I’m writing this latest entry on Monday September 15th, but when I was last in a blogging frame of mind, I was starting to tell you about how amazing Edinburgh was. So let me pick up the story from a week ago as we dropped our bags at the Ramada Inn and set out to explore.
We crossed over Princes Street which is the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh and to our right was the overwhelming site of the Sir Walter Scott Monument. It was like a mini-Eiffel Tower in the middle of the city.
We walked over a bridge overlooking Princes Gardens which cuts right through the centre of the city, and began to climb. After about a 30 minute walk up the side of the mountain (I wouldn’t want to try driving a standard up there that’s for sure), we found ourselves on a street called the “Royal Mile” walking toward the entrance of the truly awe-inspiring Edinburgh castle. Seeing bus-loads of tourists starting to arrive and assemble themselves in the parking lot, we stepped up our pace to get past them and scooted into the line-up to get in. It is truly magnificent and the history of the place is in fact the history of Scotland. The battles, the Scottish Monarchy, it’s all there, including the Crown Jewels of Scotland – which btw, I didn’t know there was such a thing.
The views of the city from the castle were spectacular and you could see for miles in all directions. I climbed up on one of the walls of the castle and asked what looked like an English-speaking gentleman to take a picture of Mary and I. Yeah he spoke English, he was from Winnipeg -Figures!
After about 2 hours of “wow”, “holy cow”, and “is this cool or what”, we had toured the towers, done the dungeons, and gawked at the guns. It was time to move on.
But not before we checked out this big fellow below and to the right. This is Mons Meg,
and he is a 6 tonne siege gun that was last fired on October 14, 1681. So get this. Mon Megs was so heavy, it took 100 men to move him 3 miles in one day. In his day, he was the most feared weapon around though, as he fired gun-stones weighing 330 lbs., and they traveled two miles once fired.
It remains a symbol of pride to the Scotland’s military and of all the things that one could see at Edinburgh Castle, Mon Megs was the biggest draw. I’m still amazed at this picture as there were hundreds of people around him, and I somehow managed to find a break in the action, where I got off a clear shot myself. Take that big fellow!
So now, we’re on our way downhill, since there was no other way to go from the castle! And the first thing you see outside the castle is a less than impressive looking building with a sign that says Tartan Weaving Mill and Exhibition.
Mary mentioned to me that she would like to go inside as she was hoping to buy something with a tartan on it as a keepsake, maybe a cashmere scarf “or something”. As you’d expect, there was every kind of Bruce, Stuart, MacEwan and MacGregor keepsake you could imagine. Mugs, lunchboxes, ties, purses, slippers, and of course, kilts. And there were sweaters, beautiful Cashmere sweaters. I was walking along behind Mary doing my best Prince Phillip impression (hands behind by back while I moved forward peering from side to side with mock interest), when I came across a rather lovely sweater. Picking it up I said to Mary, “this is a nice one”. Then I looked at the price – 275 pounds!!!!!! Now for the unconverted, that’s well over $500. I was gobsmacked. Mary just laughed and said, “yes dear that’s what cashmere costs” and moved on. Thank goodness she wasn’t interested in it……although I would have bought it for her if she really wanted it (brownie points boys!).
Once back outside we continued downhill – down the Royal Mile. We had a destination in mind at the bottom of the hill – Hollyroodhouse – the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she is in Scotland. Mary and I love history, and we love to walk, and walk we did on this warm sunny day.
We stopped and visited St. Giles Cathedral where Scotland’s version of the constitution is in a simple wooden frame that everyone can just walk up to and look at. (Can you imagine that happening with the American Declaration of Independence?) We also found Grayfriar’s Kirk and took a picture of Grayfriar’s Bobby – a loyal dog which has achieved local hero status.
On every corner there was a Church, or a famous building or a historic pub – like the one where J.K. Rowling wrote most of the early pages of Harry Potter. And as you’d expect, there were Robbie Burns signs everywhere. And then there was the stuff of legends. We stopped for lunch at an out-of the way hole in the wall called “The Deacon’s House Cafe”. Lovely bowl of soup and a sandwich but that’s not the point of the story. It turns out this little cafe is built on the site of Deacon Brodie’s workshop.
William Brodie was a well-respected cabinet maker in Edinburgh back in the mid 1700’s. At some point he became the head or “Deacon” of the cabinet-maker’s guild. It seems though that over time time, Deacon Brodie turned his professional expertise and society connections into more sinister use. By day he was a craftsman and town councilor, but by night, he was a drinker, a gambler, and………..a thief!
Apparently, the Deacon had made copies of the keys to the shops he had worked in, and at night, he robbed them at will. He was almost caught one night but escaped and fearing capture he fled to London, and then on to Amsterdam. Eventually the law caught up with him and he was brought back to Edinburgh. He was tried, found guilty and was hanged on October 1st, 1788, ironically, on gallows that he himself had built!
Some 90 years later, the famed Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a play called “Deacon Brodie”, which later became known as the “Double Life”. Two years later, he turned that play into the novel he would become best known for – “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.
From there, we continued down the hill, till at last we came to Hollyroodhouse. I did not know much about it, but being a Monarchist all my life (thanks Mom) with a keen interest in all things Royal, I was quite looking forward to a tour of the Queen’s Edinburgh home.
And I was not disappointed. What a beautiful Palace and our visit was enhanced by a great audio tour. I won’t bore you with all the history, but for me it was an absolute delight – rooms filled with historic paintings, furniture and all sorts of royal ephemera. I really had no idea of how deep the Queen’s ties were to Edinburgh, and I was surprised to find out she spent as much time in Scotland as she does. There was also a comprehensive display relating to the Royal Order of the Thistle – the senior order of Chivalry in Scotland. I mention this because we had met a very engaging gentleman in St. Giles Cathedral who fondly recalled his visits to Vancouver over 40 years ago. Upon finding out where we were from, he proceeded to give us a personal tour of a very tiny chapel at the back of the church – the Thistle Chapel, where each year the Queen comes for a very small and private ceremony to welcome the newest members of the order.
We finished our tour of Hollyroodhouse with a visit to the Queen’s Gallery where there was a special display of the Royal’s collection of Italian Art. The highlight of the show is a few Da Vinci sketches which are on loan from the Queen’s collection of over 600 Da Vinci sketches that are housed at Windsor Castle (which is where we were today – Monday the 15th, and yes I saw a whole bunch more of the Da Vinci drawings).
We wrapped up our day with a slow uphill climb back to the hotel, through more of the most wonderful architecture I have seen in a long time, and
when we finally made it back, the end-of-day tally on the Mary-meter was 19.37 kms – up from 15.1 the previous day. (I told you we love to walk).
So that was our day in Edinburgh.
For the next installment of our UK Adventure, I’ll be telling you about our tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997 after 44 years and today is permanently moored at Leith, just outside of Edinburgh.
It’s coming up on midnight in London so time for me to get tucked in. Tomorrow we’re starting our day with a visit to the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.
TTFN from Limehouse.