Flying from Dublin to Edinburgh was a little bit of an adventure. After we passed security, it seemed like we walked for miles and miles and then descended down to the bowels of the airport. We soon discovered the reason for this: we had to walk onto the tarmac to board our little airplane. It has been years since since we’ve gotten on an airplane any other way but a jet bridge. Although we traveled with carry on luggage, our suitcases were too heavy, so we had to check them. I think that if you had nothing in your suitcase, it still would be too heavy to carry on Aer Lingus. Remember the summer of ’22, when airlines were losing suitcases everywhere? We watched with some relief as they put our suitcases on the airplane. This picture was taken from our shuttle bus window, so you may see some raindrops and window glare.
At first glance from our city bus window on the ride from the airport, I knew I was going to enjoy exploring Edinburgh. The city has many buildings that are over 500 years old. Still others date back to the 1800’s. Monuments and statues are sprinkled everywhere, and Edinburgh Castle looks down on the city from above. I couldn’t wait to get out and see it all.
In the background of the picture above, the tall grey buildings were tenement buildings when first built. The arched steeple peeking over everything on the back left is the cathedral of St. Giles, on the Royal Mile. We had a tiny studio apartment in a very tall building that looked similar to the one in the front. There were three ways to get into it: from the front of the building off the street, from St. James Close at the top of the Royal Mile, and from Lady Stair’s Close.
The Royal Mile starts at the bluff of Edinburgh Castle. It is the location of the ancient and medieval city of Edinburgh, and as the city grew, it stretched down along a sloping ridge. A close, by definition, is a Scot’s term for “alleyway”, and quite a few lead to picturesque lanes, pretty courtyards, and little pubs or cafes as St James Close does in the picture above. There are many closes leading off the Royal Mile, and as we walked, we peeked into some of them.
Many of the closes had informational plaques. This is Anchor Close, named after Anchor Tavern which was formerly here. The close dates from 1521. Also noted: Smellie’s Printing House which printed Robert Burns’ works and the 1st edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the parents of Sir Walter Scott resided here until 1771. Edinburgh is full of interesting history like that.
Some closes had beautiful entryways:
In 1861, a seven story tenement building in Paisley Close collapsed and 35 people were killed. It was a huge scandal at the time. One little boy, Joseph McIvor, was heard under the debris: “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet!” Now he looks over Paisley Close for the ages.
This water cistern dates to the late 1700’s. The city was having issues in that era delivering enough water to the populace. The water cisterns in the city were only turned on for three hours, starting at midnight, to limit demand. People who could afford it hired caddies to fetch their water so they wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and stand in line!
Bookending the Royal Mile at the bottom is Holyrood Palace, the currrent residence of the British crown.
A quaint looking street, full of character, history and tourist shops that stretches for about a mile, gets more than its share of visitors. Early August is high tourist season; by late afternoon the streets were packed. Cal and I are early risers and had no problem being on the Royal Mile just when the shop owners were beginning to pull their postcard racks out onto the street. All across Europe, we reaped the benefits of being out early. I like uncovering the history of a place, and there’s no better time for that than being out before everyone else is.
A turn off the Royal Mile leads to Victoria Street, pictured at the top of this blog. This beautiful view was at the end of the street, right under the castle.
Gothic St. Giles Cathedral is the parish church of the Church of Scotland on the Royal Mile and was founded in the 12th century. The Scottish reformer John Knox is buried here. When Queen Elizabeth recently passed, her coffin was taken from her castle in Balmoral to Holyrood. From there it passed up the Royal Mile to St. Giles to lie in state for four days.
There is a chapel in St. Giles for the Scottish Order of the Thistle. It is the highest honor in Scotland and those recognized for contributing to public life become knights or ladies. In the chapel, the knights’ stalls for the honorees were based on those in Windsor Castle. Some of the animals appear in the knights’ coat of arms.
Also in St. Giles was an enormous plaque memorializing Robert Louis Stevenson. He was born and raised in Edinburgh, but is buried in Samoa. He was always in very poor health, which is probably why he is shown reclining under a blanket.
Which brings me to the Scottish Writer’s Museum. It is located in Lady Stair’s Close, right behind our apartment. After a couple of days in Edinburgh, I could no longer just walk by, and had to pay a visit to this extremely interesting museum.
Lady Stair, by the way, is not the name of the stairs going up to the close. Rather, it is the name of the fairytale-looking townhouse that was built in 1622 and now houses the museum. It was purchased about a hundred years later by Elizabeth Dundas, Lady Stair, the widow of the 1st Earl of Stair. It had been her grandparents’ house.
A floor was dedicated to each of these three authors: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. A narrow curving stair took me to each level. I’d love to tell you details that I learned about each one, but that would take another blog page. Maybe you’ll just need to visit the museum yourself. It was interesting just to look inside at the architecture of Lady Stair’s house.
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is considered to be part of “Old Town”. Needing to expand a growing city, New Town was built during the Georgian Era, the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s.
Sir Walter Scott’s monument, in New Town, was one of the first things to catch my eye on the day we arrived. It is the second largest monument built in the world honoring a writer. There is a larger-than-life-size statue of Scott inside which is dwarfed by the larger structure.
Why are so many of Edinburgh’s buildings and monuments dark-looking? This goes back to the days when buildings were heated and lighted by fire, and the smoke from coal and peat fires hung over the city. The smoke permeated everything, and gave the city the name of “Auld Reekie” (Old Smokey).
The front of our AirBnb building faced New Town, and down the hill from it was a floral clock built in 1901. This year, the clock was dedicated to the Queen’s 70th Jubilee.
For our last day in Edinburgh, I looked forward to taking a walk I had heard about into the the pretty village of Dean. In the 19th century there were water mills on the river, and the workers lived and worked here. It is now tucked into the neighborhoods northwest of New Town. However, I needed to see a doctor about some minor lingering Covid issues I was having. Reluctantly I booked the appointment for the day of our walk. By happy coincidence, the doctor’s office was right at the top of Dean! We were still able to go.
After leaving Dean village we were treated to a long woodsy walk along the Leith river. If we had turned left instead of right over the river from the doctor’s office, we could have walked even further. There are great walking paths here and it is a relaxing break from being in the city.
By the way, one of the issues I was seeing the doctor about was that I was still occasionally having long coughing bouts. It would happen at the worst times – in a taxi, or on a tour – places where I could not get off into a quiet corner without bothering others. The doctor and I discussed this problem at length and I finally realized it was happening when I was wearing a mask. The mask dried and irritated my still-inflamed passageways. “But why,” she asked, “are you still wearing a mask? You’re no longer positive. You can’t catch it now, because you have natural immunization.” To realize this…happy day! It was the silver lining in the big Covid cloud. From that day, Covid was no longer much of a thought in our minds. We masked only in airports and airplanes, and public transportation where required by law.
Next time – Stories of Edinburgh