Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life above and below

Today we ventured back into the centre of Edinburgh and back on the busses and back to the Royal Mile. We particularly wanted to do a walking tour that takes you deep into the former streets under the Old Town.

The day was light and bright and as we alighted from our bus Michael went to get a photo of Scott's Memorial that showed him sitting under the tower - we had got plenty os the statue and plenty of the tower, but no really clear ones of the statue and the tower! On the corner of Princes Street and Waverly Bridge there was a Piper was playing as they have each day we have come in. Today we ask for a photo and he obliges. A bit of a chat and then he wrenches my heartstrings with a hearty "Well, here is one for you" and launched into a magnificent rendition of Advance Australia Fair. I have to tell you - it well and truly bought tears to my eyes. Aaah bugger, I was so choked up I did not even get the Piper's name.

So back on to the old style Mac Bus to the Old Town. As we alighted we were across the road from Gladstone's Land - a museum that recreates a merchant's dwelling from the 17th century. Each room was staffed by a member of the National Trust of Scotland who was able to fill us in on all the littlest bits of information. The building was earmarked for demolition when it had fallen into disrepair and used by squatters in the 1980s and was rescued when a piece of falling plaster revealed beautiful ceiling painting. Now for Hels in particular, here (nearly) endeth todays history lesson!

Just down from Gladstone's Land there is the pedestrianised section of the Royal Mile (High Street) on which sits St Giles Cathedral which is really a High Kirk (Church) as the Presbyterian Church in Scotland does not have bishops and therefore technically can't have cathedrals! This church dates back to the 1120s. It is a beautiful church and proudly displays its links to the Knights of the Thistle, Scotland's order of chivalry.

Then it was off to Mary King's Close. This character walk takes you into a subterranean world of streets that once opened on to High Street on the Royal Mile that were then covered over with the construction of the Royal Exchange. The Closes are a series of small streets that connected the upper streets of the Old Town with the Nor' Loch (North Lake) down at the bottom of the slope. They were narrow and crowded in a time when there was no sanitation or plumbing. And the slope was about 50% ! We can verify this as we walked back up it after climbing down countless steps today! This slope meant that buildings on the High Street were often 3 stories high and at the bottom of the close, they were up to 8 stories high with roof levels the same - yes, you climb 5 stories in that short block. These buildings were used as foundations when the Royal Exchange was built, with the tops of the building just lopped off.

Our guide The Foul Clenger (aka Paul) took us through the warren of rooms and passageways, of cellars and cow dungeons that previously housed families, where merchants traded, where the detrius of life and death played out - murders and plagues and executions and the nightly toss of the day's waste out the windows on the last toll of the 10 pm bell from St Giles. Can you imagine - kitchen slop, toilet buckets - ugh! It sat in the street until 7 the next morning at which time what had not been eaten by the pigs would be swept down to the Loch! And the pigs were later slaughtered for eating?! Yuk. It was a fascinating trip down the lane.

One of the asides was that we were given some insight into the origins of everyday sayings:

  • Daylight Robbery - if a window had more than 9 small panes of glass then the building owner was taxed
  • Going to see the 'Quack' relates to the beaked mask worn by the 'doctors' who lanced the pustules of the bubonic plague victims
  • Saved by the Bell - following evidence that some people were buried alive by over zealous Foul Clengers who were charged with buryin the dead of the Plague, a small bell attached to a string in the coffin was staked above ground allowed for those who woke from a coma (or a knock on the head!) in a coffin in the ground to alert those above.

We could not take photos during the tour and although they took a promotional one, it was not good enough to make us want to buy it. But we will always have the pictures of or visit in our heads!

Once finished, we hurried back to get one of the last busses back in to town where we boarded a government bus back to our unit. We went out for dinner tonight to the local Frankie and Bennys where we had large meals, our first since breakfast. Michael had a Sirloin Steak with Tiger Prawns and I had a double BBQ Cheeseburger that was huge. The meal was all the better for us being served by the bubbly and very friendly Jay. She is a huge asset to that restaurant and we hope they know how efficient and welcoming she is.

Tomorrow we leave Edinburgh, but not before we do one more tour that will enlighten us on the activities of the bodysnatchers!

1 comment:

Allyson Rhodes said...

Hey you two, Thanks for bringing back such wonderful memories of our time in Edinburgh although 10 years ago - it is still very fresh in our minds. Thanks for the very entertaining blog it brightens my day and gets me through the monotony of work. Love and hugs to you both Take care and will catch up on skype really soon.
Allyson & Leith