Edinburgh oh Edinburgh.

Truth: Edinburgh is the only place ever in which I have seen a bagpipe busker in full plaid regalia, complete with an overturned red wool hat in front of him for change. I am still unsure whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Edinburgh is an interesting city. The initial arrival from the train station is a bit disorienting and it certainly didn’t help that like everywhere else I’ve visited I’d done zero research before visiting other than to look up the name of a decent hostel, but uppon climbing up from the dank underground station and into the dim grey of a typically overcast day all was forgiven as Edinburgh easily has one of the most impressive first views possible. The train station being situated right next to the Edinburgh castle and a beautiful park in what once was the castles moat.

Edinburgh is a tourist city, or at least that’s how it feels. Walking down the main historical street you’re faced with dozens of buskers and street performers all competing for attention alongside the many tour group operations. However unlike many other touristy cities, Edinburgh has a nice vibe to it and neither plays the preening beauty act nor the vicious money trap scheme on you, atleast not right away or openly. Indeed it struck me as a city that took some pride in itself, the type that like to show off certainly but at the least is not an ass about it. The streets are enjoyable to walk down and the buildings well kept, the areas clean and the people friendly enough. Small monuments for one thing or another dot seemingly every corner and almost every location has some sort of story. For example my friend and I were sitting in a cafe for a break when we noticed the signs proudly proclaiming THIS to be the amazingfantabulous cafe where the author of Harry Potter would often relax (It was alright, bit crowded and loud for my tastes!). And a small statue of a dog in front of a bar named Bobby’s Bar would later be revealed to have an elaborate tale of a puppies love and endurance (Ever watched the show Futurama? If no, shame on you, it’s an excellent show. If yes, remember the episode with Fry’s dog? This was the real life inspiration for that story.). A statue of a man on a horse would be revealed to be a local joke with a humorous tale of its own. A heart shaped series of tiles on the ground another (Don’t stand there!). And so on and so on. It’s exhausting but extremely entertaining.

How I heard all these stories was a simple matter of joining up with one of the local free walking tour groups, which of all things was led by an American student there for a study program. Nice person mind you, but when you’re being told the local history by a girl with a distinctly New Yorkish accent, it’s a bit disorienting. Still, hard to complain when it was free eh, and it’s not like she did a bad job at all. Far from it! It’s just there are certain expectations you have with these things, what can I say? Besides, I later got my wish of a thick Scottish accent describing locations as later that day I would sign up for an Underground Vault tour after my interest was caught by the previous guide (The New York one!) noting the cities historical underground system of inter-connected basements as we wandered along.

Before I jump to that though I’ll finish with the above ground though. The touristy historical city is extremely concentrated into a single area where the buildings are usually round 5 stories-ish tall with one main avenue called the Royal Mile and various smaller tight twisty streets branching off to the sides. This street leads right up a steep hill to the castle itself, which is one of those castles that is posed dramatically on the peak of a steep hill with cliffs all round I presume for for tourism purposes as it makes for one helluva picture. I unfortunately never went *in* the castle seeing as I’m cheap and it was expensive, but to make up for that I explored the area around it plenty and spent a fair bit of time in its moat-turned-garden which while not especially big is easily one of the most beautifully green parks I’ve ever seen. I was told this was because the moat had been notorious as a dumping ground for crap (literal crap!) which over the years made the soil extremely well fertilized, go figure. Nice shops in that area if you’ve the money to spend. It was all very enjoyable and scenic.

Of course one can only wander the streets so long knowing that there’s the potential for even COOLER streets underneath that may or may not be haunted by ghosts and such depending on who you’re talking to. But honestly, how neat is that? Not only is there the photo-friendly dramatic ‘castle on a cliff’ stereotype but they’ve even got haunted underground passages? How many more cool stereotype UK tourist sights can you have in one city? Naturally I had to see the underground so tours were signed up for and walking was done, this time led by a young woman with an appropriately Scottish accent and in appropriately historical ye-olden style dress. Many of the places we saw with her as lead were the same as the ones I’d seen earlier, and often the same stories (Although there were differences in the tales every here and there.) and eventually this led to the underground, which of all things was reached by going UP in in an apartment building? HUH? I’m still uncertain of how exactly that worked.

This famous ‘haunted underground city’ as it turns out is in truth like I mentioned earlier, more a series of inter-connected basements and tunnels than anything. Much of it has been bricked off over the years and sealed shut and it’s only in recent times that people have taken to exploring the place. It came into being when the city was getting extremely crowded and the local merchants and the like were searching for extra room to store silly things like food and people, and someone eventually came up with the idea “If we can’t go up or out anymore, why not go down?” and the underground was born. All in all it was an interesting experience to see and certainly worth seeing if you’re in Edinburgh, but it was hardly the epic experience I’m sure you were expecting me to say it was with all this build up. No, in truth picture a series of very old underground vaults lined with grey stone, now picture it being extremely dark and spooky with the occasional drip-drip-dripping of water here and there and only the guides flashlight to show the way. Not particularly much to see as it was a barren series of rooms for the most, but the surprisingly enthusiastic and charismatic guide (Who had a scottish accent need I remind you!) who told various tales of sadness and woe certainly made it entertaining. It all ended with one of those ‘Boo!’ gotcha moments which I absolutely despise because it breaks the ambiance the guide had to create, but everything leading up to that was golden. Is it genuinely haunted down there? I doubt it honestly, but I’m the skeptical type who thinks “Damn it would be cool if ghosts were real!” all while disbelieving everything thrown at me out of silly logic and so forth. It was certainly dark enough there to make a creepy vibe, no doubt, but a series of empty underground rooms is still just a series of empty underground rooms regardless of whether they’re creepy or not, and untill I see myself a transparent ghost right outta ghostbusters staring me down personally, I’m likely to continue to believe that the mind plays nasty tricks on people in places like that and that’s likely all these tales of ghostly gooblies is.

After underground, Hostel, bunk, sleep, off to next city next day. Edinburgh condensed into one days packed walking journey. Personally I’d love to go back there some time, of all the cities in the UK besides London, I’d have to say Edinburgh left the best impression. It’s a beautiful city filled with all sorts of little stories tucked away all over the place, a gem of a place for people like myself that enjoy hearing these little local tales and legends.

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2 Comments on “Edinburgh oh Edinburgh.”

  1. Stuart Says:

    Hi

    Edinburgh is the city of my birth and I still visit there whenever I can. I found it very interesting hearing your different perspective of the city.

    The ‘moat’ was actually the ‘Nor’ Loch’ (North Loch) which as you describe was the repository of a lot of the old town’s waste. It wasn’t particularly a a moat but rather the product of natural glacial activity. The locals would throw their rubbish, crap and corruption out of the windows of the old tenaments with a lusty shout of ‘Gardyloo’ of French derivation and just what you might imagine it means from the way it’s worded.

    The Nor Loch was also the site of many ‘witches’ demise. Women suspected of witchcraft would be ducked into the stinking, disgusting waters of the old loch. If they survived they were considered to be witches and condemned to death. If they drowned and sank…well they were obviously not practicing witchcraft!

    I wondered if you were either in ‘Edinbugh’s Vaults’ or alternatively Mary Kings Close for your subterranean tour? I’m glad that your general impression of Auld Reekie was a favourable one and I enjoyed reading your interesting blog.

    Stu

  2. incipiency Says:

    Glad you enjoyed reading it.

    Edinburgh was easily one of my favourite places I’ve visited and it’s always interesting to learn a little more about it. I’d heard of the witches and of the ‘Gardyloo’ but I didn’t know the moat was natural, nor had I ever heard if Mary Kings Close till now… a quick google search and wikepedia read later I can say no, it was the Vaults I was in and not the Kings Close, although now I would like to see that too.

    Perhaps next time I’m around there. Be proud, you’ve got a beautiful city. I’m looking forward to exploring it a bit more in the future (When I’m not dirt poor for example!).


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