We spent six days in Edinburgh, Scotland enjoying the Fringe Festival. The largest performing arts festival in the world it boasts over 3000 different shows. There are comedians, live theatre, music, storytelling, dance and just about everything in between. Many shows are free, especially the comics, who come to the Fringe to try out new material hoping to make it big. Other shows are performed by professional artists and performance groups. We saw about a dozen different shows. If you want to visit Edinburgh during August you need to make your hotel reservations about a year in advance as the city books up completely. At the same time as the Fringe, Edinburgh also hosts an International Arts Festival, Book Festival and the Royal Military Tattoo Festival.
The Tattoo runs for three weeks and is a spectacular display of military bands from around the world plus very elaborate performances highlighting different cultures from around the world. We bought our tickets for the Tattoo back in March and it was nearly sold out. The main act is a huge band of bag pipers and drummers representing Scotland. Joining them were fiddlers and Scottish dancers that completely filled the stadium. Representing the USA were the United States Air Force Honor Guard and the Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes. The Air Force Honor Guard performed an amazing act of precision twirling and juggling of their bayonets which really wowed the crowd. The Citadel Band was also excellent performing traditional marches, show tunes and even a little bit of rock n’roll. The Top Secret Drum Corps from Switzerland did an amazing performance with fireworks shooting from their drums. For the first time ever, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Band performed but their performance was a bit sedate. The Tattoo is held in front of the dramatically lit Edinburgh Castle. The finale is a lone bag piper standing on top of the castle playing a traditional tune lamenting the sorrow of war. Attending the Tattoo and the Fringe Festival is definitely one of the highlights of this year’s travels.
After Edinburgh we were exhausted so we headed south just about 25 miles to the Tweed River Valley in an area known as the Scottish Borders Region. Such a change from the frenzy of Edinburgh! At this time of year, the heather is in full bloom and the hillsides are covered in purple. We were able to get in three days of mountain biking which helped recharge our energy levels. Scotland had developed seven mountain bike parks called the 7Stanes (stones). Each park has a unique stone, either natural or man-made, that is somewhere on the trail. Some of the parks are very developed with a bike shop, café, and camping at the start of the trailheads. Between last year and this year we have cycled at four of the mountain bike parks.
We really enjoyed Scotland. It is a beautiful country with many different contrasts. It has great cosmopolitan cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow but also very rural areas like the islands off the west coast where cell phone and internet coverage doesn’t exist. There is good mountain biking and hiking in Scotland but also great museums and performing arts. Even though it is part of the United Kingdom it definitely has a very distinct culture from England. Bag pipes, whisky, haggis, fiddlers, Gaelic speakers and men in kilts make Scotland unique. The Scottish people are very friendly and like to chat with strangers. The one downside to Scotland is the weather. Even in August it is cold with daytime temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s. Most days are cloudy and it rains a lot but that is what makes it so beautiful and green. It seems this summer was even colder and wetter than usual and even the Scottish are complaining.
We are now in Whitley Bay, England just a few miles north of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne where we will spend a few days until we catch a ferry back to Amsterdam, drop off our motorhome, and then head back home to Tucson.