A Closer Look At Cruising The Emerald Isles: Dover And Edinburgh
When I told my 91 year old mother that our Emerald Isles cruise began in Dover, England, she asked if we saw the white cliffs and started singing “The White Cliffs of Dover.” She knew all the words of this popular World War II song written before America entered the conflict. In 1941 writers Walter Kent and Nat Burton intended for the song to lift
the spirits of our Allies. The words speak of the “Bluebird of Happiness” symbolism and hope of a peace to come - unfortunately, not for many years. By 1941, the Nazis controlled much of Europe and were bombing Britain.
Composed of chalk (calcium carbonate) striated with black flint, the white cliffs stretch skyward about 350 feet above water level. The port, located twenty-one miles from France, served as a major ship debarkation point to the Continent before air travel eliminated the need for the short distance.
On top of the ridge sits Dover Castle, the largest castle in England. This medieval fortress, founded in the 12th century, served as a defensive stronghold for centuries.
Once our ship, the Crystal Serenity, headed into the North Sea toward Lerwick and the Shetland Islands, we left the White Cliffs of Dover as the last sight we’d see of the mainland for a couple of days and the first mainland sight on our return at the end of the trip.
Bad weather caused the Captain to cancel the Lerwick destination. Instead, we headed for Edinburgh, Scotland, (pronounced Edinburrr with somewhat rolled “r’s” and silent “gh”).
Our city highlight tour guide reminded us that Edinburgh is the home of Scotland’s favorite son and poet, Robert Burns, who coined “Auld Lang Syne.”
Our only stop was the 12th century Edinburgh Castle, which sat atop grey volcanic rock, its grounds surrounded by an aged stone wall. Over centuries more and more buildings occupied the castle grounds. We crossed a huge paved courtyard about the size of a small football field with temporary bleachers on each side: the city’s preparations for the year’s largest event – the Military Tattoo.
Tattoo comes from the Dutch “tap toe” or “Last Orders.” The British adopted the habit of bands playing the “Last Orders” to alert bars when to turn off the beer taps so soldiers would go back to their barracks and get a good night’s rest. Later, it represented the last song of nightly performances by military bands. Today, the Military Tattoo is part of a month long festival season in August. The bands perform under lights to a nightly crowd of over 7700.
As we headed for the entrance, a bagpiper played from a high perch; his music wafted over our heads. We stumbled on a cobblestone path through an arched gate. Our guide stopped at several of the 25 attractions within the walls, including St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh.
Finally left with 30 minutes to wander Crown Square on our own, we chose the Royal Palace from the four buildings - the Great Hall, Royal Palace, National War Memorial, and Queen Anne’s building.
To view the Crown Jewels, a line slowly snaked up a narrow spiral staircase of the clock tower, with risers barely wide enough for my feet much less the size 13 of my husband.
The red velvet, gold and gemstone encrusted Crown sat on blue velvet elevated above the Sceptre and Sword of State, all dated from 1543. Other items of interest included the Stone of Destiny, part of the coronation throne of Scottish kings and, since 1714, English monarchs. Once Queen Elizabeth dies, it will be sent to Westminster Abbey to rest beneath the coronation throne of her successor.
After the castle, we viewed other city highlights from our bus, including a statue of a small Terrier named Greyfriar’s Bobby. A popular legend tells the embellished story of how the dog known as Greyfriar’s Bobby guarded his master’s grave for fourteen years.
My eyes teared at the guide’s singing of Auld Lang Syne upon our return to the dock. Aboard the ship, Scottish singers, dancers, and bagpipers performed on stage before we set sail for our next port, Belfast.