Day 5 – Edinburgh, Scotland

Monday, April 10, 2017

Leaving Doncaster behind today to travel further north.

Passing through towns and cities, crossing the River Tyne at Newcastle, the North Sea, and passing through the rolling Scottish hillside.

I was practically glued to my train window, not wanting to miss a thing. If there had been some way of being able to see out both sides of the tracks at the same time, I would have. I was in love with the hills, the stone cottages, the dark brooding skies.

I arrived at Edinburgh about 10:30 am and made my way out of the station to find the temperature notably cooler and it was sprinkling. I dug out my spring jacket and umbrella – the first time I have had to use them since I’ve arrived! I started my trek up the hill towards the main thoroughfare of Old Town – the Royal Mile. They weren’t kidding when they said Edinburgh is all hills and stairs!

The rain only lasted about 3 minutes and I was able to put my umbrella away (for the remainder of my trip, come to find out! That must be a record for the UK?) but would need my light coat for the rest of my time in Scotland.

There seemed to be an ancientness that seeped out of every building, every nook. Every stone had a story to tell of a past era. The city has stood, bleak and stoic, through centuries of war, reform, and enlightenment. And yet, through it all, it has continued to stand.

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Looking across the Princes Street Gardens to the Sir Walter Scott Monument in New Town. (New Town was built in mid 1700’s compared to Old Town being established as a royal burgh by David I in the early 1100’s)
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The top of the Royal Scottish Academy in the foreground, with George IV in the middle of Hanover St, the Firth of Forth, with Burntisland in the background.

My first destination of the day was Edinburgh Castle – a functioning military base that has stood upon Castle Rock (an inactive volcano) as a fortress since at least the time of David I in the 1100’s.

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Arthur’s Seat in the distance – also an extinct volcano. There are trails you can climb to the top for wonderful views of the city.
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Within the castle walls – a view of the Firth of Forth
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The island of Inchkeith – was a military fort and a quarantine island over its lifetime, amongst other uses.
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The Mons Meg – a 15th century siege cannon
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The Forth bridges, with the mountains in the distance – including a snow-capped one

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I saw the Honours of Scotland – the crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, but no photography was allowed in there.

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The Royal Palace – Mary, Queen of Scots, lived here for a period and James VI/I (of England) was born here.

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I had just entered this empty room and heard faint noises. I noticed this door in the wall, just as another family entered the room. The mother and I watched as the latch jiggled a couple times. We looked at each other, shrugged, and moved on. We decided to leave the “ghost” for another to discover.
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I couldn’t get over how closely they built these buildings – it couldn’t have been easy, I don’t think.
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Visiting the area where they kept the prisoners of war: their daily rations
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There were remarkable examples of what the prisoners made to fill their time. This “ivory” box is made from animal bones leftover from their food, the one to the left is made of straw. There was another made of twists of paper.


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After leaving the Castle, I made my way down through the steps of Castle Wynd to the Grassmarket region which was once a cattle market – now filled with many touristy shops and boutiques.

Grassmarket, Some shops off Bow St. (note the upper storey walkway above the coloured shops), a window display of ladies’ wear – oh to have money and space in my backpack…

I stopped at a restaurant called Oink for one of their infamous sandwiches of pulled roasted pork. There is a choice of topping, and sauce to go with it, so I tried the onion and sage stuffing and a chili jam sauce. It was incredibly good!

They roast a whole hog every day

Edinburgh was one of the earliest cities to have “skyscrapers” – in the 1600’s as the population grew in the Old City, it remained within the city walls and so they built up. It was common to have buildings 11 storeys tall. The rich would live in the middle storeys, away from the damp and dirt of the smelly streets, but not high enough to climb all the flights of stairs to the top. The poorest lived in the basements and attics with the vermin and filth of the city. (It used to be called “Auld Reekie” for a very good reason – all those people crammed in close quarters before proper hygiene was introduced would have reeked.) There are some areas where alleys and tunnels have been left forgotten hidden under the present-day city as everything built higher, and old buildings replaced new. One of the main streets, George IV Bridge, gives a good example of the illusion this city gives. When you are walking down the street, it seems like an ordinary street with buildings on either side that would enter into at street level. Upon reaching a gap between buildings, instead of finding a courtyard or alley, you realize you are looking down to a road below you and there are several more storeys to the buildings around you below:

I stopped by Greyfriars Kirk where one John Gray, police officer, was buried in the mid 1800’s. His dog, a Skye Terrier named Bobby, so mourned the loss of his master that he lay on his master’s grave every day to keep vigil for the remaining 14 years of his life. The townspeople would feed him and even made a shelter for him as he would not be moved. Bobby was buried just inside the kirk gate, not too far from his master’s grave.

I continued on to the National Museum of Scotland to learn more about the history of the people, where they came from, and the path they have journeyed.

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A carved stone grave slab from one of the original Celtic tribes. There were the Picts, the Britons, the Scots.  The Romans were never able to take control over this northern area. They called them the Caledonians. They spoke different dialects of Pictish, Welsh, and Gaelic.
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The Lewis Chess Pieces mark the time of Norse rule. For over 400 yrs – as long as the later Stewart Dynasty – the Vikings settled in the area and left a lasting influence on the people and the language. These chess pieces were probably carved in Scandinavia around 1100 and were brought to Scotland. By this point, the Angle tribe from Denmark had joined the Celtic ones, and then later Anglo-Normans and also settled into the southern areas, bringing their mix of Anglo-Saxon speech, French, and Latin. King David I (1124-1153) was the first to unite all these people under one leadership, known as the Scots. He created burghs to encourage and regulate production of goods and trade both locally within their land and overseas, and had a governing system to keep things running smoothly.
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“For we fight not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, but for Freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.” – a quote near the displays about Robert the Bruce and William Wallace.
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Torture from the medieval times – thumbscrews
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The Maiden – introduced during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, for beheading. It predates the French guillotine.
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Church reformation – the Scottish Protestant church was sanctioned by government in 1560. John Knox was a major contributor at this time.
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On top of the museum is a terrace where you can enjoy the view.
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The Castle
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There was a section on the formation of New Scotland in Canada in the 1600’s and its imports.

After the museum I made my way down to the John Knox House. The house itself belonged to a family Mosman, but the house has been set up to show the time period and give sight to Knox’s place in history. It is believed he stayed here in the short period leading up to his death, as he was staying close to St. Giles where he was preaching due to his illness and the dangerous times in which he lived. There is an audio guide, and the House was set up to be very informative and interesting to show the trials and difficulties the people went through to bring about reform.

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“Love God above all and ye neighbour as ye self” in Old Scots. The oldest portion of this house was built in 1470. There is a sundial in the upper right side showing Moses receiving the light of God’s Word.
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A Bassandyne Bible – also known as the Geneva Bible, was the first to be printed in English in Scotland. It was translated by men in exile in Switzerland, amongst them John Knox and Myles Coverdale. This Bassandyne Bible was ordered by the Scottish government to be printed and distributed so that every parish might have a copy to replace the Latin. The King James Version would later be based largely off the Geneva version.
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Some of the original painted ceilings

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See this key hole?
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It’s a fake. The real one is behind this piece that slides to the side, in order to fool would-be thieves.

After the John Knox House, I continued walking down the Royal Mile, which is actually composed of several streets, but it is just over a mile on this stretch between the Castle and the Holyrood Palace.

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A couple of boys busking. They were really good and had nice harmony together.
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St. Giles Cathedral
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Another close – I was told that in bygone days these gaps between the buildings led to “divided enclosures” where the gardens and livestock were kept. Due to fire (English Henry VIII was trying to force the Scottish Queen Mary to wed his son) and then overcrowding, those garden enclosures are long gone, but the narrow alleyways remained, twisting their way around to other streets or into courtyards. There is something like 76 leading off the Royal Mile.
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I was enjoying the city with one or 2 others.


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“And blythly gar auld care gae by, wi blinket and wi bleering eye” – Robert Fergusson, Scots poet 1750-1774
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I liked the contrast of time in this picture: the ancient hillside of Arthur’s Seat, the old buildings fronting the Palace, the ultra-modern Parliament buildings (only caught the awning to the right), all surrounding the roundabout.
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Just beyond the perimeter of the Palace grounds the city used to have a designated sanctuary area that people could enter to seek refuge, marked by a row of “S” on the cobblestones. Buildings to house these people were established, and this is one that remains.
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Gates to the Palace. I didn’t go in for a tour – just peeking in for a picture.
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Palace of the Holyroodhouse – the Queens residence in Edinburgh.
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The ruins of the Holyrood Abbey just beyond the Palace.
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There were still some daffodils remaining here, further north.
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Looking over to Calton Hill and the Regent Gardens
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The mercat cross – many old cities had a place designated for a market or fair. The merchants were allowed to set up stalls in this area.



My walk of the Mile complete, I caught the bus to the bed and breakfast I was to stay at that night. By far the most extravagant of the places I stayed in, 23 Mayfield was absolutely lovely and worth every penny. It was filled with lovely old things, had a warmth to it, and yet felt luxurious all at the same time.

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Old books!

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I had a dinner reservations that evening in New Town at The Dogs as I had previously researched where to eat dairy-free and they had options. It was the best meal that I had so far on my trip. I ordered the manager’s special (which happened to be dairy-free): a soup with lentils, celeriac, onion, bacon, kale, mussels, shrimp, and samphire greens, topped with a piece of pan-fried fish and crispy baked kale. The samphire greens absolutely delighted me, as they grow wild in the salt water tidal areas of the Maritimes in Canada, and I assumed they were just another local edible oddity (we have a few of them – fiddleheads, goose tongue greens, dulse). I asked the manager and he said they didn’t grow wild naturally around there, but they are farmed and do grow well. It makes sense, Scotland seems to be quite similar in climate to the Maritimes. Afterward, I walked just up the street and had my dessert at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called Hendersons. They had a decadent vegan chocolate nut cake with hazelnuts, a truffle-like layer, and a rich ganache, served with a dollop of coconut whipped cream. There was a man playing tunes on a piano so I was able to savour the music along with my coffee and cake.

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One thought on “Day 5 – Edinburgh, Scotland

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