So picture this. We’ve been driving for about four hours when we make it across the border and eke our way into Edinburgh, and as we get closer to our accommodation, we start to notice a sea of maroon football jerseys and scarves and beanies and paraphernalia on every passer-by. We’re in the middle of local football fever in Edinburgh, and there isn’t a car space to be had for ready money. So we do what any self-respecting tourists would do – we park in Aldi.
Our accommodation in Edinburgh for three nights is a private room in a group accommodation destination called Westfield Court, and it’s as unique as you’d expect for a last minute Wotif find. Our hosts and the facilities are lovely though, so I lug the bags up in the lift while Sarah drives until she can find a park (which turns out to be about twenty minutes’ walk away). We settle in, having picked up ingredients from Aldi, and cooked ourselves a quick pasta with a bottle of wine to share. We turn in early and while we don’t lay eyes on the herd of elephants that come in at midnight, we definitely heard them in the hallway!
The next day we decided that it’s Edinburgh exploration day. We get on the bus with everything we might need – rain jackets, cameras, jumpers and beanies – and head in to Edinburgh Castle. It’s clear from when we reach the Scott Monument and walk up to the Royal Mile that it’s tourist time – coaches and clusters of the careless and curious, ready to clog the pores of Edinburgh’s historical face. So we wait in line, judging silently and not-so-silently as the hordes march in lock-step towards the inevitable forced cheerfulness of the ticket sellers.
Edinburgh Castle is, however, historically and aesthetically impressive. We had the dubious pleasure of being shadowed by a group of garrulous Americans whose cultural commentary on everything they saw landed somewhere between amusing ignorance and charmless criticism. We quickly broke away, and looked at various exhibits and features of the castle, marvelling at the view and longevity of the castle’s formidable defences.
Eventually, we bailed, and after picking up a Sainsbury’s Lunch and eating it near the Scott Monument, we walked down to Holyrood and started a slow and dignified trail up Arthur’s Seat. We quickly decided that, with clouds as dark as a teenager’s mood coming in across the city, we’d abandon any dreams of the summit and head down into the city again. This proved prescient – the rain dropped on us like Mjolnir. Bedraggled and sodden, we made our way back to our flat, picking up ingredients for another meal and settling in with wine, cider and some homemade steaks to watch another Euro2016 game – this one Wales V Belgium (which Wales won, decisively).
Sunday we went exploring. We got in the car and went out to Stirling, and got distracted on the way by some mountains and a big building we couldn’t identify. Was it a castle, a wall, a fort? Let’s find out! So we drove down, navigating a few small towns and tiny Scottish rural roads, until we found it was an old mill turned into an apartment block. It would have been disappointing if we hadn’t seen some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip so far – green hills rearing up out of rural farmland like waves, dotted with rocks and sheep and swathes of stubborn greenery.
We then lit out towards the Trossachs, with lunches acquired and looking for a picturesque spot to enjoy them, which we found at Loch Lubnaig. Despite the drizzle, it was a sensational spot to stop and have lunch – lush, tranquil and possessed of that wild sense of calm that nests only in the high and infrequent places of the world. We drove on to another Loch and had a walk around the piers and top end, before driving back through the Trossachs and past another loch or two. Next we headed into Glasgow, to find (of all things) a shopping mall to buy some thermals for Ireland and Iceland.
After our shopping trip (which included caramels covered in chocolate, than you very much!) we made it back to Edinburgh, getting dinner and cheese and treats ready for another UEFA Euro match, this one Germany V Italy. Luckily, a mother and daughter from Germany joined us at the kickoff and an Italian gentleman came in at half-time, so we got to swap stories, play analysis and travel tips with them while the game played on! Germany’s eventual penalty-shootout victory sent us all to bed, jubilant and well-fed and ready for the next horizon!