Beyond Edinburgh by Car: Palace on a Loch, Rosslyn Chapel, St. Martin's Kirk, Angels with Bagpipes

By Charleen - October 19, 2019

On our second day of driving, we traced a smiling arc from fountain and soaring towers of Linlithgow Palace, birth place of Mary Queen of Scots, through the ornately pillared nave of Rosslyn Chapel, to the rough stone ruins of a 12th century kirk believed to be John Knox's childhood church. It was a day of contrasts as we pondered how the Reformation shaped both Mary's and John's lives, and whether dueling column designs was worth the murder of apprentice by master. How did the many Rosslyn Green Man carvings fit in with the angels, one of which is playing a bagpipe? After returning to Edinburgh, we did some shopping and discovered more J.K. Rowling connections before dining, quite appropriately, at Angels with Bagpipes.

Linlithgow Loch from a Linlithgow Palace turret
Angels with Bagpipes desserts: Highland rhubarb duck egg custard/tonka bean/rose hip; Heather honey milk/hazelnut/lemon balm; Dark chocolate sea buckthorn/orange/wild walnut

Day 4. Swinging West, South and East of Edinburgh

We took the bus back out to the Hermiston Park & Ride, where we had left our Arnold Clark rental car. (Scroll to the bottom of this link for tips on rentals). For my husband, the hardest part was not driving on the opposite side of the road, but dealing with the many traffic circles large and small. My role in the front left seat was to help count exits off the traffic circles (harder than it seems). Also, many of the roads were narrow and often had no shoulder. He had a tendency to hug the left side of the road, and I had a few scares watching signs and stone walls coming a little too close... 
Today, we visited the sites marked in pink before returning to Edinburgh.
Dark grey markers show Arnold Clark and Park & Ride locations.

Linlithgow Palace & Loch

Linlithgow Palace consisted of a beautiful turreted and graceful building surrounding a central courtyard. An ornately carved fountain graced the courtyard of this maison de plaisance built for the Stewart kings and queens as a private retreat from state duties and the pressures of the court.

Situated on a grassy promontory on Linlithgow loch, the building was remarkably well preserved. While my husband and daughter explored the subterranean rooms extending below the now unused grand entry to the east, I climbed all the way to the top of the northwest turret for an amazing overview of both building and the surrounding park (peel). There is a 2.3 mile loop trail around the loch, one of only two natural lowland lochs in the Lothians.
Looking down at the Great Hall and my husband and daughter in the courtyard
Well placed information placards, as with all of the sites managed by Historic Environment Scotland, brought the place to life, including colorful sketches of how the rooms may have looked.
Counterclockwise from top left: The Great Hall; me standing in the center fireplace of the photo above; Looking up the northeast tower; the fountain in the courtyard.
We saw the room where James V and his daughter Mary Queen of Scots were born, the immense Great Hall, and explored a small museum of artifacts, imagining the soaring ceilings of a now roofless chapel.
Ceramic floor tile with monograms of James IV and Margaret Tudor with love knot in center.
As a side note, the mason architect of George Heriot's School, rumored to have inspired J. K. Rowling's Hogwarts, took inspiration from the design of Linlithgow where the rooms connect in chains without any hallways.

Linlithgow Palace was truly an idyllic setting that we explored from 9:30-11:15 am before breaking for lunch, enjoying the sandwiches from Social Bite back on Rose Street in Edinburgh.

We skipped the nearby Blackness Castle perched at the edge of the Firth on Forth, and headed next for the only site we visited that was not part of the Historic Scotland Explorer's Pass.

Rosslyn Chapel

After having read about Rosslyn Chapel in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the immensely detailed and varied carvings that went into this masterpiece of Gothic architecture was on our "must-see" list.

Built for William St. Clair in 1446 (Sinclair), the chapel has remained in the family to this day. Thankfully, the ornate carvings survived the destruction of the altar during the Reformation in 1592, the use of the chapel as a stable for Oliver Cromwell's troops, and early misguided attempts at preservation.
Many of the carvings exhibit vine-like or leaf-like forms. There are over 100 versions of The Green Man, a carving of a man's face surrounded by greenery, sometimes with leaves and vines coming out of orifices. Thought to represent rebirth and connection with nature, this motif was recapitulated in real life as nature reasserted itself and the ruins of the chapel were overgrown by plants.
As photography is not allowed inside the Chapel, these photos were taken of a replica in the Cast Court of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  Left: the base of the Apprentice Column. Upper right: ceiling and window near the stairs to the crypt. Lower right: a Green Man.
The vine-infested ruins became a popular site for Romantic poets and artists in the late 18th and 19th centuries. In part due to its rising fame through the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth and Queen Victoria, Rosslyn Chapel was rededicated in the Episcopal church in 1862 and steps were taken to preserve its carvings for the first time in 270 years.

We spent some time sitting in the pews gazing at all we could see while the tour guided pointed out a small fraction of the details available for study.

We then walked in for a closer look at the remarkable Apprentice Column, rumored to have sparked his murder by his returning master.  There was a window flanked by Viking carving and an angel bearing The Bruce's heart, which was neatly framed with carvings of American corn/maize (46 years before Columbus).

After venturing downstairs to see the crypt, we took some photos outside the Chapel, having spent an hour from noon-1 pm at this site. The ruins of the Rosslyn Castle will have to await a future visit, perhaps with a picnic lunch.

St. Martin's Kirk, Haddington

The simple, solitary ruins of this rare example of a 12th century Scottish kirk are incongruously close to modern suburban neighborhoods. The rough red sandstone walls loomed up as the solitary structure on a flat, grassy lot when we turned the corner at around 1:40 pm.
Although there is no roof, the arches of the front and back are preserved, along with some exterior buttresses that were added to support a second story.  Walking into the open nave, it is quiet and shaded inside, a tranquil environment for some nesting birds.
This austere parish church in the neighborhood where John Knox grew up, serves in stark contrast to the grand abbeys and ornate chapels frequented by knights and royalty. After the Reformation, the chancel was destroyed.

Just a bit further to the east is Hailes Castle followed by the dramatic cliffside Tantallon Castle. While they were both on the original itinerary along with the stonework of Seton Collegiate Church, we felt satisfied with the spectrum of places we had already visited, and decided to return to Edinburgh for some light shopping, weather permitting, and rest before our dinner reservation.

Back to Edinburgh 

After about a 50 minute drive and a few minutes spent hunting for a place we could leave the car on the crowded Arnold Clark lot (there were no signs for rental return), we returned the car by 2:45 in the afternoon, and made it back to the Grassmarket area by 3:30.

Taking the shortcut of Milnes Court steps, we cut through Lawnmarket and headed down Bow Street to Grassmarket, passing The Last Drop pub commemorating the last person to be hanged there in 1784. 
After gelato and chocolates at Mary's Milk Bar, we returned along Victoria Street to enter another Harry Potter themed shop called Museum Context. There are a lot of great photo ops in this multistory shop, which carries nice movie versions of wands. 
Mary's Milk Bar gelato
Before our dinner at Angels and Bagpipes, we walked by the Waverley train station to get our bearings in preparation for an early morning walk with our luggage. We also saw two additional sites made famous by J.K. Rowling. For photos and a collation of all the Harry Potter-related sites we found in Edinburgh, follow this link.
Several types of shortbread, sweaters and other souvenirs of our stay in Edinburgh

Dinner at Angels with Bagpipes

Our busy sightseeing schedule did not leave much time for fine dining, although we greatly enjoyed Makar's on Day 1, and Oink and the chocolate cafe on Day 2. So it was fitting that we closed out our last evening in Edinburgh with a dinner at Angels with Bagpipes on High Street. 

The chefs at Angels with Bagpipes feature seasonal, locally sourced produce and meats in a creative menu with many allusions to traditional Scottish dishes. They have a prix fixe tasting menu -- appetizer, smaller samples of two entrees, and dessert -- for £45/person, or £65/person with wines. Curiously, the entire table has to select the same option either with or without wine.  We elected to order off the A La Carte menu, with appetizer-entree-dessert combinations ranging from £35-£46.

My Haggis appetizer served with neeps & tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes), black haggis and whisky sauce was the single best dish that I had in Scotland. Although I had not been impressed with the haggis mash at Makar's, I decided to give it another try.  The interpretation at Angels with Bagpipes was amazing, and I found myself especially drawn to the black haggis, a type of blood sausage. 
Goat cheese panna cotta with bramble, sorrel and beets; Mushrooms with celeriac, oregano and tomato:
A fried haggis ball and portion of black pudding with whisky sauce served over neeps & tatties
My husband enjoyed the 12 year Highland Park whisky of the month with hints of smoke, spice, heather and honey, and my daughter took advantage of the relaxed drinking age to try a seasonal cocktail called Love me Ginger (Pickering's gin, strawberries, muddled ginger, ginger beer).

For entree's, I wish I had ordered the steak, served with chips, watercress and a choice of pepper sauce or garlic herb butter. My daughter and I tried the Hake and Sea Trout, which were beautifully presented with purslane, dill and caviar or a few stalks of fennel, broccoli and cicely, respectively. We were glad we took the server's advice to add a vegetable on the side, as the portion sizes of the fish were pretty small. 
Hake with purslane, dill, beurre blanc, caviar; Sea trout with fennel, broccoli, sweet cicely; Local leaf salad with citrus dressing; Ribeye steak topped with watercress and garlic-herb butter (chips not shown)
We finished with a tasty trio of elaborate desserts -- just the right amount (see photo at top of post). 

Overall, we enjoyed the dinner. The dishes were all visually appealing and some stood out with superb flavor and creativity. The flavor of the sea trout was a bland, however, despite its rich orange color, and I would have enjoyed more than a single stalk of each tasty vegetable. I would rank this 4 of 5 stars, as the price is a bit steep given the inconsistency and portion size.

Another fantastic day. We walked 7.65 miles, climbed the equivalent of 32 flights of stairs, and got lucky again, experiencing only a brief period of light rain.  The Edinburgh Castle Apartments where we stayed is close to the Waverley train station. In the morning we will walk there with luggage for more adventures in London!

Read more about our visit by clicking the links below!
Exploring Edinburgh on Foot:
   Day 2b. Hiking to Arthur's Seat.

Driving Adventures to the North and West of Edinburgh
   Day 3. Dunfermline Abbey & Palace, Castle Campbell, Stirling Castle, Antonine Wall, Cairnpapple

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