Auld Reekie: two days in Edinburgh

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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Left Levi and Julie’s at about 8:30 am I think, and got the train to Leeds and from Leeds to Edinburgh, arriving at 1:00 pm. I walked from Edinburgh Waverley Station (named after the series of novels by Sir Walter Scott) along Princes Street, a major road in Edinburgh’s New Town (which is more or less the entirety of the area north of the train line) to the hotel I was staying at in Frederick Street.

Fortunately my room was ready for me to occupy, despite my arriving almost an hour before the actual check in time. Despite booking the cheapest single room at the hotel, I was given a family room with a double bed for no extra charge! I took the map I had been offered at reception and marked the places I wanted to visit n their order.

I headed out to my first tourist attraction: the Scott Monument, built to honour the author and historian Sir Walter Scott (named above). Although possibly best-known as an author, Sir Walter was important as an historian, and in 1818 he re-discovered the Crown Jewels of Scotland which had been hidden in Edinburgh Castle since the early Eighteenth Century. The Scott Monument is impressive, at over 60 metres high and strikingly black, and was inaugurated in 1846, 14 years after Sir Walter’s death.

I crossed over to the Old Town, situated more or less south of the railway line that divides it from the New Town, heading towards Edinburgh Castle that overlooks the city. Most of the Old Town seems to have been built on slopes that lead up to the Castle, which would have made it very easy to defend: the only suitable approach is via the front door, more or less.

Edinburgh Castle has a number of interesting things, including three museums (the National War Museum, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum, and the Royal Scots Regimental Museum) and naturally many very old buildings. The oldest building in Edinburgh, St Margaret’s Chapel, is within the Castle’s walls. St Margaret I am familiar with given my fascination with medieval genealogy. She was an Anglo-Saxon Princess from Wessex, the daughter of Prince Edward the Exile, himself a son of King Edmund Ironside. Her brother Edgar Ætheling was proclaimed King of England by the Witanagemot following the death of King Harold II in 1066; King William I (the Conqueror) had defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings and most people know the rest. Perhaps more interesting is that St Margaret married King Malcolm III of Scotland, and three of their sons became Kings of Scotland. The chapel was likely built by her son, King David I.

Another thing of interest, as I briefly mentioned earlier, is that Sir Walter Scott discovered the Scottish Crown Jewels walled up within the Castle in 1818. The jewels consist of the Crown of Scotland refashioned on the orders of King James V in 1540, the Sceptre of Scotland given by Pope Alexander VI to King James IV in 1494, and the Sword of State given to James IV by Pope Julius II in 1507. They were used at the coronations of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI and Charles I; but I’m not sure if they were used past this. They symbolised the Scottish Monarchy in the Scottish Parliament after 1603 — because James VI inherited the throne of England in 1603, he was ordinarily resident in England rather than Scotland. After the Acts of Union in 1707 replaced the English and Scottish Parliaments with a single Parliament for the United Kingdom, the Scottish Crown Jewels were no longer needed. They’re now on display in Edinburgh Castle, in the very room that Sir Walter discovered them. You can’t take pictures, sadly, but I got to get up close to the display cabinet!

I was tired and not feeling well after Edinburgh Castle, so I started walking down the Royal Mile to look for something to eat before going back to my hotel for an early night. Along the way I popped into a whisky specialists and bought a bottle of single malt scotch whisky for dad. I trundled back to the hotel after grabbing a pizza.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Got up and checked out early. My first stop was to be Calton Hill. A good view of the city, but unfortunately not that interesting otherwise! I rushed onward to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey which, I discovered, could only be accessed by buying a ticket to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Rather than wander around what is essentially a museum, I decided to take a break and have a coffee at the café next to the Palace and worked out how I wanted to go about the next few hours. I decided that climbing Arthur’s Seat was a better thing to do first, as I wanted to make the most of the daylight and my train wasn’t until 6:30 pm so I still had about five or six hours to go.

Arthur’s Seat is the tallest mountain in Edinburgh, which is perhaps not saying much, but it still is very beautiful and a prominent feature of the city. It is possible to climb to the very top of the 250 metre peak. It’s not that big, but it’s big enough. I hid my bag and the bottle of whisky behind a rock and started to climb taking what was initially an easy trail. It obviously got harder as it got steeper, and I think it would have taken me about an hour to get to the top, scrabbling over rocks and almost vertical stairs hewn from what seemed to be volcanic rock.

The view was definitely worth it! You get a 360 degree view of the entire city and out to sea! (However, much to my dismay, even at 250 metres above sea level, after climbing to the very top of the tallest thing in sight, I found a small herd of American tourists and their puke-worthy can-do attitude at the summit). It was freezing up there, so after a few photographs I headed back down, found my belongings where I had left them, and went for another coffee.

Next I decided to tour the Palace of Holyroodhouse. I optimistically asked an attended if she would be able to mind my now rather heavy bag, but she predictably declined. I suppose that’s fair enough. I was taking photos in the entrance room, and another attendant, quick to hear the shutter of my camera, leaned over the first floor railing and told me “Sir, there’s no photography.” Okay…I guess that’s reasonable? (Not really, because I hate places that refuse to let you take pictures. Even the British Museum is okay with it). So I put my camera inside my bag and lugged the thing around. No place to put my bag and no photos. Fun stuff.

The room I found most interesting was the Great Gallery, where I believe the Queen formally knights people, including Sir Sean Connery. The Gallery is lined with portraits of the monarchs of Scotland going back to the legendary king Fergus I, claimed to have reigned from 330 BC to 305 BC, about 1100 years before the first generally accept king of Scotland, Kenneth I, reigned. The portraits were commissioned by Charles II and painted by the Dutch artist Jacob de Wet. As I couldn’t take photos, I wanted to write everything down. There were originally 110 portraits, but apparently only 89 are still hanging. I actually counted only 15 missing, for a total of 96, because it seems that at some point a portrait of James VII was added as portrait number 111. Surprisingly little information exists as to which portraits are missing, and why James VII was added and when.

I put my bag down so I could write more easily, and an attendant noticed it and called another attendant in, who suggested that it was my bag, to which I confirmed it was. He told me I had to keep it close for reasons of “security”, despite being in the same room as me, and barely 10 feet from me. If they’d had a cloakroom or had let me take pictures, things would have been much easier. So every few steps I had to walk back to my bag, and drag it over to where I wanted to look next.

After finishing up at Holyroodhouse I had dinner and got the train back to Leeds, and then Keighley, and walked back up the hill to Levi and Julie’s.

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Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.