The Scran & Scallie

My mother is a big Tom Kitchin fan and one of her ambitions is to eat in his restaurant, The Kitchin. Unfortunately it’s booked up months in advance and as our trip to Edinburgh was very last minute, I decided to take my mother to the next best thing, Kitchin and Dominic Jack’s gastropub The Scran & Scallie. Boy, did this turn out to be one of my best calls in Edinburgh. It was fabulous and well worth the visit.

The pub saves a few tables each service for walk-ins and on our Sunday evening in the Scottish capital, we decided to chance our luck. We had to wait around an hour for our table (the pub was packed), but we had a great time sitting at the bar while we waited, sipping cucumber martinis (me, delicious and refreshing) and sauvignon blanc (mum).

It turns out there’s always live music in the bar on a Sunday night and we really enjoyed listening to the Scottish folk songs being played. It created a jolly atmosphere in the pub and was a wonderful accompaniment to our meal.

The food? Delicious. We both chose one of the specials for a starter, mackerel tartare, which was quite simply, superb. I could easily have polished off a second plateful, everything about it was just right – it was light and delicate, yet full of flavour. Just incredible. Monkfish wrapped in pancetta was our choice for mains and that too was very tasty. I then opted for a cheese board, while mum went for the chocolate brownie with stout ice cream, which she loved. My cheese board was very generous with a good variety of flavour-packed cheeses (including a blue, soft and hard cheese) served on a platter alongside accompaniments such as small home made oatcakes and damson jam. Despite being rather full at this point, I demolished the lot. The wines were very good, too.

A shout out to the staff, too, who were friendly and attentive (while not being overbearing). I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for somewhere special to eat in Edinburgh, I will definitely be returning on my next trip to the Scottish capital.

The Scran & Scallie, 1 Comely Bank Road, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH4 1DT
Open seven days a week
Mains between £9.50-£18.50



Forth Bridges

Forth Bridge 6, 08.05.16I love a good boat trip, I like to think it gives me a different perspective of a place. On my trip to Edinburgh, I was looking to take a boat to Inchcolm Island and hadn’t realised that South Queensferry, from which they depart, is beside both Forth Bridges. This was a welcome surprise and I was delighted to discover the trip to Inchcolm also entailed a boat ride under both bridges.

Building the new Forth Bridge 8, 08.05.16

The two Forth Bridges, rail and road, dominate the landscape near Queensferry and it was fascinating to see them up close and sail under them. The iconic red rail bridge in particular is a spectacular sight and is a marvellous piece of engineering.

In the shadow of the rail bridge is one of my favourite sights on the firth, Inchgarvie Island, which is shaped uncannily like a battleship and was, like many of the islands in the firth, an important defensive outpost during both world wars.

Building the new Forth Bridge 6, 08.05.16

It was great to be out on the firth during the construction of the third bridge. I’ve always wondered how they build these great bridges over vast stretches of water and it gave me an insight into how this is achieved. Essentially, once they’ve built the concrete pillars, they add a section of the road one bit at a time, winching it up from a boat below, then fastening it into place. Once the section is secure, they move onto the next part, and so on, until the bridge is complete.

Building the new Forth Bridge 19, 08.05.16

Inchcolm Island

Inchcolm Abbey 13, 08.05.16

In the middle of the Firth of Forth is Inchcolm Island, a small, pretty, idyllic island home to a medieval abbey, tunnels dating back to the First World War, and lots and lots of sea gulls. It’s also a very relaxing place to spend a sunny afternoon.

I caught the ferry to the island from South Queensferry in the shadow of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge. It took around 40 minutes to reach the island, and despite it being a warm, sunny day, it was chilly and windy out on the firth. Nevertheless, it was a great place for a spot of wildlife watching. Seals could be seen bobbing in the firth and lounging on rocks from the boat, while there were numerous sea birds, including a pair of cute puffins, their orange beaks clearly visible, flying across the water.

On coming into land at Inchcolm, we passed a humorous small rocky outcrop, home to a band of garden gnomes dubbed InchGnome. Hopping off the boat, the first thing to grab my attention was a couple of small, picturesque beaches and beyond that, the medieval abbey, which dominates the island.

The abbey was founded in the 12th century by King David I of Scotland in honour of his late brother King Alexander I who had been shipwrecked on Inchcolm, and having been given shelter by a hermit who lived on the island, vowed to build a priory there.  Much of the stone abbey is still standing and while it’s small, there are many nooks and crannies to explore. I had a great time going up and down different flights of stairs, through little passageways and doors, discovering all the abbey had to offer.

Inchcolm Island 9, 08.05.16

Techincally there’s a path around the island, but when I went in May, the island’s many, many sea gulls (I have never seen so many in my life) were breeding and they’d nested all over the island and often right beside the path. The sea gulls were very aggressive towards anyone who tried to follow the path past their nests and after watching a number of people attempt to walk down the path, only to be chased away by the sea gulls, we decided it was safer to spend the afternoon chilling in the sunshine as opposed to risking the wrath of the gulls.

Luckily, it was a super warm day and the peaceful island was the perfect place to bask in the sun and relax. There’s a small exhibition on the island, which tells you a bit about its history, as well as a shop. Plus you can walk up the hill behind the shop to the old wartime tunnels. While I made it through the tunnels, I didn’t get much further because again, there were lots of angsty, nesting sea gulls everywhere.

Sea gulls aside, I spent a lovely, relaxing day on Inchcolm Island and would definitely go again if I were in the Edinburgh area.

Inchcolm Island, Burntisland KY3 0UA
Open 9.30am-5.30pm (1 Apr-31 Oct), closed (1 Nov-31 Mar)
Adults £5.50, Children £3.30, Concessions £4.40


Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace 22, 08.05.16

Just 20 minutes on the train from Edinburgh is Linlithgow Palace, the birth place of Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s now a ruined shell, but nevertheless possesses a distinguished, stately air. When I first stepped into the palace, I entered the courtyard above and at first glance it didn’t look as though there’d be much to see or that it would take long to tour. But as I began to explore the old palace, it turned out there were countless nooks, crannies, rooms, stairways and passages to discover, and it was something of an unexpected maze. Going up a narrow flight of stairs not sure where I’d end up, only to find I was in a giant hall or another dark passage with another set of stairs at the end of it, was great fun.

Linlithgow Palace 18, 08.05.16

It’s not until I started wandering around that I realised the palace is much bigger than it appears from the outside, it also boasts scenic views over Linlithgow Loch and the surrounding park. Definitely worth a half-day trip if you’re visiting Edinburgh.

Linlithgow Palace, Kirkgate, Linlithgow, West Lothian EH49 7AL
Open 9.30am-5.30pm (1 Apr-30 Sept), 10am-4pm (1 Oct-31 Mar)
Adults £5.50, Children £3.30, Concessions £4.40

Rosslyn Chapel

With its intricate stone carvings over its walls, ceilings and pillars, the medieval Rosslyn Chapel in the village of Roslin not far from Edinburgh, makes for a fascinating  visit.

Possibly best known for its role as the setting of one of the pivotal scenes in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the romantic 15th century chapel, built by the St Clair family, has inspired many artists and authors through the ages. And it’s easy to see why they’ve been intrigued by the wonders within the chapel.

Despite looking like a pretty ordinary chapel from the outside, the interior is a marvel of intricate carvings and mysterious symbols. Indeed, there’s so much symbolism and so many carvings to discover that it’s worth joining a talk if possible – as otherwise you’d probably miss many of the sculptures and their meanings, although there are a number of informative visitor guides throughout that explain the symbols of interest.

There’s also a visitor centre, which provides more information about the chapel and its history,  on site, as well as a cafe.

Rosslyn Chapel, Chapel Loan, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9PU
Open 9.30am-6pm (Mon-Sat), 12noon-4.45pm (Sun)
Adults £9.00, Concession £7.00


Arthur’s Seat

View of Arthur's Seat from Holyrood Palace, 06.05.16The first time I visited Edinburgh I was transfixed by Arthur’s Seat and vowed to climb it the next time I was in the city. Fast forward 10 years and on my return to Edinburgh, I found Arthur’s Seat to be much bigger and much more imposing than I’d remembered.

Undaunted, I set off to complete my mission, and on coming to a fork in the path I was following, met a group of Americans who informed that the path to the left was the easy route, while the path to the right was the “super hard route up millions of steps”. Naturally, I chose the super hard route.

Arthur's Seat 2, 06.05.16This route involved climbing up what seemed like a never-ending series of steps – I had to stop a few times on the way up to catch my breath – and travailing a few paths that were a little too close to the edge of a steep drop at times for my liking.  But I eventually reached the top after a final short, sharp scramble up a very rocky path. It was very windy at the peak, but the views across Edinburgh and across the Firth of Forth were well worth the effort.

Coming down off the peak was a little hairy, and I like a number of other women, clambered down across the rocks on my bum a few times. But once off the rock, I joined the easy path and practically ran down the hill. The next time I’m in Edinburgh though, I think I’ll choose the easy path.


Holyrood Palace and Abbey

Holyrood Abbey 29, 06.05.16

One of the Queen’s two residences in Scotland (the other being Balmoral), Holyrood is situated in the centre of Edinburgh at the bottom of the Royal Mile opposite the Scottish Parliament and boasts magnificent views of Arthur’s Seat. Inside the palace, you can tour the state apartments, which are open to the public whenever the royal family aren’t in residence.

Holyrood Palace 8, 06.05.16 (2)

There’s plenty to see within the state apartments, including the throne room and the great gallery, which is home to an extensive set of portraits of Scotland’s monarchs (both real and imaginary) by the Dutch painter Jacob de Wet. I particularly enjoyed Mary, Queen of Scots’s apartments where Mary lived on her return to Scotland from France and which were the setting for her second marriage to Henry, Lord Darnley, and his subsequent murder of her secretary David Rizzio.

At the end of my tour of the royal apartments I dropped in on a temporary fashion exhibition to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday, Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, where outfits worn by the Queen during her reign, as well as her childhood, were on display. It was fascinating to see all these royal outfits up close as the accompanying photographs of the Queen wearing the clothes don’t convey all the intricate and delicate embroidery work on some of the pieces. I also enjoyed seeing how the Queen’s style has evolved over the years.

Holyrood Abbey 21, 06.05.16

Next to the palace is the ruined Holyrood Abbey, which was originally founded by David I in 1128, and during its illustrious history has hosted the births, marriages and coronations of various Scottish monarchs. It’s an incredibly beautiful and evocative building, and must have been a grand and wonderful sight before it fell to ruin. Before leaving, I took a walk around the peaceful palace gardens and enjoyed the spectacular views of Arthur’s Seat. The palace also has a great cafe, which made for a nice spot for lunch.

Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DX
Open 9.30am-6pm (26 March-31 October), 9.30am-4.30pm (1 November-25 March), seven days a week
Adults £12.00, Children £7.20, Concessions £11.00

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle 10, 06.05.16

Perched high on top of one of Edinburgh’s two dormant volcanoes is Edinburgh Castle, an impressive fortification that dominates the surrounding landscape. A citadel home to lots of different buildings rather than a simple stone castle, it’s worth taking the time to explore all the many structures within the castle walls, such as the various museums (including one on prisoners of war and a couple of regimental ones), the royal palace, St Margaret’s Chapel, David’s Tower and the Scottish National War Memorial.

If you want to learn more about Scotland’s royal family, make sure to visit the royal palace. The apartments take you on a journey through Scotland’s royal history, as well as that of the country’s crown jewels and the stone of scone (also known as the stone of destiny). The displays throughout are interesting and informative, and I came away with a much better understanding of Scotland’s royal history (although minor gripe: one of the displays referred to James VII of Scotland and II of England’s second wife Mary of Modena as his first wife as opposed to his second).

At the end of the exhibition, there’s a chance to marvel at Scotland’s crown jewels and the stone of scone. Scotland’s crown jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland, include the crown worn by Mary, Queen of Scots, at her coronation and a sceptre that dates back to 1494. During their long history, the jewels have been hidden twice, once from Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th century and then during the Second World War. They were also locked away in a chest following Scotland’s union with England and rediscovered by the novelist Sir Walter Scott in 1818. Traditionally used in the coronations of Scotland’s monarchs, the stone of scone, meanwhile, was stolen by Edward I in 1296 and taken to Westminster Abbey where it was placed beneath a wooden chair upon which many subsequent English monarchs were crowned. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996.

Edinburgh Castle is also the site of Scotland’s very own red wedding (minus the wedding part). The ruined David’s Tower, which has been partially excavated and was where Scotland’s crown jewels were buried during the Second World War, is the site of one of the most infamous murders in Scottish history. The Black Dinner, as it was known, took place at Edinburgh Castle in 1440 when the powerful Douglas family – the young 6th Earl, his brother and his adviser – were invited to the castle for dinner. But during the meal a black bull’s head, a symbol of death, was brought into the banqueting hall and the Douglases were subsequently beheaded in the palace yard in front of the 10-year-old king, James II, following a mock trial.

St Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh Castle, 06.05.16

The tiny and quaint St Margaret’s Chapel (above), which sits within Edinburgh Castle, is the oldest building in Edinburgh. Other buildings worth seeing within the castle include the medieval Great Hall built by James IV in 1511 and the solemn Scottish National War Memorial, which commemorates the Scottish soldiers killed during the First and Second World Wars, as well as subsequent conflicts.

There was much more to Edinburgh Castle than I’d anticipated and it was very different to the stone castle I had pictured in my mind beforehand. I hadn’t realised it was home to Scotland’s crown jewels, the stone of scone or the country’s national war memorial, and it was great to stumble upon these. Definitely well worth a visit.

Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Open 9.30am-6pm (April-September), 9.30am-4pm (October-March), seven days a week
Adults £16.50, Children £9.90, Concessions £13.20


Edinburgh National Gallery, 06.05.16

I first visited the Scottish capital 10 years ago on a brief day trip when I was at university, during which time I saw a little of the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace… and that was about it. Since then I’d been keen to go back and properly explore the city.

Home to two dormant volcanoes, Edinburgh is a hilly, delightful city steeped in history. The old town with its narrow medieval alleyways and beautiful grey stone buildings has a mystical, enchanting charm and it’s impossible not to contemplate its influence on JK Rowling, one of the city’s most famous residents, in writing the Harry Potter series. At times I felt as though I could be walking down Diagon Alley or exploring parts of Hogwarts.

Arthur’s Seat, meanwhile, the large dormant volcano at the bottom of the Royal Mile overlooking Holyrood Palace, feels a world away from a bustling capital city. It’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a city while walking through the park admiring the ancient geology and enjoying the fantastic views over the city and the Firth of Forth from the top of the striking peak.

History and geology aside, Edinburgh is also a great place for foodies. Almost every plate of food I had in the city, whether a  bowl of soup, a slice of cake or a mound of mussels, was delicious and I rarely had a bad gastronomic experience. The portion sizes were also very generous.

Among the best cafes and restaurants I visited were Hendersons, a vegetarian cafe and restaurant that serves mouthwatering salads and delicious breakfasts; the tiny Wellington Coffee with its great coffee and hot chocolate (served with a glorious chunk of marshmallow on the side), and giant scones and croissants;  Tom Kitchin’s lively gastropub The Scran and Scallie; and charming French restaurant, Chez Jules. The food at Cafe Portrait at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was also first rate.