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Exploring Edinburgh

Ø July 22 Edinburgh (Monday) More photos can be found here.

Monday morning we were up earlier than my usual, and we lounged around while I fixed scrambled eggs with the scraps of cheddar, toast, tea, with OJ for me. We did the dishes, took our showers and were ready to get out and explore about 10:30. My journal records that I was writing less – both in frequency and content – and that we’d be moving slower than I had been in England and Wales.

Out the door, we walked to the corner and caught a bus east by northeast through some of the parts of Edinburgh we’d seen both days, until we passed the city train station. Veering north on Leith Street, I anticipated getting off directly across from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. However, due to a significant amount of serious roadwork and construction, the driver skipped at least one stop and we had to climb a slight rise to reach St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, as it is familiarly known.

With the entrance doors facing northeast out to the Picardy Place Roundabout, the rectangular floor plan is emphasized by the three wide aisles. Individual unpadded wooden chairs fill the nave. There is a lot of color above head level in this church: brightly painted carved crowned and winged figures bearing heraldic shields are corbels at the base of the ceiling arches; similar crowned angels with wings outstretched with scrolls are placed over the circular deep windows above the clerestory windows. A mural in pastels depicting the crowning of the Virgin as Queen of Heaven fills the arch space above the sanctuary.

The grand organ sits in the loft to the rear over the entrance to the church, with a central stained-glass window providing overwhelming light into the nave with its dark wooden arched beam ceiling. Chapels at the end of the side aisles are the Lady Chapel and the National Shrine to St Andrew, both simple in presentation. Leaving, around the corner is The Conan Doyle pub, honoring the former parishioner and writer. One of his homes is nearby. Across York Street, a link to the other St Mary’s Cathedral, is “Ps & Gs”, the Episcopal church of St Paul and St George.

On our way to the second (of three) objectives for the day, we walked past Calton Hill with the Old Observatory House and dome rising above us. Soon we passed the Balmoral, with its central stone clock tower above its grand entrance. Walking past the railroad station on North Bridge, we got to High Street and joined the throngs of tourists as we climbed the cobblestone pedestrian way. At 12:30 we entered St Giles Church, the High Kirk of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the former pre-Reformation Catholic cathedral. This time, we paid our fees (including a photography fee for me) and were able to spend a leisurely hour exploring this historic building. Definitely worth the time.

Finding a floor plan to understand the church layout (online) took me some time, as I don’t seem to have taken anything away from my visit. The central core of the building is rectangular, with three aisles along the east-west main axis. With four pairs of columns on either side of the central crossing below the lantern tower, the western nave ceiling is a stunning sky-blue shade. An additional aisle seems to have been added to the south side, so that the ante-chapel has a “Royal Entrance”. Off this ante-chapel is the Thistle Chapel. So my initial confusion about four aisles was actually founded on fact.

With stained-glass from Victorian times forward, the stories portrayed are both Bible and Scottish history, as well as some stunning memorial windows, such as the Robert Burns window. A contemporary modern organ glistens in a niche near the crossing. Being so used to seeking the bishop’s throne, I was surprised to find two elegantly carved chairs, these being reserved for Her Majesty and the Prince Consort. Colorful regimental banners hang from the upper reaches of the south aisle.

Where there are arches meeting in the vault, there are an overwhelming number of carved stone bosses, including some which have been painted. The fan arching in the Thistle Chapel is a mass of impressive bosses. Along with the elaborate carvings in wood over the knight’s bench seats, the shields tell histories.

While I was there, the guide regaled those of us staying the few minutes to do more than gawk. I stayed and eavesdropped so I heard more stories than most. He had to move on, so he and I returned to the west end, where I found Mandra and sent her to go and check it out. The guide then told me the story of the Robert Louis Stevenson memorial on the wall – a heavy smoker who spent most of his writing time reclining, the wall plaque seemingly has him in Samoa (where he died) holding what could be a cigarette or a pen. The memorial, funded by the family, was by Augustus Gaudin, who designed several US coin faces.

We exited and continued up the Royal Mile to the Castle. Departing a bit after 1:30, we didn’t reach the gates until 2:30, and other than possibly shopping, I have no guess (or notes) as to what we might have done. Lunch? In any case, when we got to the ticket kiosk, we opted for the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass for a 14-day period, which allowed us access without further ado to some 70 top visitor attractions. We joined a tour which started at the Argyle Battery and took us to the One o’Clock Gun, around to the Governor’s House and the square with the prison, new barracks and regimental museum. Through Foog’s Gate, we climbed to David’s Tower and the Half-Moon Battery.

Another pass into the castle’s keep, where we entered the Great Hall with its red walls and dark wooden hammerbeamed ceiling. The armor on display is fascinating in its variety and evolution. We ended outside the Scottish National War Memorial. We entered, and I found the various rooms and displays honoring the war dead to be rather moving. No photographs permitted there. The queues for the gaol and the crown jewel exhibits stretched across the keep in the blazing sun, so we opted to not go visit. (Besides, the jewels are replicas, with the actual gems at the Tower in London supposedly.) My hereditary fascination with cannons drew me to Mons Meg, a 15th century example pointing out over the Lang Stairs. We visited the small St Margaret’s Chapel, oldest building in Edinburgh; a very small space, it was among a number of spots where crowd control would most definitely help.

Exiting, we again walked through the huge arena used for the annual Scottish Military Tattoo, held each August. Heading down the Royal Mile, after we passed a pub named The Witchery, we stopped in at The Ensign Ewart, a pub, for a beer and a 3-whisky and 3-cheese tasting. Dalwhinnie 15yo with an Arran mature cheddar, Ailsa Bay with Haugate organic brie, and Ardbeg 10yo with Blue Murder: I believe we preferred the first.

Continuing down the hill, past Economist Adam Smith in front of St Giles and Philosopher David Hume (seated in a toga) below the east end. With the University of Edinburgh on one side, and Canongate Kirk (under scaffolding) and its graveyard on the other, we neared the end of our descent. The Scottish Parliament Building, a stunning example of modern architecture, occupies the whole block at the Holyrood end of the “Mile”.

We skipped going into the Palace of the Holyroodhouse as it was 6pm. Turning to the north and then west, we walked up Regent Walk, a steep climb through the park that includes Calton Hill. Besides a monument to Admiral Lord Nelson, we spotted the (John) Playfair Monument, honoring the mathematician. Passing more government buildings, we landed back on Princes Street, where we stopped at Fizz & Pearl for an al fresco bit of respite. With a Guinness, I opted to soothe my carnivore soul, getting the Antipasto tapas, which included fried chorizo, prosciutto, salami, beef pastrami, serrano ham, mixed pickles, salad, and bread with dipping oils.

Here my notes end for the day. I believe we started walking to a bus stop, kept walking, took an alternate route to bypass the Haymarket Station only to get lost near a large hotel (loo break) before getting back to the flat. Still hungry, and opting to dine at a “tried and true”, we returned to Mia down the street. While I have no notes, there’s a picture of a grilled scallops dish. And I ended the day taking pictures of the hydrangea out in front of our building.

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