It came as a surprise to find out that there was an enormous upside to arriving in Edinburgh at four in the morning, over 13 hours later than planned. My girlfriend Kate and I had left our home in Portland, Oregon 36 hours earlier and after enduring delayed flights, missed connections and a three hour wait aboard a stuffy London train due to a “fatality on the line”. We had finally arrived at Waverly Station on the overnight train called the Caledonian Express. With not a black taxi in sight, Kate and I walked up and out of the station to find the medieval city awash in an ethereal blue light.
In mid-July the sun never really sets on Scotland. It simply hides just out of view during the wee hours of the night before rising again. As we exited the station, the jagged skyline of the city’s famous Royal Mile was silhouetted in the early morning light as the Castle stood guard over one of Europe’s most beautiful streets like it has every morning for centuries.
We were in Scotland to attend a good friend’s wedding and since I was the best man, the bride and groom were incredibly relieved to know that I had finally made it, if only ten short hours before the ceremony was to begin at The Hub on The Royal Mile.
My friend Brian had asked me a few months prior to be his best man and I immediately said yes. Not only would I be able to return to the city I lived in for three years, but I would be able to take part in a wedding Scots style. And, I would finally get to wear a proper kilt.
Brian met me at our hotel in the city’s Grassmarket area after Kate and I managed to get a few hours sleep. The Grassmarket has long been one of Edinburgh’s favorite watering holes with pubs making up most of the ancient buildings that sit beneath the castle’s sturdy walls. As with anywhere in Edinburgh, history mingles with the present. Our hotel sat right across the street from the White Hart Inn where Scotland’s bard Robert Burns was once a customer. Another pub, The Last Drop, sits across from a former site of one of the cities’ busiest gallows – no small feat in a city known for its public executions. And it was here that two of Edinburgh’s most notorious figures, Burke and Hare , stalked some of their 17 victims that they would murder before selling the corpses to the Edinburgh Medical College.
After Brian helped me put on my kilt of Royal Stuart Tartan, we headed straight up the road to the pub where the male members of the groom’s family and friends were getting together for a drink or two before the wedding. The kilt, made from incredibly soft fabric, was much heavier than I expected. As instructed, I wore it like a Scotsman aka nothing underneath. After a quick toast over a pint and a couple of drams of whisky (this is a Scottish wedding after all), we walked across the Royal Mile to the venue.
As we walked over the cobbles, our brogues, with their laces tied around our calves, echoed down ancient road where the tourists started snapping pictures of us. A shy Chinese girl approached us as we greeted wedding goers at the massive front doors of the ancient church and asked if we would take a picture with her and her classmates. Being the best man in a Scottish wedding certainly came with a celebrity factor that those in the States do not.
Scottish weddings have much in common with their North American counterparts. Nervous brides and grooms, doting family and the last minute panics are certainly present, but there are definite aspects that let you know the occasion couldn’t happen anywhere else but Scotland.
For a start, the bagpipes play an important role. The piper plays at the front door as the guests enter and once everyone is gathered and it becomes time for the bride to come out, the commanding and poignant sounds of the pipes burst through the door to lead the bride to the groom. Brian and his new wife, Morag, had a civil ceremony and although the wedding was held in an old church, the venue was now used as an entertainment center and restaurant as well. After the vows are read and the “I do’s” said, both the bride and the groom sign their marriage certificate in front of all of the guests. The best man and bride’s maid sign as well, acting as witnesses – something you don’t see at weddings in the States.
After the ceremony, guests trickled into a bar attached to the venue where champagne and wedding cheer would be in steady supply for the rest of the evening. After a dinner that included speeches by the groom, the best man and the bride’s mother, the tables were cleared and bride and groom hit the dance floor for the first dance. A band played well into the night and the festivities ended with everyone gathering in a circle on the dance floor to dance to the Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond. Sometime around two in the morning, Kate and I, along with Brian and Morag and a couple more friends, stumbled back to our hotel for a nightcap. One more drink to finish off a great celebration.
The following day, feeling the effects of travel and strong drink, Kate and I hopped in a taxi after a traditional Scottish breakfast that included haggis, black pudding, bacon and potato bread. We finally were able to crash at Brian’s as he and his new wife headed off to Italy for their honeymoon. Kate and I spent the next couple of days strolling through Edinburgh’s atmospheric streets, and going on a late night City of the Dead Ghost Tour , one of the world’s most haunted places. We also rented a car and drove through the misty Highlands. After stopping in Balquhidder to see the grave of Rob Roy, we stopped at old inn with peat smoke puffing out of its chimney in the Highland town of Callander for haggis, neeps and tatties and a steak and ale pie. A perfect end to far too short of a trip.
Written by and photos by Robert Lovick for EuropeUpClose.com