To pick up the trail from my last entry, it is now Tuesday September 9th, and we have the morning to spend in Edinburgh before catching a 2 o’clock train to London.
Before I go too far though, you know how you can tell when you’re in Scotland?
When the seats on the public buses are covered with tartan material….
If you read my previous blog about Hollyroodhouse, you’ll know what a fan I am of the Royal family. Well imagine my delight when during our holiday homework phase, Mary uncovered the fact that the Royal Yacht Britannia had been retired to a permanent location in the historic port of Leith – best described as a suburb of Edinburgh.
Britannia was the latest in a long line of royal yachts, and it’s time at sea had virtually mirrored Queen Elizabeth’s reign on the throne. Having ascended to the Monarchy following the death of her father King George VI in February of 1952, the Queen supervised the planning and building of the new yacht that he had approved. In April of 1953, Britannia became the 83rd and final Royal yacht following a tradition that had dated back to 1660 and the time of Charles II.
In the 44 years that followed, Britannia served as the Queen’s home away from home, steaming over 1 million miles and participating in over 700 royal visits. She also took part in historic ceremonies such as the handover of Hong Kong to China, and she’d also played host to dignitaries and celebrities including Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and pop stars (Elton John was a guest on more than one occasion).
One of the more famous voyages for Britannia was the 16-day honeymoon of Charles and Diana back in 1981. In fact, we learned on the tour, that until that honeymoon voyage, there had never been a double bed on board Britannia, and it was added at the special request of Charles. At least we know he wasn’t a total wanker!
Britannia served as a Love Boat one last time in 1986 for Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.
I found out that in addition to be the Queen’s floating home, Britannia was also fully decked out as a hospital ship, and on one occasion back in 1986, she participated in the rescue of over 1,000 refugees from 55 countries – all who had been evacuated from Yemen over the outbreak of civil war.
By 1997, it was time for her to be retired, and there were plans underway to build a new royal yacht. At an estimated cost of some 80 million pounds, a new ship became a political hot potato between the governing Labour party, and the Conservative opposition. The Queen did not want to be caught in the middle of this battle and on October 10th, 1997, it was announced that Britannia would make one last farewell voyage to six major U.K ports before being decommissioned at Portsmouth, England.
Responding to public pressure, in April of 1998 the Government announced that Britannia was going to be preserved and that cities all over the U.K. were being invited to submit proposals to purchase Britannia. The winning bidder would be chosen based on the quality and appropriateness of the bid with a particular focus on how Britannia would be displayed “in keeping with her former role”. The City of Edinburgh won the bid with it’s proposal to make Britannia the centre-piece for the regeneration of the historic port of Leith.
I had first seen Britannia as a 13 year-old boy on my first trip to England to see my Grandparents. At that time she was moored on the river Thames, right off the Tower Bridge and just opposite the Tower of London. Somewhere in the crawlspace there’s an 8 mm film showing Britannia bobbing up and down, just before I got control of the camera and headed over to Carnaby Street with my cousins to check out the mini-skirts and London’s hippie scene……..but that story is for another blog, and another time.
The tour of Britannia was great and it is well worth the time to see if you are ever in Edinburgh – monarchist or not!
Checking our watches, it was time to hop back on the “Tartan Express”, and after grabbing our bags from storage, we boarded British Rail for a 4 1/2 train ride to London. The ride itself was uneventful and most of the trip was done under grey and drizzly skies – the only rain of the entire holiday in fact.
Our original plan had been to hop on the tube at King’s Cross-St. Pancras train station in London, and head to our apartment for what looked like a relatively short ride. As we neared the station, I thought about my cranky back, and posed the rhetorical question “do I really need to strain my back on the 4th day of our holiday”. Being 53, and having learned to listen to my inner voice occasionally after all these years, we hailed a cab right outside the station and 30 minutes and 21pounds later, we arrived at our London home.
My next installment will tell you a little about the apartment we’ve rented in London for 16 days, and then I’ll start to tell you about our adventures in Kensington, Westminster, Piccadilly, Knightsbridge………..
Stay tuned for more….