Edinburgh Day 1

Wednesday 4 July 2018 

First thing this morning we caught the train with Michael and Pam into Edinburgh town centre. It took 10 minutes with one stop into the city.

In Edinburgh we:

  • visited Edinburgh Castle
  • strolled the Royal Mile
  • caught a free bus around the cities major sights
  • visited Writers’ Museum
  • went on a guided tour of The Real Mary Kings Close

Edinburgh Castle is the capital’s most famous sight. We arrived before opening time and joined over a 1000 other people lined up on the street. It is a Historic Scotland site which means it was free for us. The castle dominates the skyline of the city from its position on the Castle Rock. Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD). Research undertaken in 2014 identified 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history, giving it a claim to having been the most besieged place in Great Britain. Just as you walk through the outside gates to the castle is an area where seating has been erected ready for the Edinburgh Royal Tattoo in August.

We hired an audio guide and walked around each of the buildings listening to the commentary which was helpful and insightful. We visited the One O’clock Gun site, where the gun is fired at 1pm every day except Sunday; St Margaret’s Chapel which dates from the early 12th century and is the oldest building in Edinburgh; Mons Meg, the mighty 15th century siege cannon; The Honours of Scotland, where the crown jewels and the historic Stone of Destiny are housed and the Dog Cemetery, where the soldier’s dogs are buried.   The castle is also the site of the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland. Within an hour the castle was full of visitors. It took us all morning to visit the castle.

We left Pam and Michael and strolled along the cobbled stone Royal Mile which runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. The mile is overlooked by impressive, towering tenements between which cobblestone closes (narrow lanes) can be found.

We then caught a Free Bus Tour where the guide pointed out many of the major sites like  St Giles Cathedral, which is  a late 14th -15th century church with its unique crown spire; the ultra-modern Scottish Parliament, a striking building boasting a cutting-edge design; Palace of Holyrood, the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland; National Museum of Scotland, a museum devoted to the history of Scotland and the Sir Walter Scott Monument, a 200 foot monument erected between 1840 and 1846 with carvings of Scott’s literary characters on it. On the tour we climbed up Calton Hill to see the National Monument, which is a memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars modelled upon the Parthenon in Athens but was never finished due to lack of funds; the Nelson Monument, a commemorative tower in honour of Horatio Nelson built in 1807. In 1853 a time ball was added to the top of the tower which was raised and lowered to mark the time for the ships in Edinburgh’s port of Leith and today is operated manually based on the firing of the One O’clock Gun in Edinburgh Castle and the City Observatory which is surrounded by a wall and is being renovated at present. From here the view of the city and the Firth of Forth is majestic.

Next, we visited the Writers’ Museum where three of Scotland’s great writers, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robbie Burns are honoured in the historic seventeenth century Lady Stair’s House. Inside the house in three separate rooms are displays of portraits, artefacts and manuscripts of each of these writers.

The last sight for today was The Real Mary King Close, a historic close named after a merchant who resided on the Close in the 17th century. The close was partially demolished and buried due to the building of the Royal Exchange in the 18th century. The Close consists of many closes which were originally narrow streets with tenement houses on either side, stretching up to eight stories high. The only way you can see this attraction is by a guided one-hour underground tour. We travelled through many rooms listening to the guide explain the history of the tenements and the diseases of The Black and The Bubonic Plagues and other tragic events which occurred here, but it wasn’t until the end of the tour when we walked up the very narrow close that I really understood the history and the lives of the people of this era.

Exhausted, we caught the train back to Newcraighall, caught up with Michael and Pam, and for the second night camped in the Park and Ride.

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