After London, I had planned to drive up to Scotland stopping in small towns along the way. In the end, time was tight and I had to save the detours for a future trip. Because I wanted to avoid driving in London city, I took the tube to Heathrow airport and hired a car there. It adds 45 mins to the journey, but it’s worth it to avoid the stress of London’s city streets.
At Heathrow airport, there are signs pointing you to the car park where you wait for the courtesy van to take you to the rental car depot. I booked a car with Budget, which shares both a courtesy van and the actual depot with Avis (they’re owned by the same parent company, though Budget is often slightly cheaper). I had aimed to arrive early, but I wasn’t quite early enough to beat the crowds as there was quite a long wait. Once you have listened to and declined the usual spiel about excess reduction, fuel, gps, upgrades etc etc and signed your life away, you are assigned a vehicle and sent out into the car park to find it. When you get to the allocated park and find the car missing, you trudge back to the depot, explain the problem and eventually get stuck with a vehicle 5 car classes above the one you booked and told it’s an “upgrade” (a 4-wheel drive is not an “upgrade” when you’re the only one in the car and you’re trying to save money on fuel!).
Finally getting out onto the road felt incredibly freeing. I love driving, especially on long road trips where you can just crank the music and let your mind wander. It’s a great way to sort through any problems you may have been having. Solo-road trips are the best, allowing you to stop whenever you feel like it and check out anything that looks interesting along the way.
It was a long drive up to Edinburgh. Most of the drive was just straight motorways without much to see. But the closer I got to Scotland, the more the roads narrowed and the view opened up. There were endless green fields with grazing sheep, the road started winding around hills and then eventually it was all twists and turns and one-lane streets (I’m pretty sure I made a wrong turn somewhere and took the long way round to Edinburgh).
When I finally made it to Edinburgh, I was greeted with one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever been to – the Village Hotel Edinburgh, which is part of a chain. I must have snagged an opening special (it was brand-new) as the prices have gone up quite a bit since then. A nice touch was the popcorn maker in the lobby, which you could help yourself to.
Instead of driving around Edinburgh, which like much of Scotland has very narrow streets, I took the bus into the city centre each day. Edinburgh is quite small and is very walkable….. provided you are fit and don’t mind steep hills that is.
After a wonderful night’s sleep I took the bus to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. While walking towards the palace, I came across a small museum (there were actually a number of small museums in this area) called ‘The People’s Story’ and ducked in for a look. It had displays on the lives of the ordinary people of Scotland, the trials and tribulations of the poor and middle class and how political events across the centuries effected the average Scottish person. Highly worth a look (it’s free).
The Palace of Holyrood house is Queen Elizabeth’s principle residence when in Scotland and was the principle residence of Mary, Queen of Scots. Inside, you can see Queen Mary’s chambers and that of her husband – Lord Darnley (called the Darnley Rooms). Their bedchambers are connected by a tight spiral staircase. Sadly no photography is allowed inside, but you can see a virtual tour here. Exiting the palace, you walk through a grand ruined Abbey and perfectly manicured gardens.
Behind the palace is Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat – the highest point in Edinburgh. Holyrood Park is a remarkably rugged piece of Scotland right in the middle of its capital city. It is popular with people of all ages and walking the park is a great workout on a crisp spring morning. I popped over to the park briefly to snap a few photos of the palace at a distance with the intention to explore the park further the next day.
In the afternoon, I walked towards the Royal Mile to visit the Edinburgh Museum which is full of a fascination collection of dinosaur bones and fossils, rocks and minerals, telescopes meteors, mummies and celtic artefacts, medieval torture devices and even a guillotine.
Suitably exhausted from the day’s activities, I was incredibly happy to crawl back into bed that night and curl up with some UK TV and popcorn from the lobby. While hostels are great places to meet other travellers, a relaxing evening and good night’s sleep are totally dependent on your dorm-mates. Having only booked two nights in Edinburgh, this was my last night and I was going to make the most of it.