Despite not being the greatest fans of cities, we feel we do have to spend time in Edinburgh and today’s the day. Unfortunately, as we discovered yesterday, it is also the day of the Edinburgh Marathon but we hope that this won’t cause too many problems. We feel that we are unlikely to be mistaken for competitors. There is a half-hourly minibus service from the site into the city. You appear to just queue up for this. I am not daft, I can work out that if all of the 400 or so people on the site want to get on a 16 seater minibus at the same time, we may be unlucky. Obviously we need to be at the front of the queue. We plan to catch the first bus at 9.30am. Left to me I’d have been there at 8.00am but I am restrained until 9.10am. We are the only people waiting. By the time it gets to 9.25am I am feeling that I would be comforted if there were some other people in the queue, as reassurance that a) we are waiting in the right place and b) we weren’t supposed to ring up and request the minibus. 9.30am and we (and no-one else) board the vehicle for the city centre.
We walk along Prince’s Street and through the beautiful Prince’s Gardens, making our way up and it certainly is up, to Edinburgh Castle. Yet again our English Heritage membership comes in handy, gaining us free entry. We join a guided tour in a group which includes Americans, Australians, Germans and Japanese. Our leader is Laura, whose delivery is very amusing and we learn of the castle’s history. This site has been occupied for 3000 years but the earliest remains are 900 years old. It has been used continuously, at times as a royal residence, a seat of Parliament and it is still a working garrison. At 400 feet above sea level the castle dominates the city and it is in an ideal defensive position. Laura comments on the historical inaccuracies of Braveheart – Wallace was a rich lowlander and not a kilt-wearing peasant a la Mel Gibson.
The weather is much better today. Not as much better as some of the locals, with their bare chests and shorts, are implying; I still have my coat and jumper on. We can at least see the view over the Firth of Forth as the mist has lifted. The castle fire a cannon at 1pm daily, except Sundays, so we shall miss that. St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest part of the castle. It was built in memory of Margaret, the mother of David I. It is very tiny and although it is still used for weddings, you are limited to 25 guests. After our tour we wait for an excellent presentation by an historical interpreter, representing Sir Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray who, in 1314, was charged with recapturing the castle from English occupation. It was one of three castles in English hands at the time. Roxborough was re-taken by men disguised as cows. Randolph, whose half uncle was Robert the Bruce, climbed the rock using a secret path revealed to him by the son of a former castle governor and got inside the castle with thirty men, whilst others created a diversion at the gates, so the castle was recaptured from inside. It is great to chat to the interpreter and try his weaponry. The chain mail is seriously heavy and the full face helmet certainly restricts the field of vision. He has a fiendish looking mace, which was designed for use by churchmen who were not allowed to let blood, although bashing people over the head was fine!
We queue for a considerable time to see the Scottish crown jewels. The sceptre, sword and crown were first used together for the coronation of the infant Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. These had to be hidden from Cromwell’s troops and somehow went missing from 1707-1818. We also see the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, which has been used in coronation ceremonies for centuries. It was ‘acquired’ from the Scots by Edward I and taken to England. In 1950, four students stole it and broke it in the process, after four months they abandoned it at Abroath as a political protest. It was returned to England until 1996 when it was finally given back to the Scots on the proviso that it can be borrowed for future coronations. A quick look through the royal apartments and then off to view the Great Hall, with its impressive hammer beam roof and vast collection of armour and armaments. We also tour the Scottish war memorial that commemorates nearly 150,000 Scottish war dead.
By this time we have been on our feet for 2½ hours so decide to invest in the hop on hop off open-top city tour bus. We don’t actually do any hopping but make nearly two complete circuits, once listening to the standard commentary and once to a Horrible Histories version. The latter makes much of the connection with Burke and Hare. We are warned to beware of the tram lines. We must not stand on the seats or take ‘anything lengthy’ on the top deck. The examples given are fishing rods and helium balloons. We have neither so we are fine. Edinburgh’s contribution to medicine is mentioned. It is home to the oldest College of Surgeons, founded in 1505. We stop at the grass market, where sales of grass for animal feed, as well as other produce, have been held since 1477; it was also the site of the gallows. Now it is a trendy area with cafés and outside eating spaces. Being Scotland, these are full because the sun is out, despite the piercing wind. We see the back of the Greyfriars Bobby statute, commemorating the dog who held a vigil on his dead master’s grave for fourteen years. The Royal Mile (actually a Scottish mile so longer than ours) links the castle to Holyrood House, which comes next along with Holyrood Park, the latter is the largest royal park in Britain. Arthur’s Seat towers 800 feet above us. Several Edinburgh streets are actually bridges, not over rivers but linking areas of higher ground. Most of the streets in the new, planned, city have Hanoverian inspired names. The city is the largest urban world heritage site in the world. We see our first pipers of this Scottish trip.
The only evidence of the marathon was some rubbish and a few abandoned traffic cones. We are only half an hour early for the first return minibus trip of the day and we are the only passengers. This is our final full day in Scotland but the holiday is not quite over.