Beasts and Blessings in Edinburgh



I miss having my morning porridge cooked and served to me as it was at Dunedin Guesthouse, our bed and breakfast in Edinburgh, Scotland. On our last day in Edinburgh, we walked a half-mile or so through a neighborhood of bungalows until we turned down a grassy lane…

walking on path

This is what we saw…

Highland Cow

“Oh my goodness. They’re huge!!! They look almost pre-historic!”

We knew that if we walked a little bit farther, we would arrive at Prestonfield House, which is described on its website as a “ravishing historic hotel.” Ravishing! I’ve never heard that word used to describe a hotel. I was more interested in its life prior to becoming a hotel. It was built in 1687 by Sir James Dick, Provost of Edinburgh (which is similar to a Mayor). As Provost, he undertook the task to clear Edinburgh’s streets of sewage (no plumbing existed at the time so chamber pots were emptied into the streets). Not only did he pay for the clean-up out of his own pocket, he had it moved to his estate to enrich the soil! When an anti-Catholic student protest led to the burning of his house, he hired the King’s architect, Sir William Bruce, to design the house that still stands.


The house still contains the floor to ceiling tapestries that Sir James Dick acquired as wall coverings. And one room is “wallpapered” with gilded leather wall coverings from Cordova, Spain. We had been told by our innkeeper at our bed and breakfast that we could ask to see the tapestries. When I did so, we were warmly encouraged to visit all of the public rooms in the intimate hotel. When Natalie and I walked into the “powder room,” we gasped. It was the most elaborate “restroom” we have seen. No one else came in while we were there, so we took pictures.

Powder Room

After walking through the lovely grounds, where we encountered a beautiful peacock and studied the huge beasts from a safe distance, we walked back down the grassy path to return to our bed and breakfast, where we were going to be picked up by a taxi and taken to the bus station in town for our journey to Glasgow.

On our walk through the neighborhood, we stopped to admire a lovely small garden with the most beautiful display of flowers. At the same moment, a woman stepped out into the garden with a rake. We told her how beautiful we thought her garden was. She told us she had only begun to work in the garden again after the death of her husband. Within 60 seconds, we were talking about books, and travels, and her husband who she adored and misses terribly.


“I keep thinking he’d be pleased to see me in the garden,” she said.

By then we had introduced ourselves and we talked more about books. She went into her house and returned with two books she had been reading. It turns out she loves Guido Brunetti, Donna Leon’s Italian detective, just as much as I do.

And then she said she’d like to show us a picture of her husband Bill, “if we had time to wait for her to get it.”

She heard three of us say that we’d love to see his picture.

As she crossed the threshold of her front door, Natalie and I heard her say softly, “This is daft!” There was so much joy in the statement that we could tell that she felt just like we felt — blessed to have crossed paths.

By the time she returned and told us a little more about the fossil-hunting adventures she and her Bill had taken to various countries, we had formed a special little bond. We promised to send her a letter from Los Angeles.

That morning was one of the most memorable moments of our trip.

And the amazing and gentle beasts are Highland Cows.







  • Carolyn Goodart

    What a fun adventure! Pamela, I admire your openness and charm when meeting new people! Your day there in Edinburgh is reminding me of Isabel Dalhousie.

    • TwointheMiddle

      It is a huge compliment to be compared to a character in one of Alexander McCall Smith’s novels; thank you! We took a walk in his neighborhood 🙂

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