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Edinburgh by Foot

October 21, 2011

Bagpipes, Kilts, and Castles, Oh My!

I begin my walk up the Royal Mile toward Edinburgh Castle. Within a few steps, I see a man playing bagpipes. I continue down the cobblestone streets as I learn to watch for traffic on the left instead of the right. I pass an invisible man reading the newspaper in a doorway. I passed a bronzed statue that came alive from time to time.

When I entered Edinburgh Castle, you see a monument to Wallace on your right and Bruce on your left. Scotland’s independence is due to the efforts of these two men. I continue toward the main gate. The Scottish seal is worked into the stone walls. The greatest part of touring the castle was the number of museums within the castle walls.

After leaving the castle, I walked back down the Royal Mile. I stopped for a light lunch at the Edinburgh Larder. It is a small restaurant that serves sandwiches, quiche, baked goods, and more fresh options. I ordered a sandwich with ham, cheddar, and chutney. The cheddar was a sharp, white cheese. I don’t generally like sharp cheeses, but the sweet, fresh chutney complimented the flavor very nicely. My appetite was not too strong, so I packed half of the sandwich and a second bottle of water for a picnic later in the afternoon.

I continued down the Royal Mile before cutting across to Holyrood. As I neared Arthur’s Seat, I felt a slight fear that I might be taking on too much. But stubborn as I am, I began my hike. The first five minutes were very difficult as the path was not wide enough to stand with both feet together. One had to be placed in front of the other.

After only hiking a few minutes, my efforts were rewarded by great views. I imagined the view only improved more the higher I climbed. And, again, I was rewarded for each step I took. When I reached the grassy hilltop, or cliff depending on how you define Arthur’s Seat, I was able to see all of Old Edinburgh. I could see Edinburgh Castle as well as the Queen’s current castle at Holyrood. I could see the coastline to the east and the hills to the west.

Atop Arthur's Seat

I laid in the grass and relaxed. While the views of the city were magnificent, my eye was consistently drawn to the hills, the grass, the ocean, the sky—all God’s creation, not man’s.

I unwrapped the remainder of my sandwich and enjoyed a picnic before beginning the walk back down the hill. I walked the remaining length of the hill until a found an alternative route back to e main stretch. I wanted to see as much of the country as I could. The route down was much easier and I was impressed by the many who were brave enough and skilled enough to run the gravel trails.

I walked past the entrance to Her Majesty’s Scottish estate, the continued to my hostel. I stopped to watch a young guitar player perform on the street corner, tipping a few coins before moving on. If I stop to see a street entertainer or musicians, I always tip.

I check into my hostel to rest for a few minutes before The Cadies and Witchery Murder and Mystery ghost tour. I meet an Australian, a Canadian, and a Chinese girl. We chat before parting our separate ways for the evening.

I walk back up the Royal Mile. (Just as a side note, the Royal Mile is more than a full mile, so I walked quite a bit in Edinburgh.) I wait outside The Witchery, watching couples dressed for a night out arrive and depart in hired cars.

After fifteen minutes of waiting, our tour guide arrives right on time. The pale ghost and his counterpart introduce themselves and pass out a short ghost storybook to each guest. We begin by walking up to the base of the Edinburgh Tattoo stands where our guide pulls a witch out of the crowd to demonstrate a common method of torture. We cheer him on until the witch confesses her wicked ways. He allows her to go free and continue the tour with the rest of the group.

We walk down a dark alley as we hear about the how the bubonic plague killed half of Edinburgh’s 40,000 residents. Out of nowhere, a woman (perhaps our guide’s assistant dressed as a woman) rush through the group carrying a pail of the filthy waste that caused the deadly disease to spread.

We then continue down another passageway where we hear the tale of two infamous grave robbers William Burke and William Hare. Our ghostly guide tells how the pair first earned money by delivering fresh cadavers who legitimately died for area doctors to practice, then became greedy and began killing the homeless and drunks who lived outside the city. For quite some time, they carefully selected those who would not be missed. One night, however, their victim was a lady of the night. When the victim showed up on the doctor’s table, he immediately recognized her naked body. (Wonder how he might have explained that to his wife.)

The tour continued ending with the gruesome story of how Scotland demonstrated it’s disdain for traitors. After one man was charged with treason, he was sentenced to a three-day execution which consisted of broken bones, a scalding iron crown, and death by the Scottish guillotine, which is not as efficient as the French guillotine and requires several drops of the sharp blade. His body parts where distributed throughout Scotland as a warning to respect the king and his commands.

While the stories were interesting in and of themselves, the entertaining sidekick and the witty humor throughout the walk kept the crowd interested and laughing the whole night.

After the ghost tour ended, I searched for a quick bite. I decided to stop at a busy tavern. The waitress was nice, but the place was crowded, noisy, and not meant for a lone diner. After quickly eating a tuna melt and chips, I returned to the hostel.

Eight women in a tiny room with a separate shower room and bathroom for all of the women in the hostel is not my ideal housing, but I thought I would give it a shot. It was wonderful taking a hot shower and, thanks to two little pills, I got a full eight hours of sleep despite the noisy tavern outside the open window in our room.

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