Edinburgh, Scotland’s Royal Mile

The mortification of Thomas Moodie
  • The mortification of Thomas Moodie

The prime sites to visit in Scotland's capital dot the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle at the west end to Holyrood Palace at the east end.

The Castle is worth touring at any time, but certainly arrange to be in the castle yard around 9 o'clock on an August evening to view the Military Tattoo. This is not crossed anchors emblazoned on a swabbie's arm, but a 90-minute performance by a thousand marching bagpipers. All of them play with confidence, as a neophyte piper sounds no worse than an expert one.

Amble eastward along the lush Princes Street Gardens, and you may come upon the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the world's most loyal dog.

According to legend, Bobby was a Skye terrier who waited at his master's grave for 14 years, 'til he joined his master in heaven in 1872 at the age of 16. Recent research casts suspicion on the story; perhaps dogs are not permitted up there.

Farther along, you'll come to the Canongate churchyard, where economist Adam Smith is buried. He died in 1790 and is still dead. The yard surrounds the Dutch-gabled Canongate Kirk.

A plaque on its façade explains, "In 1688 King James VII ordained that the mortification of Thos. Moodie granted in 1649 to build a church should be applied to the erection of this structure." This does not suggest that anyone was humiliated. A mortification in Scots law is a bequest to a charitable institution – which explains why local wags refer to this church as Tom Moodie's erection.

Next, note the Scottish Parliament building, completed in 2004, three years late and many times more costly than expected. It won Enric Miralles the 2005 Stirling Prize for architecture, as well as deafening raspberries from some critics who condemned the Catalan architect for failing to consider the structure's context.

Which brings us to Holyrood Palace, right across the street. This is the British monarch's official residence in Scotland. I found this out when, just as I was about to enter the palace gate to take a tour, a platoon of marching pipers and a caravan of black Bentleys pushed through first. The queen waved to me, as if to say "Neener neener," and took over the premises for the week.

I drowned my disappointment in a single-malt Macallan, neat, at the White Hart Inn.

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