Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation

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Day 11: Edinburgh
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Sunny with a high of 22°C

Day 11: Friday, September 15, 2006     Edinburgh, Scotland

Old Town on Foot

We spent our second day in Edinburgh seeing Old Town on foot.  The morning was cool as we walked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle

We both wore sweatshirts and were glad we did.  We had planned on not buying a bunch of souvenirs of our trip – mostly because we had no room in our luggage after packing for a two-month vacation.  However, as we were walking toward the Castle, one of the shops had a sidewalk sale and they had a rack of blue fleece shorts with Scotland written on them for 99 pence.  This was such a bargain that I couldn’t pass them up.  I bought them and put them on over my regular walking shorts. 

Ken and his new
shorts on the
Royal Mile

We spent the morning at the Castle.   We started with a free guided tour which involved much uphill walking to get to the very top.  Edinburgh Castle is simply magnificent. It occupies the summit of an ancient plug of volcanic rock towering 260ft or 80m above the city it dominates, and is visible for tens of miles in every direction. No fairytale castle, this is the real thing, an uncompromisingly defensive structure that seems to grow organically out of the living rock beneath it. Over the centuries Edinburgh Castle has been continuously adapted to meet the military needs of the day.

Kathryn at the gate to Edinburgh Castle

And over the centuries its strength has been tested on no fewer than thirteen occasions, successfully or unsuccessfully, by siege or by stealth. Edinburgh Castle is a large and complex structure.  The Royal Apartments include a tiny room in which Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to the boy who was to become King James VI of Scotland and James 1 of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603. The ancient Honours of Scotland - the Crown, the Sceptre and the Sword of State - are on view in the Crown Room.  Nearby is the Scottish National War

Memorial, a building designed and created shortly after the First World War; we found this a moving experience.  

Edinburgh Castle is also the home of the One O'Clock Gun. This is fired every day except Sunday at precisely 1.00pm to provide everyone with an accurate check for their clocks and watches. It will certainly startle you if you are anywhere near the Castle at that moment!  At the same time a ball at the top of the nearby Nelson’s monument also drops.

The Castle Esplanade is the venue of the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the annual

Turn volume up.  Hit play

occasion on which, over a period of three weeks in August, the Army presents a lively programme of music, marching and historical re-enactments under floodlights before large and appreciative audiences. The oldest building in all Edinburgh is to be found within the Castle precincts. It is St. Margaret's Chapel, a tiny Norman building which has been standing there intact for more than 900 years. It has survived all the sieges and bombardments to which the fortress on the rock was subjected during that period. On several occasions the castle was razed - but the demolishers invariably spared the chapel of the good St Margaret because of its religious significance. Today, members of the castle garrison still have the right to be married within the Chapel. To the north, between the Castle and the Firth of Forth, we got our first glimpse of Edinburgh's New Town.

This is a panoramic view of four individual photos, looking north and west towards New Town from Edinburgh Castle.  The Firth of Fourth is at the top.  The main street running across below the castle is Princes Street.  Click on the photo - the large picture is clear.  It is a large photo - you may have to scroll right.

By the time we walked back down the Royal Mile, it had warmed up considerably so we dropped our sweatshirts at the hotel.  We stopped for lunch at the Advocate and then walked around Old Town, basically traveling on the same streets that I had driven on the day before.  Today, with bright sunshine and a map, it was easy to see where we were going.  We spent some time in the Edinburgh Museum which gave us a history of the city.  Old Town was pretty much defined by its geography as I mentioned in yesterday’s page.  Nearly 25,000 people used to live in this small area in the 1700s with people of all classes living together. The buildings on the Royal Mile were inhabited by rich and commoners alike until the development of the New Town began. The Old Town was then left with an ever growing population of poor and knew its worse time of decay and disease.  Many of the buildings on the Royal Mile are hundreds of years old and are Europe's original skyscrapers. The overcrowding in the limited space of the Old Town led to buildings being expanded upwards. That's how medieval Edinburgh got its first 6-7 storey high buildings. With them closely built together, it is said that people on the upper floors could reach out and shake hands.  The lower floors would be inhabited by merchants who had their own shops, at the very top floor you would find the poorest of Edinburgh and in between you would find the middle class, lawyers, doctors, etc.  Narrow alleyways (called closes or wynds), often no more than a few feet wide, lead downhill on either side of the main spine of the Royal Mile in a herringbone pattern.  We purchased, bread, fruit, meat, etc. for dinner in our room and went to bed early for our long drive the next day.

Left: looking up the Close from Market Street to Cockburn Street


Right: looking back down the same Close from Cockburn Street to Market Street.  There is also a little side Wynd off to the right half-way down.


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