Almost Didn’t Make it to 49

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Private guided tour with Iain Stewart of Serenity Tours – in short, a fantastic day.

What a great birthday for Dan today turned out to be! I had hoped my plan would work out this way, but I couldn’t have asked for better. Iain was exactly what we were looking for in a guide: personable, knowledgable, informative, and very pleasant. And he’s a musician, but we didn’t actually get to hear him play. Turns out he grew up with The Proclaimers…how cool is that?

Iain took us out for a drive to see the battlefields of Pinkie Cleugh and Prestonpans, and to the castle ruins of Dirleton, Tantallon, and Fast, and with time for lunch at the Buttercup Cafe in North Berwick. He helped us visualize how the battles would have played out on the fields, how things have changed over time, how people would have lived at and around the castles, and helped get the familial, religious, and political characters and motivations straightened out.

All the sights were along the coast east of Edinburgh, making for a very lovely drive, notwithstanding my motion sickness — I wasn’t driving, and accidentally took a decongestant instead of gravol before leaving in the morning. Watching the horizon only works when you can see it; fast moving hedges suddenly blocking your view do not help at all. But we had enough stops with good walks between drives that it didn’t get too bad.

We went looking for The battle of Dunbar memorial and ended up finding the Doonhill Homestead where the site of a wooden hall of a 6th century British chief, and of an Anglican chief’s hall which superseded it in the 7th century, were revealed by aerial photography followed by excavation in the 1960s. The hall was larger than you would expect for its age, at 23 metres long. It was remarkably sobering to stand on the site and realize just how ancient the remains were, and how far back the history of Scotland actually goes.

The castle ruins in particular were also breathtaking, as were the views from them. The walk down to Fast Castle was juuussst a bit steep, but not so much as to deter Dan from continuing on. I knew my limits and only went down about half way, recognizing the climb back up might be a bit much for me. Dan really enjoyed it, but nearly pushed too hard himself. He was a smart boy, though, and recognized he needed to slow down, so he did.

Apparently the bridge connecting the “eponymous” promontory used to be a draw bridge but now is just a narrow, elevated bridge with near-vertical cliffs on three sides. The castle itself is almost non-existent. It’s placement on the promontory makes you wonder at the purpose of such a dismal setting, especially with it having been a place someone like Mary Queen of Scots stayed at (in 1566). Dan also noted that Fast Castle was like your typical Game of Thrones Iron Isles castle. He can’t figure how they even got the materials there to build it.

It’s worth noting that “fast” has its toots in the word “false”, and the holders of the castle used it to create a false light house which would divert passing ships into the rocks causing them to wreck, and from which the holders would salvage the cargo for profit. They paid the iron price, haha.

 

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