Tag Archives: Royal Mile

The Castle Is Just Up The Street

19 Dec

Day 16

We were up before it was light to get on the road to Shannon. Mary was as good as her word and there were fruit and drinks in the refrigerator in a sack with our names on it. We were definitely going to miss Friar’s Glenn.

It was about a 2 ½ hour drive from Killarney Town to the Shannon airport. We had the road largely to ourselves at that hour. The N21 was mostly a two lane road through endless green pastures with the occasional village and roundabout as we sped on toward the airport. We had a tense moment or two looking for an open gasoline station before 7AM on a Sunday in Ireland but did finally make it to the one closest the airport that was likely only open for the rental car refueling trade. Because I always leave a hefty buffer in the schedule in case something goes wrong we were at the airport well ahead of the counter staff. I managed an a la carte breakfast with the very last of our Euros and ate at one of the tables on the upper level of the terminal decorated with the works of Irish poets. We checked our bags once the ticketing counter opened and, dodging fuel trucks and baggage carts, made our way out onto the tarmac to board a little turbo-prop commuter for Scotland.

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You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.

With apologies to Louis C. K., these are not our favorite planes. They are bumpy, slow, and incredibly loud. Add in the duty-free pitch and it’s very much like riding a city bus with someone trying to sell you perfume and whiskey the whole time.

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We overflew several peat-cutting operations. I cannot remember where I read the phrase but it has been lodged in my brain for years that “The children of Ireland burn her very body to survive.” Unfortunately my pictures of them were a wee blurry with engine vibration.

We landed at the Edinburgh Airport and walked the 27 miles from baggage claim to the taxi stand. We took what I will always consider a “London” taxi to our bed & breakfast, the Hanover House in Windsor Street. Our innkeeper was Jasmin. She was incredibly sweet but always seemed just a little overwhelmed. Due to a booking snafu we ended up in a triple room that was absolutely freezing. Jasmin provided a space heater to get the chill off and after dumping our bags we set out.

Memory is a funny thing. I’d spent several days in Edinburgh in the late 80’s and I talked the city up to Julia for years. One of the things I mentioned most often was the city’s compactness. I described to her a city center that is really just two streets wide (Queen Street and Princes Street, which I’d always confused with High Street and the Royal Mile) where everyplace is just a 5-minute walk from everyplace else. A European city one can navigate like a village. At least that’s how it lived in my mind in the little box labeled “Weekend in Edinburgh, April 1989.”

Not so much.

I’m not positive just what happened to my memories of Edinburgh, but near as I can tell, in order to clear up space in my head I long ago jettisoned all those memories having to do with walking anywhere. In my mind’s eye I stood on Calton Hill and but a step or two took me to the Scott Monument. I turned left and in a few paces stood on the Royal Mile, where the Camera Obscura sat next door to Edinburgh Castle. In my head I somehow managed to traverse the city in much the same way that we today navigate Google Maps on Streetview.

All of this was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

It was about 15 minutes from our hotel to the Princes Street shops above the train station. This is where Julia had a full-blown meltdown. If you don’t know my wife, that’s a shame because you would immediately understand how incredibly rare it is that something like that happens. She’d had the snacks Mary provided hours before, whereas I’d eaten a full Irish at the airport. We were now on completely different meal schedules and I was blithely charging ahead with seeing the sights of the city, assuring her that everything I’d talked about for years was just around the block. When it continued to not be just around the block she eventually lost her temper. She said she needed a bite and asked that we stop for something to eat. I said sure and then insisted we push on to a “Local” place.

We had some ugly words on a sidewalk outside the train station, and then we landed up in the food court having a croissant and a bottle of soda.

Pro Tip: The second polite request from your wife is actually an order. Heed it.

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Fleshmarket Close

After a small snack to stave off impending doom we left the station via Market Street. From there we made our way up the Fleshmarket Close to the Halfway House for an actual lunch.

A Close is an alleyway between blocks of flats along the Royal Mile. They carry various names:

Cooper’s Close

Bakehouse Close

Paisley Close (More about this in my next post)

World’s End Close

Advocate’s Close

Wikipedia lists more than 80 named Closes, Courts, and Wynds along the Royal Mile.

The Half Way House at 24 Fleshmarket Close was cozy and toasty and we had fish & chips and soup and cider and were much the better for it. It’s billed as “Edinburgh’s Smallest and Friendliest Pub” and takes its name from its position half way up the Close. There’s been a pub on the site for centuries, at least since the Close was the location of Edinburgh’s slaughterhouses (Hence “Fleshmarket” Close) in the 1700’s. Halfway House was previously Bennet’s and then the Suburban Bar. It was named pub of the year in 2009. After sustenance more substantial than station food court fare we stepped back out into the Close.

As a woman at the bar had put it moments earlier, it had “Gone cold.” We’d left the sun and clear skies of Kerry behind and it had been cloudy and cool since we’d landed in Scotland, While we were inside the Half Way House the temperature had plummeted and it was now a good bit below 32 F. I’d expected a rainy day, not a freezing one, and so had zipped the liner out of my raincoat. Normally in my role as an “Over-prepared American” I’d have put the liner in the bottom of my bag but for some reason I neglected to do so. I didn’t even have my gloves.

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Edinburgh Castle

We walked up Cockburn to the High Street, stopping in shops along the way more for warmth than a desire for souvenirs. As we approached the castle we took a turning down Upper Bow Street. At least, we think so. We found ourselves eventually on a lane with a view of Edinburgh Castle that I’ve not been able to duplicate. We worked our way through shops that looked interesting (Or heated) and eventually found ourselves at the gates of Greyfriars.

Most people think of Greyfriars as a cemetery. The Greyfriars Kirkyard surrounds the Greyfriars Kirk and the main entrance is off Candlemakers Row at the south end of the George IV Bridge. The site was originally a Fransican friary and was named for the “Grey Friars.” The friary was dissolved in 1559 and the church founded in 1561. The church and kirkyard figure in the history of the Covenanters, with the National Covenant being signed on the site in 1638. After the defeat of the Covenanters in 1679 more than a thousand of them were imprisoned in a yard just to the south that was incorporated into the kirkyard in the 18th century. Greyfriars Kirk is still an active church.

We love visiting cemeteries. Greyfriars is amazing. A number of famous figures are buried within the yard. Many of the monuments feature incredible relief sculptures and several are set into the back walls of the surrounding buildings. There are also 2 surviving mortsafes.E (6) A mortsafe was a steel cage set low to the ground to discourage grave robbing for dissection in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Families could lease the safes until the bodies of their loved ones had decomposed sufficiently to be of no interest to a “Ressurectionist” (A for-profit body snatcher who supplied corpses to the medical college). E (7)We wandered through the yard and marveled at the massive monuments and the few obvious mass-produced pieces that served as examples of what was popular in the world of grave goods two hundred years ago. Then we stopped to pay our respects to Greyfriars’ most widely famous internee. People who don’t know Greyfriars’ history, or even where it is, do know one of the very best of man’s best friends, Greyfriars Bobby.

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The monument to Greyfriars Bobby

The most popular version of the story runs thus….. one John Gray of Edinburgh died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. His dog, a Skye Terrier named Bobby stood watch at his grave for the next fourteen years. He eventually died and was buried next to his master.

At least some of this is true. There were 2 John Grays, one a farmer and another a night watchman. The consensus is that Bobby was owned by John Gray the night watchmen even though the closest thing to a contemporary journalistically rigorous account says Bobby’s master was John Gray the farmer. Bobby lived an awful long time, leading some to posit that there were 2 Bobbies (He became a tourist attraction within his lifetime, so is it too much of a stretch to believe local business owners might not have supplied a younger Bobby to meet visitors’ expectations?). Some even question Bobby’s loyalty, pointing out that dogs in graveyards were common in the 19th century, and that they remained not to be near their dead masters but because they were fed by mourners. There are dozens of documented stories very similar to Bobby’s all across Europe. Who knows? It’s a nice story that reinforces what we choose to feel about dogs.

E (5)Upon his death in 1872 Bobby was buried just inside the south gate. A local baroness commissioned a monument to Bobby with a sculpture by William Brodie. The monument was unveiled the year following Bobby’s death. After falling into disrepair (And being hit by a car in 1984), the monument was restored in 1985 and still stands just outside the gate. A red granite headstone was erected on Bobby’s grave in 1981 by The Dog Aid Society of Scotland. Many visitors leave dog toys and sticks.

After leaving the kirkyard we wandered slowly back toward our bed & breakfast. We warmed up for a bit and then had dinner at the Theatre Royal bar. The inside of the bar is stunning, and I would show you pictures if I had any. Alas, it was dark and I was blurry. Well, the pictures are blurry anyway. You can see photos and check out the menu at their website.

Next up, the Queen of England’s summer digs, the Royal Mile, and Edinburgh Castle!

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

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