Exploring Edinburgh Day Two

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Arthur Conan Doyle

The problem with this city is, as with most big cities, there are far too many things to see. Or at least for me. I wanted to go to the palace, and the writer’s museum, and climb Calton Hill, and the national museum, go overlook all of Edinburgh on Arthur’s Seat, and do a walking tour, and explore all over, and see some mystery and do a ghost tour, and see things that inspired J.K. Rowling, and the statue of Sherlock Holmes.

Sad to say, that is far too much for one day. Though it doesn’t mean I didn’t try to squeeze as much of that into 24 hours as I possibly could.

I woke up at eight to get an early start. Bought breakfast at my hostel before heading out. I’d decided I wanted to start my morning with a hike up Calton Hill to admire the views of the city.

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It was a beautiful day thank heavens. Although much colder than I’d expected. I forgot how far north Scotland is, making it pretty chilly even in spring.

Regardless I snapped a few photos before taking off. I’d booked myself on the ten o’clock Sandeman’s tour around Edinburgh.

It was my favorite free walking tour I’ve ever done, and I’ve done five Sandeman’s tours now on top of other free tours in Porto, Lisbon, Rome, Budapest, and Vienna. So I feel I have a fairly good sense of what a good walking tour should look like.

My guide was absolutely amazing. She was super funny and really knew her stuff. She made sure to make each part of the tour engaging and informative while also answering questions with spectacular detailed answers. All in all I was quite happy.

We walked along the Royal Mile and down towards the castle. We headed down to check out the grass market and then some of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration in the fancy boarding school with four houses nearby a cafe where she worked, and even saw the grave of William Wallace (not the real one but it was funny that our guide pointed it out).

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And then over to see Greyfriar Bobby, Edinburgh’s… nay Scotland’s most famous statue.

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I’ll share the story just because I loved it. There was a watchman who adopted a terrier to come with him on his routes, and he named the dog Bobby. Unfortunately the watchman died two years after adopting the dog and was buried in the Greyfriar cemetery. Bobby refused to leave his grave. The townspeople were so moved by Bobby’s loyalty and devotion that they asked for Bobby to be made the town’s dog so that he wouldn’t be considered a stray and therefore wouldn’t be killed. He was, and when he died 14 years later they buried him in the same cemetery as his owner. Now people leave sticks for him at his grave and go to take photos of his statue and pub.

If you are in Edinburgh, be sure to not touch his nose. It’s apparently causing irreparable damage to the statue, so be nice. You can however go touch Hume’s toe…because apparently that gives you good luck (oh the irony).

After the tour finished I had a short time before I was supposed to be off to my next engagement. So since the National Museum of Scotland was free, I decided to head in there until I needed to leave.

So I wandered a bit. It’s a huge museum. Be sure to check it out if you’re in Edinburgh. Basically it’s just a huge conglomeration of different things. Natural history, science, Scottish history, and some special exhibits you might have to pay for. However, for free, this museum could easily provide two hours of entertainment. I only had about 45 minutes sadly, so I tried to see some of the highlights like the t-rex and Dolly the sheep (yes the real Dolly).

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After I was done browsing the museum I grabbed coffee and snacks for lunch and then snapped a very quick photo of Bobby before heading to the bus. I had schedule a 3 o’clock tour at a strange place called Gilmerton Cove.

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I’d seen good reviews on tripadvisor, so I decided to book a tour, since you have to book in advance.

Basically, since it’s not like a super popular destination let me explain. Basically these are all little hand-carved tunnels and chambers. A man in the 18th century claimed to have carved them himself. However, given their size and complexity, scientists doubt he could have done it in five years, and even more perplexing is the fact that they appear to be much older than such a time period.

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Down in these tunnels are what seem like tabletops or altar tops carved in the stone, with seating on either side. There is a shallow basin carved into one, something that seems like it could have held liquid… baptismal font, cauldron, sacrificial bowl? No one is sure. There is also what appears to be a fire place, but there is no smoke left behind from fires, same with what appears to be a forge. There is also a well, but it is not dug deep enough to reach water.

All of this is quite strange and mysterious. On top of that there’s a three mason symbol carved into one of the tables, and what appears to maybe be a cat alongside other strange carvings.

The best part is simply that on one knows what this is, what it was made for, or who made it. So it’s all left up to your imagination in some ways. The guide leads you around, lets you take photos, and explains the various theories and the history of the caverns. They’re quite different from anything I’ve ever seen, and it sent my creative mind turning wondering what stories these chambers could possibly hold.

If you’re in Edinburgh for a few days looking for some good things to do, I’d recommend this. It was a lot of fun.

I rushed back to my hostel after for a quick break, before taking off to find dinner. I stopped at Angels with Bagpipes which had a nice “lunch” menu still being offered at 5:30. I had the soup of the day, which I cannot remember what it was. And the slow cooked beef with cabbage and potatoes. Both were really delicious. And all washed down with some cider, one of my favorite alcoholic drinks (because it tastes more like juice and less like alcohol…hence why the whiskey experience wasn’t my thing).

I headed off to catch Sandeman’s Dark Side tour. I love this company so much, and honestly Edinburgh does kind of lend itself to a tour about darker things, be they ghosts or murders or fairies.

Our tourguide led us around the city as the sunset, focusing on graveyards and other spooky places where he described to us some of the more spooky parts of Edinburgh’s history. He was incredibly entertaining, and it was fun to do, especially since it was at a time when I wouldn’t be able to really do much else besides eat.

After the tour I rushed off to the Real Mary King’s Close for my tour.

So closes are very normal in Edinburgh. They’re basically little alleyways, usually ones that slope down the Royal Mile to the bottom. They generally are named after important people or tell you something about what went on in that area of the city at the time it was built. AKA Fishmarket Close, etc.

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However, Mary King’s Close was covered over when they decided to build a large federal building in the area alongside three other closes. They didn’t demolish it, they basically just built on top of it. Resulting in a little “subterranean” collection of houses and rooms attached to an alleyway.

With a guide who is dressed in period appropriate costume, you’re led through various parts of the old close and shown the parts of the city now covered over and preserved for all time. It’s a bit more theatrical than I might have cared for, but all in all it’s quite a cool experience and you get to see what life was like back in the old days of Edinburgh. Sadly no photos are allowed inside since it is underneath a federal building, but you can check out their website here which shows a bit of what it looks like.

So yes, quite the full day. It was back to the hostel for me so I could get ready for my next day and my planned return journey to England.

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