My plan for the weekend was to visit Avalon in Glasgow, explore Edinburgh on Halloween and the next day, and then to go back to Avalon’s before heading back to school.
I got to Avalon’s place on Friday and we got to relax for a few hours before she had class. She lives out from the city center and since I had nowhere to go I just went to class with her. I got a nice review on the lymphatic system. We went back to her place and I got to meet her housemates and chat about home for a bit (they are all American). Later that night we all got into our costumes and headed out to a Vet school sponsored party. I dressed as Dana Scully from the X-Files because it’s an extremely easy costume to wear: a suit and an FBI badge.
On Saturday, I got into Edinburgh in the early afternoon, too early to check into my hostel. The friends I was planning on meeting in the city were off doing their own thing with limited access to wi-fi, which was our only means of communication. So, I set off through the main part of town towards the hostel, which was about a 20-minute walk away. They let me store my huge backpack in the laundry room for the day until I could check in.
I spent most of the day wandering around checking out the old town. I found a path up the side of Castle Rock and eventually made it up to the castle. I couldn’t justify paying to go inside, but I still got to enjoy the view… until it started pouring rain. It was a very Hilo-like downpour because everything got soaking wet and then it stopped in about 5 minutes. I finally got in contact with my friends long enough to agree that we were going to do afternoon tea at 3 pm. So, I spent the time until then walking down the royal mile. I made the mistake of entering a 4 story tourist shop and I ended up getting lost in the maze of plaid. I made it all the way to the basement where they had giant weaving looms set up. I also ended up in a room full of whisky at one point. Once I finally remembered the way out, a bagpiper showed up and started playing in the middle of the store. I finally escaped and noticed Scotch Whisky Experience building across the street. I decided I’d save the tour/tasting until the next day, but I did head up to the coffee shop for some Gaelic coffee, Scottish brie, mango chutney, and crackers. It was as delicious as it sounds. I overheard a funny conversation at the bar while enjoying my snack. An American man commented that he was drinking early in the afternoon. The bartender looked up and said, “It’s 12 o’clock somewhere.” The American man said, “oh well in America we say ‘5 o’clock somewhere’… you all start early here!” The bartender just said, “well… our days are shorter up here.”
Once I was back out on the royal mile another group caught my eye. A few people were in period costume holding adorable owls and asking for donations. They were allowing people to hold the owls, but they were also advertising Halloween events for the Gladstone’s land house behind them. After I took a few pictures of the adorable and ridiculous owls, I went inside to do the self-guided tour of the historical 17th-century house.
The house tour had little checkpoints with volunteer historians on staff to explain a bit about the specific rooms. The first man I met in the front room was from Oregon, but we decided it was much more interesting to talk about Edinburgh so he told me about how the room was an addition to the original structure of the house. I moved on through the house and got to see a lot of restored items from the time, a few that did belong to the owners of the house. Along with the history about the building and the city at that time, there were flyers with scary stories in each room. One was on Scottish folklore about fairies and ghosts, one was entitled “how to spot a witch,” and one was about a famous mass murder that was never truly solved. This was my favorite just because the ending of the story says that many people speculate that the wife lit the room on fire, and I think her portrait says it all.
After the spooky house tour, I continued down the royal mile passing a street musician, a rogue bagpiper, and a double decker bus reserved for a wedding. I stopped by St. Giles cathedral to look inside and then I finally met up with my friends for afternoon tea. They are all fellow Americans studying abroad in London and they came up as a group. After enjoying our tea and sweets, we went back to the hostel and relaxed until our spooky “Double Dead” city tour.
My friend insisted on leaving early to see if we could catch the celebration of Samhain in the city center. We made it on time and despite the crowds we managed to find a good view of the dancers, fire twirlers, and eventually the demonic drumline that marched past us. Eventually, we made our way up to St. Giles, which was the meeting point of the tour. I didn’t take any photos on the tour, but I remember some of the stories. First, we went into the underground city and learned about how it was carved out for the poorest of Edinburgh to live. We stood in a small room, about the size of a college dorm room, that reportedly housed 13 people. Our guide explained how there was no exact record of what went on in the underground and that the police hated going down there, meaning it was most likely an extremely violent place to be. It was still a ghost tour, though, so she did share stories of things that have happened on tours that they have given before. I thought the best one was of this woman who brought her 6-year-old daughter on the tour. They don’t allow children, but she was allegedly very pushy with this newer tour guide and demanded that she take her daughter with her. While they were in the underground, all standing in one of the small living spaces, the tour guide’s light accidentally went out (at which point, our own guide turned off her light). As he fumbled with it for a bit to get it back on, the woman felt her daughter’s hand grip hers tightly. She tried to assure her daughter that everything was okay and that the light would come back on in no time. Her daughter, however, continued to grip harder and harder on her hand, and she began to grow concerned. Finally, the guide got his light back on and shone it around asking if everyone was okay. The mother looked down and her daughter was no longer next to her. In fact, she was in the back left corner of the room standing against the wall. The mother and tour guide ran back to ask her what happened and she said an adult had grabbed her hand and lead her back there until she was at the wall. All the while, a child had been gripping the mother’s hand up in the front of the room (spooooooooooky).
The next big stop on the tour was the Greyfriars Kirkyard where we learned that the apparently famous story of the Greyfriar’s Bobby is all a lie. The dog was most likely chilling in the cemetery all the time because it is built on a mass plague grave and so bones occasionally come up through the ground when it floods. Our guide told us about the famous grave-robbers/body-snatchers who provided cadavers for the medical school. She also told the story of the covenanters who refused to convert religions and were kept locked in part of the cemetery for months before most of them were tried and executed for treason. This part of the cemetery is locked to the general public during the day, but the tour company is allowed to go in. We went and stood in a crypt that is home to the famous Mackenzie poltergeist, for more spooky stories. Our guide told us that one of the reasons the section was locked was because one night in the 90s a drunk homeless man stumbled in looking for shelter. He decided it was a good idea to go down into a tunnel he had found in one of the crypts. He crawled through the tunnel and eventually came to four large stone tombs. He began banging on one of the tombs… which was heard above by the man tending to the kirkyard. This attendant was understandably startled by the sound of banging from an underground tomb. Meanwhile, the homeless man had moved around enough to loosen up some floor boards and he ended up falling through to a section of a mass grave. He eventually climbed out and ran for it, almost running into the scared attendant and scaring both of them even more. Our guide explained the poltergeist theory that she believes in, that a poltergeist will develop in a specific place where a significant amount of fear has been felt (the imprisoned covenantors, the homeless man, and the many frightened tour goers). I did not have any poltergeist experiences of my own but I think our group was sufficiently spooked by the end of the tour.
Sunday morning I slept in too late and missed breakfast with my friends, so I took my time getting ready and set out for another day in Edinburgh. I went back to the royal mile and to the Scotch Whisky Experience, where I rode a barrel through a faux-distillery, learned about the regional whiskies of Scotland, chose one to taste, and got to see the world’s largest collection of whisky (about 3400 bottles). The first room housed most of the normal bottles:
The last stop of the tour was the bar, which had a wall full of the quirky bottles. The guide explained that every item in the case had whisky in it, including the dog statues, animal figures, human statues, a clock, and every piece in a chess set.
After the whisky tour, I went back to the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard to see where the tour had taken us the night before. This is the locked Covenanters’ prison that we went inside: Sunday became a day of one tourist site after another. After the graveyard, I walked through the National Museum of Scotland for a while and then caught a bus down to the Botanic gardens. On my way back up to the train station, I treated myself with tea and pancakes at a chocolatier and then said goodbye to Edinburgh… for now…
I spent my last night back at Avalon’s place, planning for her visit to Egham/London this coming weekend.