We had an early start today. Local guide, Alan, (or perhaps Allan or Allen) joined our bus and took over the microphone. As our bus drove around the streets of Edinburgh, Alan (I’ll stick to this spelling) reeled off one story after another. This is such a historic place, with such an interesting history, that Alan had three or four stories for every street we drove down. And he was very, very funny. In fact I think Billy Connolly is just about the only Scot who could score more laughs than Alan. And he’s a fierce nationalist too, with some very funny comments about the rivalry with England.
Edinburgh, like Rome, is built on seven hills – volcanic plugs actually. It’s been thousands of years since the volcanoes were active in this region, but the plugs left behind are steep and have a much higher elevation than the land that surrounds them. In times of war, when the old city was growing, the castle was built atop the highest hill where it proved to be a virtually impregnable fortress. The locals built their ramshackle dwellings close to the castle for security. Conditions were highly unsanitary, leading to four serious plague epidemics sweeping through the town in medieval times and decimating the population. It was determined that a new town should be built to start anew, a much cleaner town, with an innovative grid of streets, where streets cross over other streets at 90 degree angles, but not through regular intersections. Instead, the street being crossed is on a different level metres below. Narrow laneways between buildings with many steps connect one level to another. I’ve never seen another city designed like this, but it seems to work, and it’s certainly good fun to walk around.
The bus took us past some terrific statues. There was Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and the English Prime Minister Pitt, who encouraged factory bosses to ‘yoke up the children’ in the pursuit of wealth and power during the Industrial Revolution. We passed the houses of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of a couple of books I enjoyed: ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Treasure Island’, which I used to read aloud to a couple of my primary classes back in the day. There was a place where up to 400 so-called witches were executed, and there were Harry Potter references or themed shops all over town, as JK Rowling is an Edinburgh resident.
We spent an hour or more at the castle, watching the changing of the guard at the war memorial for all Scots who died in wars while serving their country, and visiting the Scottish crown jewels and one of Scotland’s smallest chapels. The views from the castle were great. Rather than a single gun, which fires each day at one pm, today there were three guns. This is because today is the Queen’s Birthday and she was to have a 21-gun salute.
We left the castle in mid-morning for a group visit to Rosslyn Chapel (see my next post), but returned to Edinburgh at 2pm, during which time we mainly explored the stores along the Royal Mile. It rained just about the entire afternoon. This was never going to be a problem for Marg or me – we’ve had rain in most European cities by now. But it may have created a problem for the naked bike riders who were pedalling up the main street, dodging photograph-taking tourists. The cold and rain cannot have been helping them in any possible way. Luckily they stopped for a breather right in front of me and my ever-ready camera. And all those bare arses must have brought back memories for William Wallace, aka Braveheart, who stands guard at the entrance to the castle and gazes down the hill in the direction the naked cyclists were coming from.
Adam Smith was another great statue. The father of modern economics. To escape the rain, we stepped into a few shops, but ended up spending money in more than one of them. There were many stores selling tartans, kilts and other traditional woven Scottish woven goods. And, of course, there were whisky stores too. We stopped to get out of the rain and partake in a ‘wee dram’ in one of those very nice little pubs along the Royal Mile. The bus picked us up at 3.45pm and drove us back to the hotel. We’ll take away good memories of the streets of Edinburgh