Like a Red, Red Rose

Standard

Edinburgh was our last stop in Scotland, and definitely one of the most interesting for me. There’s just so much history there, so many good stories. This is a long one, folks!

Edinburgh’s history is mostly centered around its castle, as many cities in Europe are. The first settlement in the area was where the castle is now; human settlement goes back as far as 850 B.C., and in the first century A.D. Romans traded gifts with the local inhabitants of the hill fort, and it’s been a hub since then, of the Scottish, then the English, then the Scottish…

One of my favorites is the story about how Robert the Bruce took over Edinburgh Castle during the Wars of Independence – he was a great guy (flash to Finding Nemo: “hi, my name’s Bruce”), who followed William Wallace, the guy Mel Gibson played in that movie (of course, none of Braveheart is correct except for the way he died; if you want to look it up, he was drawn and quartered, which is not a story you tell at bedtime). But anyway, Robert the Bruce had been going around Scotland taking back one castle at a time until Sterling and Edinburgh were the only ones left. When he got to Edinburgh, he was helped out by a night watchman who had a secret way of getting into and out of the castle (while on duty…) that he used to go and see his lady friends. The Scots decided that information was a fair trade for not killing him, following which they climbed up the cliff during the night and butchered the British in their beds.

More on the castle later (it’s not as great as Sterling, anyway).

One of my favorite parts of walking around the city was that there were bits of Macbeth (‘the Scottish play’) scattered all over the city:

…Which was right next to:

From one angle, there was even a kilt.

I only found two of the odes to Macbeth, but I walked past both of them several times.

This one is right next to what is either called the Market Cross or the Mercat Cross (you get the same thing either way on Google Images), on the Royal Mile, the main street in Old Town:

This is where you would go if you got caught for petty crimes, like stealing from the grocery store. They would grab you by the ear and proceed to nail it to the wood of one of the doors – there’s only two doors now, but originally all of the sides were like that. You would stand there like that for at least a full day, with the inhabitants of the city using you as a place to deposit compost or the contents of their bedpans; little kids would spit on you and adults would insult you, your mother, and your fashion sense. If the hardship got to be too much for you and you just couldn’t wait, you had the option of ripping your ear off of the door, permanently branded as a thief. That would mean that you could only get the lowest kind of work, generally piracy for men and whoring for women.

On a cheerier note (by comparison, anyway), three days after the monarch of Britain dies, someone opens up one of the doors of the Cross, runs up the stairs, and screams that the king/queen is dead. They wait three days because in the old times before trains, telegrams, and radio, it took three days for a horse to get to Edinburgh. Now, it’s just tradition – though I suspect that part of it is rubbing it in: “Oh, your king’s dead? Well that just sucks, doesn’t it?”

There’s also a story about a particular monarch, Charles II, who tried to gain favor with the inhabitants of the city by running wine from the cross for 24 hours. Edinburgh partied continuously throughout that time. And then they woke up the next morning, with the mother of all hangovers, cursing the king all over again.

The cross is directly next to St. Giles Cathedral, which is actually not a cathedral. Since the Scots are mainly Presbyterian, they call this place ‘high kirk’ rather than a cathedral. This is also the only cathedral in the world with a carving of an angel playing the bagpipes. It’s a shame for you that I didn’t take a picture of this, but it just means that if you ever find yourself there, you can hunt for it yourself. It hides very well – I had to have Pauline point it out for me.

This is also the site of the beginning of one of the dark periods of Scottish history: Charles I decided that all of his kingdom would be under the same religion; this applied to the Scots, too, so on the appointed day the Anglican religion took over St. Giles. People went to church at the appointed time as usual; there was one woman, Jenny Geddes, in the congregation who was a little different. She came in, saw the new banners, the new bishop, and the new music, and decided that she could deal with that. However, she picked up her prayer book and simply cracked. The prayer book was The Book of Common Prayer, a canon in the Anglican church: this wasn’t what she believed in and she wasn’t having it forced on her. So she stood up and threw her chair directly at the bishop. As far as the story goes, her aim was true – and she incited a riot of people against the new faith, people called the Covenanters. These people would go down in history as some of the most persecuted people Scotland has ever seen. And for the record, that’s saying quite a lot. There’s more on them later.

Also in the area is a heart in cobblestones:

We were told that, every now and then, some guy proposes on this heart. It would be wildly romantic, but it’s really not, because every native Edinburgian spits on it as they go by; it used to be the site of a hated prison. Our guide said that it is the most hated square meter in the city. And yes, I did spit on it.

And here we have a statue of David Hume, noted Scottish philosopher:

Once you get past the stylish traffic cone, you can notice that one of his toes is really, really shiny. This is because students rub it for good luck – and yes, I rubbed it. Feet and specifically toes completely disgust me; that statue needs to cut his toenails.

Edinburgh holds the fame of being the inspiration and birthplace of Harry Potter; I’m not that into Harry Potter anymore, though I will say that the first three books are all right. (If you want exchange me in an argument about this, I’m afraid that I will not be convinced to see the light, so just accept me as a lost cause.) The building (a school) in the back of this photo was the inspiration for Hogwarts:

A fun side note: J.K.R. is a billionaire – the only author to be one – and richer than the Queen of England. She made 53 million pounds alone on the first day of sales for the seventh book.

This is where she wrote the first book:

There’s a huge sign in the window: ‘J.K. ROWLING WROTE HERE!!!’ You can almost hear the stink of greediness wafting off of this place. I bet they’ve jacked their prices. Capitalist dogs!

Does this name sound familiar? I didn’t actually get the chance to see this stone in person, but a friend we made in Edinburgh took this photo for me after we left. (Thank you Anna!) I’m also informed that J.K. Rowling stole loads of other names from the graveyard: first names, surnames, places.

The photo was taken in a famous cemetery, Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. It’s a pretty small area, but it’s estimated that half a million people are buried there, more than the current population of the city. Did you ever play the ‘how high can I stack these blocks’ as a kid? They did that here, only once you hit the last strata possible (burying the corpse with a few inches of soil on top), and then when it rained, things sort of…surfaced. It rains a lot in Scotland.

Also, if you look at the left side of the photo above, you can see that one of the graves has a set of iron bars around it, and another one just in front of it that has a cement wall. These are ‘mort safes’ or ‘mortis guards,’ to ward off gravediggers. Edinburgh was the home of one of the most important medical universities in the 1800s (and still is today), and there was an urgent need for corpses to dissect, so they paid good money for every body brought in. One option for families wanting to ward off gravediggers was to use these safes, but many people weren’t that rich. What the poor did was wait all night by the graves to keep the bad men with shovels away, at least until the body had decomposed enough to no longer be interesting (two or three days in summer and two or three weeks in winter) – that was called ‘doing the graveyard shift.’

Two infamous corpse-sellers were two Irish men, Burke and Hare. Burke and Hare were in a tight spot one night – a lady friend that they liked had a dead body in her room and didn’t know what to do with it. It was commonly known that the university would take any bodies, no questions asked, so they hauled off dead-whats-his-face and received three pounds. To put this in perspective, three pounds would get you 750 pints of your favorite beer back in the day. I’m guessing that it would have lasted them maybe two weeks. (They were Irish.) So when they ran out of money, they decided that they’d like to keep up their shenanigans. Unlike other people with similar ideas, they decided that grave-digging wasn’t really their thing, especially since the university wanted really fresh bodies. So we can all see where this is leading. The two were able to kill anywhere from 15 to 35 people in the space of a year before they were caught. At that point, Hare looked around, realized that they were both screwed, and promptly squealed his guts out, leaving his friend to dry. The result of all this was that Hare got six months, Burke was hanged, and his body was given to the medical school for dissection. Apparently, Burke’s skeleton is still there for scientific inquiry and his ghost is out for revenge.

On a brighter note, there are good stories about the graveyard; it’s really not a bad place to be (in the daytime, anyway). We were told that on sunny days (so basically three times a year) people like to hang out in the graveyard. Lawn is lawn, I guess.

One of the most visited graves – by natives and tourists alike – is a grave without a body beneath it. It is of a dog named Bobby, who has a remarkable story. John Gray was a night watchman in Edinburgh – basically, a policeman who patrolled around to make sure that no one was up to no good – when a law was passed that required watchmen to have dogs with them at all times. Most guys probably got a mastiff, something big with lots of teeth. John Gray got himself a terrier and called him Bobby; they had two good years together before John died of tuberculosis (note that tuberculosis is also called ‘consumption’ in older literature). After that, the dog Bobby returned to John’s grave every day for fourteen years until his own death. The rule is that only people can be buried in the graveyard, so Bobby’s stone is just a prop. There’s a statue of him outside the limits, though:

I’m going to take the mood back down and talk about the Covenanters again. They had themselves a good riot and then a few more; the government stepped in and decided to put a stop to it. The majority of the protesters were put in a prison inside the kirkyard:

This is very close to how it would have looked when it functioned as a prison. No roofs, little protection in the wintertime. At the beginning, 1,100 people were held here; 300 were left after the winter. After this, the British had what was basically a civil war on their hands, as well as several secret religious services: people were pissed, especially with a total death toll of about 18,000 on the Covenanter’s side. So the British did what the British generally do: bury the evidence. They shuffled the 300 survivors onto a ship bound for Barbados – except that didn’t go so well. It sank off of the coast of Scotland; 43 swimmers made it to the Orkney Islands, and were allowed to live there for the rest of their lives. I guess the Brits decided that they had been victimized long enough.

Edinburgh is called the most haunted city in Europe, maybe even in the world. I can vouch for that myself – though I’m saving that for the end.

The man that organized the persecution of the Covenanters was ‘Bloody’ George Mackenzie, who is also buried in the graveyard; you might notice that his mausoleum has a sturdy padlock on it. This is to make sure that people do not go in, people that ignore their own safety. Once (pre-lock) a homeless guy broke into the mausoleum to get out of the cold; the floor fell out from underneath him and he dropped down onto the coffin of Mackenzie himself. He emerged, having had the fright of his life, inflicted with inexplicable bruises all over his back. There are other stories of people going insane after having gone inside, as well as a number of deaths in the kirkyard itself.

The next area of Edinburgh of interest has another site associated with the Covenanters (I promise this is the last, it’s not a very happy story). I told you that most of the prisoners were held in the kirkyard. 100 people were killed brutally and then butchered on this spot, as a public show to quell violence.

This is in an area called the Grassmarket, where grain for cows was sold. It was also a site where public executions took place – though generally they were not as gruesome as with the Covenanters. It’s also quite close to the old red light district, Victoria Street:

Now Grassmarket is one of Europe’s most popular sites for hen and stag parties: we saw at least three groups when we went out to dinner here. There are still many reminders of the Grassmarket’s past, however, with pubs with names like ‘The Last Drop’ and ‘Maggie Dickson’s’:

We ate here the first night: I had a colossal serving of fish and chips. Fortunately, it was light on the chips, because they gave me a whole fish; I was determined to finish it, as I was paying in pounds. I am pleased to report that I did consume the whole beast, though I could swear it was still swimming around in my stomach for a while afterwards. Pauline had haggis, which she said was okay, but not great. If you’re wondering what haggis is, read on; if you don’t want to know, skip to the next paragraph. First, you take the heart, liver, and lungs of your least favorite sheep and dump them in a pot with some oatmeal and herbs and spices. You let that happen for a while, stuff that in the stomach of the sheep, and place it in a pot of boiling water until it’s done in its haggissy strangeness. It’s generally served with ‘meaps and tatties,’ turnips and potatoes.

Maggie Dickson was the wife of a man that preferred the company of other women, so she took a lover of her own. Unfortunately, in 1728, she got pregnant. This was bad news for her, as it was known that she was married; she kept her secret under wraps. Keeping this covered up was a hanging offense under the Pregnancy Act, so when the baby miscarried, when Maggie tried to bury it, and when it was later found, she was in deep trouble. Maggie was taken into custody and then hanged in the Grassmarket, with a huge crowd looking on. She was hanged until dead, placed in a coffin and loaded into a cart to be buried. So the appointed driver drove the wagon toward a graveyard – it’s unlikely that she would have been buried in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, as hers was not exactly an honorable death. However, on the way there (and maybe after a pit stop for a bit of alcohol), the poor guy heard banging on the inside of the coffin. Consider the shock: what would you be thinking? Zombies? Vampires? Aliens? So the guy summoned up his courage and pried open the coffin. Maggie Dickson sat up, quite alive. (He probably peed his pants.) Then a discussion ensued: should they hang her again? Finally, they decided that since the doctor had pronounced her dead, she had served her sentence, and since when she married her husband her vows were ‘till death do us part,’ she was a newly single woman. Maggie Dickson was literally given a new lease on life. She married her lover and ran her pub (coughcoughbrothelcough) for 40 more years. She became a local legend as ‘Half-Hanged Maggie,’ and went down in history.

This is what looks like a cathedral, but is really a place called The Hub, which is the center of the festivals that happen in the city in August. The festivals are enormously popular: in August, the population of the city doubles – that means that 487,000 people becomes approximately 974,000 people.

The Flodden Wall used to circle all of Edinburgh in a time when an attack by the English was considered fairly imminent. This was because James IV had launched an attack on the English in 1513 but had then been driven back. James IV was killed in battle (the last monarch in the UK to do so), so James V began construction; the wall took 50 years to build, and by that time, Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth of England, the city was bursting at the seams, and the wall was basically useless. There are also rumors that the ashes of witches were incorporated into the mortar in the time of James VI.

Sidenote: so you can figure out the Stewart dynasty: James I was assassinated; James II got himself killed while experimenting with a cannon (still a national embarrassment); James III was thrown by a horse on a battlefield; James IV was killed in battle; James V died due to an illness of the brain (leaving behind one surviving legitimate heir and nine illegitimate ones); Mary of Guise ruled for a while; Mary of Scots ruled for a while before being imprisoned and then beheaded; James VI became the king of England (James I), uniting Scotland and England. They didn’t tend to have happy lives – though what do you want, it was the Medieval Age – but it still leads to the question why anyone would ever want to name their son James after all that lot.

Back in the times before indoor plumbing, things did not smell so great in cities. When we were in Edinburgh, I detected a slight iffy smell in the air; back in the day, though, you could smell Edinburgh from five miles away. This relates to the Irish method of cleaning up dog doo: they don’t. There is the assumption that ‘the rain will take it away’ – total fallacy. Think about this happening on a city-wide scale, with…not dog doo. There are stories about people having to cut the…muck away from their doors in order to get out every morning. Eventually it got to the point where the government had to pass a law so that people could only dump their chamber pots at certain times during the day: the usual way to deal with things as to take the bucket, yell ‘gar dee loo’ (bad French, which means ‘look out for the water’), give the passersby a moment to scatter, and then huck the contents out of there. So this law made it so that you could do what needed to be done at ten in the morning and at ten in the evening. The morning time was fine; everyone was awake and cohesive, but considering what we know of the Scottish, they tend to appreciate their alcohol – and if the bars close at about ten at night, a drunk guy’s response to someone yelling above him is to look up and say ‘wha…?’ I think this is one of the most underhanded abstinence programs in history. And if you were wondering about where the term ‘shit-faced’ comes from…now you know.

Of course, when the stench got too terrible for the rich of Edinburgh, they moved to a completely different area, which now gives Edinburgh Old Town and New Town.

While we’re on the subject, I want to show you something pretty:

This is Prince’s Park, the low ground between the two different sections of the city. Edinburgh is built on a series of steep hills, and there are loads of bridges in between the two (but still, more on that later). So that means that if Prince’s Garden is where the low ground is, when it did rain, all of that…stuff…went the one place it could go. So that means what is a beautiful garden now was once one of the world’s largest cesspools: you need not wonder why it is so green!

To one side of the park, you can see Edinburgh Castle:

That’s the way Old Town works: the backbone is the Royal Mile; at one end is the castle and at the other is the palace (which is now some lame museum about money or something; we didn’t go in, but if you’re into currency you can’t spend, by all means, go).

So I’m going to talk about the castle, because it’s much cooler – though wildly touristy in a cheesy and uncool way. It’s still a great piece of national heritage, but it’s harder to hear the echoes of the past there than at other places.

The castle is located here because it is sitting on a volcanic plug (that people call ‘Castle Rock’), basically the chute of a dead volcano. What that means is that the castle is on basalt that is surrounded by softer stone, which then means that the weaker stone was bullied away by the forces of erosion and that the plug remains, relatively unpestered by the forces of geology, making a cool hill to build stuff on.

It’s been a common thing that Britain has laid claim to her neighbors – with or without their consent – with Ireland, it goes back through to Henry VIII. So it was for Scotland, though much farther back in history. Eventually, it came to the point where Queen Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, because there as some sort of tie from Mary so that she could contest for the throne of England, bad news for someone like Elizabeth who as breaking new ground and trying to find a place for herself. Some people in Scotland were understandably a bit pissed off about this and so they staged a number of rebellions. One of them as at Edinburgh Castle, called the Lang Siege. It took a year, but the castle was eventually reduced to rubble and the fighters surrendered. It is said that at the beginning of the siege, a group of three golfers were playing a round; a horseman from the castle came up to them and told them to stop, for fear of their lives. They decided to keep playing (“who spit in his haggis?”): they were all killed. This says a number of things about the Scottish: 1. they are crazy; 2. they like to kill things; 3. defying authority is a national pastime.

The last time the castle was used as a player in military action was in 1745 during the Jacobite rising; this ‘rising’ took place all over the British Isles, and included Catholics, Presbyterians, and other assorted groups. Basically, there were some people that wanted King James VII (a Catholic) back on the throne and there were some people who wanted William III (also called William of Orange – basically a Protestant Dutch dude that married an English broad). There were big battles fought, like the Battle of the Boyne, fought in Ireland (the Irish lost because the French flaked out. Stupid French). In Edinburgh, rioters in the streets found themselves under cannon fire from the castle. Effectively, the last time the castle was used it was against the people it was meant to protect. Fun, huh?

But anyway. The castle now has a bunch of museums and memorials in it, including two for military history, one for the P.O.W. prison, the state apartments, and the crown jewels and Stone of Scone (don’t get too fluffed up about the jewels: they don’t let you take pictures).

This is as good a segway as it gets for my favorite story about Edinburgh. Up in that fancy room with the crown jewels is a block of stone with two chunky metal handles on it. It looks exceedingly out of place. It’s called the Stone of Scone, but that makes me hungry, so I’m going to call it by its other name, THE STONE OF DESTINY! It’s kind of a big deal.

The stone is made of red sandstone and weighs about 330 pounds, roughly Paula Deen’s weight. (Did I go there? Yes, I did.) There are loads of different stories about where it came from, such as a lost city in Scotland, a relic from Biblical times (Jacob’s pillow), the pyramids, or (my favorite) from Ireland, that it is half of the Blarney Stone. As is known, I have not the guts necessary to scrutinize the Blarney Stone (I prefer to live), so I don’t know how true these stories might be – but if the aim is an air of mystery, they nailed it. The Stone of Scone was used for the coronations of Scottish kings and is now used for the English. Sir Walter Scott, Superhero in a Kilt, prophesied that whoever had the Stone of Destiny would hold Scotland…we’ll see how true that is.

Of course, the Stone of Destiny is now in Scotland, but that’s only been since 1996. Before that, it was a part of the throne in Westminster Abbey in London; King Edward I stole it in 1296 as spoils of war – though to give the English credit, they did try to return it in 1328, but crowds outside of the cathedral kept it from being removed.

Up through 1996, there has been a campaign to get the stone back. Nothing has really worked, but on Christmas Day in 1950, a group of four students came really close. Their first plan was to have one of the group hide behind a suit of armor in the cathedral until closing time, when he would let his other friends back in. That didn’t work because the guards had eyes and because suits of armor were made in a time where men were short. It just didn’t work out.

So Plan B was breaking in and getting the stone. Funnily enough, that plan worked…up to a point. The problem with carrying a Paula Deen-sized rock out of a cathedral is that there cannot be a weak link. So the stone broke into two pieces. Two of the group ran off with the smaller fragment and managed to drive it across the border, leaving the other two high and dry. So the others looked at each other, looked at the stone, and went, ‘huh.’ They dragged it out of the cathedral on one of their jackets, hoisted it into a car, and started to drive to Scotland. They realized on the way that the border would probably be guarded heavily by the time they got there, so they buried it in a field in Kent, marked the spot, and left it alone for a few days.

They came back and had no trouble finding the spot – however, there was a gypsy camp sitting right on top of it (as a side-note, it’s more politic to call them ‘travelers’). Happily, once they talked to the leader of the group, they came to the consensus that neither of them liked the British, so the gypsies helped them dig it up. They removed the front seat of their car, put the stone in its place, and took turns riding the stone back into Scotland. Once there, they took the two pieces to a stonemason in Glasgow to stick the two pieces together. After that, groups of students hid it all over Scotland. Now, just for a moment, imagine all of the things hockey players do with the Stanley Cup. Then imagine all of the things that were done on/over the symbol of the national heritage of Scotland. However, they did successfully keep it hidden, so that’s a consolation, at least.

On April 11, 1951, the original group had had enough of all of the antics that had been happening and put it on the altar of Arbroath Abbey near Dundee (north of Edinburgh), probably hoping that the church wouldn’t return it back to England. This wasn’t quite the case, as when the pastor came into the sanctuary and saw the stone on his altar, he went “oh crap I really don’t want to go to prison” and promptly turned it over to the police. So all that work was for nothing.

However, Scotland does have it now. This is because a nominee for Prime Minister wanted to curry favor with the Scottish – basically a desperate measure. But the Scots did get it back, so there was a huge procession, bagpipes and everything. However, the bagpipes weren’t playing any of those traditional Scottish songs, oh no. They were playing the theme from Mission Impossible. Take that, English swine!

Of course, in the next election a candidate vowed that Scotland would get its own Parliament if he got elected. So he got elected and now Scotland has both the Stone of Destiny and a Parliament. Winning.

And now back to castle stuff. The great hall was a bit of a disappointment, as it was made to be more of a space for kids, but there were loads of swords and things on the walls:

But wait! What time is it??

Well, if it’s one in the afternoon in Edinburgh, a cannon goes off from Castle Rock. So if you’re at the castle, you get your butt out of wherever you are and you watch, trying to keep your head above the crowd; we found a hilly bit, so it wasn’t a problem.

This is a silly exercise today (duh), but was actually very useful when Edinburgh was a port and trading center: Sailors would come to shore and have no idea of what time it was – you may be thinking that it didn’t matter if they knew what time it was, so long as there was a bar in the vicinity, and you would be right, BUT the captain of these sailing ships would need to know exactly what time it was in order to navigate. So when the cannon went off, the captain factored in the number of seconds it would take for the sound to reach him from the castle (and there are maps to show exactly how many seconds off you would be from each point in Edinburgh), and adjusted his watch.

Many P.O.W.s were held in the castle in the early 1800s; there were a lot of French people incarcerated due to the Napoleonic Wars, but there were also others of other nationalities. They were jammed in cheek-by-jowl, though by all accounts, the conditions here were miles better than in many other places. For example, the conditions on a prison ship (also known as a prison ‘hulk’) floating in the middle of the Thames in London weren’t all that great. There was also an impressive display of the things the prisoners made: a replica of a ship, inlaid boxes, and so on. I liked being down here because there wasn’t that stifling feeling you get when you’re in a usual prison; maybe it was the lighting.

You see that thing the cannon is pointing at? That’s the Walter Scott monument, and I think it’s shamefully ugly. But remember him as we exit the castle:

I should have called him SIR Walter Scott, but I do so love being informal. He was knighted because he was a spanking great author (though this is hearsay for me, I don’t actually know), made being Scottish popular again, found the crown jewels in the castle, and a bunch of other stuff. I like him because he said “Surely, chess playing is a sad waste of brains,” and that learning other languages was a better use of his time. I suck at chess.

Scott also reintroduced tartan back into Scottish culture: after Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Rising in 1745, wearing plaid was declared an act of rebellion. Most patterns were burned, so clans had to start from scratch or from a smuggled piece of material. So think of a dead Scottish man whenever you put on that cute scarf you bought for $4.99.

This next photo is what a loom for tartan looks like when it’s all set up – it was in a touristy place meant to make you spend all your money, an amalgamation of people selling products made of different tartans and a small creepy museum with dummies. But I talked to a variety of tailors there, and all of them said my clan was ‘too obscure’ for that pattern to be available (not even for ready money). Underachievers.

So after we did the castle, Pauline went to do nerdytime at the Scottish National Museum and I went to be a literary geekypants at the Writer’s Museum. There I learned about Walter Scott – did you know that he first published his books anonymously not because he was afraid of censure, but because he thought attention would hurt his writing? – as well as Robert Burns and Robert Lewis Stevenson.

A little sidenote: this building looks much as it did in the 1700s, but for the fact that there would have been four or five stories made of wood on top of that, so that some buildings could have been as many as 14 stories tall.

I went to this museum mainly because of Burns’ “A Red, Red Rose,” which has a simplicity I fell in love with as soon as I heard it. In addition to being a poet, Burns wrote loads of songs; during is career, he was increasingly drawn to songwriting, until he was writing barely any poetry at all. He was a farmer all of his life, even though he was successful enough to give it up. The only really sad part of his life is that he died young, at age 37, with the feeling that he had not contributed all he could, that his death cut some of his potential short.

I would like to take a moment to note that the building the museum was in was out to get me; I smashed my head against a low stone doorframe, ironically while letting other people go up the stairs. My head ached for days. But at least I didn’t fall down the stairs:

Robert Lewis Stevenson was also an interesting character. If you’re scratching your head, here is a partial list of his books: Treasure Island, How to Be Awesome Like Me, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson traveled widely despite his poor health, and had been educated as a civil engineer and as a lawyer (he’d graduated by the time he was 26). He ended up living the last four years of his life in Samoa with his family, where he was less prone to the attacks of hemorrhaging that plagued him. The Samoans really liked him, giving him the nickname Tusitala, which means something like ‘the story-teller.’

An interesting tidbit is that Jekyll and Hyde wasn’t an entirely original story: it was actually based off of the life of Deacon Brodie, who was a species of Renaissance man. He was a family man, politician, locksmith, inventor, and thief. By day he was one of the most respected men in Edinburgh, and by night he raided the homes of the wealthy, using keys he copied in his normal line of business. He was wildly successful, partly because on social occasions he had the opportunity to scope out the homes he visited. As a trusted member of the government, he was made the head of the team set up to hunt himself down, so he led Edinburgh on a merry fruitless chase, until the night one of his three cronies was caught and flipped on him. Now, some might be thinking about how that has got to stink for Brodie – but also factor in the practice of torture, widely accepted for hundreds of years: that poor crony probably took one look at the thumbscrews and squealed the secret of life itself. Brodie caught wind of this and fled to Amsterdam, hoping the marijuana fumes would confuse anyone looking for him. Unfortunately, this did not work: he was caught and then hanged on the very gallows he had designed.

I was done with the writer’s museum a bit early, so I muddled my way to the Scottish Museum:

Fine, fine, cool stuff. Yawn. But wait! Was that…?

Dolly was the first successful cloned animal, and if you don’t know about her, you’ve had a life outside the exciting field of biology. But no matter. She has been preserved for your convenience. Did you know why she was called Dolly? Think of the famous people called Dolly over the course of pop history: there’s Barbara Streisand’s character in the memorable musical, and then there’s Dolly Parton, a woman known for the ampleness of her bosom. This is a purposeful correlation, as Dolly the sheep was cloned from another sheep’s mammaries.

So I’ve promised to talk about my own experiences with ghosts. I didn’t see, feel, or hear anything direct or concrete, but I will hold that I was in the presence of some very serious stuff: it’s up to you to decide about your own opinions on the matter. The second night, Pauline and I grouped up with some people from our hostel and did two tours: the first one simply sucked and the second one gave me the fright of my life.

The second tour took us down into the South Bridge – Edinburgh was built on a series of hills (much like Rome, actually, only the Romans tended to level their hills), so bridges were needed to connect them. The bridge has always been surrounded by bad luck: deaths during construction made people wary, so when the bridge was close to being completed, they asked an old lady in the city that everyone liked to walk across the bridge as a show of confidence. Unfortunately, she died, too, a week before the ribbon-cutting. So instead a horse and cart pulled her coffin across the bridge – meaning that the first person to cross the bridge was dead, which didn’t exactly quell fears.

Then there was the fact that the vaults (rooms) inside the bridge weren’t feasible for use as storage, as the dampness permeated barrels of alcohol and other goods and ruined them (“save the whiskey! save the whisky!”). So effectively, there were 1,200 empty rooms in a time when being homeless was illegal: people packed in, sometimes without space to lie down to sleep. Many of the people didn’t have work, didn’t have money for food or light. Disease was rampant – as was crime – making the average survival in the bridge 18 months. This would have been a prime target for criminals like Burke and Hare, as these people would disappear off the map and no policeman would investigate. For that matter, if you were a criminal on the run, all you had to was make it into the South Bridge and they wouldn’t come in after you. You can see why this place would be haunted and why the topside of the bridge was barely used.

We saw four vaults in the bridge – barely scratching the surface – and from the moment I stepped inside, my hands were sweating and my knees were shaking uncontrollably. While it was cold down there, it was also just unbelievably frightening. There were things down there that no one alive could explain, a feeling of being watched very intensely, a feeling of being at a disadvantage in a very important way. Now, on this tour, they did pull some cheap tricks – lights turning on and going out at exactly the right moment, turning off the flashlight (partially to show us how dark it would have been, which was incredibly dark), yelling while it was so dark, then turning the lights back on and having a guy in a scream mask jump out and go ‘boo.’ All that crap aside, I think that there was something truly evil there, something that was glad that we were there and something that, if it had the energy, would be able to do truly horrifying things.

I’m going to make a note here about people that may want to play tricks on me in light of the previous information: I get really and truly pissed off when someone does this, and it takes a while to get back on my good side afterward. I scared the crap out of an Italian guy on that tour because he tried to ‘ghost-touch’ my shoulder.

This is Calton Hill, one of the places I wish I had gone while in Edinburgh. I don’t know what’s up there, but it looks cool.

And that’s finally it for Edinburgh. Thanks for sticking until the end!

One response »

  1. Pingback: New Castles | Shifting Constellations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s