Regular readers of my blog will know I love taking in the history of the places I visit around Scotland. When you live in a country that is littered with countless historical physical remnants spanning many millennia, it is only natural to acquire a curiosity about the past.
Edinburgh is a city woven with tales from bygone times and has more stories to tell than most places, from the characters that lived there to the events that have helped shape it as one of the most iconic cities in the world.
With so many historical layers, it can be hard to get to grips with all the elements that make up the fabric of Edinburgh which is why a unique 101 guide has been devised to help visitors and locals out. At the weekend I popped over to Scotland's capital to find out more and have devised a 1 day itinerary for those wanting to delve deeper in to Edinburgh's past.
The story of Edinburgh in 101 objects
How do you easily convey the history, culture, heritage and everyday life of a city as complex as Edinburgh? You create a unique visitor experience that captures the imagination of course!
In this case 101 objects and curiosities from across the city have been chosen to tell the story of 1000 years of Edinburgh's past. A handy map shows the location of each object and discovering them is a bit like a treasure trail, complete with a tick list to keep track. It is then up to you to delve a bit deeper and find out the significance of each discovery.
The project finishes at the end of March 2018 so the upcoming Easter weekend is a great time to explore the trail. This is Edinburgh website currently has a page dedicated to the Edinburgh 101 experience and maps can be picked up around the city. You can also upload your discoveries using #Edinburgh101 on social media.
I personally found it great fun and managed to visit 15 of the objects on my day out, some were easy to find and some took a bit more of an effort. If you fancy following in my footsteps, here is my suggested itinerary although I've deliberately not given too much away about the background of every object as doing your own research is all part of the fun...
My suggested #Edinburgh101 itinerary
Stop 1 - St Giles' Cathedral
First stop of the day is one of my favourite places to visit on the Royal Mile as it is an oasis of calm among the hectic hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets. St Giles' Cathedral was founded in the 1120s and is free to visit. It has some beautiful stained glass windows, ornate carvings and runs a rooftop tour on certain days. It is also home to the famous Thistle Chapel, home of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle.
There are 2 objects inside the cathedral, The National Covenant (object 77) and The Ceiling of the Thistle Chapel (object 85) which is stunning and a must see in my opinion.
Outside the chapel on the pavement is The Heart of Midlothian (object 1). The heart shaped mosaic marks the site of Edinburgh’s old Tolbooth where debtors were said to spit on the pavement at the main entrance as they left. Spitting on the heart is a tradition that continues today although I personally think it isn't the most pleasant of customs to keep going!
Stop 2 - David Hume's Statue
Just a little further up on the opposite side of the road you can't miss the 9ft statue of Scottish philosopher David Hume.
Hume was born in 1711 near Edinburgh and died in the city in 1776. He is generally regarded as one of the most important philosophers to write in English and his work is still highly regarded today. In 2009, he beat the likes of Aristotle and Socrates to win first place in a large international poll of professors and graduate students who were asked to name the dead thinker with whom they most identified. Rubbing his big toe (object 33) is said to bring luck and some of his wisdom. Going by how shiny it is, there must be a lot of wise people out there!
Stop 3 - The Hub
Make a quick stop at The Hub as you walk up the Royal Mile to see the first Edinburgh International Festival Programme (object 22).
The first Edinburgh International Festival began on 24 August 1947, with an aim to 'provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit' by bringing people and artists together from around the world. Although it has since grown to be one of the biggest festivals in the world, that original ethos still lives on.
For three weeks every August, the population of Edinburgh explodes as performers and visitors from every corner of the globe gather in the city for a celebration of the performing arts. It is a special time to visit Edinburgh as the streets buzz with music, drama and dance from morning to night.
Stop 4 - The Scotch Whisky Experience
It's never too early to enjoy a whisky in Scotland and a tour of The Scotch Whisky Experience is a great introduction to this iconic drink. In this case, having a wee morning dram can be justified for research purposes as you will discover another object here - a bottle of Usher's Green Stripe Whisky ( object 62) which was the first blended Scotch whisky.
If you don't know much or even anything about Scotch whisky, this is a good place to start as it provides a virtual distillery tour and an explanation of the different whisky regions in Scotland. The visit ends with a whisky tasting among the largest collection of Scotch whisky in the world which is incredible to see.
There are various tour choices on offer but I opted for the basic Silver Tour. Even though I've been on lots of distillery tours before, I enjoyed the clever theatrics which made it a unique experience.
Stop 5 - Lunch at The Witchery by the castle
There are no objects to discover at this iconic Edinburgh venue, just an amazing dining experience in a lavishly Gothic setting that oozes history and romance which is reason enough to visit in my book.
I don't know if it is possible to fall in love with a place you've never been to before but I had fallen for The Witchery a long time before my first visit at the weekend. Images of the indulgent decor, it's stylish reputation and glimpses of flickering candlelight through the historic windows had already won me over. Although staying there is still high on my bucket-list, I'm glad to say that my first dining venture lived up to my very high expectations.
Local seasonal ingredients cooked beautifully, impeccable service and the atmospheric setting is why this place is so popular with locals, visitors and some famous faces.
As I'm off to Arran this week, I opted for Arran beets 3 ways for my starter and roast loin of Cairngorm venison for my main. I could give you a long winded review but mouth-watering sums up the food. My dining companion started with a salad of roast pumpkin followed by Magret of Gartmorn farm duck and enthusiastically concurred with my verdict. Unfortunately we didn't have room for pudding but I can imagine if we did, it would have been just as delicious.
I could have stayed in The Witchery for hours - okay I could have moved in permanently but after 2 heavenly courses it was time to get back on my treasure hunt. Next time I'm definitely staying for the night!
Stop 6 - Edinburgh Castle
As you leave The Witchery and make your way towards the castle, look out for The Witches' Well (object 91), a cast iron wall fountain that commemorates the place where over three hundred women were burned at the stake accused of being witches. Unfortunately Scotland has plenty of dark history and let's just say you wouldn't ever want to be accused of witchcraft as it usually ended in a horrific death of some sort.
Among the 101 objects chosen to tell the history of Edinburgh, it might not surprise you that 4 of them are in the castle, given it's important role in the city's past and present.
Every time I visit Edinburgh Castle, I always discover something new as there is a vast amount to see and I always recommend allowing at least a couple of hours for the highlights, longer if you have the time. On this visit you are looking out for
The Stone of Destiny (object 70) - A 66cm long block of red sandstone used for centuries in the inauguration of early Scottish kings
The Scottish Crown Jewels (object 71) - The oldest regalia in the British Isles. The jewel encrusted crown, sword and sceptre date from the 15th & 16th centuries
Mons Meg (object 72) - A large cannon built in 1449
Doors from Prisons of War (object 94) - The doors are scarred with graffiti by French, American and Spanish prisoners captured during the American War of Independence
Stop 7 - Scottish National Gallery
After the castle it is time to leave Edinburgh Old Town and make your way down to The Mound where you will find The Scottish National Gallery. The gallery is free to visit and houses the national collection of fine art, spanning Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the start of the 20th century.
This is a good place for a wee seat to recharge your batteries while taking in some special artwork. While you're there, look out for two more objects
The Trinity Altarpiece (object 17) - Four oil painted panels by Hugo van der Goes featuring the Holy Trinity and the Scottish royal family in 1478
The Skating Minister (object 19) - A portrait of Revd Dr Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch painted by Sir Henry Raeburn
Stop 8 - 149 Rose Street
After taking some time out in the gallery, take a walk along Rose Street which is lined with pubs and eateries. At number 149, look out for the large steel panels that were part of a scheme to regenerate Rose Street and celebrate the poets that used to gather in the pubs there.
The Beachcomber (object 42) is a poem written by George Mackay Brown and the words are entwined in a steel cut illustration by Astrid Jaekel. The poem adorns the seven arched windows of the former telephone exchange - an arch for each day of the Beachcomber’s week. When you get a chance look the poem up, being a bit of a beachcomber myself, the words really resonate with me.
Stop 9 - North side palace-front at Charlotte Square
The final stop on your #Edinburgh101 itinerary will guarantee your adventure ends in style. The north side of Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town (object 10), is considered to be one of the finest pieces of urban design in Europe. The palace-front is designed to give the appearance of a grand country house but it is actually made up of a number of dwellings. with the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland taking up the central pavilion.
It was designed by Robert Adam, one of the leading Scottish architects at the time although he unfortunately died in 1792, just as building began. If you have time then I recommend visiting The Georgian House which is a restored Edinburgh New Town house cared for by The National Trust for Scotland. It will give you an insight in to life in Edinburgh during that period and is home to 2 more objects on the trail.
Stop 10 - Twilight Tea at The Principal Hotel
All that exploring calls for a well earned treat and The Principal Hotel is conveniently located next to your last stop on Charlotte Square. Tucked away from the busy street, the tranquil 'Garden' space is full of light and greenery. The glass panelled ceiling creates a feeling of stepping in to a glasshouse and when the natural daylight fades, twinkling lights and candles create a chilled out atmosphere.
I tried out their new Twilight Tea which is a unique twist on afternoon tea. Rather than a tier of cakes and sandwiches, you are served a series of small tapas style savoury and sweet dishes. I found it very refreshing and light although it still filled me up and again the service was excellent.
Some of my favourite offerings were mozzarella, pear and mint and the smoked haddock and leek fishcake, all washed down with one of their tasty botanical infused cocktails. Of course it wouldn't be a tea without cake and you can also choose two cakes from the table, with some unusual choices including peach, quinch & semolina and flourless orange cake.
Other dishes include tomato water with chive oil, hot smoked salmon with cream cheese and caviar, and merguez, chilli and dukkah sausage roll. There is also a vegetarian and vegan version of the tea available.
If you are looking for somewhere relaxed for an afternoon or evening tea with a difference, this hidden space is a great choice.
If you've followed my recommended route you will have taken a journey through the atmospheric streets of the Old Town and the stately architecture of the New Town, discovering quite a bit of history along the way, not to mention some top cuisine to keep you going.
I've been to Edinburgh many, many times over the years and I really enjoyed a new way of learning about the city through the various objects. I left Edinburgh that evening with a head full of new facts and a belly full of amazing food which is pretty much my idea of a perfect day out!
The Edinburgh 101 project finishes at the end of March so you still have some time to check it our for yourself and it would be a great activity for all the family to get involved with over the Easter weekend. Don't panic if you can't make it before then as most of the objects are on permanent display. I suggest downloading the map from the website now and using it as a future guide to exploring Edinburgh's rich past. You can also use my map below to locate all the 10 stops mentioned in this blog post. Happy hunting!
MY SUGGESTED STOPS FOR A 1 DAY EDINBURGH 101 ITINERARY
MORE EDINBURGH TRAVEL POSTS
Got more than one day in Edinburgh? Then you might find my guide to the Hop on Hop off bus tours useful
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Disclaimer - My day out was in partnership with This is Edinburgh and my meals were provided on a complimentary basis, however as always, all opinions are my own and I only ever recommend places I genuinely believe offer a quality experience.
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