This week, we checked one off the bucket list – on Saturday night, we attended the 68th annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo where hundreds of military bands, Highland dancers, and bagpipers put on an enchanting display of Scottish and International military pride. Pretty cool, right? Well get this – the show took place at the entrance of Edinburgh Castle, which is a majestic castle originating in the 12th century that sits on top of an extinct volcano!
From Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Tattoo arena sticks out from the castle much like I imagined the stands in the Quiddich World Cup of Harry Potter lore. There are flags from every nation participating in the event and the lighting draws attention to the magic without detracting from the beauty of Edinburgh Castle. People take the Tattoo very seriously and, even though you must have a ticket to enter, the queue begins to form about an hour and a half before the show. Scottish people are much, much more patient, respectful, and friendly in line than us American folks. In the 90 minutes that we waited, we had nice conversations with a range of people, no one cut line, no elbows were thrown, and people were not glued to their cell phones….they were actually interacting with each other. Amazing!
Finding our assigned seats was easy, but the steep trek up the 52 steps to row Z (about mid-way up) was not for the faint hearted. We were among the early arrivals, so it was nice to watch everyone else make the climb and I was very impressed to see elderly couples bounding up the steps as if they were taking a Sunday stroll down the street. The view of the castle to our right was stunning and surreal, particularly given the torches lighting the top of the castle as if we were back in medieval times. The stands hold just shy of 10,000 people and it is filled to capacity with people from all over the world which becomes more evident as the emcee has people cheer for their country as he lists many, many places around the globe.
A few opening remarks and the show begins. Mere words cannot describe the awe of this show – performed flawlessly in front of an ancient castle with traditional music and dancing from all over the world. As each military band marches from the gates of the castle, you feel a sense of respect and pride as they play a combination of military and up-beat tunes from their home country. Each year, the Tattoo invites guest military bands and this year’s representatives from India, Norway, Japan, and the United States (yay!) put on a great show.
My favorite, of course, was still the scores and scores of pipers playing a selection of traditional Scottish tunes. The sound of the pipes echoing over the castle grounds while the cold Scottish air chilled your bones was enough to take you back in time – as they were playing the same battle tunes and marches that the old castle has heard through the centuries, no one moved a muscle. The show lasts for about two hours, and as the evening starts drawing to a close, the audience sings Robbie Burns’ famous tune of farewell, Auld Lang Syne before a lone piper stands at the highest point of the castle and plays a final tune to honor those who have fought and died in battle. Amazing experience and one we hope to do again!