Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Walk 156 -- An historical tour of Edinburgh

Dates: 20/25 April, also 26 June 2007.
Ages: Colin was 64/64/65 years and 347/352/49 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 124/129/191 days.
Weather: 20th April — dull and gloomy. 25th April — a terrific rainstorm in the morning when we were, thankfully, still in the car, turning warm and sunny eventually. 26th June — sunny and warm.
Location: An historical tour of Edinburgh.
Distance: 0 miles. (It was quite a lot of walking really, but I didn’t add it on to our coastal total.)
Total distance: 1291 miles.
Terrain: Disused railway turned into a cycleway. Pavements. Hilly!
Tide: Out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: 20th April — ‘Old Dock Bar’ where we had a light lunch and drank Cameron’s ‘White Rabbit’, Hill Island ‘Peninsula Porter’ & a Russian lager called ‘Bajithka’ (this latter was delicious!) 25th April — ‘Cask & Barrel’ where we had a snack lunch and drank Cairngorm ‘Blessed Thistle’ & Border ‘Cowie’. 26th June —‘Halfway House’ where we drank Kelburn’s ‘Carte Blanche’ & Inveralmond’s ‘Thrappledowser’, then later we returned (because they wouldn’t let us on the train) and drank Arran’s ‘Sunset’ & Stowford Press cider.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.4, Edinburgh Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage at Grantshouse. We drove to Edinburgh on both days in April. On the 20th we parked for free at Port Leith and toured the Royal Yacht Britannia. On the 25th we were driving back into Edinburgh from the West when we came to a halt in a traffic jam. I looked at the map, told Colin to park in the layby next to us, we donned our boots and climbed down to a disused railway line going under the road. From there it was only about a mile to walk to the centre of the city.
At the end (25th) we walked back along the disused railway, which has been converted to a cycleway, to our abandoned car. The traffic jam had completely cleared (roadworks packed away for the night) so we had a cup of tea from the flask then drove back to the cottage.
In June we were staying in a holiday cottage in Fife. We drove to Kirkcaldy station where we could park as long as we liked for free, and bought a day return ticket to Waverley station so we could cross the famous Forth Bridge on a train.

We toured the City of Edinburgh on three separate days, but we barely scraped the surface because it has so much to offer.

Royal Yacht Britannia
We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia on 20th April 2007. Ever since it was decommissioned in 1997, it has been berthed at Port Leith (Port of Edinburgh) as a museum.
We drove into Edinburgh from our holiday cottage in Grantshouse, keeping to the road nearest the sea until we came to ‘Ocean Village’. (Beware, Edinburgh! ‘Ocean Village’ in Southampton was a similar set-up about twenty years ago, but it turned into a financial disaster and was subsequently demolished to be replaced by apartment blocks!) A large shopping mall has been built right on the dockside at Port Leith. We were confused by notices pointing us to the ‘Blue Car Park’, ‘Surface Car Park’, etc. Then we realised the car parking was FREE! There were hoods over all the very new pay machines. We found a space just outside the entrance to Debenhams — couldn’t have been more convenient. Later in the day we asked one of the smaller shopkeepers why the parking was free today, he told us it was pressure from retailers like himself. When they first opened the mall people came from all about to look it over. But the Scots have a reputation for being parsimonious, and when they saw how much they were expected to pay for parking they turned their cars round and departed. The shopkeepers, who had paid vast sums for their franchises, were up in arms! So, to woo the customers back, car parking in ‘Ocean Village’ is free from now on. I hope it works.
We walked across the dock to ‘The Old Dock’ bar where we had a rather indifferent lunch, and I had to negotiate with the waiter about the table at which we sat. He insisted we moved from our table by the window because it was set for four and “bigger groups may come in and want to use it”. All very well if the pub had been busy, but it remained nine-tenths empty all the while we were there. The table he moved us to was in a dark corner, so I insisted we moved back to our first choice — and I won. There was no loo paper in the ladies’ toilet either — not a happy experience! The pub’s only saving grace was that it sold the most delicious Russian lager called ‘Bajithka’. (I don’t think Colin cared about the lack of other niceties, but then he’s a man!)
Back at the shopping mall, we had some difficulty finding the entrance to the Royal Yacht, it was not well sign-posted. We wandered past a free-standing fish tank several times until we found the gate hidden away on the second floor. They seemed to think that vast crowds were going to descend on them (a bit like the waiter at the pub we had just left) as cordoned-off channels were in place where you could queue for hours, but on this dull Friday in April there were only a spattering of people. We walked straight in.
It was a very interesting self-guided tour. What a revelation as to how the Royals live! The protocol on board ship would have driven me bananas, whether I had been the lowest of the low or the Queen herself! It ranges from where they’re allowed to be and at what times, what they must wear at specific times of day, what they must say or not say — even when they’re allowed to talk or remain silent, usually the latter. They should be seen but not heard, and preferably not seen either — rather like the Victorians’ attitude to children. Of course, everyone must laugh at the Queen’s ‘jokes’, there were several photos of high-ranking officers doing just that. The regulations about the exactitudes of their dress is pages long. The captain had about seventeen different uniforms according to the time of day — he must have spent hours every day in his cabin simply changing his clothes! Even the regulations about growing a beard are meticulous. The list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ goes on and on — the mind boggles! There is no room for ‘mistakes’ by the rank and file, we were told ‘There are no defaulters in the Royal Yacht. Any man whose conduct does not measure up to the standard required by the Commodore, Royal Yachts, is drafted at once to the nearest ship or shore establishment.’
It is all so futile!! No wonder the Royals have no idea what it is like living in the real world! In fact, it made me quite angry reading about all these pointless rituals, knowing that we, the taxpayers are funding this nonsense. I also thought it was ironic, though not surprising, that the four Royals who honeymooned on the Royal Yacht, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew were all subsequently divorced.
We started our tour on the top deck and gradually made our way down to the bowels of the ship. Of course, I had to be photographed pretending to ring the ship’s bell — it was tethered so you couldn’t actually ring it. (Spoilsports!) Just behind the bell is a kind of conservatory which was said to be the Queen’s favourite place on the ship. They proudly announced that the bamboo furniture was specially chosen by the Duke of Edinburgh on a trip to Hong Kong in about 1950. We weren’t allowed to sit on it, but I wasn’t sorry because it looked excruciatingly uncomfortable! (I’m sure we would have been more relaxed on the fold-up furniture we use in our tent.) Further back were the Royal bedrooms, now with windows so you can see in without entering. ‘Spartan’ was the word that came to mind. I remarked to Colin that the cabin we had on the ‘World Discoverer’, our expedition cruise ship on which we sailed to Antarctica in 2003, was a deal more comfortable and spacious than the Queen’s bedroom on the Royal Yacht!
Next we passed through the dining room where tables were set out for a banquet. We were amazed to learn that they regularly took three hours to lay the table for a banquet, using rulers and protractors!! I was dying to lean over the cordon and twizzle a knife!
From there we moved on to the sitting room where the Queen used to relax drinking coffee and chatting to her guests after dinner — except that a brass band would set up in the corner for their entertainment! (The room was hardly bigger than a large lounge in an average house!)
We stopped to look at some of the ‘presents’ displayed on the walls. A narwhale bone caught Colin’s eye, but I liked the Easter Island statue. Did the Royal Yacht ever go to Easter Island? (We went, in 1996 — it is an amazing place!)
Next we moved down to the Officer’s Mess, and there we were allowed to sit on the furniture. I tried it out, it was hard and uncomfortable — impossible to sit there and relax. That was as far down the ship that the Queen ever came, and then only once a trip to exchange pleasantries with the crew — only the officers, of course. She never went down to the lower levels where the men slept in crowded bunks and hammocks with no room to store their stuff. Cramped in with so little space between them, there must have been disagreements and arguments. But the Royals must never know they even existed, so silence was the key even to the extent of wearing gym shoes so she couldn’t hear them walking about. But in case she did catch a glance of them, they must change their snow-white shirts several times a day so they never looked grubby. Even deeper in the ship we came across the laundry, where these shirts were washed and starched at the owner’s expense even though they had only been worn for a couple of hours each time. Not exactly 'green', all this laundry!
We felt vaguely disgusted as we left, and returned to our holiday cottage with its resident mouse in Grantshouse. I took three seconds to lay the table for dinner tonight!

Prince’s Street
On 25th April 2007 we drove from our holiday cottage in Grantshouse to Cramond, west of Edinburgh, to find out if there was still a ferry across the river there. There isn’t. I spoke to a local boat-builder, and he told me the 2001 Foot & Mouth crisis did for it. Nobody came because “The countryside was closed” (though Tony Blair subsequently denied this was said), and after the crisis nobody was willing to start it up again. It will now be a 3½ mile detour to get over the nearest bridge when we get there tomorrow.
We looked at the menu in the pub there, but it was too pricey. Colin suggested a nearby inn where he used to go when he was working on a project in Edinburgh twelve years ago. We were greeted by a waiter with a foreign accent when we arrived, and a quick glance at the menu told us it was even pricier. So we beat a hasty retreat!
We drove back into Edinburgh, but got caught in a big traffic jam where we came to a dead stop. The day was not going well! I looked at the map, and told Colin to park in the layby next to us — we were sufficiently far out of the city centre not to incur any parking charges. We donned our boots and clambered down on to a disused railway line which has been converted into a cycleway. It was a different world down there away from the traffic! We walked into the city centre, passing productive allotments all the way, and in relative silence away from city noise. It was only about a mile. We located the ‘Cask & Barrel’ pub where the beer was good and the food cheap and tasty — just what we wanted.
From there we walked on to Prince’s Street where we photographed the Scott memorial, the gardens and a man playing the bagpipes — all the touristy things. Didn’t like the crowds, though. We are not city people.Next we visited the castle.

Edinburgh Castle
Since we have been members of ‘English Heritage’ for many years, we were able to enter Edinburgh Castle for free. That was much better than the eleven pounds each they were demanding from other tourists! We thought that was a bit steep, even for such a prestigious site. People were flocking in, even at those prices. I suppose if you have travelled half way round the world to see Edinburgh you would pay what you have to, and that is what they rely on.
We entered under a vicious looking portcullis and climbed up to the highest ramparts to look at the views. That was all that interested us, not the museums which are inside. We remembered coming to Edinburgh for a long weekend about ten years ago, and touring the castle. We joined the queue to see the Scottish crown jewels, and it moved Oh! So slowly! through the inner sanctums of the castle through exhibition after exhibition of things we didn’t really have much interest in. It took over an hour to reach the crown jewels, and then they weren’t much to look at after all. So we decided to stay outside today and just look at the views.
The castle dominates the city — it was built on a plug of volcanic rock which overlooks all the surroundings with the exception of ‘Arthur’s Seat’ which is another much larger volcanic plug in the city.
We could see across the Firth of Forth to the coast of Fife where we hope to be walking fairly soon — probably on our next trip. We were high above Prince’s Street with its memorial to that famous Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott. On a smaller rocky outcrop we espied what looked like a bit of ruined Greek temple. We were sure it was a folly, but we never did get up there to find out what it was really. We could see churches, houses, blocks of flats and the of course a ubiquitous crane or two. Finally we admired the other, larger volcanic plug which dominates the Edinburgh skyline, known as Arthur’s Seat.Colin was interested in the cannons which were everywhere on the ramparts. For Edinburgh Castle has been a fortress at least since the reign of David I in the 12th century, and probably for about three centuries previous to that. It has withstood many sieges with mixed success. In the 16th century it was largely destroyed, but has been restored in stages since the 19th century. The garrison left in the 1920s, but there is still a military presence, largely ceremonial, in the present day.
In fact, there was something going on during our visit. It looked like a funeral was taking place over in a corner, with red-coated soldiers in their bearskins and the British Legion with their flags. After the eulogies were said, a piper led the procession of mourners out of the castle main entrance — surrounded by jean-clad tourists on all sides. We were surprised to see, from our lofty position, that it was not a coffin in the back of the hearse but a tombstone!
We’d had enough by then, so we descended to the city once again, braved the crowds and traffic until we got to our cycleway escape route, and walked back to the car along our lovely low-level avenues lined with trees and birds singing. Back at the car, the traffic jams had gone and the roadworks which caused them had packed up for the day. So we returned to our cottage in Grantshouse to prepare for tomorrow’s Walk.

Holyroodhouse
On 26th June 2007 we were staying in a holiday cottage in the village of Craigrothie in Fife. (This one didn’t come with a resident mouse, as far as we knew!) We wanted to cross the famous Forth Bridge in a train, so we decided to have a day out in Edinburgh. We drove to Kirkcaldy station, where we could park as long as we liked for free, and bought day-return tickets to Waverley station in Edinburgh. A very picturesque line, even before we crossed the spectacular Forth Bridge!
Our first port of call in Edinburgh was a pub called ‘The Halfway House’ because it is halfway up a flight of steps. It claims to have been a tavern for centuries, and very popular with local workers. Today it is more touristy, as are most things in Edinburgh. It is quite tiny inside, but it’s welcome was very warm. We had a nice lunch there and excellent beer.
Then we walked on towards Holyroodhouse. Two things caught our attention on the way. One was a plaque on the wall of a house which said simply ‘Scottish Suffragette Societies’. Now I’m very grateful to the suffragettes because their battles yesterday allowed me to have the freedoms I have today to be my own person and not subservient to arrogant men. Women are neither inferior nor superior to men. We are just different, and it’s thanks to the suffragettes (my Great-Auntie Maggie was one) that this attitude is more or less reflected in western society today.
The other thing was a restored cistern which used to provide drinking water for the city. A notice on this ‘Netherbow Wellhead’ told us that the cisterns used to provide water from Comiston Springs via the Castlehill Reservoir for the inhabitants of the Old Town.
Then we arrived at Holyroodhouse — but it was shut! We looked through the locked gates, and found the grounds teeming with policeman looking under every stone and even using dogs in their search. Nothing untoward had happened, this search was so that nothing untoward will happen. The Queen was due to take up residence the following Friday for a week, and although it’s only Tuesday, in these terrorist-fraught days they have to search every single nook and cranny at least three times in case someone has left an explosive device. So we had to content ourselves with views of Holyroodhouse from the crags of Arthur’s Seat.
It struck us that Holyroodhouse must lose a lot of money in entrance fees through having to shut a week early like this. We were at the height of the holiday season and the place was crawling with tourists all eager to see the place. More taxpayers’ money down the drain!

Arthur’s Seat
We took a gentle path up this rocky outcrop in the centre of the city, and then back-tracked on ourselves so we could look over the Firth of Forth from on high. It was very clear today, we could see a long way. This is an amazing place in the middle of the city, it is completely wild! It’s as if someone has dropped a lump of the Scottish Highlands in the middle of its capital city. It is believed it was once used as a fortress in prehistoric times, but not during the time of recorded history.Like the rock on which Edinburgh Castle was built, Arthur’s Seat is a volcanic plug left behind by the glaciers of the Ice Age. It is of geological significance because apparently James Hutton, who changed the course of geological thinking, came to some of his conclusions through studying the igneous rocks here in Edinburgh.We just enjoyed climbing it in the Summer sun, something we haven’t seen very much of lately. We decided not to go to the very top as we wished to save energy for our actual coastal walking. We came down a different way which was quite steep. My ‘training’ on the Malvern Hills, where we have now lived for five months, came in very handy today.At the bottom was a well, called St Margaret’s Well. A notice above the well told us: ‘this unique Well House dates from the late 15th century. It originally stood at Restalrig, close to the Church, and its design is a miniature copy of St Triduana’s Aisle there. In 1860 it was removed from its first site, which was then encroached upon by a railway depot, and was reconstructed in its present position near a natural spring.’We walked back to Waverley station past the back of Holyroodhouse, and noticed a ruined church just over the wall. Was it bombed during the last War? Perhaps if we’d been able to do a tour of the house we would have been able to find out.
At the station we were told our tickets couldn’t be used until ten past six because they were ‘off-peak’. So we returned to ‘The Halfway House’ pub to while away an hour or so. We returned to Waverley station for the ten past six train, having been assured that it was the first one we would be allowed to catch with our tickets. But we were still refused entry to the platform, being told this time that we could catch any train after ten past six! ScotRail, get your act together! We were furious, but they were adamant that we couldn’t get on that train unless we paid the extra which was about double the price. We did eventually get a slow train to Kirkcaldy, and we got back to our cottage in Craigrothie much later than we had intended.