I take a tour around the old and new town
Saturday 21 April 2012 - Edinburgh
With a little sadness, I left my fantasy holiday behind and took a cab into town the next day. I checked my luggage at the 'Left luggage' area in the train station, at a cost of £7 per day per item, and jumped on the on and off bus.
I took the bus that gave a more historic tour of the old and new town. The old town is the medieval buildings and the new town the Georgian buildings. Big difference in the architecture. You can walk for a whole mile here and all the building are class A heritage listed.
Edinburgh is built on seven hills, which is evident immediately as the roads are up and down, some very steep. Set in the middle is the leviathon building of Edinburgh castle.
The tour pointed out a number of prominent buildings and monuments, wending it's way through beautiful streets of Georgian houses with private gardens on the left side of the street.
We passed the Sir Walter Scott memorial, a very tall monument that dominates the sky near the train station. Sir Walter Scott is accredited wih bringing all things scottish into popularity.
The monument is very black with soot, but is nonetheless beautiful. It's the highest monument ever built to as a tribute to a writer. If you can climb the 300 steps to the top you get a certificate of achievement. I passed on that. Last year a Welsh football star climbed the steps, which become very narrow at the top. He got stuck and had to get a rescue crew to cut him out. Another reason for me not to climb.
We drove past St Andrews Square. When first built, this area was the most fashionable for the rich, but over time, it became a merchant area for commerce. This is the new town area where the buildings are about 200 years old.
We drove down Great King Street. Author J M Barrie had rented rooms in this street. We also travelled along North Castle Road, which had been the home of Sir Walter Scott. He had written some of his best works whilst living at this address.
Another famous auther, Robert Louis Stevenson, resided in Herriot Row. He wrote Treasure Island amongst other great literary works.
Finally we came to Charlotte Square and the end of the Georgian area.
So many famous people and things come from Scotland. The kaliedescope had been invented in Edinburgh by a man who designed it to assist carpet designers. It had never been intended to be used as a toy. However, he forgot to take out a patent and the kaliedescope went on to become a very popular toy.
Many of the buildings are still covered in black residue from the days of the coal fires. There had been an attempt made to clean the buildings, but the chemicals used were deemed to be harmful to the stone. Since the Clean Air Act was introduced into Scotland, the buildings are slowly being restored to their original colour.
Looking at the buildings you can only imagine the putrid smell and choking fumes that the cities of the 18th century produced. Open sewers, coal and peat fires everywhere. Not the pollution free atmosphere you may imagine.
The beautiful gardens that are visible from the north bridge and Edinburgh castle was once a lake of sewerage. It took 60 years to drain completely and when it was finally empty, there were over three hundred bodies found at the bottom.
The bodies were mostly those of people accused of witchcraft. It was a popular test. Tie the accused's hands and feet and toss them into a lake. Congratulations if you sank and drowned as you were not a witch. If you floated to the top you were a witch. You were dragged from the lake, strangled and then burnt at the stake. There was probably a good chance of floating as the lake was so thick with sewerage. Either way it wasn't a good outcome for the poor people accused of witchcraft.
The tour bus took us over the river Dean and past the picturesque rooftops of the village Dean. I took a picture of a weeping angel, the first I've seen, in the Dean cemetery. I was grateful that it was not facing me.
We then came across a very impressive building, Stewarts Melville College. It was originally a very prestigious college for boys, but has now amalgamated with the Erskine School for girls. It's not a school that anyone but the very rich can afford. The building is very unique, being designed in the neo Jacobite and Elizabethan styles.
Driving past St Mary's cathedral, it's not the cathedral that is most impressive but Eastercots House, in the grounds of the kirk. It is the oldest building in Edinburgh old town, built in 1618.
We passed two large buildings on opposite sides of the road. They were named the Dean Gallery of Art and the Gallery of Modern Art, but are now known as one and two. They were built in the 1800's, both very different. Number two was purpose built as an art gallery and has interesting tower structures on the roof. Number one was originally a boys school and looks more traditional for the period in which it was erected.
The bus entered the area around the base of Edinburgh castle. Here in Lawnmarket I saw what was obviously the party area. A whole block of pubs and eateries.
Lawnmarket was originally a very rough area, where people would bring their livestock to sell. It was a place of thieves and cutthroats. Now is a place of drunks and louts. It's okay during the day, but I'm pretty sure it would get wild at night.
One of the pubs is called The Last Drop. This is because public hanging were held here. They were very popular and would attract big crowds. The pub next door to this is the Maggie Dickson. Maggie was found guilty of hiding a pregnancy, although it's wasn't clear to me whether she was married or not.
She was hung here and after she was cut down the hangman left her body on the cart and went for a drink. When he came back, Maggie was very much alive to the utter shock of the cartman. As it was deemed that you couldn't hang someone twice, Maggie was freed and she went on to live a long life.
The bus drove through Greyfriars. This is the very famous place of Greyfriars Bobby. His master, a local policeman, died when Bobby was two years old. He was buried in the church yard of Greyfriars, where dogs were not allowed. Bobby persisted in staying with his master, living in the graveyard despite the attempts of the locals to provide him with an alternate home.
In the end, they relented and built Bobby a kennel beside his master's grave. The dog would only leave to find food, which the locals provided for him. Bobby lived until his was 15, and was buried next to his master in the cemetery. It always makes me cry to hear the story.
A small statue of Bobby sits on the corner at Greyfriars as a tribute to the devotion of a dog for his master.
One of the other notable buildings that we saw was the George Herriot School. George Herriot was the goldsmith to King James. In 1628,after his death he had wanted a school for boys built. This was done, although these days there are both boys and girls attending. There are burseries given to those children without parents, giving them a chance to attend the school. They are referred to as foundationers and the foundation still continues today.
Almost completing the tour, we passed the Burke and Hare pub. Burke and Hare were notorious serial killers. They lured unsuspecting visitors with the promise of free accommodation. They would then kill them in their lodging house and sell the cadavers to the surgeons for experimentation. They had murdered quite a few people befoe they were caught and hanged.
Edinburgh Castle is built on basalt rock, which is rough and black. The castle has never been taken by force and it takes no stretch of the imagination to believe this. The castle is home to the military tattoo, held during the month of August. They were beginning to erect the grandstands this week. The guard at the castle gates told me that it takes until July before everything is finished and ready. It generates a great deal of interest all over the world.
After finishing my tour, I collected my luggage and rode a cab to the Lairg Hotel in Haymarket. The cab had to take a circuitous route as some of the roads were closed. More than one local told me about the new trams to be built around a few of the city blocks. This, I heard, had been done without consulting the city occupants and now the roads were closed for months whilst the tracks were built. I got the distinct feeing that the locals were not happy.
My hotel was very neat, spacious and comfortable. However, up 49 steps to the top floor before I found my room. Bloody stairs, I don't know what the fixation with having more than one story in a building is, but I certainly don't share it. Give me a single story house anytime.
I unpacked and then rugged up to go back to the Royal Mile and my paranormal tour of the underground vaults.
As I walked down the Royal Mile, I realised that the beauty of the city was tainted for me due to the commercialisation of the tourist trade. The Royal Mile consisted of shop after shop of cheap, nasty souvenir traders. The type of things for sale included jimmy hats, stuffed highland cows in kilts and plenty of junky plastic paraphenalia that is available in any souvenirs shop in Australia eg tea towels and playing cards. There were numerous jewellry sellers and artists selling their wares.
The Royal Mile was full of tourists and quite a few hens and stag party groups. I felt disappointed that the historic features of this area had been overshadowed by the modern commercial trade. I found it difficult to find a good coffee shop, having to walk past many touristy shops to get to somewhere where I could sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
I walked up the hill to Edinburgh castle but decided not to go in as it was getting late and there were heaps of people already walking around the castle grounds. I headed back down to the meeting place where the haunted tour would commence.
Finding a cafe, I ordered a coffee, which was lousy. It's very much a hit and miss affair with coffee. Some cafes do well whilst others present the coffee well, but it tastes as bad as Gloria Jeans coffee and is totally undrinkable. To make it worse, the waitress called me sir, probably because I had my back to her. I did see the funny side of that though. Must be the distinguished grey hair.
I had heard and read so much about the vaults that I was looking forward to the tour. There were about twenty people on the tour. I met Chrissie and Jackie from Essex and we exchanged ghost stories while we waited for the tour to start.
The guide was very good but I was so very disappointed in the tour. We set off down a steep laneway, many of us having to use the hand rails to steady our steps as we walked down. The guide described the town and it's inhabitants as it was when the vaults were in use. We then descended into the vaults themselves.
I'm not saying a lot about the tour because it wasn't much of a tour to talk about. We only got to see half a dozen or more chambers. It was supposed to be a paranormal tour. We got walked through a few chambers, told a couple of past paranormal experiences and then were given EMF meters. We were allowed to wander in the little area we were in by ourselves for ten minutes before giving back the meters and heading into another chamber. The tour then finished. Big disappointment. Not because I didn't feel or get a sense of anything, but because I thought we'd go deeper into the chambers. It felt very superficial and I felt somewhat cheated. I was pretty crestfallen when I returned to the hotel.