The second guided tour I took in Edinburgh was for the Real Mary King’s Close. The tour office was located on the street level just off the Royal Mile, not far from the Castle. But the tour itself went through homes, found not terribly long ago, beneath the current streets and homes….
Of course way back then the homes we walked through were at ground level. But as people started to build more, instead of scraping old places and starting new, they simply lopped off the roofs of the old homes, built a new “ground floor” and simply built new homes or buildings on top of the old ones. But this practice of building homes was forgotten about until some workers of the City came along and rediscovered all the homes (now underground) and turned them into a tourist attraction!
The tour was quite fun but for those who have any claustrophobic tendencies, they may want to skip it… The way down was a bit tight, but once in the rooms I didn’t think it was too bad. But then again, E said she really didn’t enjoy the tour because she felt claustrophobic. So be warned people!!
Anyway, our guide from start to finish played the part of a young man who lived way back when and sadly died at 23 from some horrid plague. He told great stories of how the people lived (Gardy Loo!!) and the various plagues that afflited that age. He was humerous and witty and played his role well! We went through spaces that looked like a single room but were told it was a whole house for several families!! Other areas were for animals and others still for the rich. Each room was recreated to reflect the kind of people that would have lived in each room… But perhaps the most interesting of all the rooms… That of a little girl ghost…
When the spaces along Mary King’s Close were rediscovered, several measures were taken to make sure the spaces would be safe for tourists to travel through. During projects of reinforcement, some workers would describe strange things or sightings of a little girl quite often in one area of the rooms… So one day, a psychic was invited to go through the rooms. She didn’t pick anything up of note… Had no strange feelings or pulls of any sort… She couldn’t find a single odd feeling anywhere… At this point she was in the room most known for sightings but still, nothing.
She was getting ready to leave when all of a sudden she turned around and saw a little girl in the corner of the room. Now, mind you, at this point of the story we are all in the room itself and the “corner” where the girl was spotted standing was RIGHT BESIDE ME!!! Yea, I got a little chill for sure when he pointed only a few inches from me!! Anyway- the little girl was crying so the psychic asked her what was wrong. The little girl said that she was sad because her parents had died and that she was also sad because she could not find her favorite toy to keep her company and comfort her! The psychic was so moved by this that she left the rooms, went shopping for a doll, returned to the room where the young girl was crying and left the doll in there. From then on, none of the workers ever reported any further sightings or disturbances.
Even now, people from all over having heard of and knowing of this story in advance bring the little girl gifts and toys to play with! In the room today there is a stack of hundreds and hundreds of little toys and trinkets! So many are brought in fact that the staff has to sometimes clear toys out to make room for others!! The original is still there though:)
Needless to say, I would recommend this tour for sure! Though it was a little on the pricey side for the one hour, it’s definitely worth the fun!! Oh and sorry for the lack of pictures here… I can’t recall if they weren’t allowed at all, or if I was just too engrossed in the tour to care to take picts…
After the tour of the Royal Mile, our guide took us up to the castle and shared lots of fun facts with us about it… My personal favorite is about the Stone of Destiny…
Ironically enough, before going to Scotland I was visiting with my horse trainer, who is like a second family to me, and she was telling me about a movie she saw called the Stone of Destiny. It took place in Scotland and it is based on the true story about a group of Scottish student nationalists. The Stone, which was where Scottish Kings were traditionally crowned was stolen by King Edward I of England in 1296 and placed under the throne at Westminster Abbey. In the 1950’s the group of Scottish student nationalists succeeded in stealing the Stone back from Westminster Abbey and returning it to it’s righful place: Edinburgh castle!! Quite a fun story to say the least!! So while I had heard about the Stone of Destiny before I ever went to Scotland, I had of course forgotten exactly where the Stone was… So needless to say I was quite tickled when I heard that it was indeed in the Edinburgh Castle!! The Stone, to say the least is quite large and heavy looking and is currently encased in a glass display next to the Crown Jewels. No pictures were allowed to be taken of it sadly, but it was really cool to at least see it!!
In the pictures below you will see a few of the inside of parts of the castle, and one where there is a plaque in honor of Queen Elizabeth… You will also note the date however that it was in 1993… Why is it that there is a plaque in honor of Queen Elizabeth (seemingly the first Queen Elizabeth since there isn’t a II on the plaque) dated 1993?? It is in fact in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, however, since Scotland never recognized Queen Elizabeth I as their queen, to them, Queen Elizabeth is their first Queen, hence no “II” on the plaque…
The one o’clock gun… I already mentioned this bit in the section of Calton Hill, so I won’t drone on it again… However in this section you can see the pictures of the original cannon that was used to mark 1 o’clock, as well as the cannon used today (shoots blanks) to mark 1 o’clock:)
Ugh!! And I’m absolutely going to muck this up… But there was an interesting legend that revolved around St. Margaret… Basically it was a love story… As the tale goes (hoping I recall it right!) St. Margaret (originally from Hungary) was very much in love with her husband and had earned the respect and adoration as a kind Queen from many of the Scottish people. However, there was some fallout with some of the Scottish countrymen over religion… She was of one religion (Protestant???) and they another, and well, you know how those religious disputes tend to end in not so great a light… Anyway, St. Margaret was basically shunned over the religious disputes and it got so bad that she wasn’t able to leave the Castle.
While in the castle she got news that her husband died in battle and was to be buried. Loving her husband as much as she did, she requested that when she died that she be buried along side him. When she did pass away (not long after he died apparently) those still “on her side” wanted to grant her last wish of being buried by her husband, but those against her refused. Her body stayed in the chapel of the castle for three days until some people “for” St. Margaret in the middle of the night, snuck her body out of the chapel and to her husbands gravesite where they buried her. The townspeople “against” St. Margaret heard what had happened and got furious. They went to the gravesite to dig St. Margaret up, but to their astonishment were unable to actually lift her out of the gravesite! Her body had somehow become so heavy they were unable to get her back out! So they had to leave her, despite their best efforts. So as the legend goes, the townspeople were unable to move her body because her love for her husband was too strong, even in death, to allow them to take her away from him. Awww…!!!! 🙂
But seriously people, don’t quote me word-for-word on the above legend as I’m sure some bits aren’t quite correct!! And if any of you happen to hear the legend yourselves, do tell me how it’s supposed to be! Lol!!
While I didn’t take very many guided tours while in Edinburgh (since I was spoiled and fortunate enough to live like a local while being hosted by K&E!!) I did partake in a couple. One of the tours was given by Mercat tours. “Mercat” is the old Edinburgh word for Market. They have a variety of tours available for purchase, including ghost tours, and the one I settled on was “The Secrets of the Royal Mile” which also included a tour of the Edinburgh Castle.
The tour was absolutely splendid!! Our guide (I can’t recall her name though I want to say she was originally from the states… Maybe the Boston area??) was very informative and quite entertaining! She took us all over up and down the Mile, then into the Castle where she told us many stories of the Castle, then left us to explore it at our leisure. Now, again there are quite a few things that I learned about Edinburgh and the Royal Mile during the tour, but I’m conflicted about how much to share about it… So while not giving every little detail away, I will share my favorite bits:)
To start (and this isn’t a huge secret per se as it was pointed out to me by E during our first walk around the Mile) windows… Yes, windows! Looking at the buildings along the Mile, it was quite entertaining to see how many different kinds, types, shapes and sizes of windows were present on a single building!! On one building alone you could find so many varieties of windows that it was almost comedic! And to boot the windows on each floor were not necessarily lined up with one another… The reason for the abundant variety of windows on each building was basically due to how they were built to begin with. You see, if you were poor you lived near the bottom floor, therefore getting a lovely constant scent of the street… More on that later… If you were rich you lived on the top levels where the air was a little fresher and cleaner… Now each building was not built all at one time. They were constructed basically “as needed” one level at a time. If money ran out to complete the construction, well so be it. It wouldn’t be completed! But as money became available again construction would resume. This is why the windows of each level of the buildings were basically different, and why on some buildings there were even differences in the windows within a single level!
Another fun fact: the statues… I’m not sure if this applies to all statues around the world or just specifically in Edinburgh… But anyway, for every statue where there appeared a horse and a human, you could tell something about the human in the statue… If the horse appearing with the human had all 4 feet on the ground, then the human was not a soldier during their life. If the horse had one front leg off the ground then the human with the horse was a soldier but did not die in battle. If the horse had both front legs off the ground (rearing) then the human with the horse was a soldier in life and they did die in battle… After learning that it was quite fun looking around each statue knowing the status of that human during their life!
Speaking of statues… The one built featuring Alexander the Great and his horse has an interesting story behind it… Basically the project was commissioned to a great artist to construct. However, the artist wasn’t paid all the money he was supposed to be paid to do the project. To show his disdain toward being cheated out of his money for the project, he made the whole statue wonderfully with the exception of the horses ears! Instead of giving the horse normal ears, he gave the horse pig ears, lol!! I’d say that was quite a clever way for the artist to show how upset he was at not being paid properly, lol!!
The heart of Edinburgh… You can see it in the pictures below. It is a heart shaped mosaic close to Parliament House. Basically it records the position of the 15th century Old Tolbooth (aka a prison) which was also the site of several executions. The prison has obviously since been demolished, but the heart marks the old entrance to the prison. People to this day spit on the heart to show their dislike of the former prison and the executions that took place there. In fact, just as our guide spoke of it a young man cut his way through our tour to the heart, spat on it and then made his way on down the mile. I seriously thought it was part joke that people spat on it, but it’s obviously quite true to this day!
Gardy Loo!! It’s really beyond me how anyone survived back then past infancy… Between their hygienic (or lack there of) practices and the various plagues that, well, plagued the City, I’ve no idea how anyone survived!! One such example is their toilet habits… Basically in each “house”, since no indoor plumbing existed, they had buckets to do their business into. When the buckets got full they simply emptied them by throwing the contents out onto the streets below… This included on the main streets and into the Closes!!! So literally people were just walking around in piss and shit all day… And what if you were walking in the street or Close when someone went to empty their buckets?? Well, before chucking the contents out the person emptying the bucket would yell out “Gardy Loo” which basically meant “watch out or you will get a ton of shit on your head!!”. If someone was present they would yell back (can’t recall the phrase) for them to hold on while they sought shelter or got out of the way… And that was how it was!! Again, with everyone walking around in human filth all the time, it’s amazing how anyone survived!! Now you may also recall that the poorer people lived on the bottom floors… So they were the ones having to constantly deal with the ongoing scent of human waste and also watch as human wastes were chucked out of windows past their own places during the day… Joy!!!
Oh yea, in addition, because of the design of the old city, what with the Castle being on the peak of an old volcano and everything else sloping into the side valleys or down the Mile, all the waste that was chucked out the window eventually made its way down to the waters in the valley… And where did the people get their drinking water from?? You guessed it… From the same water that human waste was pouring into!! Not to mention they also drowned many a suspected witch in those waters AND any animal wastes or animal corpses, etc were also thrown into the water from which they used as their source of drinking water!!!! Seriously have no idea how anyone survived!!!
That reminds me, I mentioned in an earlier post as well about closes and how each close was named after the activity that took place in the closes. So the FishMarket Close sold fish, the FleshMarket Close sold animal meat, etc. Well another fun bit about how amazing it is that people survived back then: when the meat markets didn’t sell all of their meat, since they didn’t have any means of refrigeration to preserve the meat, they would simply slather on tons and tons of spices (imported from abroad) to hide the scent and fact that the meat was becoming putrid!!! Yuuuummmmyy!!!! NOT!!!
Ok, well while there were many other things about the Mile I could share, I’m going to cap it at those joyously fun stories!! 😉 Enjoy the pictures!
One of the very BEST things about having friends who live in the places you visit is the “behind the scenes” or “only locals know about…” areas!! Since I was fortunate enough to have two fabulous friends living in Edinburgh, I was given quite a few fun tours around the city and surrounding the city!!
I was taken to Leith where the Royal Yacht Britannia is. That is the Yacht that the Queen of England used to travel around in. It has now been decommissioned and is only used as a tour yacht with a restaurant on board as well for those wishing to dine like a queen:) However, the yacht does stay permanently docked. It no longer travels around… In fact, it was due to the cost of fuel to have it sail around that prompted the Prime Minister (I believe it was Blair who did so) to decommission the yacht so that the Queen could no longer use it… His stance was that it was too expensive for the taxpayers to keep up with.
In the bay near the Leith area there is actually a little island that was carved to look like a ship!! This was a tactic used by the Scots to prevent people from coming into the Bay. An approaching ship would try to sneak in, but then see an intimidating ship in the harbor just ahead and turn away… Needless to say, the “ship” was actually quite harmless, but it did it’s job!! Clever Scots!!
Which by the way, I never really realized how many innovators are Scottish! The list literally goes on and on of Scottish inventors!! Among them Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) and Alexander Fleming (discovered penicillin)!! Or maybe it has something to do with Alexander’s…. lol!! Just joking! But seriously the list of Scottish inventors goes on and on… Oh and a little fact to mention about Edinburgh in general, it is world renowned for medical and medicinal advances! A ton of discoveries in the medical field that have created vaccines, medicines, antibiotics, and anesthetics have come from Edinburgh! Quite impressive!
In any event, other areas I was driven to include the neighborhood and buildings that inspired the movie Trainspotting with Ewan McGregor. The area has since been cleaned up a bit, but it was interesting to see nonetheless.
I was driven in style in K’s Porsche over to Queensferry, where a marvel of a bridge from an esthetic and engineering point of view is, then across the bridge to North Queensferry where the Prime Minister has a house. Now there are actually two bridges that go across to Queensferry… One is a car/truck/general vehicle bridge (they are also in the process of building a new one just beside it) that basically looks like a mini golden gate bridge and the other more alluring bridge is the tram bridge! That one is quite impressive from an engineering perspective for sure!!!
I was taken to an area just off the Royal Mile called Grass Market where the Edinburgh Witch Trials took place and it has the spot where the last burning of a witch occurred… and perhaps MOST importantly, I was taken to the most fun hole-in-the-wall pubs in Edinburgh for some much needed pints of beer!!! Yum!!! Which reminds me as well, for those wanting to travel in the UK, probably the BEST deal for food and drink is the WeatherSpoon chains… There are several around Scotland (not sure if they are in England as well) all called WeatherSpoons XYZ, meaning they all have a unique name, but the word “WeatherSpoons” is always in there so you know it’s part of the chain… Anyway, you can get a meal and a pint for like 7 pounds!!! Just Brilliant!!
So, every year in August Scotland has a HUGE celebration known as the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is basically a festival that now stretches just about the entire month of August and it brings together the worlds best talents of musicians and performers from over 46 countries!! One of the performing acts of course is the Royal Edinburgh Military. They play the bagpipes and march in unison and at the very end of the show there is a lone bagpiper who stands at the top of the castle wall. His performance is followed by the shooting of a cannon and then fireworks. Guests from all over the world come to see this celebration, which has been going on since 1950 or so, and plan at least a year in advance in order to get tickets for the event at all!!
Needless to say, despite my description above of what the Royal Military Tattoo is, I never actually was able to see the performance while there, lol!! Alas, the event has been described to me by K&E, and I was able to read a little bit of the history while standing in line waiting (and hoping) that some tickets became available on “the day of” performances. In addition, during one week of the celebration the event was filmed and it is broadcast on TV worldwide so that all can enjoy it. I did catch a snippet of the show when I Was in Glasgow weeks later, but didn’t really see the whole thing.
To be honest, and to my embarrassment, I kinda had a teeny little panic meltdown about seeing the show. Instead of sticking to my usual attitude of “if it’s meant to be it will happen”, after going early and standing in line to get tickets (sometimes people would simply turn their tickets back in for resale due to unforeseen reasons that no longer permitted them to attend) and failing to get tickets yet again, I had a freak out . But thanks to the sound and calming wisdom of E, I was talked off the ledge and what began then was what I’d like to consider the theme of traveling Scotland from then on… “I must leave something to come back for”. And trust me when I say, there is a TON of stuff to go back to Scotland for (and I’m not just saying that because of the numerous yummy men with their sexy accents living there;)) !! A month was simply not enough , but rather is was barely enough to just scratch the surface!!
Just a little bit of interesting history on the word “Tattoo”… Basically, the origins of the word Tattoo go back to the 17th century when British troops were fighting in the Low Countries. At the end of the day the duty officer would go around making sure each post was manned before the sounding of the Last Post. A few drummers would accompany him for this task and if the soldiers were missing from their post, the ritual beating of the drum would ensue basically signaling to the soldiers (who were in town at the local pubs) that it was time to return to their posts or quarters. The Dutch innkeepers would then turn off the liquor taps and say “Time’s up!” or in their language: DOE TEN TAP-TOE, basically meaning no more booze for you! The drummers would continue to drum until all the soldiers made their way back to their posts for the sounding of the Last Post. Eventually Tap-Toe (last call!) evolved into the word Tattoo!
The Fringe Festival
The Fringe Festival… well honestly I’m not sure of the orgins of this festival, but what I do know is it coincides with the Tattoo for about the entire month of August as well! So really, tourists are able to experience two separate festivals in only one month if visiting in August!!
The Fringe Festival is basically a huge collection of artists, musicians, actors, performers, magicians, singers, dancers, etc, etc from all over the world who come and perform all along the Royal Mile for several of the “old town” blocks!! The street is filled from morning till night with tons of performers just every which way you look! It’s quite an amazing experience and honestly could keep one busy all day every day of the festival just checking out each of the performances! People filled the streets handing out cards announcing or rather advertising various shows and where the venue was to take place. Some of the shows were free (aka the ones I attended- but remember “free” is a term for “expected to tip performer at the end!!”) and others were anything from 5-12 pounds a piece.
I ended up attending one solo play about how making good decisions was actually bad for you… sounded interesting but sadly I found it rather dull. The other venue I attended was for the Man of Steal… This was quite a great performance!! Very informative to boot! Basically it’s put on by a professional pick-pocket who works for the police and does these shows to educate the public on how to protect themselves from thieves. I can’t say much more about it than that as we were all sworn to secrecy about the details of the show, so I will stick by that and leave the description at that:)
By far, however the BEST performance I saw on the streets of the Royal Mile during the Fringe was Joel Grainger… I was just coming out of a building after having bought a ticket for a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close and I had about a half hour to kill. I walked on the street and was lured by the sound of a voilin. I love voilin music to begin with, so I walked toward the sound and on a stage erected on the side of the street was Joel Grainger. He was the only musician present, but due to his technique of “live-looping” he was able to play every note of a song LIVE! He played “somebody that I used to know” by Gotye and Pachebel’s Canon in D in all their glory!! I’m not going to be able to describe his technique of live-looping to do him justice, so you are just going to have to check him out for yourself… I know he’s on YouTube, and though I don’t Facebook, I know he is. If any of you are fans of the violin, you MUST check him out!! Google “Joel Grainer Fringe” and you will see one of his performances there from this past festival:)
Though I really wasn’t expecting the Fringe to be going on in addition to the Tattoo, it was quite a welcome surprise! I could spend days on end just going up and down the Mile watching for new acts or collecting thousands of info cards on the various performers. Quite impressive!! Not to mention the tons of kiosks that were set up everywhere in town featuring everything from handmade jewelery to paintings to cashmere items, etc, etc! I highly recommend for all those planning to go to Edinburgh, though it will be a more expensive time of year, make your trip in August!!! And for goodness sake- learn from me and get your Tattoo tickets in advance! Or don’t and just figure it’s something to come back for:)
Sadly, my pictures for this section really lack in what they should have been… I was just too engrossed in watching my surroundings and being present for them to take pictures I guess…Sorry!!
Just a little quick post here on how exactly Edinburgh (and really all of Scotland) was formed as I found this to be quite interesting…
Millions of years ago the landmass that is today Scotland was actually South of the Equator which made the temperatures and terrain tropical!! Needless to say I would have been a happy camper to have lived on Scotland millions of years ago! In any event, as the years went on Scotland migrated to its current position and during the Ice Age was struck by several glaciers quite violently that ended up creating the landscape as you see it today with numerous mountains with jagged peaks. In addition the terrain is also littered with tons of dormant volcanos that died out during the glacier strikes. The city of Edinburgh is in fact literally sitting on top of a dead volcano… Perhaps the correct term is still “dormant” volcano even though there is absolutely zero activity from the volcano.
It is this unique placement of the city that gives it quite a bit of character… The Edinburgh castle sits at the apex or peak of the volcano and the main street, called the Royal Mile, gently slopes down the volcano (about a mile long) to ground level where the Queen’s Palace is. The Queen’s Palace or more correctly Holyrood Palace (aka Palace of Holyroodhouse) is the Queen of England’s official residence in Scotland. Along the Royal Mile from the Castle to Holyrood the street is lined with shops and homes that from the inside perspective only seem 5, 6 or perhaps 7 stories tall. However, from the valley perspective (i.e. standing on the outside of the city looking at it) the buildings seem 10-15 stories all. This is due to the sloping of the land down to the valley and the Scots not wasting any space in how they built things!!
The historic city was once surrounded by a wall that now only has a very small remnant left, and the main city or rather historic part of the city only connected to the valley (where the rest of Edinburgh eventually spread out to) through tons of “closes” which ran from the center (the Royal Mile) down to the valley. “Closes” were so named because they were simply narrow walkways or streets that were “close” together. And each close was named after the activity that occurred there. For example the fish Market close was where you would go to buy fish! Much more on closes later… But for now, at least you (hopefully) have a base idea on how Edinburgh was formed and a visual of how the city is situated:) Oh, and Edinburgh has been recognized as the capital of Scotland since at least the 1500s… Just to give a base idea of how old the city is as well:)
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels