Sunday 22 April 2012 - Inverness castle. Camera Obscura and the Royal Mile
Sunday 22 April 2012
I woke early and joined the multicultural group of guests in the dining room. I had free wifi access, but only in the dining room and front foyer, which really didn't suit me. It was also very poor signal, which is like it all over the UK.
I grabbed a cab to the castle and waited for about twenty minutes for the gates to open. It was a good choice to visit Edinburgh castle on a Sunday. Fewer crowds meant better viewing. I struck up a conversation with the young guard at the entrance and we chatted about the military tattoo. It takes from now, April to July to set up for the Tattoo season in August. A lot of work, but it generates a lot of money.
The guard advised me to go straight to the crown jewels as this was the smallest room and sometimes too crowded to see. He gave me directions. I had pre-purchased tickets on the on and off bus, which allowed me to gain entry straight away rather than queue for tickets. When the gates opened I made my way into the castle and was able to take plenty of photos without the obligatory tourist popping their head in the photo.
The terrain is steep, being on a hill, and the footing sometimes a little rocky as the road is cobbled in many places. Anywhere you walk in Edinburgh you need to be mindful of your footing. There are lots of places to turn your ankle if you're not watching. I certainly wouldn't recommend wearing any high heels as this would be very dangerous.
To navigate around Edinburgh castle you need to grab a map from the information hut. It's way too big to just wander and find stuff. I walked up the hill and followed map and sign posts to the Crown Square. I went into the Scottish crown jewels and found the crown and other jewels, septre, ceremonial sword and the stone on display. The stone I know is a replica, but I'm not sure about the jewels.
I got talking, as I do, to the guards and found out a lot about the crests that adorned the room. I was told not to take too much notice of the crests as some of them were not correct. One of them couldn't be right as heraldry did not exist when that Lord was alive. Not knowing very much at all about heraldry, it really didn't matter to me.
I visited the great hall next, built in 1503 for King James IV, it was later turned into a soldier barracks by Oliver Cromwell. It was restored back to it's original condition in 1888 and is still used for royal functions. The room is very large with enormously high ceilings. There is a picture high up on the back wall that would be well over six feet high, but does not look overly large hanging on the wall. All along the long walls are basket handled broad swords and spears. The back wall has a display of guns and there is armour and small cannons along the long walls. The front of the hall is dominated by an ornate fireplace which has statues above it and statues in the fireplace itself. You can imagine a formal banquet here, even today.
I went into the war memorial, but photos are not allowed. Let's just say that the memorial is full of carved stone, flags, memorial books of the fallen and individual memorials to those fallen in wars from the last two world wars right back to the 18th century. There are over a hundred thousand names listed in the memorial. It's a place to contemplate and remember. The words of the anzacs are engraved here and given the lasting beauty of this huge stone monument, we shall not forget.
I found the memorial moving and a timely reminder that ANZAC day is only a couple of days away.
I found the one o'clock cannon, which is fired every day but Sunday. There is a signal tower off on the distant hill that drops a ball every day to signal the cannon to fire. I'd like to have seen it, but being a sunday, it didn't happen.
The next building took me back further in time to 1566. Can you get your head around that for a date! I was in the bed chamber of Mary Queen of Scots. Here she gave birth in 1566 to James, her only son. He went on to become king of the Scots in 1602, and a year later, King of England.
This took my Jacobite tour full circle to the very beginning. I had been to a number of Jacobite battle sites and spent a lot of time at Culloden where the uprising was finally ended. Now here I was, at the birthplace of King James. The historic significance was not lost on me and I am very satisfied with the historic side of my Scottish visit.
I had some difficulty finding the dog cemetery and when I finally figured out that I was on the wrong level, my knees would not allow me to climb the staircase to see the cemetery.
I got around pretty well so far, but today, with all the hills and steps, and the uneven ground, my knees were getting very sore. I took a photo of the rounded wall that held the cemetery and was happy.
I looked out at the city from the cannon walls. Whereever there was a view there was a map showing you what you were looking at. It was very good and helped orientate yourself to the rest of the city. The day had cleared to a cloudy but fine day and the view was spectacular.
I got a good view of the Firth of Forth (or is it the Forth of Firth) and of the artificial ski slopes on the mountain. The slopes are supposed to be one of the longest in Europe and you can ski almost all year round, except in the ski season (I don't know why?)
I walked down the Royal Mile and stopped at the Camera Obscura. It had looked interesting from the outside so I figured I'd have a look. It was all based on illusions with many hands on displays.
I loved it. It was intriguing. I climbed right up to the top, stopping at the first three floors on the way. The first floor held visual illusions such as Escher pictures and hidden pictures etc. The second floor was the coolest thing I've seen for ages. I went through the mirror maze, donning gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. The lights changed constantly, adding to the feeling of displacement. It was so much fun.
After this maze I went into the rolling tube. It was dark and lit only by coloured pinhole lights, It made sounds which added to the illusion of movement. The walkway across the tube was stationery but the movement all around made it feel like it was turning. I felt extreme vertigo as soon as I looked into the tube. I wasn't going to give up so I found that the only time I could move forward and walk across the walkway was to squint my eyes. This reduced the feeling of moving and let me get across. I came out feeling nauseated and impressed.
The next floor had holograms, which were really good, especially the gigantic tarantula.
I then made my way up the rest of the stairs, and there were plenty, to the Camera Obscura. The camera is one of about 4 hundred around the world and gives off a 360 degree birds eye view of the city. It is projected onto a convex disc and is operated by a simple pole. Very simplistic, yet effective.
The guide gave a very entertaining show and did funny things with the camera. It was well worth the climb up all those stairs.
I made my way down to the floors I hadn't visited. One had plenty of distortion and visual things to do that were sometimes very surprising. I loved it.
The final floor was full of electic balls, all different.
I spent almost two hours there and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It only cost £10.95, which was excellent value.
I left with the intention of going on the Mary King Close walk, but it was booked out for the rest of the day. It was a shame as I'd heard it was very good.
I stopped for a late lunch at Deacon Brodies cafe. Twice I've had vegetable broth in Scotland. Both times it has been almost exactly like my grandmother used to make, with lots of pearl barley. It was like ambrosia to me and much better than the other lunch fare on offer.
John Deacon Brodie was an interesting fellow. He was the Deacon of the Wrights, or head of the carpentry guild. He did a lot of work for the rich and famous in Edinburgh, becoming Deacon, which was quite prestigious.
Although making money and gaining some acceptance in polite circles, it was not enough for Brodie. By day he was a respected businessman, by night he became a thief, stealing from those houses he had worked on.
He was eventually seen robbing a residence and he fled the country, but was apprehended and returned to stand trial. An ironic footnote here is that Deacon Brodie was hung on a scaffold that he designed himself.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about Deacon Brodie. He called the story, Jekyll and Hyde.
A weird footnote of my own is that the address of Deacon Brodie's is Brodie Close, which is one of the places I used to live in Australia.
I was pretty sore from all the walking and climbing and headed back to the hotel. Despite the disappointment of all the touristy stuff, I enjoyed the day.