Edinburgh, Scotland

Hooray for rainy days in Edinburgh 

Breakfast with Deacon Brodie

For the second time in as many weeks I shunned the open road and remote spaces to spend time in my lovely hometown, Edinburgh – with its magnificent castle, perched on a hill.

This time we’d decide to spend a day exploring some of the city’s Old Town visitor attractions.  It was shaping up to be a dreich (Scots for not very nice) February day, as we headed into town.

Dreich days really bring the character of Edinburgh’s Old Town to life.  It looks beautiful under grey brooding skies, cobblestones glistening with rain, and a cosy yellow glow radiating from bars, shops and restaurants to lure passers-by inside like moths to a flame.

No sooner had we arrived in the Old Town than we were lured by the cosy glow of Brodie’s Close.  The house of notorious Edinburgher Deacon Brodie once stood nearby.  Brodie was a respectable Cabinet Maker and Locksmith by day and a burglar by night.  He’s believed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

We said good morning to Mr Brodie and the haughty Bonnie Prince and found a table inside the Deacon’s House Cafe for breakfast.

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

After breakfast our first visitor attraction of the day was Camera Obscura and World of Illusions on Castlehill.  It’s been drawing visitor since the 1850s.

I last visited Camera Obscura and World of Illusions 29 year ago and loved it, so I’m not sure why a return visit has taken me quite so long!

From the second I was inside I was like an excited 5-year old who’d just swallowed a handful of blue Smarties.  I charged around shouting ‘LOOK’, ‘LOOK’, ‘LOOK’.  Mr G was equally excited by the 5 floors of interactive, and mind-boggling delights we had to explore.

There’s so much to see and do inside that it’s impossible to get bored.  It’s also one of those rare places like Disneyland, where adults can truly revert to childhood again.

We had a wonderful time exploring the mirror maze, stumbling around, arms outstretched.  It felt like we were trapped inside a weird fantasy world labyrinth, and the prospect of never escaping felt real.

Once we’d escaped we headed straight into the Vortex Tunnel.  WOW – insane is probably the best word I can come up with to describe it.

Crossing a bridge has never felt like such a challenge.  Your rational grown-up self tells you it’s just an illusion, the bridge isn’t actually moving.  Inside Camera Obscura and World of Illusions you’re forever 5-years old, so your childlike self screams with delight at the prospect of crossing a fast-moving bridge and risking being thrown off, and into a neon vortex.

Dizzy, we went to find some less disorienting fun.

We struck gold with a set of musical stairs, complete with natty top hats to wear as you recreated the Hollywood scenes of old.  I think every house should have musical stairs – what’s not to love.

We took some time out from larking around to watch a Camera Obscura show.  Rosie our guide was brilliant, really knowledgeable and funny.  Despite the camera’s age and simple design the attraction is still fascinating to see.

We had great fun picking up unsuspecting passers-by outside using pieces of cardboard, then flipping them into the air, before placing them back on terra firma!  No wonder the attraction once terrified Victorian visitors.  There are reports of people fainting and fleeing, screaming.  Even in this day of cutting edge technology, Camera Obscura still feels a wee bit magical.

After the show we braved the wind and rain, which was battering the rooftop viewing platform to admire the bonnie Edinburgh view below.

As we wound our way back down to ground level, we immersed ourselves in a whole host of fascinating, interactive delights.

They still had the cool holograms I remembered from my first visit, nearly three decades ago.

We left Camera Obscura and World of Illusions happy, having spent a really enjoyable couple of hours acting like children.

The Scotch Whisky Experience

Our next Old Town attraction was The Scotch Whisky Experience which stands opposite Camera Obscura on Castlehill.

We’d booked their Silver Tour which last for 50 minutes, and gives visitors an introduction to Scotch Whisky.

We had two excellent guides for our tour – Gary who was hugely knowledgeable about all things whisky, and a ghostly Master Blender called Douglas McIntyre who was a real character.

Our tour began with a barrel ride, guided by the dearly departed Mr McIntyre.  He took us through the whisky making process.

Next we learned about the importance of the oak barrels that Scotch Whisky matures in, and how those barrels add subtle flavours and give whisky its distinctive amber colour.

A scratch & sniff guide to whisky 

Our human guide Gary then gave us a scratch and sniff card each, and we watched a short film about Scotland’s five whisky regions.

The film which was shown on a big, curved screen showcased Scotland’s finest scenery – it was cinematography at its best.  I felt my eyes well with tears as I watched the Scotland I adore before me.  I longed to return to the beautiful Isle of Islay, and walk with the wild deer on the rugged Isle of Jura once more.

We sniffed our way through each whisky region and found out what gives their whiskies a distinct regional character – from the strong, smoky peat of Islay to the subtle purple heather of the Highlands. It was fascinating.

The science behind blended whiskies

Our next lesson was in the art of blending whiskies to make blended malts.  The blending room wouldn’t have looked out-of-place inside Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  I absolutely loved it, with its magical blending bottles and replica of Sir Edwin Landseer’s ‘Monarch of the Glen’ glowing majestically in the corner.

After a whistle-stop tour of blended malts it was time to make a decision for the tour finale, a tasting – Highland, Campbeltown, Speyside, Lowland, Islay or blended?  It was a peaty, Ardbeg for me and a fruity, Highland GlenDronach for Mr G.

A jaw dropping collection and tasting

This was the part of the tour I’d been looking forward to most.  The tasting inside the Diageo Claive Vidiz Whisky Collection – a fabulous shrine to Scotch Whisky.  I stood in awe looking at the 3,384 bottles, glowing like gold in the beautifully lit room.  It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be.

In the tasting we learned how our whisky had legs which hinted at its maturity and viscosity.  We swirled our glasses and the legs on my Ardbeg slid slowly down the glass like treacle.  Mr G’s light, heathery Highland raced down his glass like the proverbial you know what off a shovel!

Next we nosed our glasses – opening my mouth slightly and breathed in.  It was unmistakably Islay.

Instantly I was transported to the Queen of the Hebrides.  I pictured the peat cutters working in the fields, the distinctive pagoda rooftops of the distilleries, pretty whitewashed villages and unspoiled beaches with foaming waves crashing on golden sand.

One tiny sip and there it was, that intrinsically Islay taste of peat.  A taste I once found overpowering and undrinkable, had now become pleasant to me.

We enjoyed our wee nips as we viewed the stunning collection of whiskies.

None of the bottles have ever been opened yet one was empty, with only a dry amber reside left at the bottom of the bottle.  A fine example of the angels taking more than their fair share.  The angels’ share is the whisky which evaporates from the casks during the maturation process.  Even when bottled, if left long enough the angels will find a way to get to the whisky.

All too soon our tour was over.  We both loved it, despite Mr G harbouring a mild fear of whisky and my appreciation of it still being in its infancy.

We were ravenous so we headed to Gordon’s Trattoria for lunch.  Gordon’s have been serving good, home-cooked Italian food on the Royal Mile since 1982.  Lunch was delicious – one pizza fontaluna with spicy Italian sausage, and one penne fontaluna in a cream and cheese sauce, with spicy Italian sausage.  There was most definitely a spicy Italian sausage theme going on!

We lingered a while over a chilled Pinot Grigio and Peroni, chatting happily about a fun morning spent in two of Edinburgh’s best visitor attractions.

More from Deacon Brodie

Any plans we had to explore more visitor attractions after lunch were hampered by insanely long queues, so instead we decided to find somewhere to have one for the road before heading home.

En route to the Whiski Rooms (our chosen one for the road venue) we passed The Writers’ Museum in Lady Stair’s Close.  I dragged a reluctant, and thirsty Mr G inside for a quick look.  It’s a beautiful old building which houses a collection of interesting artifacts about the lives of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.

And there it was, the item that had drawn me inside – one of my favourite Edinburgh artifact. A cabinet from the childhood bedroom of Robert Louis Stevenson, made by Deacon Brodie.

Our day began and ended with Deacon Brodie.

Well not quite.  It ended in the Whiski Rooms with one for the road.  A delicate champagne cocktail for Mr G, and for me a delicious whisky cocktail made with Talisker and ginger beer.  We drank a toast to a wonderful day – Slàinte mhath!

Until next time ……….

17 thoughts on “Hooray for rainy days in Edinburgh ”

  1. Awesome blog! I found this by following a link to the Brodie wardrobe in R.L.S’s bedroom…what great photos! would you consider granting permission for the use of the wardrobe in a powerpoint that I am developing? It’s a presentation for women on creativity, and I was going to tell the story of how the cabinet is associated with the Jekyll and Hyde inspiration via the man of multiple lives, our dear Mr. Brodie. I’d be glad to give whatever credit you wish for the photo. If you’re feeling generous, I might want the photo of the good man himself and the whiskey bottle in the tavern. These will only be in the ppt in order to illustrate my story, and will not be reproduced otherwise unless you give permission. Thanks for considering this request. Warmest Regards, Kim Langley

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      Hi Kim, so glad you enjoyed the blog – I’m more than happy for you to use the photos in your presentation as long as you credit Samantha Grant ‘Scotland with the Wee White Dug’ and promise to spell whisky without an e. 😉

      1. Samantha, you made me laugh out loud in the midst of a hectic day! No whisky with an “e” I promise! I’ll be glad to give that photo credit, and thanks so much! kim

  2. I am officially green with envy, LOL. 🙂 What a heavenly day! That museum sounds awesome! (I miss rain so much here in the desert.)

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      It was great fun. The Museum is an old favourite of mine. I can see that you’d long for rain living in the desert. I hate when it interrupts my plans but would probably miss it if it was hot and dry all the time. 😊☔️

      1. If, and when, I’m able to get back to Scotland (if so, I’m not coming back to the U.S., though LOL), I’ll definitely go to that museum! If you visit New Mexico, you’d love the House of Eternal Return… https://meowwolf.com/about/visit/

      2. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
        Samantha Grant says:

        I’ll check it out. Thanks 😊

  3. Dawn-Marie – Scotland – I'm Dawn-Marie and I live in Ayrshire, South West Scotland. I started my blog in November 2015 as a personal challenge and to teach myself to write and learn new digital skills. It's also my digital legacy and hopefully my children will enjoy reading about my adventures. I love them both very much. I hope to get back outdoors this year (2022) to find my inner calm again. Getting outside in the fresh air makes me feel so much better. It's so important to be happy in life. Do what makes you feel alive!
    ~ Dawn-Marie ~ says:

    It has been a good few years since I visited the Camera Obscura with my kids. My daughter bumped into herself and fell in the maze of mirrors … that’s what I remember most lol. I was just saying to my other half we’ll need to go back. I think a wee day visit to Edinburgh is on the cards soon! So much still to see. Great post and photos 😊

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      Thank you – It’s a great attraction. It’s quite literally packed to the rafters with fun things to do. I do love a tourist day in my hometown every once in a while.

  4. I really need to visit Camera Obscura, like many other places it’s on my list.

    Sounds like you had a great day.

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      It’s brilliant you’ll have a ball. A wee ASVA pass day out in Edinburgh is great fun. 😊

    2. I am currently waiting for my passes to come through but they will be with us soon. Just in time for the annual leave my other half is having.

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      Well worth visiting – brilliant visitor attractions and some great places to eat and drink too. 😊

  5. Love Camera Obscura. Perfect rainy day activity. I’m a Speyside whisky lover myself, not a fan of the peaty stuff. So much whisky to choose from these days.

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      There’s a mind boggling choice of whisky out there. I think my love of Islay has led to a fondness for their whisky. It smells of the island.

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