Josselyn and I arrived into Edinburg late Friday night. During all of our previous explorations that the two of us have gone out, I’d been in charge of knowing where we were going and how to get there as due to the extensive time I’ve spent navigating strange cities as well as my old home of New York I’ve gained a internal compass, a strong sense of direction and a keen location memory. This trip however, Josselyn was determined to prove herself equally capable and prior to our departure from Barcelona researched the directions to the hotels we would be staying at and writing down the addresses of those we wanted to visit afterwards so she could get GPS directions as need be. After checking in we were hungry and wandered nearby to get some food. The streets were mostly empty except for the people making their way out of the closing bars and all the restaurants we walked past were closed except for a late night kebab and fried fish shop with walls plastered with club promotions for New Years parties and concert venue announcements. I ordered the typical British dish of fish minus the chips, add lettuce and a tomato topped with a garlic sauce on a bun, making it a delicious sandwich, and Josselyn ordered a veggie burger. We ate this inside while drunk-people of varying ages, speech capabilities and levels of aggression came in and out to get food and pass the time by harassing the workers for speaking English with an immigrants intonation and grammar.
The next day we woke up early to go on a tour of the midlands with Hairy Coo tours. We met at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, named after the infamous historical person for whom Robert Louis Stevenson found the inspiration to write Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and from there were given a fantastic tour by Donald. The already beautiful scenery and human constructions was made richer by his knowledge of Scottish social and geographic history. His self-effacing humor was even able to turn the most grave and tragic of historical stories into lighthearted moments. We first stopped first at the largest metal bridge, made to showcase the financial power of the burgeoning Scottish bourgeoisie. Following this we went to several others stops, including one of Scotland’s William Wallace monument. Here Donald went into the historical details about the real William Wallace, who was the son of a wealthy lowland aristocrat and not a dirty highland nobody as depicted in Braveheart.
Following this we stopped by two castles, one of which that was used in the Monty Python film “The Holy Grail”. Outside of the connection to the film, the castle had nothing particularly special about it, though Josselyn and I did have fun while walking around the castle and banging together a pair of coconuts. The most beautiful part of the tour for me was the various Trossachs lochs that we stopped by and drove past. One particular loch is famous for being the setting of Sir Walter Scott’s poem The Lady of the Lake and it is understandable why this is so – it’s breathtakingly gorgeous. This particular region is widely associated with the faerie folk and has connected to it the story of a priest who apparently started to learn and talk too much about them and so was spirited away by them. While the story is false, it is true that this region is unlike anything that I’ve seen in Western Europe before. Donald explained that the reason for Scotland’s geographical peculiarity stems from that fact that it was once a separate volcanic island with a geological history vastly different from that of England so as they collided with each other it formed a large number of distinct attributes.
As Donald spoke about Scottish tourism and its relation to the Romantic literary movement in Britain he explained that it was originally conceived of as a pleasure formulated to counterbalance the anxiety ridden daily life during the nascent days of industrial in England. Anyone familiar with William Blake’s famous descriptions of black churches or any of the Romantic writers of the late 18th century who were a witness to these changes in the capital intensity of manufacturing can understand why visiting an area of nature untouched by capitalism would be appealing. As someone that has extensively read the British Romantics, and indeed was named after Percy Bysshe Shelley, I was thrilled to be here. Though there is clear evidence that market considerations and operations are existent in the countryside, the wilderness still appears to be mostly left to the developments of nature and in the villages most of the businesses are locally owned, operated and seem only concerned with continuing to exist as they are. During a break at one of these little towns, Josselyn and I had lunch at a restaurant wholly stocked by locally grown produce and fishers. Josselyn’s squid was delicious and the halibut that I had was by far the best I’d ever eaten. Our last stop was to see a hairy coo, which means hairy cow in American or British English. The cow-like animals that were once a sign of wealth in the region in the same way camels still are in parts of Egypt. As we drove back, Donald recounted several humorous stories about his life and played music by The Pretenders.
After we got back to the city we walked aimlessly for a bit. Josselyn and I were both hungry and when we get like this we have trouble making decisions on what to do. We eventually decided to get something to nosh on at “The Last Drop” pub, so named for it’s being next to the former site of the Grassmarket gallows, before going on a ghost tour. Tradition and storytelling ghost tours define the old city of Edinburg in a way that I’ve not seen in other places. Guided narratives which recount place-location history is typical, but in Edinburg I noticed that more so than in any other place I’ve been many companies rely less upon important historical occurrences than upon old stories of for-profit killing (Burke and Hare), the unusual (Deacon Brody), revenge or the grotesque (Half-Hanged Maggie) to provide anecdotes for those wishing to get insight into where they are visiting. This is not to say that there are not those tours available, but a brief walk down Royal Mile and you’ll see the posters for several different guided ghost tours. One of the reasons for this stems from the amount of medieval and mid-gothic architecture that compose the old city and the proximity of protected cemeteries which give it a spooky vibe. After having visited Edinburg and Porto, Portugal I understand why J. K. Rowling describes Hogwarts and the magical world architecture of Harry Potter as she does. The city does get very creepy at night and a wrong turn can literally take you from a semi-modern street to something that feels is in the 16th century. Regardless, after this rather uninspired twenty-minute “tour”, we walked around the downtown area for a bit, popping in and out of places like the Three Graces and The Hive before returning to the hotel.
In the morning we woke early to make sure that we were able to connect with yet another Sandeman’s walking tour. We got breakfast in a café within sight of the meeting point and met an American from California who, like myself, had recently completed their Masters degree and was now working abroad with their significant other.
We went a graveyard where Scottish patriots were tortured to death. The site, called the Poltergeist, is supposed to be one of the most documented haunting sites ever and is interesting to unbelievers like myself as it shows the horrible cruelties inflicted upon patriots and thinkers ahead of their time.
Visible from inside the graveyard is the school which is supposed to have inspired the description of Hogwarts as well as several dead people whose name is the same or very similar to those found in Harry Potter. I mention Harry Potter because, of course, this is the city that Rowling wrote some of her first books. Following the cemetery we passed the café wherein she wrote her first book and at the close of the tour the guide presented us with a history of Scottish nationalism in relation to the rock upon which early kings were crowned.
After the tour we walked into the National Gallery. It was small, but free and had several good paintings and comfortable seating so we could rest for a bit before going on the last tour of the day. In fact it was here that I’ve seen one of the few 19th century portraits of an attractive aristocratic young woman. Seeing it immediately made me recall how the Vikings used to take most attractive women they found on raids as war brides and how in Scottish writer Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting, Sick Boy says that the only attractive women in Scotland are tourists. I realize that this sounds weird as I write this – but it made sense at the time. We continued to look around the museum for a while then went to the Canonsgate Kirkyard as I wanted to see the grave of Adam Smith. It was a good idea, however due night falling in Edinburg around 4pm here we weren’t able to find it. We looked around for quite a while then went back to the area around the statue of Adam Smith on Royal Mile to get food before going on a Underground and Ghost Story tour with Mercat Tours.
Our guide took us around to various parts of the city around Royal Mile telling us of the various crimes, punishments and strange happenings that occurred in the place we were standing on at that moment. In narratives that reminded me very much of the opening of Foucault’s “Crime and Punishment” and several of the scenes in Peter Linebaugh’s “The London Hanged”, our guide detailed what would happen to the body of the condemned following the courts verdict of guilt. The storytelling was engaging and we ended our tour up by entering an old underground cellar and work area that was abandoned with the development of the new city and is of course now “possessed” by various ghosts. I don’t believe in ghosts, but as Josselyn does she was rather frightened. Knowing this I furtively threw a small rock in the room our guide claimed was possessed by a little boy. This evoked a scream from her and a series of apologies after she realized that she was the only person scared by the sound. Following this we went to a live Rhythm and Blues bar to watch a live performance and then to a Latin club to go dancing.
Despite the long night we had we woke up early the next day to visit several places that had we’d chosen beforehand. We got on the bus early in order to go to Gilmerton, a small town about 35 minutes from Edinburg. Josselyn found a cove there that was supposedly a must view when in Edinburg, however the doors were locked when we got there. We waited a few minutes and knocked heartily, but no one came. After this we went back to the city and started walking our way up to the Castle.
We went into the Writer’s Museum, which had special displays for Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Raleigh. While I find the development of literature and the historical novel to be interesting – hence my appreciation of Lukacs – and the scandalous and peculiar lives of creatives to be intriguing – hence my love of Henry Miller – the actual desiderata of their daily lives makes for poor presentation in a museum as in such a setting they appear so dull and ordinary. While there was pipes which originally belonged to the authors, locks of hair, pens, and other trinkets the more interesting aspects about their personal lives cannot be sufficiently displayed as writers be definition achieve their fame by making something intended for reading and a place wherein books are available to study about a person in depth is not a museum but a library.
After snacking we took a bus a little outside the Old Town in order to hike up Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic rock formation adjacent to the Queen’s Palace at the end of Royal Mile. There was no seat on top and the site has nothing to do with King Arthur, however there was a beautiful view of Edinburg well worth the effort it takes to climb up. After this we viewed the Queen’s Palace and then returned to the hotel to pick up our stuff and catch our flight to Stockholm.