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16th Feb 2013 4:44pm | By Helen Elfer
“Wild and sexy” is emblazoned across the side of the bright yellow van that’s waiting for us on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
Our group of daytrippers hail from all around the world – Australia, Taiwan and Germany – but we have some things in common. We’re sleepy, and not happy about being being outdoors in the cold on a Saturday morning.
It’s 8.30am for god’s sake – not a wild or sexy time of day in my book.
As the bus begins to roll, our tour guide and Edinburgh native Don, possibly the most loquacious man I’ve ever met, kicks off with a tale so utterly vile, it makes Trainspotting sound like a bedtime story.
We drive pass the city centre’s Princes Street Gardens, where Nor Loch used to lie, and Don tells us that the loch used to serve as a sewage dump and drinking supply.
It apparently gave off such a foul stink that it earned Edinburgh its nickname, ‘Auld Reekie’. Worse still, he adds, witches were put on trial here.
“Their hands were nailed to their knees before they were thrown into the scummy waters,” Don says with obvious relish.
If they survived, they were branded a witch. If they died, well ... oops. It’s hard to believe such a grim tale of this gorgeous city, with its Gothic spires and magnificent Georgian townhouses, but one thing is for sure as we all gasp in horror – the cobwebs have been blown away and I’m wide awake and ready for some serious Scottish Highlands action.
Our first stop is in Stirling, Scotland’s capital of yesteryear, where we visit the iconic statue of Robert the Bruce.
The famous patriot played a major part in the medieval Wars of Independence against the English.
In the film Braveheart, Robert the Bruce is portrayed as a traitor of the highest order, but Don tells us – obviously disgusted at the twisted Hollywood version – that in fact there’s no evidence to suggest he betrayed leader William Wallace (played by the roaring, blue-faced Mel Gibson), nor fought on the English side at the Battle of Falkirk.
“Robert the Bruce was in fact Scotland’s true Braveheart!” he tells us.
The imposing statue stands in front of Stirling Castle, atop Castle Hill, and as dramatic as all this history is, it’s more than matched by the views from here.
Dark, wet, dense green forests cover hills that stretch out as far as I can see, meeting a smoky grey sky way in the distance – the exact same timeless scene these Scottish heroes would have seen from here all those years ago.
We pile back on the bus, where Don cranks up the stereo and soon we’re flying through the Highlands to a soundtrack of contemporary Scottish musicians.