As a teacher, I try to fill my breaks with something relaxing and different. This time, I decided to go back to the city I love – Edinburgh! I took the coach from London for £30 return and stayed at a St Christopher’s Inn on Market Street in the Old Town for £10 a night. The showers were warm and the beds clean and the rest was secondary. Those are the only real criteria I have for a hostel.
I prefer staying in hostels when travelling alone. You meet so many people just as open to making new friends. I like meeting people, but I also like to explore alone. Which was fine. I hiked and climbed and had a wonderful time.
My coach took ten hours to get to Edinburgh. Starting at London Victoria, we made our way to Golders Green then to Milton Keynes before heading north through the lovely English countryside and into Northumbria where we collected people from Morpeth (a lovely medieval town. Very quaint and cute), Newcastle (with the Angel of the North), Alnwick (with an amazing Castle and walls. The bus took a wrong turn here and had to go round again through Alnwick creating a distinct feeling of deja vu). We passed through Berwick and finally arrived in Edinburgh. Asking someone for directions, I made my way to the Inn and checked in before having supper in the pub and went to bed.
After an inclusive continental breakfast at the Inn, I made my way to Starbucks to have a hazelnut late, the perfect start to a grey, atmospheric Edinburgh morning. I sat enjoy the contemplative morning before moving on to the walking tour.
This walking tour is free. You only give a donation at the end of any value you can afford. Anyone interested in walking for free around the cities of Europe really should check this out. The group is called Sandleman’s New Europe. There are walking tours in Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Jerusalem, Hamburg, Prague and Madrid. Not only do they do these walking tours, but they also do pub crawls and ghost tours and such. The tour was three hours and really quite comprehensive. I got to have a fried Mars Bar – a particularly interesting Scottish delicacy. There were also friend pizza, Haggis and burgers in the take away shop on Grassmarket Street. I resisted the urge to try those new things. I felt the chocolate was quite enough heart-attack material for one holiday. The guide was really good and told excellent yarns. One sticks in my mind.
Molly was a woman in a bygone Edinburgh. Her husband deserted her. Young and lonely, she moved out of Edinburgh and found an Inn in which to work. In this inn was the son of the proprietor. Her days were bliss before the inevitable happened. Moving back to Edinburgh, she concealed her pregnancy until she gave birth prematurely. The baby died, so she made her way to the North Loch (then a reeking open sewer and now a beautiful garden at the foot of the castle) and tried to throw the body in. Some men seeing her, arrested her and she was put on trial. She was convicted not of murder or of trying to throw and desecrating the body, but of concealing her pregnancy. She was taken to Grassmarket Street and hanged. On the way to her unmarked grave, the driver of the carriage heard the sound of someone knocking on a coffin. He stopped the carriage and opened up Molly’s coffin and found that she was still alive. Quickly, he nailed her coffin down again and rushed back to the gallows where they promptly strung Molly up again and were just about the knock the chair from out beneath her feet when a man shouted for them to stop. It was made clear to the executioner that Molly had already been tried, convicted and sentenced and could not be hanged again. Her sentence had already been served. So Molly was set free. Additionally, her marriage vows were now also void as she’s already fulfilled her marriage oath. (‘Until death us do part.’) She was now free to marry and together with her new husband, they ran an inn on Grassmarket Street where she could watch the gallows and shout encouragingly to the dead men walking.
We finished off the tour by going to a pub in the New Town section and had Haggis with whiskey sauce. It was surprisingly very good and not quite as offensive as I thought it might be. And so the day passed. My cousin came that evening and took me to dinner and on returning, I went to bed early.
My last day in Edinburgh and feeling sad to be leaving, I started my day again in the Starbucks with my hazelnut late before making my way up Carlton Hill. It’s not much of a hike, but the views from the top are brilliant. On the hill, there is a memorial in the style of the Parthenon commemorating the soldiers that fought against Napoleon and also an observatory.
After the Hill I went up the Sir Walter Scott Monument which has 287 stairs and was completed in 1844. It is 200ft tall and is made completely from Sandstone. In true Victorian fashion, its style is Gothic and over-the-top. But once again the views are awe-inspiring. Edinburgh lay ant-like below me and different bagpipe strains floated up to me as I looked down on the bustle. I looked down upon the former North Loch (now a garden) and could see the castle directly ahead. The stairs are tiring, but fun and there are landings that allow you to rest and see how high you are. The last few stairs were the most hair-raising as they are really tight and there’s definitely no space to pass someone coming down. Just as well I was the first person up that day with only a few people following about 30 minutes later.
Climbing done, I decided to go on the Mary King Close Tour. Now, this had its fascinating elements. Edinburgh has all these closes and streets running below the buildings and the current streets. The Old City is centuries old. The roads you walk on are intersected by alleys that run up and down the hills and connect the main roads. Underneath these alleys and homes and shops are yet more alleys. What makes Mary King Close famous is that some of the occupants are historically known and the homes remain in the same almost complete state as they were when abandoned. There are rich homes and poor homes and, of course, haunted home. One home has walls of painted petals. The walls are also plastered and within this plaster is human ash. During this time of plastering was the great plague. Bodies were burnt and the ash used in plaster. This homestead is also haunted by a girl called Annie.
Now, the story goes that there was a clairvoyant that went down into this house with a camera crew. Once there, she could not see anything. So she left. But on leaving, she felt the inevitable cold and someone grabbing her leg. She turned round and saw a little girl. She asked the girl her name and why she was crying. The little girl said her name was Annie and she has lost her doll. Centuries ago, her family had abandoned her in the locked up house because she had the plague had to be quarantined with the house. The family did not want to catch it. So they left her there alone to die. When her body was taken to be burnt, she lost her doll. The clairvoyant then ran out to the high street and bought a doll for Annie. She left it in Annie’s room. Since then, people have been leaving all sorts of dolls for Annie and they all sit on her sealed-in window ledge.
Other than the historical fascination I had with the place, I did not enjoy the tour. I thought the guide was terrible and the set up of the tour forced and childish. But then I’ve never enjoy things like the London Dungeon and find them a waste of money. They should have one tour with the play-acting and then a tour for sensible adults without all the bells and whistles and put-on ghost voices.
The day had not ended there. I had lunch in St Giles Cathedral and then looked around (donation of £2.50). The ceiling and pillars have interesting sculptures of faces and an angel playing the Celtic harp. Some of the faces are quite contorted and I found an interesting epitaph to the 1st Marquis of Montrose:
Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air
Lord, since though knowest where all these atoms are
I’m hopeful Thou’lt recover once my dust
And confident Thou’lt raise me with the Just
Finally, I made it to the Crags which was once a volcano millennia ago. It was so windy and rough and beautiful. Amongst these Crags is Arthur’s Seat.
Finally, I finished the day with a pub crawl. It was also run by the same company as the walking tour that I had done the day before. It was £12 and included a drink and five shooters.
With stomach roiling and hangover in full swing, I left the hostel early to catch my bus and travel the 10 hours back to London. The bus was over heated, I’d not brought lunch and was starving and the last bus driver to take us into London was a complete maniac and seemed to think his bus was in fact a Ferrari racing car. I didn’t think we were going to make it into London alive. And that wasn’t the end of it. I caught a bus home and the bus was broken. The suspensions had gone. We could hear the driver telling the people on his radio that the bus wasn’t safe and they needed to do something about it. The bus was jolting and swerving and people were holding on for dear life.
Finally I made it home, unpacked, had a cup of tea, sent a text to my folks and went to bed. Edinburgh remains one of my favourite cities!