hogmanay torchlight procession is held two nights before Hogmanay each year. The Council sells torches for charity and invites all torch-bearers to march from the City Chambers on High Street to Calton Hill via the Mound, Princes Street and Waterloo street. Marita Beth and I chose not to march in, but instead to marvel at the magnificent procession. We started on High Street with all the marchers, but we took a different path to Princes street. By the time we got to Princes Street (approximately midway along the processional route) the Vikings that headed the parade had already begun the assent of Calton Hill. Looking back South and West, we could see the Mound and the steady stream of torches still coming down it. It was truly a sight to behold. We stood on Princes Street and goggled at the sheer number of people bearing torches. For a full 20 minutes we watched; the Vikings crested Calton Hill and still there were people marching down the mound. This lasted long enough that Marita Beth and I wended our way back up North Bridge, up High Street to Bank Street where we roosted to watch the remainder. The last torches were just exiting Princes street onto Calton Hill as we settled in. We did miss the end on Calton Hill where they burn a Viking ship in effigy as it was on the far side of the hill; but even from our vantage point a great ways away we could see the massive bonfire and we did have a most excellent view of the fireworks display. Balmoral Hotel & Torchlight Procession (The photo is of the tochlight procession as it passes the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street – this is not where we are staying; we are staying somewhere much better) After the incredible display, we returned to the B&B where Erlend offered to escort us to a free park zone some ways away. Since we had long ago decided we wouldn’t need a car while in Edinburgh, this was eagerly agreed to (the price for parking at the Castle carpark is £18.00 per day) and off we went. It’s a ways away, but in a safe zone near a police HQ. We returned to the B&B in Erlend’s care and visited with them briefly while MB showed off some of the photos from the torchlight procession. Then, it was off to bed. Exhausted, and very, very happy. (I’m sure I’ve left stuff out, if I remember bits, I’ll update) Cheers. ~KR (Written on 30 December 2008 )

We Head North Tuesday, Dec 30 2008 

28 December 2008
We got up rather early this morning as I had scheduled to pick up the hired car at 0900. I walked over to the bus stop at around 0830 just in time to watch #285 (the bus I needed) go screaming past with not even a hint of stopping. On Sundays this bus only runs every 20 minutes and I knew where I was going, so I hoofed it. I arrived at my destination about 15 steps ahead of the next #285 and felt pretty good about it. The Avis rental location was just another 100 paces or so beyond the bus stop and I had lost no time by deciding to walk rather than wait for the bus. I walked in to Avis, saw my name and slot on the board and had I not needed to make a change to the reservation, I could have gotten into my already-running (did I mention it was -1 degree celsius?) Renault Mergane and driven off. Eventually I did get in to the warm car, familiarised myself with its workings and drove off. This may only be my 7th time in the U.K. but driving here is so familiar and easy for me; I fell into the routine immediately of round-a-bouts, driving on the left, looking right-left-right rather than left-right-left as we are taught from an early age in the U.S. and my favourite, the brief yellow light that warns you the light is turning green. I love driving over here.
We got our bearing, turned the car North and headed toward Scotland on the M1. We made several loo and food stops along the way (The Cock in Potterspury being exceptionally delightful) with the final stop being in Alnwick (pronounced “ann-nick”). We pulled into a charming hotel on the outskirts of the Village called the Oaks Hotel and tucked right into a dinner of Gammon & Eggs which we washed down with Marston’s Pedigree and a fine Winter Ale.
Dinner Ale
It was a beautiful, wonderful if exhausting day made the better by knowing that only another 30 miles or so to Scotland and another 50-60 miles beyond that lie Edinburgh, the ultimate destination of our trip. We are tired, but having a great time and very much in love both with this island country and each other.
Cheers.

~KR (Written on 30 December 2008 )

Listening to:
Classical FM in a B&B in Edinburgh