Today was my last day in Edinburgh – and the end to my Scotland adventures.
My time here was far too short!
I had a wonderful last day here, mainly because of my spontaneous decision to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia (aka Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, or H.M.Y. Britannia for short). I’ll get to that in a long essay down below.
For starters, I set off bright and early to arrive at J.K. Rowling’s lush home that she sold a couple years ago. It’s in Morningside (1 Abbotsford Park), and in the photos online, the vines make it look far more intriguing. You could blink an eye and pass it since it blends in with just about every other home on the street, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enchanting. I definitely took a million photos and probably wound up on their CCTV, but I can bet that I’m one of thousands of tourists who seek it out every year. After all, it’s only a 15-min bus ride or 45-min walk from the city centre.
Because I must enjoy inflicting pain on my feet, I decided to walk (in the rain) to Craigmillar Castle and Portobello Beach from Morningside. That totalled to about 4 miles in 3.5 hours, so once again, I was exhausted by 11am. I opted out of Craigmillar Castle after reading reviews – and it wasn’t something on my radar, but it looked lovely from afar in the fog. I just didn’t see the point of paying admission to a castle that looked very similar to Urquhart Castle (which I already visited). And in all honesty, if I paid for every castle I passed while in the UK, that would probably cost me more than my plane ticket (exaggerating, but it could be close). I’m saving money for the castles in Wales for sure.
En route to Portobello, I walked through a tiny town called Niddrie – which had the cutest rows of colourful homes. Purple and turquoise trim (my favourite colour combo), pastel blue and green walls… these were little condos straight out of Dr. Seuss.
Portobello is a tiny seaside town just 3km from the city centre. I happened to Google the East Lothian beaches, and Portobello looked lovely in photos. Too bad the fog and brisk 0 degrees (Celsius) didn’t shape it into the nicest beach ever, but I did enjoy my brief visit.
I did my day backwards, since I didn’t give myself enough time for the H.M.Y. Britannia- a tourist attraction in Ocean Terminal, Leith. The next time I’m in Edinburgh, I’m dedicating an entire day to this. It was SO worth the admission fee (which was still cheaper than the entrance fees to the large castles) and honestly on an equivalent par to the Harry Potter studio tour.
It was the most spur-of-the-moment decision to go, but I’m so glad I did. Ever since working on a cruise ship, I’ve gravitated toward anything marine/nautical related and get really excited when I see exhibits, museums, or landmarks dedicated to this area.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. It was launched in 1953 and decommissioned in 1997. It cost £2 million to build, but about £11 million a year to keep her afloat – which is why Tony Blair’s Labour government didn’t justify that cost. The vessel was retired and is now Scotland’s best visitor attraction, according to VisitScotland. I couldn’t agree more – it beats any of the castles (but I’m biased).
Overall, the Britannia accommodated 250 guests. There were 21 officers and 250 Royal Yachtsmen, all volunteers from the Royal Navy. Officers were appointed for up to two years, while the yachtsmen were drafted as volunteers and after 365 days’ service, could be admitted to “The Permanent Royal Yacht Service” (upon volunteering and subsequently being accepted) as Royal Yachtsmen and served until they chose to leave the Royal Yacht Service or were dismissed for medical or disciplinary reasons (all according to Wikipedia). As a result, some served for 20+ years. I would, too, if I was working for royalty! Imagine that on your CV?!
Altogether, the tour encompassed the five decks of the Britannia. The self-guided audio tour (I never pick up the clunky buggers, but these were automatically given to you and were very insightful) was lovely, except for the fact that I chose a Saturday afternoon to visit, when I could barely move and take photos. I also didn’t realise that I could have stayed two hours longer than initially thought (I thought we got kicked out at 3:30, but there was a sign up front reading that everyone had to be ashore 2 hrs after the last admission at 3:30). Definitely coming back in the summer/spring again for better weather as well. They hid stuffed corgis throughout the vessel where you could count them and enter a drawing at the end for a free teddy bear. Absolutely adorable.
The tour starts on the bridge (“DIS IS TE BRIDGE! Oh Daithí) and ends in the engine room, so it was amazing to come full circle because of all my friendships with the deck and engine departments. It was just impossible to get decent photos without people cramming your space, so I wish I could hire out the yacht privately for an event (same with the Harry Potter tour). In my dreams…
The dining room was absolutely incredible. I loved seeing all the gifts that the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family were given throughout the years – from every country imaginable (New Zealand, Thailand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, India – and I completely forgot to see what America gifted). Each of these gifts were enclosed in glass casings or hung up on the walls around the dining room.
The State Apartments were incredible to see in person. It was like gaining firsthand perspective into life as a royal – their bedrooms and living spaces were quite lush onboard, as one would expect.
The officer wardrooms were completely upscale compared to ours, but the cabin spaces for the yachtsmen were cramped and stacked three beds high, with only a small space in between for another row. Much like hostel life, but even more clausterphobic because of the size of the yacht. The officer cabins were lovely, albeit tiny as well. Even for having a cabinmate on the ship, we definitely have it lucky…
We toured the flag deck, laundry room, galleys (we only were allowed to peer into those), china/silver rooms, sick bay (the medical room only had two rooms – a bunk bed to accommodate 2 people and an observation/operation chair); mail room, barracks, dining room, leisure areas, wardrooms (for both yachtsmen and officers) – oh my, my brain was overstimulated. The little engine boat that carried the Queen was so beautiful – can our tender boats look like this, with 14K gold plated stuff?!
I couldn’t stop laughing at the mini table quoits set in the officers wardroom, as well as a set of deck quoits in the leisure room. The story of wombat tennis was intriguing – hence the little wombat plush on top of the ceiling fan in one room.
And oh, that engine room. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful! Half the pipes and steam turbines were polished silver and shiny copper – basically what you’d imagine a royal engine room to look like. I’m still not too familiar with all the terminology, but I know enough to realise that the engines were pretty nice and well taken care of.
I was fascinated by the number of renowned people who rode on this vessel. Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (obviously); Nelson Mandela; the Clintons; etc. It’s apparently the most famous ship in the world, and had I done better research beforehand, I would have set out to do this on my first day in Edinburgh when it was bright and sunny (instead, I choose my last day, when it was overcast, freezing, and rainy).
I had lunch in the royal deck tea room – because, duh, who wouldn’t want to eat in the same area that the Royal Family once did? The room was replicated, so obviously not exactly the same, but the views of the ocean with the huge glass windows were amazing. Far, FAR more stunning than our restaurants on P&O. I’m finding that everything is decently priced here – which is dangerous, because I just keep wanting to do high tea everywhere.
In the evening, I went to my first club/bar alone, the Frankenstein bar next to The Elephant House. I hoped to see the cool massive Frankenstein being lowered from the ceiling (according to Google), but I had no such luck. It was blissful to just observe all the crazy party people rather than be the one drinking and socialising like my job entails. What a holiday away from it all!