What do you think of when someone mentions Edinburgh?
When my friends asked us to join them on a trip to Edinburgh, I was most excited to see the Castle. Little did I know that I would be in for a fabulous food experience and one of the most interesting cultural experiences I would ever have in the UK.
Firstly, I want to explain the title for this post. While wandering through Edinburgh, we walked past this bird statue. For some strange reason, this statue is the first thing that I think about when I think about Edinburgh. It looks like an ordinary statue of a bird, but just below it is the inscription “Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall”.
To anyone walking past, it’s just a statue like any other, but to others who stop to look at it carefully, it’s a unique statue with a positive message. Edinburgh to me is unique and although the people of Edinburgh had a sometimes turbulent past, they have managed to stay positive and keep their traditions alive. Read on if you want to hear more about this wonderful city!
The Royal Mile
We started our day in Edinburgh with a tour. We met our tour guide at a meeting point on the famous Royal Mile. The Royal Mile signifies the start and finish of Edinburgh’s Old Town. When we first walked through the cobble stoned roads of The Royal Mile, we noticed the interesting architecture and statues placed sporadically along the streets.
We noticed the magnificent St Giles Cathedral standing tall grand and then looked to the left to see a heart which was set into the cobble stoned roads.
This is the Heart of Midlothian. It was placed in the cobble stones as a memorial for the hearts that would have been beating before they were executed in the Town Hall. The heads of the prisoners were then placed near the Parliament Square for all to see. The Parliament Square was torn down in 1817 but the memory of these people will still remain when you look at the Heart of Midlothian.
According to my tour guide, people will spit on this heart as a sign of respect and if a tourist spits in the heart, it means that they will find their way back to Edinburgh once more. We walked past this heart at night and giggled as we could tell the difference between locals and tourists. The people of Edinburgh would walk around the heart, whereas the tourists walked straight through it.
Edinburgh Castle is a beautiful castle set in the hilltop and was used mainly as a fortress for the military.
We did not go inside the Castle during our tour, but did go back to visit it the next day. There is so much to see in the Castle that I think it warrants its own post but as you can see in the picture, it’s a definitely worth a visit, even if you just stand along the walls and look out to enjoy the views of Edinburgh city.
From the Castle, we were taken through to the Grefriars Cemetery which probably sounds a little creepy to you. However, the cemetery was a beautiful sight. The grass is green and the graves well maintained but the interesting parts about this cemetery is that it represents a dark side of Edinburgh’s history.
Our tour guide told us the story about the body snatchers in Edinburgh. Many years ago, people were paid large sums of money if they provided the bodies of their deceased relatives to the Medical University. The University was renowned for schooling the best doctors in the world so needed corpses to practice on.
This method worked well, until people started selling the bodies of people they did not know. Body snatchers would roam the cemetery and dig up the bodies of people who had just had a funeral. They would then sell it to the University for a hefty price and leave the graves open. People were so worried that their loved ones would fall prey to the body snatchers that family members took turns guarding the grave site at night . This would continue for a few weeks after the burial until the body was no longer useful to the body snatchers. Those who could afford it placed mortsafes across the grave to protect the body from body snatchers.
On a happier note, this cemetery was also home to the honorary gravestone of a dog named Bobby. I want to introduce you to our friend Bobby. This statue represents Greyfriar’s Bobby; a little dog with a big heart. When his owner died, he would sit at the gravestone every day until his passing 14 years later. Bobby was so heart-broken that he made the cemetery his home and became such an inspiration to the people of Edinburgh, that they created this statue and head stone for him as a reminder of the love that Bobby had for his owner.
The Elephant House and JK Rowling
I love a great story so when we walked past the cafe that JK Rowling sat in to write the Harry Potter series, I was intrigued. Her story is a “rags to riches” story where she transformed from a single mother living on welfare to a household name worth a reported US$1 Billion. She’s richer than the Queen of England! JK Rowling used to sit in The Elephant House cafe because it was cheaper than to sit in her home and pay for heating. She would buy one cup of coffee a day and proceed to write the story of a young, orphaned boy who would soon become a powerful wizard.
In fact, our tour guide said that JK Rowling used many of Edinburgh’s sites and historical figures to write her story, such as George Heriot’s School, which was once a school for orphans and is now a prestigious school in Edinburgh. Many of the gravestones in Greyfriars Cemetery also resemble names of characters within the Harry Potter series. I made a special note of this as my little brothers love Harry Potter and it is nice to know that people, such as JK Rowling, can get inspiration from her surroundings!
It’s also story about persistence – she experienced many rejections from publishing houses (a book about wizards – are you crazy?!) until one gave her a chance and the rest is history!
Our tour ended in the beautiful Princes Gardens which showed all the signs of Spring. The daffodils were littered across the gardens, the trees were in full bloom and the grass was vibrant and green!
As we said farewell to our tour guide, we made our way through to the next tour; a walk through the underground vaults of Edinburgh. We walked past many beautiful buildings and saw many signs of spring…
We then walked through some narrow alleyways to the meeting spot of our tour…
The vaults tour took us underneath the bridges and into a whole new world. The vaults were once used by the people of Edinburgh for storage of food and other products. However, as it rained outside, the water would seep through to the vaults underground, and would cause significant flooding. The shop keepers were eventually driven out of the vaults and in came people who used the vaults in much sinister ways. In came all types of criminals who had something to hide and the vaults saw its darkest days.
When the body snatchers robbed the graves, they would use the vaults to store the bodies until it was time to sell them to the University. To this day, the vaults remain known for its paranormal activity. People have claimed to see ghosts and hear sounds from the past. The vaults were eventually taken hold of by the council of Edinburgh, cleaned up and made a tourist site but that has not stopped the ghost sightings.
The vault tour was worth a mention in this post because I am sure it would have been fun if it was a ghost tour. We were given interesting facts about Edinburgh during this tour, but since I had already heard this during my morning tour, these facts did not generate much excitement.
However, we told our own ghost stories later that night as we walked through Edinburgh in the fog. It was a completely different Edinburgh to what we had seen during the day but hearing about Edinburgh’s past made it all the more exciting! We did, however, huddle a little closer to each other as we walked…
So to make the most of the fog, we ran a race down The Royal Mile…
… and ended the night listening to Scottish music and downing Scottish whisky and cocktails!
Next stop is Budapest! Do you have any suggestions for things to do in Budapest?
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- Where to eat in Edinburgh. Click here for my previous post
- Free tours that are tip based (we gave 20 pounds as he was a great guide but feel free to give what you like, if any)
- Vault tours (they also do ghost tours) we paid 9 pounds each
- Read about the history of the Stone of Destiny