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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.