Before you delve into my novel about Edinburgh, you should know that we learned a lot! And I really want to share as much as I can in these posts, so just keep on trucking – it’s all so interesting! Since there is such a massive load of information in this particular post, I’ve included many links to share websites with further information regarding each subject. Check out as many as you can, maybe you’ll love the history of this place as much as I now do!
For our two-year celebration, Rob and I decided to go to London to catch a show and spend a night or two on the town. The Olympics took one look at our plan and were like “Hell no. We’re way too busy for you.” So we changed our destination to Edinburgh, a place we had both been to before but had never really experienced. Prior to our weekend there, our Edinburgh resume consisted of a few hours walking about and an overnight spent drinking with friends. Luckily since it’s only a four-hour train ride away, we got a second chance to explore the remarkable city.
Before arriving there I didn’t realize how much history exists throughout the area, from the Castle and the Royal Mile, to the Grassmarket and unruly ghosts. Edinburgh’s past is far too complex and lengthy to explain in a simple blog post, but what I have learned from it is truly fascinating. I would love, however to share some of the stories we discovered throughout our tours and wanderings.
Our first notable stop, the National Museum of Scotland, did not turn out to be my favorite place – luckily the admission is free. I am not the biggest fan of conventional museums in the first place, but I did not enjoy the multitude of taxidermied animals they had on display. The most famous of the lot was Dolly the Sheep, the first clone ever successfully created. The only other part of the museum that spurred my interests was the small Egyptian exhibit, which really holds no comparison to that of the British Museum’s.
We took a tea break at the little shop that sat across from the museum, which just so happened to be The Elephant House, where JK Rowling spent many months, day after day writing the first of the Harry Potter books. It’s a unique shop, warm and flowing with character and a delightful atmosphere, not to mention the yummy tea. I could totally see myself there hashing out stories of my adventures, though I don’t see them selling as well as hers did.
Finishing up our tea, we headed to Edinburgh Castle, where all the stands had been set up for the Military Tattoo, providing a confusing contrast between ancient and modern. Too expensive for us, we decided not to explore the castle, but we did walk up through the entrance and were completely taken aback at the sound of a blasting cannon. The ‘One o’Clock Gun’ has been fired 6 days a week since 1861. The strange tradition was actually to tell the ports 2 miles away that the time was one in the afternoon. It had to be sounded approximately 7 seconds early for the sound blast to travel its distance to arrive at one o’clock on the nose. The gun that began the ritual has been replaced a couple times but to this day it is still fired at the same time everyday except Sundays and select holidays. It’s shocking if you don’t know it’s coming.
In our next attempt to keep busy, we decided to try out The Scotch Whiskey Experience, just a few hundred steps down the Royal Mile from the castle itself. I don’t love whiskey, but being one of the top drinks of Scotland, it demanded our attention. The tourist attraction starts with a ride through a set that explains how scotch is made, followed by a short explanation of the different crops of Scotland, and finished with a tasting.
Our next experience was one of particular excitement to me. Our ghostly underground visit with Mercat Tours was a highlight for sure. Funny thing was, when we booked our spots the day before, we had no idea we would be delving into the paranormal underground. You’d think the tour’s title would have given it away… Please see ‘Spooked in Scotland’ to read my stories about the tour. From there, we changed and headed to our dinner reservations at Henderson’s Bistro, a quaint little vegetarian restaurant just a short walk from the Edinburgh Playhouse, where we had tickets for the production of ‘Footloose.’
The next day we took advantage of a free city tour put on by Sandeman’s New Europe. This company has the best guides and stories. We did one in Madrid last year but unfortunately the Pope was in town so it was cut short due to blockades throughout the streets. Unfortunately our Edinburgh tour had to be cut short as well so we could catch our train back to England. Hopefully someday we can complete a whole tour.
Through our guide’s expertise, we learned so much about the city’s history – most of it gruesome. My favorite story was that of Maggie Dickson, a woman who was deserted by her husband in the 1720s. She relocated and quickly began an affair with the son of the man she worked for, resulting in a surprise pregnancy. The child didn’t make it past a week and upon the discovery of its abandoned body, Maggie was tracked down for her crime against the Concealment of Pregnancy Act (WHAAAA?) and was hung at the Grassmarket after her free shot of whiskey from the darkly named Last Drop Tavern. Pronounced dead, her body was en route to her burial site when she got the attention of the carriage driver by loudly knocking in her coffin. She was taken back to the gallows and became the only person in history to ever receive a second free shot from the Last Drop. Lucky for her, someone pointed out just before her second hanging that she could not be punished twice for the same crime, and thus she lived a long and happy life.
Another grossly fun story that we learned involved chamber pots. Residents were only permitted to empty them out the windows (often three and four stories up) twice a day at ten in the morning and ten at night. The nighttime ‘dump’ of the pots fell at the same time as the closing of the pubs, thus many locals had begun their stumble home right as the windows opened and the excrement flowed. Some believe that this is where the term ‘sh*t-faced’ originated. I wouldn’t be surprised!
Our tour finally brought us to Greyfriars Cemetery, famously known as one of the most haunted places in the world. Many dark events have occurred throughout history on its hallowed grounds. It was even featured on the TV show, ‘Scariest Places on Earth.‘ Ashes of burnt citizens prosecuted for witchcraft reside in the very walls that surround a portion of the graveyard. Body snatchers had a habit of robbing freshly filled graves for corpses to sell for dissection at the medical schools. The term ‘graveyard shift’ is thought to have originated from the family members who guarded their loved ones’ plots throughout the night from these dangerous criminals. Because of this trend, wealthy members of society had tombs and mausoleums built to securely protect their remains from the thieves.
One such mausoleum, that of Sir “Bloody” George Mackenzie has the darkest reputation. Its inhabitant, a lawyer from the 1600s, was responsible for the imprisonment, torture, and death of thousands of Scotland’s Covenanters just mere dozens of yards from where his body now rots. The Covenaters’ Prison housed Scots who defied the belief that the heads of Scottish royalty were by rite, the spiritual heads of the Scottish Church. Many died in the prison and those who haunt the yard are known to cause harm to visitors. Hundreds have reported incidences of scratch marks, bruises, nausea, and dizziness in the prison and near Mackenzie’s tomb. The prison yard’s gates were recently padlocked to keep the cemetery’s guests and tour groups safe from harm. Rob and I didn’t dare to challenge the spirits for fear that we wouldn’t return soon enough to apologize!
We’ve been back just over a week now and I am still reflecting on and sharing the stories and excitement of our trip there. Everyone should go to Edinburgh. There are plenty of attractions that aren’t centered around the paranormal as well!