Our first stop this morning was to be Costa’s on Waverley Bridge but, sadly, it was not yet opened and so we ventured further along Princes Street until we found the most unappealing café we could. This turned out to be at a BHS. The store itself did not open until 11 but the café was open for pre-shoppers and other fools.
We purchased coffee and a breakfast of sorts and sat back to try and enjoy it. Next to us, guarding the door, turning away customers with a gruff “The shop doesna open till 11” was a very scary woman. With a massive bunch of keys, reminiscent of the gate keeper in Macbeth and a tattoo that spread down her right shoulder with butterflies emerging from a thorny forest and a persistent sniff, she stood, then sat and made it very clear that people were not welcome for another 30 minutes. I do wonder what her normal job is at BHS. Bouncer perhaps? Security during the more riotous sales? Whatever, she was pretty scary.
We finally hopped aboard the talking tourist bus for the circuitous trip up to the Old Town. Neither of us remembered our earplugs so we were spared more repetition from the chatty bus. The weather being much better meant we sat outside up the top rather than under the shelter. The tourists with us were all very well behaved even when we were joined by the Dr Who monster pretending to be a human. We left the bus at the top of Old Town directly outside Gladstone Land.
Now, Gladstone Land isn’t a Disney world full of doctor’s bags or old prime ministers. The word ‘land’, in the context of Edinburgh’s Old Town, means the buildings erected on the plots of ground called ‘tenements’ along King’s High Street. Everywhere else, the tenement was the building and the land was the ground but, hey, that’s history. Of course, this shouldn’t be confused with the use of the word ‘land’ to mean all manner of local goods as sold at the Lawnmarket, which was originally the Land Market. Also the person’s name was not Gladstone but Gledstane. The property is in the hands of the National Trust of Scotland and is a companion property to the Georgian House in the New Town. Why it’s not called Gledstane’s Land, I can’t explain.
As an example of middle to upper class living conditions in the Old Town just before the move to designing and building the New Town, Gladstone’s Land is excellent. And you can see why they (they being the powers that be, of course) decided it would be a great idea. Cramped into an, albeit large, living area over three floors with two rooms per floor even with the painted ceiling were not as ideal as the mansions over in Charlotte Square.
It’s important to remember that while the people had someone to pick up their waste every day, it was still a time of people emptying their chamber pots out the window and onto the street below. It doesn’t bear imagining what effect it would have on a successful gentleman, setting out for a business meeting, and ending up with some foul mess all over his nice suit. Quite apart from the stench in the street!
As we wandered around, we were struck by two little girls answering the kid’s questions. I don’t mean the two little girls hit us. Their dad would ask them the question and they would eagerly give it a shot. At one stage, one of them leapt onto an antique chair, in order to get a good look out the window. The room warden leapt just as fast to tell her not to climb on the chairs with a “That chair is 400 years old! How would you like it if you were 400 years old and had a small child jumping onto you?” I didn’t hear her response but most little kids would say “I wouldn’t mind,” I’m sure.
A little later, the girls were asked whether an instrument in one of the rooms was a piano, an organ or a spinet. The elder of the girls quickly answered ‘spinet’, to which the room warden said “All the little children are so smart, they all get that right! I wouldn’t have a clue what a spinet was!” Poor kid. There she was thinking she was clever when she’s just the same as every other kid that visits Gladstone’s Land.
A few years ago, Mirinda directed her first play. It was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. In it, Jean declares that she is descended from Deacon Brodie, who was hung from a gallows of his own making. At the time, we thought this was just an invention by Muriel Spark, but no, it seems it wasn’t. Deacon Brodie did, in fact, exist in the same way that Jean Brodie didn’t.
He was a Deacon of Cabinet Makers and had a passion for gambling and women. In order to sustain these passions, he would rob the businesses he visited during the day. Eventually things became decidedly hot in Edinburgh for William Brodie and he left for Amsterdam. According to the bus, he wrote back home, giving a forwarding address, which led to his arrest but I haven’t found another reference to this so it could be just a tad made up.
Sent back to Edinburgh he was sentenced to death by hanging. Being pretty inventive, he designed a contraption to wear under his clothes which, he claimed, would cheat the hangman’s noose. It didn’t work and possibly the last thing he saw was the maker’s mark on the gallows, which read “William Brodie, Edinburgh”.
His workshop is now a café, decorated with a mural that circles the room. Robert Louis Stevenson often sat here and, it is rumoured, based Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on Brodie. We sat there and had morning tea. The woman at the counter was very cheery and loud. The ham sandwiches were lovely, the coffee foul as café coffee is generally.
We really wanted to visit the real Mary King’s Close (get in free if you can prove your surname is King), which is part of the underground area of the Old Town. We wandered into the shop and asked for tickets only to be told that the next available tour was at 6:40pm! We decided not to hang around and laughed in her face, leaving swiftly without even a glance at the tourist tat on display.
Instead we popped into St Giles’ Cathedral. Fortunately whatever had been on (I think it was something to do with Easter) had just finished so we joined the throngs of tourists who wanted to see the place rather than worship at it.
Originally the church was founded in around 1124. It was set on fire by the army of Richard II in 1385 after which they rebuilt it in stone. John Knox was the minister there from 1559 and there were riots when someone tried to introduce a new prayer book in 1637.
Between 1909 and 1911 the thistle chapel was built. This chapel is truly beautiful. It is the chapel of the Knights of the Thistle. Back in 1687, James VII revived the order and built them a chapel in Holyrood Abbey but the people weren’t that keen on his Catholic leanings so they ransacked the place and left the poor knights without a place to call their own. Fast forward over 200 years and here we have it, in St Giles.
The knights dress in rather colourful tabards and big natty hats once a year on St Andrew’s Day and stand in it for a service. The rest of the year, tourists take photos and donate a couple of quid for its upkeep.
St Giles’ was not a favourite of Dr Samuel Johnson. Apparently he remarked in 1773, “Come, let me see what was once a church” while visiting Edinburgh. It was in a pretty dire sort of state but soon picked up with the Georgian revival of Edinburgh.
We stopped for a long half of cider at the World’s End pub. This was where the city walls started back in the middle ages. A nice, old, pokey-hole pub with good beer and cider that can take an hour to drink. If you’re Mirinda, that is. We sat and sipped for an hour.
On the way down the Royal Mile, we came across the Old Children’s Bookshelf, a bookshop that specialises in children’s books, although the name of the shop implies it specialises in old children. And a wonderful world of whimsy it is. Mirinda spent a goodly amount of time inspecting the Dimsey books, of which this shop had the whole set. They were priced rather high. Though the highest I found was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at £45 and it was a reprint and not a first edition! Unusually, we didn’t buy anything but continued walking.
We gradually walked to Holyroodhouse and wandered into some of the closes which, apparently, are supposed to be quaint and pretty. Well, the ones we wandered down certainly weren’t! As you leave the Royal Mile, through the historic iron gates (which used to be locked after dark), most of the time you are confronted with 1960s housing estates. To be fair, this is down near the Scottish parliament building rather than closer to the top.
When we arrived at Holyrood, we decided something healthy to eat was in order. We had salmon and salad. This is how it was advertised. I’d really like to know what the word ‘salad’ actually means. As far as catering is concerned. Here, at Holyrood, it means two different types of lettuce and vinaigrette. It was lovely, just a tad misleading.
The strange thing about the Holyroodhouse tour is that each person has their own talking stick. Ok, that’s not strange but it is when you wander from room to room and you can hear nothing but faint footsteps because everyone is listening intently to the soft commentary. Almost eerie, it is.
This is where the Queen lives when she visits Edinburgh. It is on the site of what was originally an Augustinian monastery, the ruins of which are visited at the end of the tour. This was built sometime around 1128 during the reign of David I. Royal chambers were included in the abbey to encourage royal visitors and, eventually, James IV decided to convert the lodgings into a palace when he needed somewhere to carry his bride across the threshold. He married Margaret Tudor (daughter of Henry VII & sister of Henry VIII) and the palace was completed in 1504. There’s virtually nothing left of this early palace however, changes made by James V from 1528 are still there.
By far the most interesting part is upstairs in the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots. The murder of Rizzio, her marriages to Darnley and Hepburn, her miserable life leading up to her leaving Scotland to remain in captivity in England until her execution by Elizabeth I. Boy, really makes you want to be a part of the royal family, doesn’t it.
When the Abbey Church was up and running, it was actually used to bury lots of important, royal people. James II, David II, James V and his wife Madeleine of Valois and, naturally, Lord Darnley. Of course, after the Reformation and other raids, the remains were ‘violated’ and the monuments smashed. Then someone collected all the bits of the royals and had them reburied in the Royal Vault. Strange…but true.
I fully recommend the guide book which has a comprehensive history of the palace as it went from family to family, monarch to monarch.
After catching a normal bus back to Waverley Bridge we wandered back to the hotel and watched Ghostbusters. We decided to partake, once more, of the excellent food in the hotel restaurant, mainly because we couldn’t be bothered leaving the hotel.
Now I think I know why they only have one AA rosette. Having ordered our food, I asked for a bottle of wine from the wine menu and was told that there probably wouldn’t be any because it was a Sunday. The waitress went off to see. I thought this was odd. Did they send wine over to the church for Sunday communion, perhaps? She returned with the news that, no, they didn’t have the wine I wanted. I ordered another…and another…and another. She kept saying it was because the wine was generally gone by Sunday. I had arrived at the stage where wine just wasn’t necessary and we’d make do with water, when she produced a bottle of Chianti. In retrospect, she could have just told us what they had and I could have picked from that! I don’t think they have a wine cellar, just a collection of wine for each week that arrives on a Monday. Still, the food was superb.
It was a close call, but we just managed to get back to our room in time for Desperate Housewives. And because we have E4 in our room, it was two episodes back to back. Of course this means we’re one ahead of ourselves, which is annoying, but it was most enjoyable. And then, sleep.