As we walked down the Royal Mile from the castle, Kirsten stopped to show us interesting details of the city and offer insights into life in Edinburgh at various times in history. Although the city streets have been widened by removing some buildings, we see one short section of the block that features original architecture. The windows of the six story, 28 foot wide building, which is framed inside a row of similar though updated buildings, are half wood shuttered, half glass, glass being expensive at the time the building was built. An exterior staircase extends to the second floor, arcing over the covered, arched walkway which would have fronted every building on the block at one time, providing a covered walkway for shops to set out goods out of the weather.
Further down we see Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, an example of “how we honor the dead. We name a tavern after them,” Kirsten jokes. What sets Deacon Brodie’s Tavern apart is that it is the supposed inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Dean Brodie was a well-respected cabinet maker, head of the wood-workers guild, and a city official (thus a Deacon), who lived a double life. At night he drank, gambled, and ran a ring of thieves who specialized in robbing businesses. Brodie would go into a shop, chat, distract the owner, and make an impression of the door keys which usually hung just inside the front door. One of his accomplices, a locksmith, would use the impression to make a key and they would rob the place at night. Eventually they got caught, and ironically, Brodie was the first person to be hung on a gallows he had been commissioned to build for the city. The tavern signs illustrate Brodie’s dual nature. On one side of the tavern sign Brodie is dressed respectably and holds a gold door key. On the opposite side of the sign, Brodie appears ghoulish, with dark-ringed eyes, fingertipless gloves, and holding a sack of money. In the Hyde sign he is looking over his shoulder, as if being pursued.
Evidence of the recent election to determine Scottish Independence can be seen from time to time. As we were looking over the Grassmarket Square, where livestock was sold and criminals were hanged, I noticed a flat across from our vantage point with signs reading “YES” in white letters on a blue background, like the Scottish flag, a white cross on a field of light blue, which draped another window. The election seems years away now, though it was just over two months ago. I’m sure for the people of Scotland it’s either a fresh wound or a fresh relief.
After the tour and before lunch the group splits up. Most plan to tour the Holyrood Palace, planning to meet up at 3 p.m. Julia Rose, William “Yum” Telgren, and I grab some sandwiches and head down the Royal Mile to the bottom, skirt the palace, and cross over into a park that holds the three peaks we viewed earlier from the castle. Rising above the palace is a huge green space laced with trails, most leading up to Arthur’s Seat, a small peak 251 meters above sea level, rising slightly higher than two false peaks, Nether Hill and Crow Hill. We take the John Wayne route, a trail that follows a slowly rising ridge to the base of the peak, then ascends quite steeply, rising in a series of rocks that form a natural set up steps to the top of Nether Hill. From there it’s an easy walk across a saddle and then a quick scramble to Arthur’s Seat, marked by two stone markers, one holding a metal disk with lines radiating out from the center that point to distant features in the city and on the horizon.
It had been a cool day in the city, cold enough to see our breath, but on the hill it is sunny and it gets warm as we climb, and soon we’re down to t-shirts and still sweating. There are dozens of people out on the trails and on the peak, coming and going in small groups or singly, often with dogs. At the top of the Seat I trade cameras with other people, taking turns taking pictures. I laugh at a couple of Americans telling a story for their friends and one of them, a guy from Melbourne Australia, asks me about the difference between “you’ins” and “y’all.” For some reason he thought “you-ins” a Midwestern term, but I corrected him, placing it in East Tennessee. His girlfriend, from Perth, was freezing. She told me it was 30 plus degrees back home, somewhere in the 90s Fahrenheit. (Interestingly, it’s colder in Searcy right now than almost anywhere other than the arctic.) As we are talking a border collie bounds up and Julia Rose and I begin to fawn over him. He plops into a pool of water and lets us pet him until his owner, an old guy, tops the hill and comes over. The dog was a rescue dog and starts at loud noises, and it had run away from the guy and he had been worried about it. We talked border collies for a while and I told him about Bonnie, my old border collie, and Zoe, my Australian shepherd. I said, “My dog is the thing I miss most about the U.S.” Another guys walked up to me, early 20s, and he held out his cell phone with a picture of his border collie. “That’s what I miss about home,” he said. Turns out he was from Melbourne too, though he hadn’t known the other people.
It was good to get out and get on a mountain, work up a sweat, feel the wind and sun on my face. After seeing the Lake District and being jealous of all the people walking the fells last week, I needed to scramble over some rocks. It was good to spend the afternoon with my daughter doing something I loved, and it was good to see Julia Rose love it too.
We closed out the evening group activities with a meal at The Elephant House, which is good but nothing special when it comes to food, but it is famous for being the “Birthplace” of Harry Potter. This is the restaurant where J.K. Rowling, now famously, hovered over a cup of coffee and wrote the day long in the restaurant because she couldn’t afford to heat her apartment. There are pictures of her on the menu and on the restaurant walls writing at a table, and the restrooms are full of graffiti, some filthy as you might expect, but much quoting Harry Potter or thanking Rowling for the effect her story has had on their lives. Interesting, the ladies toilet is graffitied more heavily than the men’s. As we were leaving Stella held the outer door of the toilet open for me to glance inside. Unfortunately, while I was gawking the inner door of the toilet opened and a girl came out. I told her I was only looking at the graffiti, and that I didn’t make a habit of looking inside the ladies’, but I she just looked at me and walked on past.
Just down the street from the Elephant House is Greyfriars Bobby, a tavern named after a famous Edinburgh dog Bobby. According to the placard outside the tavern, “Bobby was a Skye Terrier who belonged to John Gray, a night watchman for the Edinburgh police. The two were inseparable for two years. However, in February 1858, Gray died of tuberculosis.He was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard [churchyard]. Bobby, who survived Gray by 14 years, is said to have spent the rest of his life sitting on his master’s grave. The gardener and keeper of Greyfriars tried on many occasions to evict Bobby, but in the end they took pity on him. He was built a shelter and was fed regularly. Bobby never spent a night away from his master’s grave even in the most dismal weather conditions. In 1867, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh paid for Bobby’s dog license, making him the responsibility of the City council. Bobby sadly died in 1872. He could not be buried within the cemetery itself, since it was consecrated ground; instead he was buried just inside the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from John Gray’s grave.” Just outside the pub is a bronze statue of Bobby. His nose is shiny as opposed to the rest of his body, slightly tarnished, because it is supposed to be good luck to rub his nose. I gave him a pat on the head instead, told him he was a good boy, and walked back to the hotel, missing my own dogs.