Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the popular name for the succession of streets which form the main thoroughfare from Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Castle Rock down to Holyrood Abbey.

The Royal Mile is much like San Gimignano in Italy. It is a well-preserved piece of the past that is full of local cuisine, shops, arts & crafts and local flavor. It is also a haven for tourists.
Being tourists today, we flocked here.
Of course, we took the long way around.
After getting off the bus near St John's, we walked down Lothian Street in search of the access road to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. What we found was the local Combat Zone. Being Sunday, apparantly all the strippers were at Confession so we silently (and quickly) meandered along, using directions given to us from a local shopkeeper. When this was unsuccessful, Katie asked a group of local policemen, who were all too eager to lend her a hand. Once on the correct road, we traveled up to the Royal Mile from the back of the castle. This presented us with some lovely views of said castle.

We stumbled upon our first store, a Scottish Heritage store that specialized in Scottish wear, accoutrements, and Clan symbology.
A very gregarious shopkeeper asked me if I was looking for my Clan. I told her that my family name was Swedish and that I was almost sure that I did not belong to any Scottish Clan. She chuckled softly (I'm sure that her laugh meant "Stupid American") and said, "Don't be too sure." She then pulled out a handbook of all of the Scottish clans and proudly pronounced that the Peterson family is a sept of Clan MacGregor.

Clan MacGregor is a Highland Scottish clan. Outlawed for nearly two hundred years after losing their lands in a long power struggle with the Clan Campbell, the Clan MacGregor claims descent from the third son of Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scotland, a descent which is proclaimed in the motto, 'S Rioghal Mo Dhream, translated as "Royal is my Race", as seen on the crest above. The colors of the Clan Tartan, which I am allowed to wear, are above, too.

How cool is this?

Once we discovered my status as a Clan member, we headed out and finally connected with the Royal Mile. However, Before I describe the street itself, I have to tell you a bit about the weather today.

It rained.

Then the sun came out.

Then it rained again.

Then the sun came out.

Then it rained WHILE the sun was out.

The rain never lasted more than 20 minutes. After a while we realized that the only people that had umbrella's were the tourists. At this point in the trip we didn't have any umbrella's so we fit right in with the locals.

Let the shopping begin.

The Royal Mile is really cool. A cobblestone thoroughfare that has the best food, shopping and whisky that Edinburgh can offer. After walking the mile and picking up a few souvenirs we decided that we were hungry. Avril (the homeowner) suggested that we try "Dirty Dick's". While we didn't find this place, we did find "Clever Dick's" so we ventured inside.

This is our type of bar.

The wood was dark and accented with hundreds of photos and antique bar tools. There was a tin ceiling, a brass arm hold a lamp jutted out from behind the bar, and the draft selection was top-notch. We were seated in the back which gave us a great view of the joint while allowing us to listen to multiple conversations at once. When the menus arrived, I was thrilled to order my first haggis with neeps and tatties.

Haggis is a traditional dish. Although there are many recipes, it is normally made with the following ingredients: sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately an hour. Haggis is traditionally served with "neeps and tatties" (turnip and potatoes which are boiled and mashed separately). Naturally, Katie ordered the vegetarian version of haggis. Both dishes came with a whisky sauce, made from thickened stock and scotch whisky which has recently been developed as an elegant addition.

If you've had Irish black pudding then you know what haggis tastes like. Both versions were fantastic. In fact, I enjoyed haggis so much that I would go on to eat it 4 more times on this trip. Mmm, mmm good.

Later we stopped into Royal Mile Whiskies and got our first real leasson in scotch tasting. An expatriate American (dressed in the kilt of his clan) offered his expertise to us. According to Katie and Lisa - he was quite "hot" so he was allowed to explain the five different Whisky_Regions of Scotland to us in detail.

Afterwards, he asked what type of scotch we liked to drink. Since I choose glenlivet as my scotch of choice I assumed that I would like something from Speyside. Katie and I told him that we wanted to bring something home that we couldn't get in the States. A knowing smile crossed his lips as he walked over to a bottle and said "I recommend this".

He was absolutely right. This is a fantastic whisky. However, before he allowed us to buy anything, he suggested that we walk down to the The Albanach and try a sample from each region. Never ones to turn down an offer to try a new bar We did so.

We each picked a whisky from their huge selection and ordered a dram for all to taste. Surprisingly, Lisa enjoyed the more peet-y tastings while unsurprisingly I liked a smoother malt. The whiskies from Speyside are typically the sweetest of the malts.

When we went back to the store, we were told another great tale. In Scotland these peet-y malts have a taste like the scent of an old, musty, polished scottish church. If one of your mates has been out drinking the hard, peet-y stuff all night he will suffer one nasty morning after. This is referred to as "Licking the church floor".


Anyway, we gladly bought some Mortlach; one for both local use and one to bring home. It is a smoky malt which reminded me of a burning candle with a little bitter grass and woody (oaky?), although there was sweetness lingering in the aftertaste. We love this whisky.

Armed now with whisky and full bellies we continued on our exploration of the Royal Mile. We visited many fantastic shoppes, and knew that we would be back for more purchases later in the week.
Finally, enough was enough. We packed it in and headed for home. We arrived back home at 43 Balgreen Street exhausted and ready for bed. There would be no sleeping in, however, for tomorrow (Monday) we were off to the tiny town of Dunblane and lunch with the Clarke's.

Tomorrow is my favorite day of the trip.


Blogger Cynthia said...

It was still twilight at that hour because you were at a higher lattitude (55 degrees versus 42 degrees in the States).

Clan MacGregor, eh? The Robinsons are members of the Gunn clan. Our motto is "Foi est tout" (Faith is all). But Robertson has its own tartan.

3:20 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Andy said...

I had surmised that the difference in lattitudes was the only logical reason for the longer twilight but I never realized that Scotland was that much further north than we are.

"Fiath is all"? How apropos.

3:30 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

It's about damn time, but well worth the wait ;O)

Continue on lad, continue on....

5:15 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger avril said...

Andy, if I had known you were part of my clan you may have got a discount on Balgreen Rd. I am fiercely proud of being of the Gregor Clan and 'Royal is my Race' just sums it up.
We almost certainly have links with Ireland too ... that Celtic tie you know.
I am glad you enjoyed Dirty Dick's as I had recommended it to you and was a bit concerned. They serve great haggis and I often have that there. Super atmosphere too.
Well haste ye back!! ( And I don't just mean to Dirty Dick's!!)

4:53 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

I'd love to go to Scotland, but I wish I knew more about it... If only I had a friend who went there and blogged everyday about his trip... then I be armed with all the info I needed to have a fun time!

Haggis + scotch= blech!

Scotch + scotch broth + Banocks + forfar bridies = YUM! and I'm so full I want to die!

9:59 AM, May 24, 2007  

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