Scotland Day 2 – The Royal Yacht Britannia

Near Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Day 2 was packed full of events. Our coach driver/guide, Colin, seen on the far left, concentrated on getting the big bus through the wee streets of Edinburgh while a “step on” guide did most of the talking. Arthur’s Seat can be seen in the top right, overlooking Edinburgh. It is not named for King Arthur but derives from the Gaelic term for arrow.

However, many, many kudos go out to our amazing Tour Manager, Jayne Ferreira. She is the one who arranged the hotel keys, wake up calls, breakfast times, when to board the bus in addition to many more things on her list. Also, she is the Senior Discovery Tour representative, who ensures that what is advertised is delivered. And taking a 16 person tour group through 2 countries during COVID was not an easy task. Jayne did it with, aplomb and joy.

But first, porridge. Each morning we had a buffet breakfast from the hotel we were in. The Apex Grassmarket also had an a-la-carte menu to order kitchen items. I order real, Scottish porridge. It’s made from stone ground oats. Just the thing needed for a day of long walks and afternoon pints.

I get up earlier than most people so after breakfast I went for a walk in the Grassmarket. I’ll post more about this area later. Our hotel had two views, the Grassmarket square with the Edinburgh Castle, or the back parking area. But I wasn’t there for the hotel view. I really loved how the hanging flowers accentuate the castle. The steps next to the building are not for the faint of heart.

Edinburgh Castle

They’re called Granny’s Green Steps and I’m sure some grannies made the trek at some point in history (and I bow to their stamina). Today, I’m going to pass. Oh, the hotel lobby had this guy greeting everyone. His name is croc-a-doodle, sculpted by Hartwig Braun. There are several of these art pieces in different Apex hotels. It was from a charitable event to raise awareness of Asia’s endangered wild life.

Because a lot of viewing went on today, I’m splitting the post into two. Today is our tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia. It was in service from 1954 to 1997 when it was retired. It is berthed in Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh and is a very popular tourist attraction. After sailing more than a million nautical miles, she is still providing a worthy service.

The tour started at the Bridge and went down 4 levels to the engine room. There is an audio guide as part of the tour. The Wheelhouse was actually on the deck below the bridge. It steered the ship. Traditionally, ships were steered from below rather than the vulnerable bridge. And, yes, I had to sit in the captain’s chair and imagine cruising the Caribbean

The Wheelhouse

The ship’s orders were relayed from the captain down to steerage or the engine room via metal tubes and electronics. Not quite sure what the danger was on Monkey Island. Pirate Monkeys?

The deck below the bridge was where royalty would stand and wave to folks as they docked. The wooden wall was put in to keep the wind from blowing up the skirts of the women.

The pinnacle housed the ship’s compass. It was carved from a solid piece of mahogany. They were originally made for the Royal George in 1817. It should be noted that there have been 83 royal yachts going back to King Charles II. There were two pinnacles but only 1 went to the Britannia. The other went to the National Maritime Museum (not putting all you eggs in one basket kind of thing).

The decor was both retro and original. It was like a 50s television comedy show, except with stuffed corgis. This was the Queen’s state apartment. Part of Britannia’s duties was holding receptions for dignitaries, kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers.

Behind the ship drawing panels were a radio, record player and a bar.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip had separate bedrooms as was their work/study rooms. They would communicate by telephone. Each had their own itineraries and duties so having separate spaces helped with that.

Because of space limitations, they had a single bed. However, when Prince Charles and Lady Diana married. they got a double bed.

In the officer’s club, they had a drinking game called Follow the Wombat. They would spread themselves around the room, below the ceiling fan. Bets would be made on who got the wombat. It would be tossed up to the ceiling fan and spun around until if flew off. The losers had to take a drink. Sounds like fun. Hope they were off duty at the time

There was an attachment of the Royal Marines who doubled as the Royal Marine Band playing at formal occasions. Their sleeping quarters were separate from the sailors.

There was a complete laundry service, for which the crew had to pay for. It was inexpensive but still…

The dining room was amazing but, considering it was used for visiting dignitaries it’s not surprising. Each placement was measured by a ruler to exact standards.

Along the walls were the gifts from the various countries the Britannia visited – like the Easter Island head and the Galapagos turtle.

Finally, the engine room like no other engine room. It was kept spotless. When American general Norman Schwarzkopf visited he said – okay, you have shown me the display, now show me the real engine room. It has not been modified. They are the same components that were installed in 1954.

With the tour finished, I went for a little walk around the neighbourhood. The Yacht is part of a huge shopping mall. As with so many malls, COVID had taken its toll with many shops closed. I did walk by the Image Collective Art Gallery and there were student paintings on the theme “If I Wasn’t Me, I’d Like to Be”. I thought it was a fitting end to the Royal Yacht morning.

In the afternoon, we explored Edinburgh Castle, which will be the next post.

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