Every year in August, the Scots hold a city-wide festival in Edinburgh, the capitol. There are special musical events, arts and film are represented; artisans and street performers
abound, and there is a large crafts fair at the foot of Edinburgh Castle where hand made objects of good quality are in abundance..
But one event is totally awesome, and literally towers over all else. It is known as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and it features the performance of military bands, drill teams, and
specialty performers from all over the world, capped off by a thrilling fireworks display.
Edinburgh Castle sits brooding atop Castle Rock, overlooking the city below. There has been some kind of fortification on that site since before recorded history, and it has been the
sight of many battles between warring factions in the area. Interestingly enough, for all its gore-spattered history, the castle has only been taken twice in battle, both times by Scots.
The Military Tattoo is held nightly on the Esplanade (parade grounds) of Edinburgh Castle, and it is the most amazing, spectacular show of skills unlike anything else you have ever seen.
It is truly One-of-a-Kind. So great has become its reputation that tickets for the following year go on sale immediately at the conclusion of this year’s show, and they are sold out quickly. The
better hotels are also booked well in advance.
The special needs traveler has to plan even further ahead, because there just are not that many facilities available at any time, much less during the month of the festival. As a result,
I had completed booking arrangements virtually a full year in advance of going to Scotland.
We stayed at the plush Balmoral Hotel, and it was through the good efforts of the hotel’s head concierge that we acquired two of the best seats in the Esplanade. The concierge
told me there might be some difficulty getting Nancy up the stairs into the seats, but he had a son who, with the company of several of his mates, would gladly help Nancy up the stairs for the price of
a few pints of beer. Unfortunately, that plan fell through, and we left for the Tattoo without a firm plan in place to get us into our seats. But we took a chance and headed for the Castle, passing dozens of street performers along the way.
It was a clear and cool night. The concierge had arranged for special car transport up the hill to the castle, and the car came as close as possible but had to stop short as the crowd
was so dense the driver was concerned someone would get run over.
When we entered the parade grounds, I looked up and saw where we were to sit, and I started to worry how we would manage. As I was pondering what to do, a small detachment of police and Scots Guardsmen came over, all in their best dress uniforms, all spit and polish, silver sabers shining, leather shoes
and belts gleaming. While several of them went in front of us to clear a way through the crowd, the remaining six formed a phalanx around Nan’s wheelchair.
In unison, they lifted her and carried her up the stairs in military cadence, never missing a beat, and set her down- front row and center- where, I am told, the Queen’s box is
set up should Her Majesty desire to see the show.
THAT was an entrance! The people sitting around us all broke into applause as Nancy was lowered into her seat.
There were several dozen marching bands, individual performers, precision groups and drill teams from around the world. For more than two hours, we sat, spellbound, thrilling to entertainment of the highest quality- performances such as we had seen virtually nowhere else in the world on such a grand scale. It was superb!
We had come to Edinburgh once before, in 1981, as part of our trip around England, driving on the "wrong side" of the road from London to Cardiff, Wales, then up to Edinburgh. That time we stayed at a fancy hotel with a view of the Castle out our bedroom window.
We took the sleeper train from Waverly Station back to London. I have always found travel by train most delightful, this time especially so.
The following night, in London, we saw the new musical "Cats", which featured a song, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat. In the show, this particular cat checks on the passengers and crew to be sure everything is running smoothly on one of the rail lines that run in Scotland:
It was very pleasant when they'd found their little den
With their name written up on the door
And the berth was very neat with a newly folded sheet on
And not a speck of dust on the floor
There was every sort of light you could make it dark or bright
And a button you could turn to make a breeze
And a funny little basin you're supposed to wash your face in
And a crank to shut the window should you sneeze
Then the guard looked in politely and would ask you very brightly
"Do you like your morning tea weak or strong?" - T S Eliot
The lyrics described exactly the train and compartment we occupied two nights earlier. As the train entered the rail station in London in the morning, there was, exactly, a knock on the door, and a voice asked, Do you like your morning tea weak or strong?" Both Nancy and I broke out laughing.
This time around, we left Edinburgh on a cruise heading to the North Atlantic, and to the Shetland Islands- which belong to Scotland. The ship docked in Scallway Harbor and we went ashore to look around. We passed a special memorial, and want to share the story of the Shetland Bus:
Many of the local sailors participated in secret operations, ferrying spies and saboteurs into Nazi Germany during World War II. They also rescued hundreds of Jews from certain death, brings these doomed people out of occupied Europe via Norway. The operation was called the "Shetland Bus", and this is the memorial to those brave men who gave their lives during these dangerous missions.
Of course, this is also home to the famous Shetland Ponies. These miniature horses are much smaller than we had supposed, averaging less than 4 feet in height. They are extremely friendly, especially if they are hungry and you are offering food:
Nancy, never one to pass up a chance to interact with animals, insisted I gather some grass so she could feel the ponies also:
Our guide told us the weather that day was the best he had seen in months- warm, sunny, and inviting. We had a great time!