Here is my review, in full, of a trip to the Scottish borders in October 2010. A version of this appeared in the South Wales Evening Post on Saturday, October 30, 2010.
But Dan Brown’s international best seller threw the decaying building into the limelight. At the height of the book’s popularity, 175,000 visited the chapel, and, in 2009, visitor numbers were still well above the 100,000 mark.
Although a visit to the chapel wasn’t our only aim on travelling to Scotland, it was most definitely one of the highlights.
It’s well worth a visit – so don’t let the distances involved put you off.
It’s best to make the journey part of the holiday if you’re travelling the 450 miles to Scotland. The train is a great option. With no airport security to worry about, my husband and I didn’t have to fuss about the weight of our bags, or try to judge whether or not our shampoo was going to get confiscated. We had newspapers, books, music and even a little work to keep us occupied on the trip.
We arrived in Edinburgh’s Waverly station in the early evening, and it was just a short walk to our hotel, the Knight Residence.
Situated on the edge of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, home to some of the city’s best pubs, the Knight Residence offers one, two and three bedroom “apartments” to guests.
A very friendly duty manager showed us around our home away from home in the Scottish capital.
It’s easy to see why, especially during the summer, the hotel is popular with American tourists. The spacious apartments come with fully-equipped kitchens and bathrooms – and guests are even treated to tea, coffee, milk, cereal, bread and butter on their arrival.
Keen to check out Edinburgh’s nightlife, we chose not to use our own kitchen facilities on our first night. Instead we ventured out to the city’s busy shopping area, where we found a fantastic restaurant to enjoy a late meal.
We were treated to a full kilo of mussels at the Café Royal Bistro Bar in West Register Street served up with plenty of bread and a bottle of wine. The café décor is stunning and the food was great. The relaxed atmosphere meant we were able to drum up a nice, long chat with an Australian couple mid-way through their round-the-world tour.
The next morning, we hopped on a tour bus to take a day trip to the Scottish borders, home of the aforementioned Rosslyn Chapel.
The chapel’s ties to Masonic imagery, as well as the famed Knights Templars, a real ancient “secret” organisation which was documented in Brown’s book, have made it an attraction for both conspiracy theorists and the casual tourist alike.
We were lucky enough to visit the chapel only a couple of weeks after scaffolding had come off the building. For 15 years, a canopy had been protecting the chapel’s roof, and we were one of the first to see the chapel in the light of day.
Colin Glynne-Percy, director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, told me that the Dan Brown novels had allowed the trust to push ahead with the refurbishments they wanted.
“It was on the cards before the Da Vinci Code came out, but it got overtaken by events. In 2007, we had 175,000 through the doors and two toilets.”
A new visitor centre is behind schedule, due to the collapse of the company contracted to do it, but Mr Glynne-Percy expects it will be finished before tourists start to arrive in droves next summer.
The chapel was just part of our day with Rabbie’s Trail Burners, a fantastic small tour operator.
Our friendly guide, Andrew, brought us to the area of Sir Walter Scott’s birth, to one of the first statues of William Wallace ever erected, and to Melrose Abbey, a beautiful medieval ruin, which is thought to be where the heart of Robert the Bruce – a famous Scottish king – is buried.
Andrew’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish history was a wonderful boon to the journey. Having worked for Rabbie’s for four years, he had experience leading many hundreds of tours, including tours to some of the more remote areas of the country, such as the Orkney Isles and the Isle of Skye.
He dropped us off near our hotel and we ate a quick meal at the apartment before heading out for some live music in one of Edinburgh’s many live music venues, the Voodoo Rooms, also in West Register Street.
A Welsh band was on the bill, but unfortunately, they weren’t able to make it, so we watched the Scottish capital’s fantastic Southern Tenant Folk Union.
The next day, we were back on board the train, enjoying the sights from our comfortable seats on the train.