The second part of my Scottish holiday was spent in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, which is four hours by train south of Inverness. It might sound like a long trek but it's one of the most glorious train journeys I've taken - mountains and glens and seaside and valleys, the contrast of remote wilderness with pretty little towns that appear every now and again, and the last dramatic approach to Edinburgh as the train heads along the opposite side of the estuary before swinging round to carry you over the iconic Forth Railway Bridge.
My host in Edinburgh was also a friend I'd made through conservation work - Allan and I were co-leaders of a weekend break about 12 years ago and recently got back in touch again via Facebook. I got to lodge in his lovely flat in the New Town and be waited on hand and foot - he's been there less than a year and the novelty of entertaining guests has not yet worn off, as he himself admitted!
It was utterly charming to stroll around the streets admiring the architecture and enjoying the sunshine, and I was able to continue my holiday themes of walking, swimming, ale and good food in a contrasting urban setting.
Food played an important role but whereas the first half of my holiday was all about veggie comfort food, the second half was a mix of haute cuisine and top notch home-cooked grub.
Standout meal was at Castle Terrace where we took advantage of the special lunch deal. It was a quite incredible meal combining beautiful presentation, incredible flavours and a touch of theatre in the surroundings and service. For all that, a bargainous experience.
Starter of sea trout cannelloni with a little nub of hot-smoked salmon and lemony moussy stuff, buttery tomatoey sauce (yes I know I will never get a job writing menus).
We chose different mains - my partridge was beautifully presented....
...but as soon as I saw Allan's choice I immediately had plate envy. He went for a selection of different pork cuts which were imaginatively served in a frame of artichoke puree filled with gravy (well probably some kind of posh 'jus' or other, I doubt it was just gravy). He was kind enough to swap a bit of the pork belly for some partridge breast so I got to discover that the food was even tastier than it looked!
Pudding was a total revelation, with the flavours and presentation of this blackberry cheesecake far exceeding expectations, and I particularly liked the intense little green dabs of mint that were dotted around the cheesecake to contrast its sweetness.
With all the food and ale being partaken of, it was a good thing Edinburgh has some handy hills to climb and long walks to sample.
Mind you they had taken the precaution of keeping their boxer shorts on, which turned out to be very wise.
The Water of Leith walkway is a substantial leg stretch of 13 miles, although the vast majority of it is flat, and so we broke it up with a couple of pub stops along the way.
The burn changes character every few hundred yards, with little dams and weirs creating very still, reflective stretches upstream and bubbling, churning waters below.
We found Giant Hogweed along the upper stretches, now gone to seed and looking all dramatic in silhouette, and we saw about four herons on the lower section, some of them at very close quarters.
There's even a tunnel through the hillside, originally built for the railway line that the upper section of the walk follows.
Dean Village is a particularly picturesque part of the route, which winds its way past a number of Edinburgh landmarks such as Murrayfield stadium and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art before reaching Leith Docks.
One disappointment of the walk for me was that we only managed to find one of the six Anthony Gormley statues that are on the route as part of his work 6 Times, and it was face down in the water (they are designed to fall over in high water). Of the others, we didn't go to the sites of two of them, but there was no sign, erect or otherwise, of the other three that are supposed to be standing in the water.
All of which meant I felt I had thoroughly earned my breakfast the following morning...!