Sunday, 4 March 2012


Okay, so I know I've said that I could easily live in Paris or London because I adore those cities so much, but Edinburgh is coming really close to beating both of them. When I was in the UK four years ago, I only came to Edinburgh for one day, and I knew instantly that I'd be back. Now I'm here I am kicking myself that I haven't booked a longer stay. This place is amazing. We are staying in a great hostel on Blackfriars Rd, just off the Royal Mile in the Old Town, easily the most picturesque part of the city. This morning we woke up in time to join a Sandemans walking tour and had a great guide called Neale (a Scotsman) take us around the city for 3 hours. We started on the Royal Mile where we saw the City Chambers and the Mercat Cross, the centre of the market where royal proclamations were made and thieves were nailed by their ears so people could come and throw rotten vegetables at them. We saw the beautiful St Giles Cathedral (I went back in the afternoon to go inside and lit a candle for my family. I couldn't take any pics but if I have enough next weekend, I'll buy a guidebook).

We saw the Heart of Midlothian, a heart made of cobblestones in the ground, which marks the site of the old toll booth and prison; as a result, Edinburgh citizens regularly spit on it. We saw a statue of the great philosopher, David Hume, and Lady Stair's Close, where Robert Burns lived and is now home to a Writer's Museum - one more for the itinerary! We walked down to Grassmarket for a tea break and heard about Burke and Hare, enterprising murderers, and Maggie Dickson, who was hanged for concealing a pregnancy. After her body had been cut down and put in a coffin, they drove her to a cemetery, but she woke up on the way there and lived for another forty years. After our break we went to the beautiful Greyfriars Kirkyard. Here we learnt about a loyal little dog named Greyfriars Bobby, who patrolled the streets of Edinburgh with his master, John Gray. When John Gray died, Greyfriars Bobby sat at his gravestone every day for twelve years. James Brown (not the King of Soul, a different guy) fed Bobby and looked after him during this time and is buried close by. There is also a monument, of course, to Greyfriars Bobby. This cemetery also provided J K Rowling with inspiration for the Harry Potter novels. McGonagall is buried here, as is the master of all evil, TOM RIDDLE!! Freaky stuff people, freaky stuff. Our lovely and obliging guide trooped up and down to show us rabid Harry fans the names on the stones. Just beyond the cemetery, you can see George Heriot's School which, combined with Edinburgh Castle, is the inspiration for Hogwarts. This cemetery also holds several additional unusual things - firstly, there are two 'mortsafes', which are low-lying structures that are like cages. They are to deter graverobbers, and were available to lease until your body had decomposed enough to be of no use to graverobbers. You were then moved to your own grave. Secondly, there is the haunted tomb of George Mackenzie. His spirit is said to have caused cuts and bruises on the arms of visitors who get too near. In 2003, an exorcist hired by the council declared the ghost 'too powerful' to exorcise. Right.

We then walked past The Elephant House Cafe, which is the birthplace of Harry Potter!! A quietly elated and intensely emotional moment followed. We then walked to the Princes Street Gardens, getting caught in a sudden hailstorm on the way. It felt just like Melbourne, and it had cleared up into brilliant sunshine within the hour. Yep. Melbourne. At the gardens, which were incredible beautiful, hail or no hail, Neale told us about the Stone of Scone, the coronation stone of Scottish monarchs. It has a long and colourful history, involving a lengthy stay at Westminster Abbey until it was stolen back by a group of university students in the 1950's. It's well worth looking this up on wikipedia - it's an incredibly interesting story. After this, the tour ended, but most of us followed our guide to a pub where you could get cheap meals. The people we met and sat with at the pub (international students from Preston - an American, a German, a Colombian and a girl from Finland...a Finlandian??) tried haggis and said it was nice...that it tasted a bit like shepherd's pie....hmmmm...I'm sure I'll get plenty of chances to try it this week, so I'll have a think about it...

After the tour, we headed back to the hostel, bought soup for dinner, I washed my hair and organised my blogs and pics and tonight we are going on a ghost tour! Spooky times. Then up really early to get on our Haggis Tour. Yay!!

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