After two days of celebrations with Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin Atlantic team, it was time for the second portion of my visit to Edinburgh to commence. Brimming with excitement, I ducked into the car meant to ferry me into central Edinburgh and my much-anticipated destination — The Balmoral Hotel.
I could already spy the five-star Rocco Forte Hotel’s iconic clock tower, apropos for its Waverley Station location on Princes Street. To ensure travelers don’t miss their trains, the clock is always set three minutes fast. The only hurry I was in was to see the inside of the luxurious Balmoral.
Bellmen at the entrance were dressed in traditional garb, befitting the 112-year-old hotel. Once inside the warmth of the lobby, my eyes traveled up the stairs of the Palm Court. Delaying check-in, I headed in for afternoon tea and the hotel’s signature shortbread cookies.
After sating my appetite for both cookies and atmosphere, my side trips en route to my room continued. There was an intimate drawing room with a crackling fire, around which guests read the paper or discussed their evening plans. Speaking of which, not yet open for the night was Number One, a bar/restaurant with red lacquered walls and Scottish/French cuisine — elements that bespoke of hands being held across tables and whispered conversations.
An opportunity presented itself to see the suite where novelist J.K. Rowling penned the Harry Potter series. An encased bust signed by Rowling during the writing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows stood in an alcove. Framed was a cover from the novel along with a note from Rowling. It was at the desk where Rowling wrote that I spent the most time. Yes, I’ll admit, I rubbed my writer’s hands along the desktop, hoping for some of Harry’s magic to transplant itself into my grey matter.
Another stop was made below ground, where a different kind of magical oasis waited to be discovered – the spa. A mental note was made to later lounge by the lap pool with a fresh juice in hand. Of course, a massage was an itinerary must as well.
Finally, it was time to see my accommodations, one of The Balmoral’s 188 rooms/suites. I’d expected a suite with antique décor. To my delight, a crisp, modern room with pops of green welcomed. It was immediate — I felt at home.
A photograph in the bathroom of a cheeky Sean Connery brought to mind a bevy of celebrity guests who’d stayed at The Balmoral — the Queen Mother, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Oprah Winfrey and more. Equally as famous, were the views outside the suite windows — Edinburgh Castle, the National Gallery and the Gothic Rocket, a.k.a. a monument to Sir Walter Scott. The irresistible panorama had me bundling up and heading out.
A double-decker, hop on/hop off bus provided an overview of the city and a convenient stop near Edinburgh Castle. Cobblestones slick with rain didn’t deter me from forging up Castle Rock. The vistas above the city were more than worth the effort. Tearing away, there were still the Crown Jewels, Royal Apartments and Stone of Destiny to see on the grounds of the 12th century castle.
Afterwards, a stroll down the Royal Mile rewarded with boutique windows chockfull of vivid tartans. A quartet of performing schoolboys displayed their skills at the base of a statue. On another corner, a man consumed fire and had someone stand atop a bed on nails on his bare chest.
The Fringe Shop brought on yearnings to return in August for the festival. A coffee shop offering Scottish Deer Antler Chews and Harris Tweed Poo Bag Holders almost made me steer off path. No. There was another teashop my heart was set on.
Everywhere the eyes landed was evidence of why Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature. Turning a corner of the University of Edinburgh, the head of a rhino jutted out of a wall. A plaque alerted this had once been the site of Jim Haynes’ Paperback Bookshop, a beloved institution that birthed the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Traverse Theatre.
Steps away was another sculpture of a burned book. The Paperback Bookshop had at one point been a source for banned books. As the story goes, a woman ordered a copy of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Upon returning to procure the novel, the patron collected it with a pair of tongs, walked outside the bookshop and set it afire. The unobtrusive sculpture serves a reminder of a time when censorship took away certain freedoms from both writers and readers.
My final stop that day – The Elephant House, also known as the birthplace of Harry Potter. With thoughts of The Paperback Bookshop fresh on my mind, I chose a seat undoubtedly occupied by many writers over the years. Among them, Alexander McCall-Smith and Ian Rankin.
Thoughts of sitting at J.K. Rowling’s desk hours earlier, hoping for magic to rub off, played in my mind. Hadn’t writing already brought me magic? It was, after all, the reason I was in Edinburgh, bringing to life pages of fiction I’d written years prior. A kinship with Scottish writers welled up in my heart — gratitude for the paths they’d forged. Gratitude for the magic that had made this trip a reality.
Part 1 of Bekah’s Journey
Travel writer Bekah Wright spans the globe experiencing everything from fly fishing to sheep herding. She recently wrote about traveling to Zambia and taking a French river cruise for First to Know. Her writing has been featured in GOOD, Bon Appetit, National Geographic Kids, Los Angeles magazine and TV Guide.