Vonda Sinclair is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of Scottish historical romance. Her favorite pastime is exploring Scotland, and taking photos along the way. She also enjoys creating hot, Highland heroes and spirited lasses to drive them mad. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina where she is crafting another Scottish story. Please visit her website at www.vondasinclair.com
About the photo: How did I end up holding a Eurasian eagle-owl in Edinburgh? Completely unplanned. My friend and I were waiting outside Gladstone’s Land to go in for the tour, when we noticed two people with trained, tame owls. For a small fee, we could hold them and have our photos taken. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! 🙂
My Top 5 Favorite Places in Edinburgh
I was fortunate to get to take a research trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, in September and I enjoyed every minute of it. Here, in no particular order, are five of my favorite places to visit. There were actually several more I wanted to add to the list, but I had to restrain myself.
The Scott Monument, in Princes Street Gardens, is a memorial to Sir Walter Scott and is the largest builtfor an author in the world. Completed in 1844, the Gothic structure is an icon and easily recognized in the Edinburgh skyline. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment but I was thrilled to get the opportunity to climb all 288 steps to the top of the 200 foot structure. The views out over the city are spectacular (and not for those who are afraid of heights). The monument is covered in the most interesting statuary, representing many of Scott’s characters, sixty-eight in total, along with representations of other authors, poets, kings and queens. The largest and most prominent statue is of Sir Walter Scott and his beloved dog.
Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s most beloved and popular landmarks. The crown jewels of Scotland, called the Honours, reside here. The oldest building in Edinburgh, the beautiful and serene St. Margaret’s Chapel (built around 1130), is located here. The castle’s medieval great hall (completed in 1511) is incredibly impressive with its collection of historic weaponry and exquisite wooden roof. It’s easy to spend all day here exploring the many buildings and rooms. This is a fantastic place for historical research.
Craigmillar Castle is a hidden gem on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Since I visited in September, this castle has become well-known as a filming location for the TV series Outlander. Hardly anyone was there when we visited, but the castle is fantastic! It is, for the most part, a well-preserved ruin and contains lots of rooms, nooks and crannies to explore. Fantastic for research and I loved climbing to the battlements and checking out the views over the countryside. We could see Edinburgh Castle in the distance. Another thing that made it extra special was that I got to visit it on my birthday.
St. Giles Cathedral, aka the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is located on Royal Mile a short distance down from Edinburgh Castle. This is the main place of worship for the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Saint Giles is the patron saint of Edinburgh and was a popular saint during medieval times. The present church dates from the 1300s but was restored in the 1800s. The vaulted ceilings and the stained glass windows are stunningly beautiful. This church has a serene, calm and peaceful feeling.
Arthur’s Seat is one reason I want to go back to Edinburgh. I didn’t get to hike it this time, or ever. Several trails lead to the top, which is 800 feet above sea level. It’s about a mile walk up at a steep incline… probably a strenuous hike for anyone who isn’t terribly athletic. I’ll have to get in good shape for that one. I understand there are amazing views of the city and the sea from the top. The site is interesting because it’s an extinct volcano, surrounded by nature, surrounded by the city. Some say the name came from a legend that this area used to be Camelot. Others say it’s from a Gaelic phrase. Either way, it’s on my list of must-explore places in Scotland.
Stirling, Scotland, October 1619
“Kristina, wake up and ready yourself for a journey!”
In her bedchamber, Kristina MacQueen jolted awake. Had she just heard her mother’s voice? ‘Twas impossible. Her mother had passed many years ago. The voice had been inside her dream. What had Ma meant about a journey? Kristina had not left the vicinity of her aunt and uncle’s manor house in many months.
Hearing the faint hoofbeats of many horses galloping in the distance, she sat up and listened. As each moment passed, the horses’ hooves pounded closer and closer until they echoed off the cobblestones just outside the window. Her heart thumping and an eerie feeling prickling along her skin, she swung her feet toward the floor and sat on the edge of the bed.
A fist battered violently at the home’s entrance door below.
“Saints. Who could that be?” she whispered. It had to be the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morn, for she heard no one moving about the house and her room was chilly. The visitor couldn’t be the physician calling to treat Uncle Gilbert, who suffered from gout, rheumatism and various other ailments. Nay, he wouldn’t bring that many horses with him on a house call. Maybe ’twas the creditors, come to expel them from their home. When her uncle’s health had declined, so had his funds.
Could it be news of her older sister? She had not heard from Anna in many months.
Ready yourself for a journey, her mother had said in the dream.
Good heavens! Had someone come for her, to take her to Anna?
Heart hammering, Kristina leapt from the warm bed. Though she couldn’t see, she knew the placement of the furniture in her room and could easily navigate the space without bumping into anything. After tiptoeing across the cold wooden floor in her stockings, she approached the door and turned the knob to open it a crack, then listened. The maids were in an uproar on the ground floor below.
“What’s the racket?” Aunt Matilda yelled as she tromped by Kristina’s chamber and down the stairs. “Who is it?” she demanded near the front door.
“Chief Blackburn MacCromar!” The snarled response was bellowed from outside, just below her window.
A chill of terror and revulsion flashed through Kristina. “Saints, preserve us.” She shut the door and barred it, her fingers trembling. She had not been near the malicious bastard in two years. He had finally come for her.
Anxiety and nausea froze her to the spot. What would he do? Would he kill her for a certainty this time?
After Blackburn had sliced Kristina’s face and slammed her head against the stone wall, she had not known anything for days. When she’d awakened, she’d been blind and had not seen anything since.
Anna had been the only one there to protect her. If not for her, Blackburn might have easily finished Kristina off in her weakened state.
When Blackburn had left on a trip, she and Anna had run away. After bringing her here to hide with their aunt and uncle, Anna had fled toward Edinburgh, to lure Blackburn away from her, she’d said. What a strong and brave woman her sister was, and how she admired her. Anna had only slipped back a couple of times since, to bring money she’d earned from singing.
Why would her mother, in a dream, expect her to take a journey with such a cruel man as Blackburn?
Had he found Anna?
“Dear God, nay. Please keep Anna safe,” she whispered, nausea clutching at her stomach.
Kristina had to be ready for the blackguard. Feeling along the plaster wall, she found her storage chest, the oak wood and the metal studs cold against her palms. Kneeling, she opened it and dug through the scratchy woolen and linen clothing, feeling for the small knife in its leather sheath. Finding it, she strapped it to her thigh above her stocking. She knew the blade was sharp, for she’d whetted it herself.
Was it sacrilege to hope for an opportunity to kill Blackburn? Regardless, she would protect herself and her sister as best she could.