Thursday, June 18, 2009
Ian Rankin fans will remember that in the novel Mortal Causes a body is found in Mary King's Close and John Rebus has to go down under the city to investigate the murder.
Mary Kings Close is in a section of the city, built over and long forgotten and under the City Chambers.
Ian Rankin said he had gone on a tour through these long forgotten narrow passageways and houses and was struck with the idea of a body being found there. It is after all, a pretty creepy place.
In the 1600's the this area was full of narrow streets running down the steep side of the hill from Edinburgh's main street, the Royal Mile. It was a maze of tenements some seven stories high. People lived in very close quarters along with their livestock. There was no sewage system, people lived crammed into small rooms used a bucket which was dumped into the street and everything ran down hill to a putrid lake at the bottom where, from time to time, they drowned witches.
In 1645 the plague hit Edinburgh, probably brought from Europe by rats on ships docking in Leith. The plague spread through these crowded quarters like a wild fire. In 18 months it had killed a substantial part of Scotland's population.
Mary King's Close is now a tourist attraction. Interesting and kind of fun, in a macabre sort of way even if the guides probably play a bit loose and free with historical fact
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Coming back to our apartment last night we stopped in to Sandy Bell's Pub on our corner for one last drink. I am always surprised at how small some of these pubs are. This one is long and narrow with not much more that seven feet between the bar and the wall. It was the kind of bar where the regulars rolled their own and went outside for a puff.
As the evening went on,more and more people came in and then, in the corner, at a table reserved for musicians a fiddle player, a guy on guitar and another on harmonica started to play. As the evening wore on they were joined by a mandolin player, a guy on spoons and a woman with an amazing voice who sung the occasional ballad. They played all night with hardly a break, customers harmonizing along with the old traditional Scottish tunes.
t was like a slice from the past. Quite an experience. Needless to say it turned into more than a nightcap and I did drink too many McEwan's and whiskeys but, it was great.
There is no question that when traveling in the UK, staying in self-catering units like this one is the best option by far. We did this last year when we were in Cornwall and York and it sure works for us. You can get up when you want, make coffee, have a slow breakfast then face the day.
There seem to be quite a few units available for rent in Edinburgh. We people we decided to rent from have some very nice, centrally located units. When we were first here we stayed on Jeffrey Street, about three doors down from the Royal Mile and a short walk from the Airport bus or the rain station. This time we are in Greyfriars, very close to the University of Edinburgh, the meadows and of course the Greyfriars church.
On top of that I really like the way the people we are renting from handle things. There are lots of options but I would recommend them to anyone wanting to visit this city. They are Edinburgh City Apartments Check out their site.
We are back in in our new favorite city. We are staying in a lovely, comfortable apartment in an older building overlooking the Greyfriars graveyard, famous for many things, including serving as a jail for Protestants (aka Covanentors) back in the pre-Reformation days. They jailed them before hanging them in the Edinburgh market square, or sending the lucky (?) ones off to Australia. Many, many, hundreds died... Who knew?
This graveyard is even more famous for being the place where the master of that cute little dog, Greyfriar's Bobby, is buried. The dog is alleged to have sat by his master's grave every day for 16 years... Or maybe I exaggerate. Perhaps it was only 12. Anyway, I can't imagine the dog really lived that long or believed that the scent of decay really represented his beloved master...
But Disney made a movie about it, so it must be true. (What kind of boring movie would that be? Dog sits beside/above buried coffin, year after year after year after...)
The view from our window is of tombs and monuments to the dead. There is also a row of mausoleums right under our window, the nearest one topped with statues of women, one on each corner. The closest one is missing her head, and the next one around appears to be holding a couple of snakes. (My knowledge of saints is lacking... Is she meant to be a holy figure? A goddess? A muse? )
Our last morning in Keswick the skies opened up and it poured. We trudged down to the bus station and headed into Penrith early. We figured why wait in our room when we can spread out in the train station.
We had a quick trip on the Transpennine Express, a little under two hours, up to Edinburgh via Carlisle and Lockerbie.
And, what great timing, when we arrived here in Edinburgh the sun came out again.