Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Scotland and Ireland Day Four - Edinburgh!

The husband and I woke up bright and early on September 6th and then drove over to Edinburgh (which is pronounced Ed-in-bur-ah) We found a park and ride just outside of the airport and caught a bus that dropped us off on Princes street and then we hiked up The Mount to Mound Place. By the time Mound Place turned into Ramsay Lane, I was panting for breath and telling the Husband that I would never follow his lead on a hike or a walk ever again. He has this habit of finding routes that we think are going to be quick, and they are, but they also end up being  really steep and we have to stop every five minutes to catch our breath. Though, honestly, Edinburgh Castle is built on a steep hill, so no matter where you go on the Royal Mile, it's easy to get out of breath even if you are in the best of shape.

Eventually we made it up the hill and headed immediately to the castle only to be greeted by - large bandstands? Apparently, there is a Military Tattoo in August in front of the castle that features dancers, drums and pipers, and we, unfortunately, had just missed it by a few days. 

(Edinburgh Castle)

We purchased headsets to listen to while we wandered around the castle. These gave us tid bits of history at various points of interest, like at David's Tower:

The Tower is underneath the Half Moon Battery, and is left over from the 1300s. Sir William Crichton, the Keeper of Edinburgh Castle, and the Chancellor of Scotland held the 'Black Dinner' here in 1440.  He invited the Earl of Douglas, who was only 16, and his younger brother to visit the castle, threw them a dinner, and then had them beheaded. It was later lost during the Lang Siege and then rediscovered in 1912.

(Looking out from Half Moon Battery)

Our wanderings eventually took us to the exhibit where the Honors of Scotland (aka the Scottish Regalia or the Scottish Crown Jewels) are on display. These consist of the Crown of Scotland, the Scepter of Scotland, and the Sword of Scotland. When the Acts of Union turned England and Scotland in to the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the Honors were locked away in a chest and stored at Edinburgh castle. They remained there until Sir Walter Scott rediscovered them in 1818.

The Stone of Destiny (aka the Stone of Scone) was used during the coronations of Scottish kings up until Edward I stole it and took it to Westminister Abbey. It remained there, a part of the Coronation Chair, until 1996 when it was returned to Scotland where it will remain, on display, until the next coronation.

(A statue of Robert the Bruce being crowned)

(A copy of a picture of the Scottish Crown Jewels from an official source
since you are not allowed to take pictures of them)

There was also an exhibit on prisoners of war at the castle. During the Revolutionary War, Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812, the castle was used as a jail for prisoners taken during battle. The castle currently has a couple of rooms set up to show what life would have been like for POWs at the castle, and they still have some of the doors that are carved with bits of graffiti from the prisoners.

The Great Hall still has its hammerbeam roof from Medieval times. The rest of it was restored during the Victorian period.

(The view from the One O'clock Gun platform)

Once we finished at Edinburgh Castle we went down the street to mill to see how Tartan fabric was produced. 

(Here the warps threads are being set up)

(The looms)

The mill also had a lot of different tartans in various weights and patterns for sale. The Husband was very lucky that I restrained myself, or else we may have walked out of there with a whole lot of fabric and not a lot of money for the rest of the trip!

A Close is a narrow Scottish street (what we in the US would call an alley) Probably the most famous close is Mary Kings Close which was featured on Ghost Hunters International. 

We were greated by a girl in period clothing who took us and several others on a tour of Mary Kings Close and the neighboring closes that were enclosed when the Royal Exchange was built. Back during the 1600s tenement housing on either side of a close could stretch up to seven stories high. As our guide explained, the Scots wanted to save money, so they figured the best way to cut back construction costs was to level off the buildings lining the closes and use those buildings as the foundation for the new Royal Exchange rather than leveling everything and laying a new foundation. As a result, many of the buildings are left exactly as they were. There are rooms with Victorian wallpaper and others with decorations from the 1600s. It was pretty awe inspiring to be standing in a room where people from the renaissance era lived and worked.

However, back before the Royal Exchange was built, the plague hit Edinburgh. Mary King's close was hit pretty hard, and it was eventually partially abandoned because it was considered bad luck to live there. At some point, people did move back in and claimed that it was haunted. There is one little girl who psychics have encountered that the tour guides at the close think was abandoned by her family because she had caught the plague. Now, whenever people visit they leave toys for her. Since the Husband and I believe in the paranormal, in fact, we've both had a few run ins with spirits, we made sure to leave some donations for her.

When we emerged from our tour we discovered that it had started to rain:

(A brave brave man)

So we took refuge in St Giles Cathedral - which has some of the most beautiful and detailed stained glass that I have ever seen.

Afterwards we stopped for dinner at a fish and chips place that turned out not so great. Then we wandered down the Royal Mile some more before finally coming back to Mercat Cross outside of St Giles to meet up with the Ghost Tour that we had signed up for earlier in the afternoon. We were met by a soft spoken woman named Linda who chatted with everyone on the tour before speaking a bit about Mercat Cross and forms of punishment back in the old days, and people who had been punished there. Then she told us about the history of hanging people; way back when people just to stand on box, be strung up, and then have the box kicked out from under them. Since the fall was usually so short, and just enough so that their feet wouldn't touch the ground, people wouldn't die right away. In fact, it could sometimes take several moments for them to strangle to death. Then someone invented the method that we now today where a trap door opens, and the person is killed from a broken neck, which rose in popularity because it was more humane. However, Linda told us about a time when the faster method backfired, and the person didn't die immediately. The crowd actually rioted and stole the body because they felt that the man had suffered enough. But then the authorities got the body back and hung the man again. Supposedly, if you are walking by St Giles on a certain day in December (I can't remember the exact one) you will see the man who was hung hanging out by the area where the gallows was. 

From there she took us across the street to a close where she told us a story about a man who wanted a divorce back during the Renaissance. Now divorces were pretty unheard of back then, however, the judge agreed to it, but told the man that he would have to make payments to his wife and children to support them. The man didn't agree with the judge's decision and shot him. He then had his hand cut off, and he was executed (I told you punishments were rough back then, didn't I?) but then his body disappeared. 

For awhile afterwards, if you wandered down the closes at night, you could hear the man stalking you, just like he had stalked that judge before killing him. Then, one day, the sightings abruptly stopped. Out in the countryside, a family was redoing their house, and when they were replacing some of the stones in the fireplace, they found the skeleton of a man who was missing an arm. People back then were very superstitious and believed that if you weren't buried in consecrated ground your spirit would wander. So the rumor is the man's ex-wife had taken his body down from the gallows, and buried him under her fireplace, to keep him from reaching the afterlife after everything he had done. The hauntings have stopped now that he's buried in some cemetery now after all these years.

Linda then led us down to the Edinburgh vaults. Back when the South Bridge was built, the designers included  several rooms underneath the bridge for shop keepers to use for storage and work shops. However the rooms weren't exactly water tight, so they would leak, and over the years the shop keepers stopped using them. That's when the illegal activity started moving in. For awhile there were several opium dens, brothels, and pubs that took up residence in the vaults. The poor, who couldn't afford proper housing, also started squatting in some of the rooms, and other vaults were used to store illicit items. Burke and Hare may have even used the vaults to store the dead bodies of their victims before selling them to medical schools.

Just like Mary King's Close, supposedly the Edinburgh Vaults are also haunted. They've been featured on several TV shows, though, personally, my favorite is when the Ghost Adventures paid them a visit. Our guide encouraged us to take photos, saying that the company she works for has a book full of pictures from tours with orbs and other manifestations. (There is a lot of dust in the vaults though, so I question the validity of the orb photos.) Here is where our soft spoken guide stopped being so soft spoken (maybe because we were underground where no one could hear us). During some of the stories she told while we wandered around the vaults she would scream or shout if the story called for it. And man, did she have some lungs on her! 

(See that orb on the husband's hand? Clearly a result of dust)

In the picture above is a door towards the top of the wall. A malevolent spirit with stringy hair will sometimes make an appearance there. Another room is haunted by a lady of the evening who was hung for defending one of the girls in her brothel. And last, but not least, is a little boy who can sometimes been seen playing or wandering around. Sadly, none of the spirits decided to show themselves, though there were plenty of shadow figures popping up here and there. 

(Shelves were shop keepers would store casks of wine and other booze)

When the tour ended, those of us who had bought upgraded tickets were escorted into an underground bar where we were given a drink and Linda told us more stories. Many of which I can't remember as they were just that, stories, and pretty basic ones that I'd heard as a kid. Afterwards we were lead back up to the street above. 

The Husband and I walked back down to Princes Street (though this time we made sure to take the less steep route) The Edinburgh Bus system is easier to understand than the Dublin bus system, so we were able to catch the correct bus that took us straight to where we had parked our car. Then we drove back to the hotel and quickly passed out in our bed. 

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