On Day 8, I went on a free walking tour of Edinburgh with City Explorers. Every city I go to, I like to do these free walks. It really gives you an excellent lay of the land, some history, and a great idea of places you’d like to go back and explore more. And this is where I feel I have to always point out this fact. The tour is free. Yes. But don’t be a cheap ass!! Tip your guide! They work on tips. Most of them these days even have a credit card machine with them, so you have no excuse!
The group was an international one, that’s for sure! We represented the US, Malaysia, Hungary, India, Canada, Czech Republic, and France! The guide, and I hate myself for not remembering his name, was fantastic. He was so passionate about the stories, so just “into” the whole experience. Literally, it was the best walking tour I’ve ever done, hands down. Plus, (Brian, skip to the next paragraph), he wasn’t tough on the eyes… 😉
The walk was 2 hours long, and I wasn’t bored for a second of it. I took a TON of video for class, and not a lot of pictures. I’m just going to share a few of the highlights here, as I’ll be going back and visiting a lot of these places again later and don’t want to “double journal” about them. I mainly want to focus on the stories and interesting facts I learned…believe me, there was WAY more to this tour than is in the journal, and I HIGHLY recommend it! (Ask for the cute young guide with the blue eyes! #sorrybrian) Settle in for some learnin’… 🙂
I learned what a close is. Before I teach you though, we have to have a little history/geography lesson. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland (2nd biggest city, though- Glasgow is bigger). People have been living in this area since at least 8500BCE- that’s 10,000 years!! But the city itself was set apart as “special” when King David I set up shop here in the 1100s. Every king has to have a castle, and King David I was no different. This was the first building of the castle. Now, the thing that really blew me away was that it’s built on top of a VOLCANO! You don’t really think about volcanoes when you think of Scotland! It’s the highest point, with these steep basalt cliffs all around. Only one entrance. Perfect for defense. So this “backbone” of lava runs underneath what is called the Royal Mile. The castle on one end, and 1 1/8 mile down the road (that was the measure of a Scotland mile back in the day. The English standardized it later.) is the palace- Holyrood- where the queen stays when she’s visiting. All along this main street are cathedrals and shops and amazing buildings (and about 9 zuadzillion tourists). It’s basically the backbone of the city. From the backbone, run the ribs. Extremely narrow pedestrian “alley ways” of sorts, called closes or wynds. Back in the day (1400s, 1500s, 1600s, 1700s), the tenement buildings were so close to each other that you could literally reach across the close and touch your neighbor. They’re pretty cool and unique- I’ve never seen a city design like it. Here’s one.
Then we discussed something that I had passed by several times and love. This weird column thing with a unicorn on top. You’ll remember from previous blogs that the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland (because they are so freaking cool like that!!). Anyway, I learned that this is called Mercat Cross. The first one was built in the mid-1300s (damn, Scotland, can you get any cooler??!). Of course, this isn’t it. This one was built in the late 1800s. It’s been used for executions and royal proclamations- the latter only happening still (thank goodness after my antics on Day 7!! 😉 ).
This was a cool coat of arms I saw on a building. The lion represents England.
Then we heard the story of the oldest statue in Edinburgh- that of Charles II, who’s been riding this same horse since 1685!! So the story goes that the statue is hollow. And it was kind of falling down and water was getting in it from holes in the head. So to fix the problem, they drilled a hole in the bottom of the horse so the water would flow through. Except then it looked like the king was riding an incontinent horse every time it rained, so they had to fix that!
We then walked around to St. Giles Cathedral. We didn’t go in, but it’s beautiful from the outside.
On the other side of the street, there were street performers. Guys playing the pipes in full kilt regalia. And some wizard who looked like he was levitating next to a unicorn. Don’t ask me, I just take the pictures…
We then crossed the street and heard the tale of Deacon Brodie (namesake of the tavern). Here’s the Cliff Notes version. So DB as we’ll call him was a cabinet maker for the wealthy people of Edinburgh in the mid 1700s. He was well to do himself, coming from a wealthy family and having established himself in town- he was on the town council and such. Now, wealthy people who are buying fine cabinets want to put fine things in them. And they don’t want the poors to be able to get to their fine things, so they want a fine lock. So DB was not just a cabinet maker, but a lock maker as well. And not just a cabinet maker and a lock maker, but a gambler and womanizer, too. The latter of those “jobs” took quite a bit of money- more than the former were bringing in. So DB decided to not just deal with locks on cabinets, but locks on the front doors of his wealthy clientele as well. He would make keys and let himself in and help himself. No one could figure out how people were being robbed without a window being broken or a door being forced! In fact, the dilemma was so odd, that the city came to Deacon Brodie himself to see if he could solve the case (spoiler alert: he didn’t). But, like most criminals, he wasn’t content with what he was nicking on his own. No, he needed a crime ring!! So he got some other yahoos in on the gig, who ended up ratting him out. But when the cops came a knocking, DB was gone. He was captured in the Netherlands and sent back, found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Interesting note: He had been involved in the invention of the trap door underneath gallows. Said trap door was used on him… If you look at the sign hanging outside the pub, it shows the two sides of Deacon Brodie. These two completely opposite sides of this one man inspired a writer in Edinburgh by the name of Robert Louis Stevenson to pen a story….Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Fascinating!
We talked a lot about the Enlightenment as it pertained to Edinburgh. Very interesting, and I encourage you to take the tour or do some research on your own. But I’m going for the “Horrible Histories” tone in this blog, so I’ll skim over the intellectual crap. 😉 #yourluckyday
We worked our way down to the castle, which is surrounded by construction because the Military Tattoo will be held here next month. No, it’s not some drunken sailor getting a naked woman tattooed on his arm (Shout out to ya, dad!). It’s kind of like a military showcase performance from militaries all over the world. Sounds cool! Stands screwed up my shots, though! I’ll be going to the castle later this week.
Then it got cray-cray! We overlooked what is supposed to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley! Whether it is or isn’t doesn’t really matter- it’s very quaint! There’s a Boy Wizard shop (that I’ll go in another day), and something even better. A place called Oink. That has a roasted pig in the window every day. And apparently makes amazing pulled pork sandwiches on delicious rolls. Oh god, it took all my will power not to lick that window! I’m going to try to go there for lunch one day (yeah, right!).
Next “what will you think of next, Edinburgh?” story is of a woman named Maggie Dickson. There’s a pub named after her. (Seriously, I think if you sneeze around here, someone will name a pub after you! Any excuse for a pub!). Ok, so quick history lesson about dear old Maggie Dickson. She was a fish wife. Her husband would catch the fish, and Maggie’s job was to sell those fish. Then, her husband up and disappeared on her. No husband, no fish, no job, no way to support herself. So she ended up working in a local pub (I’m telling ya, life revolves around the pubs!), where she got into a rather scandalous secret relationship with the pub owner’s son. Scandalous, because even though her man up and abandoned her, she was still married in the eyes of God, and adultery was a big fat N.O. back then (especially being female!). Well, Maggie ends up pregnant. Uh oh. She hides the pregnancy for 6 months. Then, the baby was born. Obviously 6 months doesn’t result in a fully cooked baby, and since you were lucky to live if you were grown and healthy back then (we’re talking early 1700s), you can imagine premature babies didn’t have any chance at all. Maggie took her dead child down to the banks of the Nor Loch to leave it there in secret. But someone saw her. And reported her. And Maggie was tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. And hang her they did. Right on the Grassmarket where we were standing, where public executions were fairly common.
So you’re like, “Ok, and…? What’s the big deal?”. Oh, let me tell you what the big deal was. Maggie was hanged, put in her coffin, loaded onto a cart, and driven out toward the cemetery. The drivers decided to stop in to a local pub (see!!) and have a drink. Maggie wasn’t in any rush to get where she was going anyway. Then, they hear a commotion outside. They go out to see what’s going on, and the commotion is coming from INSIDE the coffin! They crack that puppy open, and up pops Mary! Who proceeds to climb out of said coffin. You can only imagine!!!
Well, what becomes of Maggie now? She had already been tried, convicted, and executed. Obviously this was a miracle! She was not punished further. She was given a full pardon, and lived another 25 years, running…you guessed it…a local pub! She’s known all as “Half-Hangit Maggie”….and her story is quite possibly the basis for Nearly Headless Nick of Harry Potter fame!
We went into Greyfriar’s Kirk, saw some graves, and talked about Greyfriar’s Bobby. But I’ll save that story for another day- a day when I actually take pictures and not videos! The tour was over, and about half of the cheap asses walked off without giving this guy a dime (pence?). Seriously, people? How trashy can you be? I went up and gave him some money and told him that of all the city tours I had been on, this was the best by far, and he did an awesome job. I meant it. He said he really appreciated it. I asked for his phone number. Ok, that part is a lie! 😜
Day 9. Can I get a do over? Seriously. Sometimes, the universe speaks to you in a whisper. Sometimes it shouts. And sometimes it knocks you smack upside the head, and when you STILL don’t listen, it throws up its arms and says, “Fine, bitch, don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.” Yeah, that’s what happened today. See, the internet here has been kind of wanky (which has made blogging and working super enjoyable…). Yesterday, I tried and tried to book my tickets online for The Real Mary King’s Close. The internet would just spin on my credit card until it timed out. Over and over. That was the universe whispering. So I thought, well, I’ll just get up and be there for the first tour- I should be able to get in without a booking. Gathered my belongings at 10am and headed down for the 10:45 tour. Which was already fully booked. The first time they could get me in would be 11:30. Well, that was a problem because I was going to do a Harry Potter walking tour at 12. The universe was shouting… It was over at 1, so I said, “How about 1:30?”. Perfect. Paid, walked out the door, then got to thinking. Was that Harry Potter tour just 1 hour, or was it more??? Pulled up my spreadsheet and damn if it wasn’t 1.5 hours! That means it would be over at 1:30. Not gonna work! I turned around to go in and change it to 1:45, and the line was out the damn door. Fuck it, I’ll just do the 4pm Harry Potter tour. The universe had smacked me right upside the head, and I just kept on going, oblivious.
Came back to the apartment, worked, worked, and worked some more, and headed back over at 1:15. Went in, started taking pictures, and was immediately informed “NO PHOTOGRAPHY”. I seriously have no idea why. Well, I have an idea- I’ll share it at the end. And it just went downhill from there. I just paid $20 to be served cheese. And not even something good like smoked gouda. More like processed American cheese- like generic Kraft singles in the plastic wrapper. Yeah. That bad. The guide was so damn bored, I didn’t know who was going to fall asleep first- me or him. The mannequins were cheesy. The videos were cheesy. There was no flow, no continuity, no real history being discussed. This was tourist sheep herding at its finest. There was a tour every 15 minutes all damn day, and they were all full. Get ’em in, grab their money, get ’em out. A grind. And this guide was ground down…
You basically go through a lot of the single room “houses”. There are mannequins, props, there’s something about Mary Queen of Scots spending a night here. They talk about throwing your shit pot out on the street, and just in case you can’t envision the entire process from start to finish, they act it out (it was the most animated this guy ever got). There’s a room with these big video pictures that you watch. Poorly done. One is Mary King, one is some doctor drinking urine to test for diabetes (the “yuck” factor to gross out tourists was just dumb and unnecessary), and I couldn’t even figure out the relation of the last guy was to the whole thing. Then, the ghost story. We sat on a bench and listened to a recording. First off, the acoustics are AWFUL. They are playing two tracks at the same time out of two different speakers. The speaker I was near had all of the background noise- cats meowing, people groaning and talking, blah blah blah. The other speaker was the guy telling the story. But I couldn’t hear it because of the background speaker. Jesus. If you can’t hire a guide that can TELL us a good ghost story, then what’s the damn point? We went into some room where some little girl supposedly died of the plague and her ghost haunts the room looking for a doll. So people have left a stack of dolls. The whole thing is supposed to be super haunted. I felt nothing. If I were a ghost, I’d ditch this place, too, just to not have to listen to this guide drone on about nothing. At the end, they’ll take your picture. So we can’t take our own pictures because either a) they want to make even more money off this lame ass tour or b) they don’t want us showing the world how lame ass this tour is. My money is on c- all of the above. I snapped one anyway. I deserved it after suffering through that tripe for an hour. The guy across from me said to his wife, “This place is way over hyped.” I piped up with “Agreed.” We nodded at each other. Solidarity.
Ok, here’s the deal with this place. It has the potential to be AMAZING. It is literally a slice of history. And it makes me SICK how they utilize it. The close (remember, that’s one of those super narrow streets) is named after a woman, Mary King, who was kind of a big deal in Edinburgh in the 1600s. Some kind of businesswoman or something, and her husband left her a lot of money and a house on the close, and she squandered it. I don’t know. The whole thing was impossible to follow. Anyway, the plague swept through this area, a bunch of people died. In the late 1700s, the close was covered up and partially destroyed to build the huge Royal Exchange building on top of it. It was uncovered at some point, and now tours are given. If I could come down here with a true historian, I know I’d be captivated. I don’t know what this guide was, but he wasn’t a historian… Anyway…
The wind picked up, the Harry Potter tour is outside and I want to film, so wind and video don’t go together. I just stayed home and worked. Oh, and picked up Diet Dr. Pepper at Tesco on my way back. I needed some kind of comfort after that mess…