Over the weekend I spent a few days up in Edinburgh with a friend of mine. She had never been to Scotland before and although I have been to Edinburgh a number of times, all but one of these trips was with work. So, we were up for the full tourist experience! We stayed in a very convenient AirBnB. This is a new experience for me and it worked out really well; we were centrally located and we could come and go as we pleased.
On our first full day we visited Rosslyn Chapel. This is a place that I have longed to visit. I used to visit Roslin Institute for work and I never got a chance to explore the chapel. Not only that, the Dan Brown book, The Da Vinci Code, had sparked our interest too. The chapel is richly decorated with stone carvings. Every crevice and column has an angel, green man, dragon or deadly sin. The tour guide gave a superb talk on the history of the chapel and all the myths and legends associated with it. It is certainly miraculous that the place has survived, given that after the dissolution of the monasteries it wasn’t used as a place of worship for a couple of centuries and radical restoration had to be carried out after the Victorians applied some ill-advised repairs to the building and its stone work.
On our second day we went on the sight-seeing bus. I’ve always thought this was a very touristy thing to do, but actually it was a just a fun way to get about in the city, jumping on and off where we pleased and getting wet bums in the process, since my friend insisted on sitting on the top deck even when it was raining! We visited the castle too. There are spectacular views of the city from the top and we wandered through the courtyards, popping in to see the crown jewels and the Great Hall. I always find it interesting seeing history from a different perspective. In England, history lessons, at least when I was at school, focussed on certain periods in history such as the Tudors and the Second World War. It’s fascinating when you look at history from another angle, other time periods become more significant and other characters, footnotes in English history take centre stage – Robert the Bruce, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots.
On the last morning, since I decided not to bore my poor friend with this trip, I made a solo trip to purchase some tartan. You know when you are addicted to sewing, when each holiday requires a fabric souvenir! I went to the Tartan Weaving Mill, near the castle. It is quite a tourist trap with the upper floors dedicated to cheesy souvenirs, but the lower floors are worth a visit. There are working looms on the lowest floor. It was fascinating to watch the weavers at work (and a little noisy!)
I don’t really need to add any more fabric to my stash, but I just couldn’t resist. I purchased some beautiful muted Stewart tartan. I can only applaud my colour matching from memory, because when I got back home I noticed that the fabric works very well with the silk blouse fabric I bought in California. I can see a very smart outfit taking shape in my head and a venture into the territory of pleats and kilt-making.
One of the floors has a rather neglected display of tartan and Scottish dress through the ages.
As I’m not an expert, I’ll just point you in the direction of two very informative articles:
Seamwork article – an article on the origins and history of tartan.
Frockflicks article – an article on Scottish dress.