out the standard Tourist places and the much vaunted Ghost Tours. If tempted
to join one of the latter be warned some occupants of the old buildings occasionally
throw buckets of water down on noisy participants. We’ll stick to the area
of and around The Royal Mile for most of my tour looking at places most visitors never see. All of the tour
will take 3 days or more.
Remember that Edinburgh’s hills make San Francisco’s
look like tuffets, and take a folding umbrella around as there can be surprise
rainstorms. On the route I am describing numerous pubs en route will act as rest spots. Nowadays one can even order Chardonnay without being
thrown in the gutter. Never just ask for a whisky or even a Scotch, every pub
has a huge selection of single malts and blendeds. You’ll find the natives
very friendly, but be warned they love pulling visitors’ legs. Just don’t argue
with them about fitbaw (football)!
The Mile starts
at The Castle, enters The High Street and continues by that name until a set
of traffic lights at St Mary’s
Street transforms it to The Canongate (locals call it The Cannygate), so called as it was the favoured walk of clergy at Holyrood Abbey. There are
several shops in The Canongate where Scottish clothing can be purchased cheaper
than in the Princes Street tourist traps.
Starting from the Castle Esplanade walk down on the left and look for a wall
jutting out adjacent to a pub … Here you’ll find The Witchcraft Memorial, walked past unnoticed by thousands each day. It usually has flowers planted
in it. Read the text and admire the workmanship on the bronze plaque. This
is the only witch memorial of which I am aware.
After reflecting on all the horror and injustice
of the Witch Trials you may need a drink. Over on the right hand side and slightly
further down is the Museum of the Scotch Whisky Association. Even if you are teetotal the displays are worth seeing, including a ghost that
comes out of a bottle to explain blending, and a ghost train type ride in half
whisky casks through a set of historical tableaux. There is also an excellent
restaurant and an infinite range of brands of Scotch can be found in the shop.
A little further
down on your left you’ll find The
Camera Obscura with one of the best views of the City Skyline from its roof. The old periscope-like
projector gives good views of the City on its circular table and a large
display of optics-based material keeps people occupied while waiting to
enter the Obscura chamber.
Walk on down to the traffic light crossing with George IV Bridge, a street which
runs horizontal to the High Street, and you have an option. One can either
go straight on down towards St Giles or turn right moving along George IV Bridge
to Chambers Street on the Left. (While in George IV Bridge Harry Potter fans
may care to have coffee in The Elephant Cafe where Jo Rawlings wrote the first
book.) To your left in Chambers Street we find The Old Royal Scottish Museum. Of classic Italianate design, and the more comprehensive, recently built Museum of Scotland. This is your destination. On its lower levels are some ancient magical items
as well as a complete Viking Grave and several treasure hoards. You’ll find
many ancient stones with symbols claimed by the ignorant to be Knight Templar,
Fact is they are much more ancient than that.
see for just one visit are the mysterious miniature coffins on, if I recall right,
the third level. If in doubt ask a uniformed keeper.
Back in the mid 1880s a local gentleman was
walking through The King’s Park (Never Queen’s it is associated with our Scots
King David) when he saw some local urchins stoning items on the ground. On
investigation he found several tiny coffins exquisitely crafted each with a
clothed occupant. Kids told him they’d moved a rock on Arthur’s Seat and found
them in the cleft. Purpose? Your guess is as good as anybody’s. The same area
has a stack of old Scots magical items. Take your camera as photography is
allowed. Downstairs in the older Royal Scottish Museum, is an excellent café.
Museums interconnect. Try and be around in the Old Museum around 12 noon when
the bizarre Milleum Clock puts on its show.
On leaving the Museum
go back up to the junction and walk over to Greyfriars Churchyard, passing the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. (This statue is not all that old, the original having been stolen by metal
thieves in the late 1940s.) The churchyard is where the Covenant was first
signed and is full of interesting graves. Ironically, many of the original
signatories were later confined here by religious opponents. A lovely old stone
near the entrance shows a memento morii. Look out also for Greyfriar’s Bobby’s gravestone in pink marble.
If you don’t opt
for this diversion carry on down the right hand side of the High Street and walk
towards St Giles High Church where I was baptised. Look out for the old public reticulated water fountain you can find at least thee others on your walk. Walking past the church look
for a rather revolting heart marked on the ground and usually covered with
saliva. This is The Heart of Midlothian and marks the site of the old Tolbooth jail. Spitting on it is an old local
custom, nobody knows why but I suspect it started in connection with hatred
of the jail.
Just past the church
the pavement opens into a yard where The Merkat Cross is situated. An ancient site for proclamations, the present version is of later
date; I saw Queen Liz proclaimed there with full ceremonial in the 1950s. Legend
has it a strange hooded figure stood in the original on the night after the
Battle of Flodden announcing the names of all the Scottish dead.
Look at the ground here for a strange octagon containing a cross composed of a vertical and a diagonal cross. Nothing to do with religion this
is one of the City’s old execution sites of which there are several around
the old city. The beheading machine used here may still be seen in the Museum
of Scotland. Now look upwards at the Church’s tower and locate an added cylindrical slotted turret. This was built so militia could fire down on rioting 18th century crowds, but
I doubt it was ever used. Behind the church is the original Scots Parliament
building and Law Courts, among its clients being Burke and Hare. John Knox
is buried in an unmarked grave near his statue in this area.
Across the road
is the old City
Chambers. If you don’t mind steep climbs up and down steps in the gloom the adjacent Mary King’s Close is a must, guided tours take visitors around this labyrinth with its dwellings once hit
by Plague and a strange room haunted by the ghost of a young girl. I can
testify to this room’s strange vibes. The Close buildings once towered
up high, but this portion of the old City was buried under new works in
the 18th century.
Move on down the street and you will see a very tall church spire. This is the Tron Kirk where the public Tron or standard weighing machine was set up. The church was
unused for many years and an enterprising local even used it as an illicit
whisky still with a pipe set up the spire to vent the fumes. It is now the
all important Tourist Centre. Cross the street and you’ll see John Knox’s House on the left hand side jutting out; walk towards it. The adjacent Closes run
down to where the Nor Loch used to be. Drained in the 18th century this foul
stretch of water had all the effluvia from butchers and tanners thrown into
it with other filth. Women condemned to death were often drowned in its filthy
water. The stench from the loch permeated the old City and probably gave rise
to the traditional tune “The Flowers of Edinburgh.”
Adjacent to the dwelling allegedly occupied
by Knox is another public water outlet and over on the right hand side of
the road is the fascinating Museum of Childhood which invokes many an adult’s memory; like most public museums entrance is free.
Moving on you’ll soon reach another traffic light crossing with St Mary’s Street
on the right and Jeffrey Street on the left. Here the High Street is transformed
into The Canongate. Cross over to move on down the Cannygate. (If you need to find one of Edinburgh’s rare Post Offices there was still one
towards the bottom of St Mary’s Street on the right painted vivid red.) Having crossed make a quick diversion into Jeffrey Street on the left with its excellent view of Calton Hill. On the hill you’ll see what appears to be an ancient Greek ruin. This was intended
to be a memorial to the Battle of Waterloo built by public subscription. Funds
were insufficient causing it to be nicknamed Edinburgh’s Disgrace to this day. Napoleon went over big with the Common People of Scotland, hence
the apathy. You should also see, lower down, a tall obelisk in Calton Cemetery. Ignorant Edinburghers call this “Cleopatra’s Needle.” Truth is it’s a memorial to five unfortunate men unlawfully transported to Australia
for daring to promote votes for ordinary people; only one returned. The public
eagerly subscribed to that project.
To the right of
The Disgrace is a narrow telescope like tower with a flagpole bearing a large
ball on top, this is a memorial
to Lord Nelson. The ball is a later addition and drops immediately the Castle’s
One o’ Clock Gun is fired. Local kids will assure you the gunner’s aim is
always accurate. Truth is it is synchronised electronically with the gun.
Why at One
not Noon? We Scots are noted for our thrift. What looks like an old castle
is also set on the hillside, this is the remains of the now disused Calton
Jail. A black flag was flown in its heyday when a hanging was scheduled.
It replaced the Tolbooth Jail we passed earlier. There is also an insignificant
memorial to Burns often confused with another dedicated to the philosopher
Walking along Jeffrey Street will eventually
bring you to The Edinburgh Dungeon, a macabre, historically inaccurate, tourist spot. But it’s great fun. Apart
from this the cross streets have little else to recommend them. Move on back
down the Canongate sticking to the right. You’ll come to St John’s Close which contains the HQ of the Scottish Royal Arch and the Knights of St John. Lodge Canongate Kilwinning is adjacent. There is another execution cross just outside the Close in the
centre of which idiots ignorant of its significance have set a white St John’s
Cross. Do have a chuckle en-passant. On the left watch for an adjacent Close the entrance of which bears the gilded
arms of The Shoemakers’ Guild. Many mistake it for a Masonic Lodge.
Two adjacent pointed pillars on plinths indicate the gates of Moray House (my old school). In a summer house of this building the scurrilous 1707 Union
of the Parliaments Act was signed. Officials did the dirty deed there as the
People wanted their blood elsewhere! Locate the house’s small balcony. There
was a wedding party in progress when captive Montrose came up the hill in his
prison cart. It stopped just opposite as the jailers knew his old enemy The
Duke of Argyll was present. Legend has it Argyll hadn’t the guts to look Montrose
in the face but peered out from behind a curtain. Montrose was later hanged
higher up the road at the site outside St Giles.
Moving on there’s a double-gabled white building.
Originally Huntly House, it’s now The Museum of Edinburgh. (The Huntly’s were mortal enemies of the Moray’s). Among fascinating items
here you’ll learn how an Earl St Clair at the time of James VI got his nephew
and fellow pupils of The Royal High Academy out of a murder charge. There is
also a wonderful model of the old Canongate.
Across the street is a large building with a gilded clock sticking out the front.
This is The Peoples’ Story Museum, well worth a diversion. Here you can see how ordinary people lived in earlier
times and even learn more about those Five Scottish Martyrs and their obelisk.
While photography is permitted in the Museum a declaration must be signed that
any photographs will neither be distributed nor used commercially. The building
was originally the Canongate Tollbooth. Look for the cylindrical tower similar
to that at St Giles.
A little further down we find Holyrood
Kirk and its fascinating churchyard where many’s a distinguished citizen lies interred.
Dugald Stewart is among them and on the church wall to the right of the
building is what is alleged to be the grave of David Riccio, Mary Queen of Scots’ confidant and maybe lover. It was transported here from
its original location at Holyrood Abbey. This kirk, by Edinburgh standards,
is not really all that old being built by order of James II. The Holyrood
congregation was moved from the Abbey so the re-created Knights of the
Thistle could have the church for their chapel. Stick to the left and peek
in a few Closes.
Closes? Originally narrow alleys leading to large tenements, tenants used their
key to open the barred door then closeing (sic) it. Originally visitors gained access by running a metal ring over a serrated
bar but remaining examples of those are rare. The better your Class of society
the higher you lived above the stench.
Stay on this side
but watch out on the right for The Scottish Parliament Building, a fiasco 800% at least over Budget and only completed about 4 years after schedule.
To me it resembles a huge cruise liner crashed into a beachside resort by a
tsunami. Opposite this monstrosity look out for White Horse Close. Walk in and look at the lovely building in front of you. Seem familiar? Well
millions of copies of its image has been reproduced and distributed worldwide
on labels for White Horse Scotch. Bothwell and Dr Johnson were among guests
when the Inn was operational.
The Canongate soon ends at the gates of Holyrood Palace but the old houses before
the palace were Sanctuary buildings for centuries. The poet Coleridge was a
regular resident sheltering from his debtors; all in Sanctuary were allowed
to walk in the adjacent King’s Park on Sundays.
I’ll leave the Palace to its Guides but get Ye into the ruined Abbey. Although partially damaged by two English invasions under Henry VIII during
The Rough Wooing the major carnage was wrought by Edinburgh Protestants after
the expulsion of James II. Look for the stone sarcophagi that once held the
bones of Scots Royalty. These were desecrated as their ancient occupants were,
naturally, Roman Catholic. King, Queens, and Lords of Yore all destroyed ... Oh Bigotry!
Under no circumstances
miss a walk in the Palace Gardens, only opened to us commoners in recent years.
Enjoy the stunning
views but watch out for a
beautiful stone sundial on a triple layered octagonal base. In his ponderous “Dwellings of the Philosophers.”
The mystical charlatan Fulcanelli gives this esoteric attributes despite never
having seen it. The beautiful artefact was found dumped in a corner of the
grounds and reset up during 19th century Palace restorations, the base being
a new addition. Fulcanelli claims the Thistles depicted symbolise the Order
of Knights of the Thistle to which he ascribes Templar-like secret activities.
Fact is the Order was set up by James IV but it only existed briefly and was
re-established by James II in a futile attempt to curry favour with the Scots
Lords. The sundial was originally erected on the orders of James V to commemorate
his marriage to Marie de Guise and bears the arms of Scotland, Thistle, France, fleur de lys, and England, Rose. Despite Fulcanelli’s imaginative claims the Rose, in this
context, has no mystical significance. James V regarded himself as rightful
claimant to the English throne just as his daughter was later to do at her
mother’s instigation, hence its inclusion. Fulcanelli even gets the King who
built it wrong, the cypher on it is IVR (Iacobus Vth Rex), as I recall he had
it as Charles 1st. Nonetheless the sundial is a beautiful artefact, possibly
created by the same architect who designed Linlithgow’s Falkland Palace.
Thus ends our walking tour. Now ...
To The Gilmerton Cove on the City’s edge. If you can handle stairs this is a must. You can either book at The Tron mentioned above or your hotel should be able
to organise something; two years ago the tour started at 7 pm. Have a look
and form your own opinion then reflect on Mc Rae trying to locate it while
drinking beer almost directly above in the 1960s.
Other more distant venues where the Tron could
help? Cramond has an old Roman camp but they marched out a couple of years ago now, so don’t
expect to see them drilling. Then of course Rosslyn Chapel but beware of the rubbish some of the Guides spew out.
For those who are medically oriented The
Museum of Surgery is good value but it’s hard to find and opens only in the afternoon. To get
there start at the Tron, cross the road, and walk to the right, away from
Princes Street. A 10 minute walk will get you to Surgeon’s Hall on the
left with its massive gates, don’t enter there. Walk on to the first street
on the left (Hill Place I think) and you will come to an attractive fenced
garden in the middle of a square. You are behind the old Surgeons’ School so do not reflect on what may
remain buried in the garden.
Turn left when you see the Garden and the Museum
is upstairs in the last building on the left by the corner; look for the sign.
This Museum covers everything from old time surgery to modern techniques. There
are also wax ../travels/images of some of Edinburgh’s great surgeons and anatomists and
relics of Burke and Hare.
For a range of top class restaurants take a walk down Leith Walk which runs off from the East End of Princes Street. About 5 minutes downhill
look for giraffe sculptures, adjacent to those is the OMNI cinema and restaurant complex with a wide range of international cuisine. For
those who like such things there are two adjacent night clubs. The road widens
here and on the other side are a few other good eating places. For curries
with a difference “The Ghurka Brigade” serves up wonderful Nepalese dishes. Turn right, walk up this side of the street
and take the first right again, then again into Broughton Street where there are two top fish and chop shops that deep fry just about anything.
Let’s end with
a paradox. Walk along Princes Street a few blocks, then turn uphill into Hanover Street walking on the right hand side. Note the imposing statue of George IV in full regal glory. Rather an optimistic depiction as he was merely 5’2” and
the same wide. But did a closet Jacobite do the sculpture? Cross George Street
and walk a few yards down the right hand side, carefully avoiding traffic,
have a look carefully at the statue from this perspective and you’ll understand
why giggling young lady students like to pose beside it. Is George waiting
for his mistress Mrs Fitzherbert?
As a finale cross the street again, walk along
with the statue behind you. Look for and enter The Dome which has to be one of the world’s most imposing pubs, serves great meals too.
And so ends the suggested tour around my city.
To me the best recent book on Scots History
is Magnus Magnusson’s superb Scotland History of a Nation. Another beauty is Capital of the Mind by James Buchan which tells how Edinburgh launched The Age of Enlightenment.
Lots of information on the development of the 18th century City.
The Illustrated Guide to Rosslyn Chapel by
Rev John Thompson, Chaplain to the Earl of Rosslyn, when written in 1892 is
excellent preparation for a visit to the Chapel. This new edition is available
from The Grand Lodge of Scotland’s website and Bro Robert Cooper, Curator of the GL Library and Museum, gives
an Introduction that is worth the cost of the book alone.
Robert Cooper’s recently published The
Rosslyn Hoax shatters all the garbage involving Knights Templar and Masonic influence in
the ancient Chapel.
The novels of Alexander McCall Smith involving
ordinary Edinburgh people are an excellent read. Try 44 Scotland Street or The Sunday Philosophers Club.
Ian Rankin’s detective mysteries involving
Inspector Rebus explore the City’s dark undercurrents of treachery and violence.
One of the latest is The Naming of the Dead; another, Set in Darkness, involves Rosslyn Chapel and shows the average local’s reaction to the current