Thursday, June 18, 2009

That's All Folks

Well that is it.

We fly out of Edinburgh in the morning, British Midland International to Heathrow, on to Toronto then home.

Great trip.

I hope you enjoyed the blog

Mary King's Close

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

A bus to where?

I thought the Hunter's Tryst bus might prove interesting but unfortunately, we seem to have missed the bus.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sandy Bell's Pub

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.

Edinburgh City Apartments

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? )

Leaving Keswick in the Rain

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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Reiver Curse

All the time we have been here in England we have been in an area has seen its fair share of turmoil. The Scots and the English were in a constant state of warfare for almost 1000 years. During that period of time there was also the problem of the border reivers. They were kind of private raiders and plunderers who moved across the area burning farms, stealing cattle and creating general mayhem,

Shelley’s family and mine seem to have roots in this area. Shelley’s family, the Salkeld’s were on what is now the English side raiding north. Hunter was on the Scottish side raiding south.

The Archbishop of Glasgow, Davin Dunbar was quite upset about the state of affairs and, insisted that a curse on the reivers be read from the pulpit in every parish.

In Carlisle there is a stone with a part of the curse engraved in it and the reiver names are carved into the floor. The sculptor was from a reiver family. Part of the curse is below.

I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair tongue, thair teeth, thair crag, thair shoulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, thair armes, thais leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feet, befoir and behind, within and without. I curse thaim gangand, and I curse them rydland; I curse thaim standand, and I curse thaim sittand; I curse thaim etand, I curse thaim drinkand; I curse thaim walkand, I curse thaim sleepand; I curse thaim risand, I curse thaim lyand; I curse thaim at hame, I curse thaim fra hame; I curse thaim within the house, I curse thaim without the house; I curse thair wiffis, thair barnis, and thair servandis participand with thaim in their deides. I way thair cornys, thair catales, thair woll, thair scheip, thjair horse, thair swyne, thair geise, thair hennes, and all thair quyk gude. I wary their hallis, thair chalmeris, thair kechingis, thair stanillis, thair barnys, thair biris, thair bernyardis, thair cailyardis thair plewis, thair harrowis, and the gudis and housis that is necessair for their sustentatioun and weilfair.

It goes on for 1100 words or more. A bit excessive. Some Carlisle city aldermen think the stone has brought the city bad luck and want it removed.

Both Shelley and I think the Archbishop went a bit too far. perhaps in explains why both of us have problems with authority figures.

Down the Road to Penrith

We challanged the BBC weather forecast and won again. It was a great day despite their gloomy predictions. Shelley and I took the bus to Penrith where we catch our train tomorrow. It is about 16 miles east of Keswick.

I like the Brit's attitude about buses. They seem to run everywhere and seniors ride for free after 9:30 in the morning and all day on weekends. So when it gets boring, they just hop on a bus and ride to another town, have cuppa tea and ride back.

Just in case you aren't about what is acceptable they post rules on the bus.
No smoking, no smelly food, no hot, fizzy or alcoholic drinks
Using a personal stereo or mobile phone? Keep them quiet.
If the bus is full give your seat up to someone who might need it more than you
Don't put your feet on the seats
Keep dogs on leash and off the seats
Any questions?

Penrith is, or was the market town in the area.It is much different from Keswick. It is very much a working town an interesting maze of narrow streets. The original builders used a lot of red sandstone which is a real contrast to the slate used in Keswick.

We had lunch in the Gloucester Arms Pub. It is an old "Elizabethan lesser town residence" dating back to about 1580. Some of the original wood paneling remains intact, the ceiling are low and the fireplaces you can see were originally large enough to cook in a side of beef in.

There is a claim that the Duke of Gloucester, who became Richard the third, stayed there at some point but it is dubious claim at best. The Duke had a castle a few blocks away. It seems unlikely he stay in a local house considering the options.

The pub was very traditional with four bitter taps together ot the bar. As well as the usual selections of Smithwicks, Bottingtons and the lagers they had Hawkshead, Black Sheep, Old Speckled Hen and Hobgoblin bitters.

Monday, June 15, 2009


This morning we walked up to the stone circle near Keswick, up the hill forty minutes. We started off mid morning and made it back for lunch, so that is pretty near.

The circle is one of many in the Lake District. No one really knows who exactly made the circle or why but they date back to any where between 2500 to 1600 B.C. so, they are pretty old. We hope to be able to figure out how to see some of the others but it is a challenge. None are that close to each other and none really easily easy to get to.

It is quite an experience to visit. Castlerigg is on a high meadow surrounded by mountains on every side, It is a very special spot. You can imagine groups of fairly primitive peoples gathering on special occasions to celebrate here.

Shelley and wanted to see the circle without the crowds so we got up early and walked up to Castlerigg this morning early. We were there before 7:00. Four photographers beat us to it.

Hiking with dogs!

These guys amazed us! Each had his dog, and each also had a huge pack with gear (for himself, and for his dog).

They seemed to do well --they leashed the dogs whenever sheep were in the fields, but they struggled over each style with the dogs. (In some parts of England --- Cornwall and the Lake District -- there are access ways for dogs through styles, but not in Northumbria along the wall.)

We took pictures for them (with their cameras) at a turret or fort along the way. And their dogs were so cute! The one walking on the wall was a scruffy rescue dog; the other, docile and well trained.

Anyway, these are the guys and dogs we met at the end of the walk, hanging out in the shade on the road outside the pub at Bowness on Sollway. But the dogs could not enter the pub with their possessions. So sad.

Its a dogs life

At the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall, there is a pub called the King's Arms.

On the front door of this pub, there is a sign: "Sorry/No dog's/allowed."

Imagine! The poor dogs! After a long walk along the wall, they reach the only pub and can't bring in their... what?

Exactly which possessions of the dogs are not allowed within the confines of this final pub?

We don't know.

We were co-hiking with two young men and their dogs (we met them a few times), and when we reached the pub, both men were relaxing outside, backs against the outside wall, legs sprawled out into the narrow road, dogs sitting politely beside them.

We greeted them and congratulated them on completing the journey -- they had huge packs with camping gear AND dog food! -- but it never occurred to us to ask: "Which of dog's possessions were not allowed into this pub?

Red Squirrels?

Shelley and I are sitting here in the bar below where we are staying having a bowl of olives with olive oil, garlic and chili and drinking shiraz. We thought we'd share the sign we saw this morning with you.

What is so special about red squirrels I had to ask? Shelley who is my source of all knowledge reminded me that grey squirrels have been pushing out the native red squirrels and of course Beatrix Potter lived close to here. Her story about Nutkin squirrel and his brother Twinkeberry remind us that red squirrels are precious.

We never saw one.

(For the record Shelley did not remember the names Nutkin nor Twinkleberry but we do have access to Wikipedia)

A Very English Town

Despite being very Scottish, Edinburgh is a very international city. The street is full of tourists from all over the world and you hear a a chorus of differant languages. Walking Hadrian's Wall we met Australians, Germans, Dutch, a Finnish couple, plenty of Brits. We were the only Canadians we came across and we one person in our group was from New York City.

The Lake District must be where the English come on vacation. You do hear the occasional accent but, it is fairly rare.

So Keswick is a very English town. Last night as we walked to dinner the locals we lining up for their fish & chip take away.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It is Pronounced Kisick

This morning we said our goodbyes and headed off our separate directions.

Shelley and I caught the bus to Keswick where we are staying at the Cafe/Bar 26. After about a 30 minute drive through pasture land and through small villages we started to get into the mountains.

I thought Keswick was a quite little town with not much going on. It turns out to be quite the bustling little community. We wandered around a bit a grabbed a bite to eat after arriving. It reminds us of Banff or perhaps an Adirondack village with a British flavour. Lots of gift shops and an outdoor store on every corner.

We are staying at the Cafe/Bar 26 which has rooms upstairs and good lunches and breakfast in th bar downstairs.

Our Host Ian

We stayed a couple of nights at a Carlisle B&B. Our landlord, if we can call him that, at the Marlborough House B&B in Carlisle was a bit of a character. He and I didn’t get off to a great start right off the bat, he was less than co-operative about getting access to the internet. He begrudgingly agreed to let us use the computer to log on but wouldn’t let me hook up my laptop to the system.

He owns the pub across the road from the B&B and promotes it in his own special way. “So, where are yas goin’ for supper?
I said, “We aren’t sure, perhaps across the road or…”
“Or what?” he said, “Yas can’t beat my prices, Two meals for ten pounds. Bloody good food too. Not like the crap you get at other places around here.”

So we went across the road. He was right. The food was good.

He was wondering about who would want a hot breakfast in the morning. I said the I wasn’t sure. I had been eating a light breakfast each day. He said, “Have the full English breakfast, Why not? We have eggs, smoked bacon, tomatos, mushrooms, beans and good Cumberland sausage, not like that shit sausage yas get in Canada”

Shelley asked, “Can I just part of the breakfast? Like a boiled egg and some toast?”

He told her, “Ya gets the full English breakfast, what yas don’t eat, we’ll just feed to the dog.”

Despite his curmudgeonly front he was a great guy. Basically, what you see is what you get. Drove the lot to the train station this morning and made a special trip to the bus station for Shelley and I because we were leaving later.

The B&B was good, clean, comfortable and the place was friendly. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. And he was right, the full English breakfast was good and Shelley made a couple of small dogs happy. The pub food was very good good and his prices are very good. One pound ninety for a shot of scotch.

We Have Walked Across England

Well, we did it. We walked across England. Today was mostly across pasture land, through a few small villages, a four km detour when our guide got lost, and finally across a salt plain by the Firth of Solloway and into Bowness.

About 4:00 this after noon we arrived at the King’s Arms Pub and got our certificates. Over the last week we have crossing paths with a whole community of hikers many who drifted into the pub shortly before or after we did. There were lots of congratulations all round and lots more beer. In fact I think that this trek is fueled by beer.

Tomorrow we all go our separate ways, one person is staying here in Carlisle for a few days, an couple are off to Portugal and a some are heading home. We are taking the bus to Keswick in the Lake District.

From Banks to Carlisle

We started the day just before the small village of Banks. After taking the obligatory Banks photos we moved on through the pasture land. In fact most of the day was spent walking from farm to farm, across field after field, dodging the occasional bull, (they looked more interested in the cows than us) we went down country lanes twisting and turning through the English countryside. There is little evidence of the wall through this section and the further we walked the less frequent sightings became. Unlike the more harsh and rugged highlands, this land has seen significant development for a very long time.

The more people, the more the wall was plundered for it’s stone. In one case a whole priory was build, using Roman stone taken from the wall. The scenery is pastoral as opposed to spectacular but it is all very pretty.

On the outskirts of Carlisle we came across sheep being sheared. It was quite impressive, they grouped the sheep with their young lambs so they wouldn’t run. They herded the sheep through a chute and did them one at a time. What a racket though, lambs bleating, looking for their mothers, mother sheep baaing, looking for their lambs. When that group of mother sheep were all done and released, they let the lambs all go. They all paired up quickly then relaxed a bit

We walked 26 km today, though most of the terrain was fairly gentle, I got my first blister. We are staying at a Carlisle B&B tonight

Tomorrow morning we are walking the last leg of this hike. The Carlisle to the Irish Sea section is about 22 km of flat ground, originally salt marsh. We walk to Bowness on Solloway, get our certificates and have a celebratory beer, which is how we have been ending every day come to think of it, We’ll have dinner with the rest of the crew tomorrow night then head our separate ways.

Not any Thinner

One of the things that surprises me is that I don’t think I am losing any weight. We are walking on average about 21 km a day, over pretty strenuous landscape and I think I should be getting a bit more trim. In fact I know I deserve to be more trim with all this exercise.

I have been eating light breakfasts and just a sandwich and an apple for lunch but who knows. It must be supper, We have been eating pub food. The food in British pubs is hearty to say the least and they love potatoes. Some of the meals have been huge, add to that quite a bit of beer and I guess that is my answer

Onward from Twice Brewed

We got started a bit later this morning as a result of the fact that The Twice Brewed Hotel was a little later with breakfast than we expected. Our B&B which was the Vallum Lodge, about 100 metres down the road from Twice Brewed, was very good and made arrangements for the three of us staying there to eat early. They were great, I think those of us who got sent down to the overflow spot, got the best deal.

The day started with a series of Crags bringing us to the highest point of land. The scenery was spectacular. The wall is very present through this section of the walk and wonderfully so. The remains of turrets and milecastles perched on the edge of those towering crags has to make each of us wonder what it must have been like for those Roman soldiers, manning those towers day after day. Winter must have been very tough.

The landscape is rugged and the weather unforgiving. We had a taste of that unpredictable British weather this afternoon. We thought we’d get a great sunny day but as we moved through this high ground a thunderstorm developed very quickly. In fact, we got soaked in a series of rain showers and ended the day in a rain and hail storm.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was that we were entertained by the RAF jet fighters training through the hills. Pretty amazing flying.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our Day Off

We had a day off today and spent our time visiting local Roman forts, and the small village of Haltwhistle where we had a pub lunch. A stuffed potato and a pint.

It has been a good break. More beer tonight and back on the trail in the morning.

It has been tough to find wireless connections out here in the hills. I am using the Northunberland National Park Authority at Once Brewed's Wi-Fi signal. this evening bit my last access for a few days.

Robin Hood Tree

For those of you who have seen Robin Hood movie, much of it was shot around here, Northumberland pretending to be Nottinghamshire.

The locals are pretty scathing about it but don’t fail to point out the tree they tried to hang Kevin Costner from.

You come upon the tree after coming down from Steel Rigg, one of the many predominant geographical features of the country around here. There are two trails here, one over the top another around the middle. After the climbing over the top of all these hills to this point we chose to take the lower route for the last one. I am not sure my knees could have taken yet another steep climb.

Day Three, The Walk to Twice Brewed

The first couple of nights we stayed at the same B&B/Pub in Newburn which was a bit odd because although we walked a good distance each day, we were backtracked by minivan each night to our accommodations.

On day three we started the day at Brunton Tower, a small section of preserved wall along with the remains of a tower. The towers housed two to four soldiers and there were a couple of towers in between each mile castle which was bigger and housed a dozen or more soldiers.

We then walked down through a pretty little village called Collorford and spend an hour or so looking over the ruin of a cavalry fort called Chester’s. I am not sure where the name comes from.

With a start like that I thought we’d spend most of the day walking through pastoral farm land. An easy day. I kind of miscalculated or perhaps I should have looked at the contours on the map a little closer.

It was through farmland but, up hill for the first few miles. But, bit by bit we began to see more and more evidence of the wall. In places the vallum was very present and in others the vallum the wall and the ditch was very clear.

As we made progress through the early afternoon the first of the crags started getting closer. The first Sewingshields Craig was a tough climb but it clearly was through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. To the south, miles and miles of rolling hills and pasture, to our north a huge cliff dropped down several hundred feet. To the west the undulating hills continued before us. We walked the ridge.

After a very long day we arrived at our hotel/pub and downed that cold welcome beer.

That evening there was pub trivia in the pub but I am finding, after a twenty km walk over rough terrain, I was ready to pack in by 9:30.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hadrian Day Two

This will be a short post for now since the library has kindly given me limited free access to the internet.

We saw the wall for the first time since Wallsend, first thing this morning. Then not again for some time. Signs of the wall are revealed slowly to walkers. For a while we mostly saw earthworks then more remnants late of the day.

We ended the day in Wall. Another 23 km walked today.

Tomorrow we will see the wall for most of the walk but it is a tough walk with lots of up and down near the end.

Walking the Wall Day One

I know you have to read these posts backwards but did I say 'A piece of cake'? Well perhaps not but we did survive and we arrived at the White Swan Pub more than an hour before the shuttle arrived to bring us to our hotel. Pretty good I thought.

No one told us that the pub was at the top of the Tyne River Valley. A tough, long climb after a 24 km trek. I have to tell you that beer tasted great.

We headed out at 8:15 in the morning, first walking above the River Tyne through what was first an old industrial area then eventually the path moved down to the river's edge.

It was a good path, mostly paved and wide enough that we didn't have to worry too much about cyclists. Eventually we arrived at downtown Newcastle and we walked across the famous millennium bridge to the Baltic Centre of the Arts for a coffee and a rest.

The riverside centre of town is lovely, there are so many bridges. I forgot how many but there are traffic bridges, foot bridges, metro bridges and train bridges. They hold a Sunday market along the path and there were scores of fishermen trying their luck at catching codlins, bass and flounder. I am not sure I'd eat anything coming out of that river but edible or not, there were a lot of fishermen.

Eventually we moved our way through the city, through suburbs and back into agricultural land and after a long climb we ended our day at the Heddon on the Wall

Saturday, June 6, 2009

And we are off

We had a good look around the site of the original fort built at the start of the wall. They claim it may have been designed, at least partially by Hadrian himself I think "may" is the key work here. At this point there is very little original remaining as like in so many like this, where a city built up around fortifications, the building materials have been mostly cannibalized to be used in the construction in newer buildings. There are some remnants of the original was here but for the most part the city has been built over it.

We are off in an hour or so. Most of the day is through Newcastle, along the river valley. Interesting but not to "Roman".

Off to Newcastle

We loved Edinburgh and were sorry to move on. It is a city I could easily live it.

We were up early this morning and took the train the Newcastle. It was a great train ride through the country side, a good deal of it along the coast.

We didn't see much of the city but headed out to Walls End where our hotel is located.

I always tell Shelley that I always judge hotels by the information and advice they provide their clientle. For example a hotel with a sign by the tub which says "Please make sure the shower curtain is inside the tub before turning on shower". is usually an indicator that the hotel is on the lower end of the chain. The hotel we are staying is has a notice in the room which asks that guests do not "...set off the fire extinguishers in the room" Do you think that indicates this is a bit of a party hotel?

We met up with the others on this Hadrian Wall walk early afternoon. A couple from Ottawa, a woman from New York City, the guide and his son and us.

We head out after breakfast in the morning. We walk 25 km tomorrow. A piece of cake.

Where Rebus Lives

Ok, OK I am beginning to sound a bit obsessive about those Ian Rankin novels. But my sense is that real fans would like to see what Arden Street looks like.

Rankin was living in a basement flat on Arden Street when he came up with the idea for a police novel with Rebus as the cop. He then figured why not have Rebus live there.

Arden Street was a bit more upscale than we expected. I think Rebus made a good investment when he bought the flat.

Authur's Seat Coffins

In The Falls Ian Rankin weaves the story about the Author's Seat Coffins into DI Rebus' case. A coffin is found near a missing young woman's home and Rebus digs around the idea that there might be some kind of connection between the missing girl and the coffins.

The historical record claims that in 1836 five young boys, hunting for rabbits on Arthur's seat found 17 miniature coffins hidden inside a cave. They were arranged under slates on three tiers, two tiers of eight and one solitary coffin on the top. Each coffin, only four inches in length contained a little wooden figure, expertly carved with painted black boots and custom made clothes. The ones on the bottom tier were more deteriorated suggesting that they had been placed there at different times, the ones on top being the most recent.

The reason the coffins were placed there and who might have been responsible has never been discovered and remains a mystery. We had a bit of a challenge finding them in the museum but we tracked them down. Eight of the coffins remain today and they are housed in the National Museum of Scotland.

The Museum is a stone's throw from Edinburgh City Apartments, Greyfriars flat.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Blantyre Crescent

When Shelley was a babe in arms she lived here, on Blantyre Terrace, with her parents and sister while her dad spent a year at the University of Edinburgh.

The house seems to have been gentrified a bit since then. My sense is that very few students live here these days.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Food is Great

When it comes to restaurant food, the UK gets a bad rap. My sense is that people don’t think about Edinburgh when they think about food, perhaps they should. Many Canadian restaurant owners could learn a thing or two from Edinburgh chefs.

Of course there is what you would expect when it comes to pub food, a bit too heavy for many but, with a good pint to wash it down, who is complaining. There is much more than that however. Edinburgh has every thing from Oink which offers Scottish Hog Roast Rolls to Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern to Scottish contemporary. With all the up and down walking, you can build a mighty appetite in this town

Last night Shelley had a great penne with cherry tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts and chevre. She insisted that I taste it so I could make it for her when we get home. Another evening I had pan seared scallops with chorizo and wild mushroom risotto. They were great.

Arthur's Seat

Although the castle does predominate the city landscape you are always aware of the Salisbury Craigs and Arthur's seat. They are the remains 350 million year old volcano. The castle site on an old vent of that same geological feature..

Yesterday we walked up Radical Road which starts up the side of the craigs beginning near the Scottish Parliament buildings. It was built up the side of the Salisbury Craigs by unemployed weavers as a job creation project 1n the 1820's.

It was a tough climb particularly at the start but what a view. We felt pretty good at our ability to walk up the steep trail until we were passed by a couple of locals who were running up.

It is all part of Holyrood Park established in the 1100's as a royal hunting ground.

What a Great City

We walked quite a bit at home before we left, trying to make sure we could handle anything this trip threw at us. We did it primarily because of Hadrian's Wall which starts in a couple of days. I don't think we ever could have imagined how much we'd walk here in Edinburgh.

This town is really made for walking and where we are staying, a few feet off the Royal Mile, is ideal. Everything it seems is within a reasonable stroll. Even so I feel like we have barely scratched the surface. There is so much here to see and do.

The town in divided into old and new, new meaning built between the end of the eighteenth century and the early 19th century. The old town, built along a ridge of volcanic rock along each side of the Royal Mile which stretches from the castle to Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence here. (We can't visit it however since Prince Charles we are told is in residence although there is certainly no sign of him in the shops) The new town is laid out to the North of the old one, kind of, down the hill and across the railway tracks. It is all very geometric and Georgian and a lovely contrast to the winding cobblestone, different levels, steep stairs and narrow closes the old town offers..

The castle can be seen from almost everywhere. Even in a modern city it predominates, in the early years it must have been such an omnipresent reminder of the undercurrents of unrest which so often swirled around Scotland.

The Oxford Bar

I have been on the Rebus trail so in seemed fitting that we drop in at the Oxford Bar around 7:oo this evening.

It is smaller than I ever imagined. Fifteen or twenty people would absolutely fill the front room of the bar up. The back room is a bit bigger but there isn't much to it.

The place has a clubby feel to it. It is very much a local pub and those having a beer were local clientele. Everyone was quite nice though and they didn't seem to mind a stray Canadian dropping in for a pint.

No sign of Ian Rankin though.

The Elephant House Cafe

We had lunch today and the Elephant House Cafe. It is a lovely space with very high ceilings and huge south facing windows. It is full of University of Edinburgh students working away on projects. They seem very tolerant and don't seem to hurry anyone along.

The claim is the J. R. Rowling worked on her first drafts of her Harry Potter series in that same sun lit room with her daughter asleep in the chair beside her.

It is a great spot to chill out for a while and it has a great view of the castle. It is on the George IV Bridge which is quite something onto it's self. The street runs north/south and the east/west streets and is about five stories above the east/west streets. So what seems to be the ground floor in the photos is actually the fifth floor.

I think you have to see it to understand it.

The Witches Memorial

It took us quite some time to find the Witches Memorial. Every time we walked up or down the Royal Mile we looked for it to no avail. This afternoon Shelley spotted it on the side of a building up near the castle.

It was a fountain originally but now there are flowers planted in it. The memorial recognizes the fact that there were over 300 witches burned in Edinburgh. The last one in 1722.

If someone accused you of being a witch it was a bit of a no win situation. The accused were often bound with their thumbs tied to their ankles and the accused would be dunked in a pond. If you died the perpetrators were comforted by the fact that you were innocent and would go to heaven. If not, you were obviously a witch, so they burned you at the stake.

Practicing this this type of tough justice was finally abolished in 1736.

St Leonards

Shelley has been very tolerant with my need to find locations from Ian Rankin's Rebus novels. We were walking down from Arthur's Seat and just found ourselves just down the street from St. Leonard’s Police Headquarters.. Anyone who has read the Rebus novels knows the Inspector worked out of St. Leonard’s. At least for most of the books he did.

I had Shelley take my picture right outside the station's main door. I thought it might be fun to go in and ask for Inspector Rebus but, of course, we all know he is retired and I don't remember the Edinburgh police having that kind of sense of humour so we just moved on before they arrested us for loitering.

Scottish Parliament Tour

Shelley and I had a rare treat late Wednesday afternoon when Tricia Marwick a Member of the Scottish Parliament gave us a tour of the five amazing buildings which make up the Scottish Parliament. I met Tricia when she spoke to the Fair Vote Canada AGM about electoral reform in Scotland. She invited me to get in contact with her when we came to Edinburgh and we met late afternoon. She gave us a tour most of the public never get the opportunity to see.

The controversial structure was designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles and officially opened in 2004, three years late and millions of pounds over budget. Still the subject of some controversy it is a stunningly magnificent, if eccentric structure. Although from the outside it consists of five separate buildings, one dating back to the 17th century, on the inside the transitions from one to the other are seamless.

The space is quite wonderful and we had a great tour guide in Tricia who knows the building inside out, quirks and all. We were quite taken with it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

This isn't really Shelley's First Visit

Shelley usually says this is her first visit to Edinburgh but, she actually lived here as a babe in arms.

Her father, Neil Banks, was a United Church minister and he studied at the University of Edinburgh, School of Divinity, New College and the family lived here for a year or so, The "New College" by the way was built in 1846.

We went in and talked to the warder and explained the reason for our visit. He let us in so we could wander around and take a good look at the facility.

Edinburgh is a Walking Around Kind of Town

Edinburgh is a town made for walking. Most things you might want to see are within a reasonable walking distance. That would make it easy if Edinburgh was flat. Believe me, it isn’t

We started our day with a walk along Cowgate then walked up the hill to the Royal Mile and along to Deacon Brodie’s Close where we had some good strong coffee and some toast. The restaurant is located in what they claim was where William Brodie, the deacon’s son lived, William was a respected councilor and cabinet maker who often plied his craft in peoples homes. The only problem was that he duplicated the keys of the houses he was working on and went back in the evening and helped himself to their belongings. He basically was a reno-man by day, burglar by night. He was caught and hung in 1788, ironically on a scaffold of his own design.

They claim that the image of Brodie and his two personas gave Robert Lewis Stevenson nightmares as a child and subsequently served as the inspiration for his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The Castle

We spent the rest of the morning walking around Edinburgh Castle. It is a pretty amazing place built right into the hill which is really a volcanic plug somehow never scraped away by the glaciers. It is so steeped in history that I hardly would know where to start. The evidence of first structure built here goes back to the 11th century. It is an predominant, imposing presence which can be seen all over the city. Unfortunately the entrance way is marred by huge bleachers set up so the tourists can watch the military tattoo. Not being a big fan of that kind of military pageantry, from my perspective it only serves to block the view of the castle from those walking up the street to visit.

The picture is of a cannon nicknamed Mons Meg. like many things here the reason for the name is obscured by time. It is not your "run of the mill" cannon however. It was built in 1445 and weighs almost 8 tons. It was designed to fire stone cannon balls weighing 400 lb two miles or more. No mean feat. It could only be fired half a dozen times a day or so because of the tremendous heat generated by the explosion.

It was last fired in 1681 on a ceremonial occasion. The barrel exploded apparently. No word of the fate of soldiers who were firing the gun at the time.

The castle still serves a military purpose and makes for a fascinating visit on a great many fronts. If you visit don't miss the dog cemetery, the prisoner of war exhibit or the Scottish Crown Jewels.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fleshmarket Close

One of the things I look forward to in Edinburgh is digging up locations and situations which turn up in Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus novels.

Fans will remember his 2004 novel Fleshmarket Close in which two skeletons, one of a woman and another of an infant which turn up under a cellar floor during a restaurant renovation.

Well, this is Fleshmarket Close.

One hates to think of how they came up for the name for this narrow passageway.

Well We Made It

It was a long haul but, we are here.
We left Regina at 11:00 Monday morning and arrived in downtown Edinburgh at just about 11:00 Tuesday morning, local time.

It was pretty smooth going without a excessively long waits between flights.

Everything worked the way it was supposed to.

The new double decker Emerites Air Airbus A380 was at the gate in Toronto while we were there so we had a good closeup view. Very big!

We had a walk, ate lunch and now it is nappie time, at least for a short one.

The picture is looking across Edinburgh's Old Town with in the distance Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat behind it, taken from our roof top terrace.