The Walk to Abbey Craig

One of the wonderful things about Stirling is that you don’t have to walk far to find yourself in the countryside, and walking in Scotland’s countryside on a mild summer’s morning makes you glad to be alive.

A few blocks from Castle Walk, I hit the last stretch of town, walking along Abbey Road. It is not THE Abbey Road, of course, but like The Abbey Road, it was named long, long ago, for the place to which it led – the local abbey. In Stirling, this means Cambuskenneth Abbey.

As I got closer to the River Forth, I could see the footbridge that crossed the river, and houses on the other side. There is a very small village across the river called, “Cambuskenneth,” which means “fields of Kenneth,” after the 9th century King Kenneth McAlpin who defeated the Picts in a battle here in 834 AD. Traditionally, this battle marked the founding of “Scotland,” because Kenneth became the first king.

Beginning in medieval times the crossing here was by boat. A log boat was found on the spot in 1874, carved from a single tree. Carbon dating indicates the boat was built in 996AD, and it is preserved now within the neighboring bell tower.

The serene River Forth from the footbridge between Stirling and Cambuskenneth.

The ferry boats themselves had evolved over time from the early log boats, to dory-looking craft with oars, until the last ferry was powered by steam and designed by Baillie “Captain” Robert Wilson, a local whose family owned a steamship cargo company. It was launched in 1928, and named Cameo III. (Cameo I and Cameo II were owned by the steamship company and used to transport ammunition to nearby Forthside.) Cameo III served until the footbridge opened in 1935. Comparatively speaking, the footbridge is still new, and has barely lost its shine, outdone only by the bridge further upstream that was built to serve motorised traffic.

The bell tower holding the medieval log boat belongs to Cambuskenneth Abbey, founded in 1140 by King David I, and which became home to an order of Augustinian canons. Most of the abbey is gone, and the bell tower and the western doorway to the church are all that’s left.

The Campanile, or bell tower. I was able to walk into the bottom floor, but entrance to the upstairs, where I presume the boat is, was blocked.

Cambuskenneth Abbey was used by Robert the Bruce as his main supply depot in 1314 for the ten thousand soldiers of his army at the Battle of Bannockburn. Bruce and his army of about six thousand defeated Edward II and an English army of about eighteen thousand at the Bannockburn. In 1314 and in 1326, Bruce held parliaments at this abbey.

The bell tower is next to a cemetery where King James III and Queen Margaret of Denmark are buried. James was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn, about three miles south, in 1488.

Near the cemetery. The fence that kept me from exploring the cemetery doesn’t show in the photo because I’m standing on the bottom rung and leaning on the iron rod across the top, avoiding the sharp, pointy iron arrows at the top. (It’s a different fence than the one you see above.) I looked for another entrance or a way to climb the fence, but didn’t find any. Despite the inviting open gate, visitors were clearly not allowed.

The Abbey was next to a key fording point on the River Forth, and “would have been a well known and a welcome sight for travelers and tradesmen travelling between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland,” says the sign next to the footbridge. The abbey was disbanded after the Reformation of 1560, and the stones were used for other buildings in Stirling. The Campanile (bell tower) was restored in 1865.

Cambuskenneth, the village, is a very pleasant place with friendly people. I know that because when I arrived at the abbey, I found a group of men who were just arriving at the very small park by the abbey. We had a lovely conversation about the things tourists and locals talk about – where I’m from, where they’ve been in the U.S., how long they’ve lived here, things like that. Are you Rotarians? I asked, because they reminded me so much of my club on South Whidbey Island. They were not, they were simply friends who liked to walk, and did so regularly. The small park at the abbey provided seating to rest, chat, and enjoy a lunch while outside and socially distanced. A few of them let me take their photo.

Part of the walking group. The field with the small park and the Abbey is to the right of the photo.

The village is also a “conservation village,” a designation meaning the area is considered to have “special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.” The area has special protections from the top of Abbey Craig across to Stirling itself, along with Stirling castle and other historical buildings.

A street in Cambuskenneth

My destination was the Wallace Monument, which sits on Abbey Craig. Wallace is considered a hero in Scotland as a whole, and here in Stirling especially, because of the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge fought in 1296. It was an early battle in the First War of Scottish Independence, roughly from 1296 to 1332.

How Scotland, and William Wallace, arrived at the Abbey Craig to fight the English King Edward, goes like something like this:

In 1290, seven year old Margaret, Queen of Scotland, died, leaving the Scottish throne vacant. Two men claimed the right to succeed the unfortunate little queen: Robert Bruce and John Balliol, both descended from King David I, but along slightly different lines. The claims of these two possible successors were deemed roughly equivalent, and so the lairds of Scotland asked King Edward I of England to decide between the two.

King Edward didn’t care much about ancestry, but he did care who ruled Scotland, and wanted someone who would “take suggestions” from him. Edward thought this was John Balliol.

Depending on whose history of Scotland you read, Scottish or English I suspect, either John Balliol turned out to think for himself or he was a weak and ineffective king. When Edward was getting ready to invade France, he communicated his expectation that Scotland would join him to deal with England’s enemy. Balliol either refused or couldn’t get the lairds to go along with Edward, and Balliol either defied Edward by signing an alliance with France in the following year, 1295, or the lairds forced Balliol into signing the alliance.

Either way, King Edward was enraged, and invaded Scotland in 1296. By July, 1296, Edward had forced John Balliol to abdicate and imprisoned him in the Tower of London, leaving the Scottish throne empty again, and Edward free to rule Scotland as if it was a province of England. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well in Scotland.

William Wallace was the son of a low-ranking Scottish landowner, and was deemed an outlaw in his early years for killing an Englishman who insulted him, followed by killing two Englishmen who accused him of poaching. (Being that the English and Scots were frequently at odds, there may be more to this story.)

As Wallace was a wanted man, he visited his wife and their infant daughter in secret, but the English sheriff heard of this, and took his men to capture Wallace. Wallace escaped, but the sheriff had Wallace’s wife, Marion, executed on the spot by his soldiers. This was Wallace’s transformation from outlaw to freedom fighter, at least according to “Blind Harry,” the bard who composed “The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie,” an epic poem, almost two hundred years later in 1470.

That same night, Wallace and his men murdered the sheriff and all the soldiers present, and then went on to lay siege to Dundee Castle. Wallace became England’s most wanted man.

The Scottish lairds were organizing to revolt, but their revolt was losing energy by mid-1297. Leadership was lacking in the south of Scotland. Another revolt further north, led by Andrew Murray, was brewing in Moray. When finished at Dundee Castle, Wallace proceeded toward Stirling, meeting Murray along the way. They positioned their forces on Abbey Craig, overlooking the River Forth and Stirling Castle.

Edward I, for his part, sent a large army north to reinforce the English garrison at Stirling Castle, and to destroy the Scottish rebellion. The army was led by the Earl of Surrey, and included Sir Richard Lundie, a Scottish knight who had joined the English forces, and had knowledge of the area.

The landscape was critical to the outcome of the battle. The River Forth twists and turns through the marshy plain between Stirling Castle and Abbey Craig. At the place where the English were, was a wooden bridge, the safest crossing for men and horses because the river became wider to the east of the bridge, and the marshland of Flanders Moss lay on the west. But the bridge was narrow, and cavalry could cross only two abreast. With a force of about two thousand cavalry, crossing would take hours.

Sir Richard offered to lead a cavalry force to ford the river two miles upstream where sixty horsemen could cross at one time, and attack the flank of the Scots, but Cressingham, King Richard’s treasurer in Scotland, persuaded Surrey to cross the bridge and make a direct attack.

Wallace and Murray waited on Abbey Craig as the English cavalry began crossing the bridge. When as many as they thought their force could overwhelm had crossed, they swooped down on them. The English were caught on three sides by the twisty River Forth and were not able to retreat back across the bridge. They were killed.

That Stirling Bridge no longer exists – only the supports remain, now covered by the river. There is a newer bridge, c. 1500, that carries foot and bicycle traffic a few hundred yards from the remains of the original Stirling Bridge.

The Earl of Surrey still had thousands of archers and, not having crossed the bridge, was in a fairly strong position, but he had lost his nerve. He retreated quickly, abandoning the garrison remaining in Stirling Castle to fend for themselves, and headed south to Berwick, in England.

Murray was alive at the battle’s end, but was mortally wounded. He hung on for a few months, dying in November of that year. Wallace was made Guardian of Scotland and commander of its army. Wallace and the army raided as far south as Durham, England, keeping the border area on edge. Edward was already planning a new invasion.

Wallace’s fortunes changed after that. He led the his army into battle at Falkirk in 1298 and the Scots were defeated by Edward I. Historians, with the benefit of hindsight, conclude that Wallace was a charismatic man and a popular leader, but that Murray had been the military strategist. Wallace resigned as Guardian. He was still very popular with the people, however, and therefore Edward I considered him a threat.

In the next few years, not much is known of Wallace, except that he went to France, possibly to gather French support for Scotland’s rebellion. When he returned to Scotland, he was captured – some say by treachery – by Sir John de Menteith, Keeper of Dunbarton Castle, in 1305 at Robroyston. Menteith sent Wallace to England in chains, where he ultimately was executed in a most grisly manner.

On the road, leaving Cambuskenneth to walk to Abbey Craig. “Craig” is a variation of “crag,” a rocky bluff made of quartz-dolerite exposed by erosion, with a “tail” formed by glacial shaping. In the photo, the craig is on the left, where you can see the Wallace Monument reaching up toward the clouds, and the tail slopes to the right.

Leaving Cambuskenneth, heading for Abbey Craig, I was walking on Ladysneuk Road, long and straight across the fields between. About halfway across, someone had thoughtfully placed a bench. There was a break in the foliage between the road and the River Forth, and across the river, up on the hill was Stirling Castle. In the distance, in the sunlight, it looked rather pink to me. I have been learning that castles were once more colorful than we thought – monarchs and rich nobles would put a smooth finish on the walls of their palaces, and paint them, often in bright colors, rather than maintaining the stone gray that we usually associate with castles.

Stirling Castle. The light colored walls are the walls of the palace within the castle.

It was a long walk and the day got warmer. The road turned to the left, and the way to Abbey Craig went through a newer part of Stirling with traffic, including the local buses passing me as I walked, now on a sidewalk.

I stopped to admire a garden (and take a short break.) There was a waist-high stone wall between me and the garden, and the garden’s owner was busy weeding and hoeing. “Great-looking garden,” I said, and it was – lovely beds growing flowers and vegetables, although being August, the vegetables were slowing down some. He thanked me, and stopped to chat for a few minutes. These are the moments in travel that I love best – the chance to meet the residents of the places I visit. We talked about the weather, the path up to the monument, and the cost of real estate around Stirling. He is a retired postmaster, and he allowed as how he was glad he inherited the house and land from his mother because land is expensive in Stirling, and Scotland as a whole.

There was more hill to climb, and the path turned upward, through an alley that ran between the houses, a direct path from the village street I left to the more rural road a couple of tiers up the hill.

From there, there was sidewalk again that passed by someone’s estate with a gorgeous view across the valley and big iron gates across the car access road. This stretch was all up hill, and I was relieved when I finally saw the sign indicating the entrance to the park surrounding the monument itself.

This was actually the beginning of the “Wallace Way,” the path from the visitors’ center to the monument at the top of Abbey Craig, so there was still more hill to climb. The Historical Scotland people had placed signs and statues along the way with information about the monument and Scotland generally as visitors make their way through the woods and up the hill – a nice, educational effort, but I think they did it to help people get to the top.

Yes, Robert Burns is found even at the Wallace Monument! There was, not much further, a bust of Robert the Bruce, too.

At the end of the Ice Age, the Forth Valley was under water. It seems impossible as you walk up the hill, but Abbey Craig with its 300 metres of height was one of the few areas of land above the ancient high sea level. Whale bones were washed up on the prehistoric shoreline, and discovered just below Abbey Craig.

By 3800 BC, the people were farming here. There is evidence of tree clearing to enable growing wheat and barley, and evidence of domesticated animals for meat, milk, wool, and leather. People were building permanent homes, burial mounds, and stone circles. They were still hunters and gatherers, but they spent most of their time with their farms.

The first fort on Abbey Craig dates from 500 AD. Stirling, over the centuries, has been invaded by Romans, Picts, and Vikings. It had the fortune (or misfortune) to be the only safe place to cross between north and south Scotland because of the terrain. It was always considered the “gateway” to the Highlands and northern Scotland. The original fort was destroyed by fire around 700 AD, a fire so intense that the heat fused the rock together, making a “vitrified” fort. The fort was re-fortified around 900 AD to fend off the Vikings.

Blind Harry’s epic poem about Sir William Wallace was popular entertainment for the court of James III of Scotland, and when it was revived in the 1800s, as Queen Victoria’s affection for Scotland was taking root, the epic found a receptive audience again for the romanticised Scot hero. In 1859, a competition was held to design a suitable permanent monument for Sir William. The winner, chosen from among seventy-six entries, was a design featuring a crown spire, turrets, and gun loops traditionally found in Scottish castles and other ancient structures, done in the “Scottish Baronial” style.

The Duke of Atholl laid the foundation stone on June 24, 1861, and the monument was built over the next eight years. The stone was quarried on site. Moving stone from another place would have been difficult – it would have to be hauled up the 300 foot hill. As it was, a small railroad track was laid for the workmen to move material and equipment up and down the hill.

In 1869, the monument, 220 feet (67 metres) tall, with 246 steps, was completed at a cost of 18,000 pounds, more than twice the original estimate (some things don’t change.)

The Wallace Monument as approached from the “Wallace Way” path.
From the observation terrace. The building is large, and the area around it, while very adequate, is not large.
The building was closed due to the pandemic and the need for distancing.

Inside, there is a “Hall of Heroes,” organized in 1886. The first two busts in the gallery were, of course, Robert the Bruce, donated by the Marquess of Bute, and Robert Burns, donated by Andrew Carnegie, the U.S. steel magnate. By 1907, there were sixteen individuals memorialized altogether. I don’t know who the others were or if any more were added after that because the Memorial building was closed – pandemic, you know.

Sir William wielding his sword.
It’s easy to see why it was a preferred position for a fort – the view is broad and spectacular. Looking west.
If you can enlarge the photo, in the distant center you will see the village of Cambuskenneth and the bell tower of the abbey. The road leaving the village, coming towards the monument is Ladysneuk, the road I walked on. Looking south. Because Abbey Craig is so steep at this part, you can’t see the part of Stirling that I walked through at this end of Ladysneuk Road.

It’s easy to see why this was considered a high value military position – you can see out across the valley. There are thick woods growing on the tail portion of Abbey Craig, which would have hindered any organized army of archers and cavalry from approaching.

I was glad that I live in a time when this is a recreational walk and not a matter of choosing sides. Wallace fought in an era when, as someone said, life was “brutish and short,” and it didn’t even seem to matter whether one was a commoner or a royal.

Stirling Experience

I couldn’t stay in Edinburgh forever, even though it was tempting. I had come to see Scotland, after all, and there is much more to see. I had waited until August 1, 2020, for Edinburgh Castle to open, and after that, it was time to move on.

I took the ScotRail train from Edinburgh to Stirling. That was thirty-seven miles and the ride lasted an hour and five minutes.

This was where I waited for my train to Stirling. While I sat there, I noticed the sign that indicated my platform, #10, was all by itself, away from the others. Given that J.K. Rowling had taken other inspiration from Edinburgh, I wondered if this little quirk was how the Hogwarts Express came to be on “Platform 9 3/4.”

Castle Walk B&B, my home for the next few days, is built on the large, broad hill that leads up to Stirling Castle, so there are steps involved in getting inside. It is not an accommodation for anyone who has much difficulty walking, but it is otherwise very charming and well-kept. (With really excellent breakfasts, too, I discovered.)

I was greeted by my host Adrian. He and his wife were the owners, and one of his tasks in the labor division was greeting. My room was the single on the second floor. One of the quirks of Great Britain v. the U.S. is that the “second” floor is two flights up. We were standing on the ground floor. The first floor was up the first flight of stairs, and then I would go up a second flight to get to the second floor. (It’s really pretty logical.) Because of the pandemic and potential transmission of the virus, Adrian was not supposed to touch my bags.

My trip upstairs with my bags was rewarded by the view from my window, which overlooked their garden at the back of the building. It was quite lovely, with a small table to enjoy tea among the lush plantings, and a small outdoor room, where one could sit and read. My room was very nice, and en suite, something I always liked to have. With contagion loose in the land, I liked it even more.

After settling in a little, I came downstairs again to sit in the garden and rest a bit amongst the green. Adrian brought me a glass of lemonade and we chatted about what there is to see in Stirling. Some things were still closed – a situation I encountered throughout my stay in Scotland – but the castle was open, and he thought the art gallery, also. He made a couple of other suggestions about things near the village – the Wallace Monument and a nice walk to an outlying neighborhood with a ruined abbey.

Revived by lemonade, I took my daypack and ventured into the town to see what there was to see. I didn’t have to walk far – Stirling is filled with statues, old buildings, and atmospheric streets, and barely a hundred feet, I found Rob Roy.

Rob Roy: “My foot is on my native heath and my name it is McGregor.” “Presented by Adam McGregor Dick of Kilmarnock, the Gr, Gr, Gr, Gr, Gr grandchild of this famous Scotsman.”

“Rob Roy,” the romanticised protagonist of a novel by Sir Walter Scott, was a real person, a Scottish outlaw who became a folk hero. Robert MacGregor was born in 1671, died in 1734, and is buried in Balquhiddar Church Cemetery in Balquhiddar, a village near Loch Moir in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

While Scott’s Rob Roy was a “dashing and chivalrous outlaw,” the historical Rob Roy, whose nickname describes his thick, unruly, bright red hair, was one of the “Wild MacGregors, cattle rustlers and brigands,” according to Ben Johnson’s article on the Historic U.K. website. (I should note, however, there was a comment on the article from Anne MacGregor, who says, “This was written by an Englishman.”)

The Allan Park South Church near my BnB had flowers in bloom. (This was the beginning of August.)
A library built through the generosity of Andrew Carnegie, a Scotland native who made his fortune in the U.S. He built many libraries in Scotland (and in the U.S.) because he believed that education was key to success and he wanted to spread the opportunity. It was not open except to pick up or drop off books, so no photos of the inside, but it looked lovely.
Not far from Rob Roy’s statue is this statue of Robert Burns. I met statues, quotations, and memorials of Robert Burns everywhere.
The “SMB,” Stirling Municipal Building, with Robert the Bruce on the left, and William Wallace on the right. The woman portrayed at the peak, given the sceptre, orb, and shield with the Saltire Cross of St. Andrew with the thistle below, is Mary, Queen of Scots.
On a downtown street is the news vendor. I loved the slogan, “…because every day is different.” Indeed.
One of the older streets in Stirling.
The interesting original entrance to an old high school, now a hotel and restaurant. I thought it unusual that the entrance to a high school, especially one from 1888, would be surrounded by signs of the zodiac, with the rather art-deco-looking words “High School” flanked by the “Tree of Science” and the “Tree of Life.”
A street entrance to a smaller churchyard.

Stirling, the village, came to exist because of the port along the River Forth. Stirling has been a harbor since medieval times, with traffic moving between Stirling Castle, the harbor, and Cambuskenneth Abbey. By the 15th century, industry was establishing itself along the shore. Wine, wood, and oil were the main imports, and Stirling exported cloth, salmon, and coal out to other places, especially Europe.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the salmon runs in the River Forth were plentiful, but by the 17th century, fishing and pollution sent the salmon into decline. Textiles filled the gap with more exports to Holland and the Baltic ports from Stirling’s mills.

In the 1700s trade with America grew, passing mostly through Glasgow. This caused some shift in business from Stirling to Glasgow, but it wasn’t long before steamers helped maintain business on the River Forth into the late 1800s.

During the First and Second World Wars, Stirling harbor prospered as a shipping point for munitions and tea to Scotland, but after the wars, other means of transportation – railways and roads – made running boats on the River Forth with its navigational challenges and tidal difficulties less competitive, and harbor business declined. Today, it remains a minor source of revenue.

Two Doric columns from the Forthside House remain to mark the location of the Royal Ordnance Depot in the 19th and 20th centuries. The area now has trails along the River Forth.
A memorial to William Wallace within the village of Stirling.
A closer view of the entry to the Wallace Memorial. It was closed due to the pandemic.
As a former Rotarian, I always make note of Rotary’s presence.
There are large grocery stores in Scotland, but there are many more small shops, especially butchers and bakers.
Looking from the balcony of Castle Walk B&B at breakfast.

Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens – Strolling Around the Grounds

Not everyone loves gardens, but I do. I spent one fine afternoon strolling around the grounds, just admiring the plants and the sun and the smell of the combination.

The rest of this post is photos, just in case some of you like plants as much as I do.

Gunnera
The nameplate to this one was probably obscured by the other plants, but I loved the unusual shape for an evergreen.
The conservatory, closed because, pandemic.
I love these arches. If I ever have a house again, I will try to grow one.
Preached trees: “pleached” means that they have been trained to grow to form a narrow hedge or screen.
The Queen Mother’s Garden, dedicated to “one of the most remarkable Scots of the twentieth century.” The Queen Mother passed away in 2002 at 102.
Notice the use of several kinds of hedging plants to add interest.
Always looking for ideas – this is to keep the birds away from the berries!
The “long border,” a way to showcase a variety of flowers, shrubs, and small trees.
The view through the garden.
“Turk’s Cap” lilies are one of my favorites. These are almost spent, but still love the color.
I think these were Hellebores – surprised to see them in early August.
Lace-cap Hydrangea
Redwoods, from America.
The rock garden. I’ve never been a big fan, but they made it look good.
Parting shot, the other side of the rock garden.

The End.

Dolly the Sheep

Remember Dolly? It was startling news in 1996, a lamb cloned, not conceived in the traditional way. Dolly was cloned from a mammary gland cell taken from a six year old Finn Dorset sheep and an egg cell taken from a Scottish Blackface sheep.

Dolly was born July 5, 1996. The team from Roslin Institute, here in Roslin village, led by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut and made up of embryologists, surgeons, vets, and farm staff, knew it was a successful clone because, if the lamb was genetically related to her “mother,” she would have had a black face, which she did not. Her face was white, like a Finn Dorset.

The DNA that made Dolly came from a mammary gland, so, with the humor for which the British are famous, the lamb was named Dolly, after Dolly Parton.

The Roslin Institute was running experiments to find a better method for producing genetically modified livestock. Scientists also wanted to learn more about how cells change during development, and whether a specialized cell – skin or brain cells, for instance – could make an entirely new animal. Dolly was the 277th attempt.

Photos of Dolly during her life in Roslin are on display in Dolly’s Tea Room, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland. (They also serve lovely treats with tea or coffee.)
Now, Dolly is immortalized in the National Museum of Scotland, which is in Edinburgh. My photo makes her appear three-legged, but she has four.

Rosslyn Chapel

When I arrived at the visitor’s center, I hadn’t booked on line as the website instructed, so I had to produce a credit card to pay (contactless payments only.) The young woman tending the pay point commented on my name: Sinclair. We both had a chuckle about it. I have no idea if I’m related or not. I was curious mainly because of the “DaVinci Code,” just like thousands of other visitors.

I stepped out of the visitors’ center, and looked at the Chapel. It doesn’t seem huge when you look at it from the side. Some people are disappointed by that because in the various paintings and photographs, it looks like it should be bigger, similar to the “Sphinx effect.”

Looking at the north side of the Rosslyn Chapel. The far left, the east end of the building, is the Lady Chapel, and the main altar is a little toward the center. The wall on the right that looks unfinished, is unfinished. The Chapel was intended to go much further to the west in the original plan.
The north door to the Chapel’s interior.
This is the main entrance for tourists in these “one-way” times, and the baptismal fount is inside this door. The “engrailed” cross above the door is on the St. Clair coat of arms. “Engrailed” means having semicircular indentations along the edge. The Baptistery was added in 1880 – 1881.

What we know as the Rosslyn Chapel was officially named the “Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew,” and founded by Sir William St. Clair in 1446. The original plans were for a large cruciform (shaped like a cross) building with a tower in the center, much like the abbeys that dot the Scottish countryside.

“Collegiate Chapels” were all the rage in the years between 1406 and 1513, the years ruled by James I through James IV. These were secular foundations, meaning they were not owned by the Church, and their purpose was to spread intellectual and spiritual knowledge, and, by the way, provide people to pray for the patrons after their death so they could be assured of a blissful eternal life. How large, how decorated, and how well staffed these collegiate chapels were depended on the wealth of their founder and benefactor.

Sir William was a very rich man. The St Clairs owned lands in the Orkney Islands, Caithness, Fife, Lothian, and Rosslyn, and held the title of Baron of Rosslyn and Prince of Orkney. He endowed the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew with provision for a provost, six prebendaries, and two choristers. Later – 1523 – his grandson Sir William provided land for dwelling houses and gardens for these.

The founder hired “an abundance of all kinds of workmen.” These were masons, carpenters, smiths, barrow men, and quarriers. To provide for them and their families, Sir William built the town of Roslin, and gave everyone a house and land, in addition to the wages he paid, which were generous for their time.

When a person walks toward the Chapel from the visitors’ center, they are approaching the north wall. On the north wall at the edge of the roof, is an inscription: W L S F Y C Y Z O G M iii I L. The letters are carved on shields, alternating with shields bearing the engrailed Cross of the St Clairs. They are very hard to see from the ground, but they are there. It stands for: “William Lord Sinclair Fundit Yis College Ye Zeir Of God MCCCCL.” (The Rosslyn translation says “Sinclair” instead of “St Clair,” which they use nearly everywhere else. I don’t know why.) The date is 1450 rather than 1446, perhaps indicating that the foundations took four years.

I would add that my passing acquaintance with Middle English indicates that “Y” symbolized a diphthong we would now write as “th” rather than a “y” sound – so all those “Ye Olde Shoppes” in tourist-trap villages would have sounded like “The Old Shops” if pronounced accurately. I can’t vouch for the “Z” that must have sounded like what we would now write as a “y,” but the people at Rosslyn probably know and I’ll take their word for it.

If you are able to enlarge the photo, you can see the letters on the shields at the roofline, with the occasional gargoyle in between.

The outside is interesting enough, with the flourishes, gargoyles, and carved figures that appear around the windows and roof, but it is the inside that is overwhelming.

In the darkest days of the Chapel, the high window that now holds stained glass images was open to the weather. The relatively plain table is the main altar, and the Lady Chapel is behind the center pillar. The Chapel has an active congregation.

When I visited, there were three other people plus the docent, Norheena. In the last half hour of my time slot, I had the whole place to myself and an enjoyable conversation about the Chapel with Norheena. It has not always been so uncrowded. After “The DaVinci Code” became a blockbuster movie, the number of visitors soared, and some days there were a thousand visitors crowding through the Chapel.

The sacristy was not open when I visited the Chapel, due to distancing requirements. Norheena indicated the nineteen Rosslyn barons, from William the Seemly, created Baron in 1070, to Sir William St Clair, who died in 1778, “The Last Rosslyn,” are interred in a crypt beneath the Chapel floor because Sir William the Founder brought the previous barons to the Chapel, and then the following nine were interred there also.

The earlier barons are laid out in their armor, as described in the poem, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” written in 1805 by Sir Walter Scott. He took some literary license, as the poem claims the barons number twenty, although he may have included one St Clair who was killed before he succeeded to the barony, but left behind a son who became the next baron. Norheena said that at some point, they began using coffins, but she didn’t know exactly when. Sir Walter Scott’s poem was based on a local legend that the Chapel glowed in the night when a Baron of Rosslyn died.

The guide book, however, indicates “three princes of Orkney and nine barons of Rosslyn are buried here,” according to a 17th century engineer. In the context of the engineer’s commentary, it’s not clear whether “here” means the sacristy specifically, or the Chapel as a whole. Further, it speculates with some confidence that the sacristy building may be older than the Chapel itself, i.e. existed prior to 1446. It is connected physically to the Chapel now, but is built into the slope on the eastern side of the Chapel, and could easily have been an earlier structure incorporated into the construction of the Chapel.

It is perfectly plausible that early interments took place there, and either remain there or were moved to join the other barons in the crypt. Frankly, I prefer the rather romantic notion that they all lie together underneath the Chapel in the crypt.

Sir William the Founder did not live to see the Chapel finished, even this section, which was to be the choir section of a much bigger building. What we see today took forty years, 1446 – 1486. After he died, his son, Oliver St Clair, saw a roof built onto the Chapel, but there was no more work done toward finishing the building that Sir William had planned. Perhaps Sir Oliver saw the future.

The Reformation, which is usually dated from 1517, when Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, arrived in Scotland by 1560, led by John Knox. The Church of Scotland grew quickly and dominated Protestant theology in Scotland. Calvinism was the Reformation theology taught by John Knox. It was an austere approach to worship that frowned on anything hinting at idolatry, such as flowery decorations or human images, especially if the images were not the Apostles or other saints. In other words, anything like the Rosslyn Chapel.

Looking at the main altar and the Lady Chapel beyond it.

The Chapel’s survival was not a sure thing. When the founder Sir William died in 1484, he left endowments for the Chapel, as mentioned earlier. In 1571, the provost and prebendaries resigned. Local records show that the endowments were taken “by force and violence” away from the Chapel and placed in secular governance.

Even being John Knox’s brother was not much protection. “The Presbytery records of Dalkeith reveal that in 1589 William Knox, brother of John Knox and minister of Cockpen, was censured ‘for baptising the Laird of Rosling’s bairne’ in Rosslyn Chapel, which was described as a ‘house and monument of idolatrie, and not ane place appointit for teiching the word and ministration of ye sacramentis’” (From the Rosslyn Chapel Guidebook, written by the Earl of Rosslyn.)

In 1592, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland required Oliver St Clair (a later one) to remove the altars of the Chapel or face excommunication. The altars were removed, the Chapel ceased to be a place of worship, and began to deteriorate. There were further indignities during the English Civil War, when the building was used to stable horses, and again after James II was deposed by William of Orange, when a local mob broke into the Chapel, destroying furniture and vestments now considered “Popish,” and damaging the building some more.

The Chapel survived principally because it was privately owned, thereby escaping the destruction that consumed many Catholic Church properties, and because of its relatively remote location, away from large cities. It remained unused and unattended until 1736, when General James St Clair commissioned some repairs, which included glazing the windows and fixing the roof.

The Chapel’s fortunes improved from there. It was repaired enough that it was rededicated by the Bishop of Edinburgh in 1862. Not all repairs turned out to be helpful, but finally, in the twentieth century, comprehensive conservation plans were made, funds were raised, and the Chapel has been brought back to its former condition, aged somewhat.

There are many faces in the Chapel. This one belongs to the founder, Sir William St Clair, the 4th Baron of Rosslyn.
This face belongs to Sir William “the Seemly” St Clair, the knight on horseback, bringing the Princess Margaret, King Malcolm’s affianced, from Hungary to Scotland. Tradition says that he carried a relic of the “Rood,” the True Cross, with him to Scotland. Sir William fought with William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, and was the first St Clair to settle in Scotland, drawn by the offer of land from King Malcolm.
This image is an angel bearing a shield with the St Clair engrailed Cross.
The barrel-vaulted roof. It has five sections, divided by decorated ribs, each with a separate decoration. From front to back, there were four-petalled flowers, four-petalled flowers with leaves, multi-petalled roses, lilies, and stars. The roof is forty-four feet high.

According to the guide, at one time these sections were all painted, the flowers with their green leaves, red or white flowers, and silver stars against a deep blue background, representing the sky. I have heard this while visiting other medieval buildings that are now grey, brownish, or pink, depending on the stone used, that at one time they were painted bright and glorious colors. Castles gleamed in white with bright trim. It seems amazing to think about now, with the drab, unpainted exteriors that survive.

Other images were common symbols, like the fallen angel, or the musician-angel to the right.
This pillar’s capital was circled with musician-angels, but the one shown here is playing the bagpipes. In the 1400s, bagpipes were just becoming established, and this is considered an early representation.

The pillars, along with the roof, were covered with flora in frequently lush representations, such as the photo above. There were “Green Man” images in many places. Chapel historians say that this was because the 4th Baron of Rosslyn was sympathetic to the plight of gypsies who traveled through the area, although the Green Man is well-known and popular throughout Scotland, even without the gypsy association.

Some of the flora has equal interest by reason of its uniqueness. There is an archway that is decorated with ears of maize, a plant originating in the Americas, not in Europe, and the image below, the top plant with three leaves that has been identified as trillium, again a plant originating in the Americas and not in Europe, pictured below. Some believe these plants represented a nod to ancestor Henry St Clair, the 1st Prince of Orkney, who was said to have sailed to North America around 1398.

The plant identified as a trillium, native to North America, is the top image, a plant with three leaves.
Inside the Chapel, along the north wall, is the gravestone of Sir William St Clair. He was the son of the 7th Baron of Rosslyn. He was killed in Spain, on a quest to take the heart of Robert the Bruce to Jerusalem, before succeeding to the barony. Though never a baron, it’s possible he is buried now in the crypt, and makes the “twenty” referred to in Sir Walter Scott’s poem.

As I mentioned, there is an active congregation, although they are not meeting currently. Someday, I hope I would be able to come back and see the Chapel as an active venue, learn more about the history, and explore more of the Chapel.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle sits at the other end of the “Royal Mile” of Edinburgh from the Palace. The Royal Mile is the traditional name for the roadway between the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the castle. Once travelled by kings and queens, its daily name now is High Street as it runs through Old Town.

Nowadays, High Street changes names in the last tenth of a mile, but the road into the castle winds up the hill, across the esplanade, through the gate, and leads visitors deep into the castle’s heart. At the very top is the center of the castle. Parts of the castle have been destroyed then rebuilt, and other parts have simply been built on top of, so one must abandon any effort to make chronological sense of the road’s progress.

You must cross the dry moat, to reach the gate, guarded on the left by William Wallace, and on the right by Robert the Bruce. Above is the Scottish Lion, and the motto, “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit,” dating from at least James VI. It means, “No one injures me without fear of punishment.”
Once you’re through the main gate, you cross the outer courtyard, and go through this second gate. The outer courtyard now holds tourist practicalities – ticket booths, audio tour handsets, and such.
When you’ve passed the second gate and turn around, the inside of the gate looks like this. The stairs on the right are the “L’ang Stairs,” which go up to the top courtyard. The gate building has different kinds of stone because the older upper part was destroyed during the “L’ang Siege” in 1571 – 1573, and was not fully rebuilt until the general restoration of the castle in 1887.

The wide view of the surrounding countryside from the hilltop is why this spot has been used for defence for over a thousand years. It was used as a gathering place in 638 AD, as mentioned in “Y Gododdin,” an ancient Welsh poem that includes the earliest reference to “Din Eidyn,” a precursor to “Edinburgh,” which is pronounced, “edinburra.”

The broad view from the height of Edinburgh Castle made it an attractive place for defending the monarchs of Scotland.

Around 1140 AD, King David I ordered the nobles and clergy to gather at Edinburgh Castle to enact laws and pass judgements, a forerunner of the current Parliament that now meets in a very modern building near the Holyrood Palace.

During the Wars of Independence, the castle changed hands several times between the Scots and the English, most famously in 1314, when Robert the Bruce led a small force in a stealth attack. The group climbed up the northern rock face on a moonless night, surprising the English defenders. Robert ordered the castle to be “slighted,” a term that means to destroy or damage an asset – building, boat, farm – so it cannot be used by the enemy.

Edinburgh Castle is a living castle. Royalty no longer lives here, nor do they make overnight visits to the palace. But events are held in the Great Hall, and the Scottish War Memorial, the One O’clock Gun, and the National War Museum, all attract visitors, both native and foreign. The local military governor lives in a house in the castle, and two military units have museums there besides the ones above.

In a less stable time, Edinburgh Castle was the royal residence. Its walls wound around the hill, protecting the palace and the other buildings required to maintain the monarch and impress friends and enemies with the futility of challenging said monarch.

There were four cannon batteries that defended the castle. Dury’s Battery is no longer there. It was built around 1710, after the 1708 Jacobite uprising, but was dismantled after 1757 and the area became an exercise yard for prisoners of war. The oldest battery was built in 1544 by James V – the Forewall Battery – along the line of the medieval defense. The Half-Moon Battery was built after the “L’ang Siege” of 1571-73. It’s located on top of the remains of the residential tower (destroyed during the L’ang Siege) built by David II in the 1300s. The fourth battery, the Argyll Battery, was built around 1730. All of the cannons that are presently in these three batteries date from the early 1800s.

The Argyll Battery was built in 1730 – 1732, however, the cannons now occupying the battery date from 1810.
The Half-Moon Battery is spread across the front of the Castle, overlooking the Esplanade, the approach to the Castle from High Street.

There are two more cannons. One is a current design: the One o’Clock Gun, pictured below. It is fired daily at precisely one o’clock, a tradition that began in 1861 to provide the ships in the Leith port an accurate time setting for navigation. It was silenced only during WWI when soldiers recovering from battle fatigue were being cared for in the castle’s hospital.

The other is Mons Meg, below, a huge cannon that was given to James II by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. It was made in the city of Mons, Belgium, in 1449, designed to smash castle walls. She was moved to different locations, despite weighing more than six tons, using horses or oxen. The path in front of her had to be levelled by gangs of laborers, and a timber-framed winch was used to remove her from the cart and into position.

No one knows where the “Meg” part of her name came from. I think it was alliterative and a single syllable – it just fit, and the name stuck.

The Palace was built on the upper courtyard, guarded by Foog’s Gate, which was the main entrance until the outer wall was looped around the hill to accommodate both cannons and musketry by King Charles II. Early kings of Scotland used the castle as a residence. Even though Queen Mary I, better known as “Mary, Queen of Scots,” lived primarily at Holyrood Palace, she gave birth to James VI here, probably because she felt more secure at such a vulnerable time, given the turmoil during her brief reign.

The Castle palace with its tower, and the Great Hall is to the right.

The only room open in the palace when I visited was Laich Hall, a lovely room that was restored for James VI when he returned in 1617 after a 14 year absence, having become also James I of England in 1603. He hosted a banquet there, then left and never returned. The last royal presence here was James’ son, Charles I, who stayed here before his Scottish coronation in 1633. After the Act of Union, there was no separate coronation.

Laich Hall: You can tell this was restored for James VI, the first King of Scotland and England, because the coat of arms over the fireplace gives equal space to the Unicorn of Scotland and the Lion of England. The Red Scottish Lion has been relegated to the top of the shield, greatly reduced in size. The figures on either side of the coat of arms are stylized Adam and Eve.
The Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle

The Great Hall was built for King James IV, who wanted it for ceremonial occasions. This was a constant theme that ran through my visits to castles and palaces – nobility and monarchs used their buildings to advertise their wealth and power. The Great Hall is a good example. The walls are panelled, the ceiling is high and elegantly constructed, the windows are stained glass with displays of coats of arms embedded among other decorations.

The Great Hall was completed in 1512. Mary Queen of Scots held a banquet here on her return to Scotland from France in 1561.

Between ceremonial uses, the Great Hall is filled with displays of weaponry and armor from various periods and places. Some of the suits of armor are battle trophies rather than vintage Scottish armor.

The black square in the upper right is a “Laird’s Lug.” The laird of a manor had a place to stand behind the screen and hear – and perhaps see – what his guests were saying or doing without his presence in the hall.
Not all of the armor is Scottish. Armor captured in battle was displayed as a trophy of war. This armor was captured from a Spanish soldier.
The impressive ceiling of the Great Hall.

In 1650, Oliver Cromwell converted the hall into soldiers’ barracks. The hall was restored in 1887 by Queen Victoria, and is still used for state functions today.

“Twa-handed” swords weighed around 6 lbs., and had a “basket handle” to protect the user’s hands. The polearms on display were called “halberds,” a combination of axe heads, spikes, and hooks, to pull men from their horses. War has never been a pretty business.
These royal coats of arms are labelled. At the top, left to right, are King James III and King James IV. In the lower windows, left to right, are King James V, Queen Mary I, Regent Murray, and King James VI. Regent Murray was probably for James VI, since he became king at a very young age when Queen Mary was deposed. Given the arms represented, this was probably installed as part of the 1887 restoration of the hall. James VI was the last Stuart king that was King of Scotland alone, before he and the succeeding Stuarts became rulers of both Scotland and England.

Sitting across the courtyard from the Great Hall is the Scottish War Memorial. Carved over the main door are the years 1914 – 1918, so presumably it began as a memorial to those lost in the “war to end all wars.” Sadly, there were more. On the inside – no photos allowed – were tributes to people from many wars or colonial conflicts, and included support personnel, such as medical units and engineering corps.

The main entrance: note the proud, but subdued, solemn stance of the Unicorn and the Lion.
The Mourning Unicorn
The recent observance of Veterans’ Day (U.S.) and Remembrance Day (U.K.) reminded me of this.
St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest standing building in Edinburgh.
The stained glass windows are beautiful, but not original. The windows date from about 1920.
A view of St. Margaret’s Chapel through Foog’s Gate. Mons Meg is just on the other side of the Chapel now. There is some speculation that the Chapel was, at one time, a room in a building that has been torn down around it.
The Argyll Tower is built on top of the medieval gate tower. It was supposed to be restored in the style of David II’s tower dating from the 1300s, but without any record of its original appearance, Hippolyte Blanc’s design ended up looking like baronial Scottish architecture. It sits on top of the second entrance gate, pictured near the beginning of the post. It housed important prisoners, similar in purpose to the Tower of London.
The National War Museum is devoted to the military history of Scotland – the Highlanders, the Wars for Independence, and the contributions of Scotland to the armed forces of the United Kingdom, which are many and notable. The museum is well put together and worth a visit. There is a very good short film that talks about Scotland’s history included in the museum.
“The Thin Red Line,” painted in 1881 by Robert Gibb, shows the 93rd Highlanders at the Battle of Balaclava, 1854, in the Crimean War. They formed a “thin line,” only two men deep, to repel an attack by the Russian cavalry. Despite the drama of this close encounter, historically, the cavalry was driven off much further away by the accurate fire of their modern rifles. The painting, coming as it did a full twenty-seven years after the incident, speaks more to the reputation of the Highland regiments than historical accuracy.
A very good display about the prisoners of war that spent time in Edinburgh Castle. Some were Americans! Naturally, the prison was located down in the depths of the castle, by my reckoning, some of it was under the Great Hall.
Where the prisoners lived, except when allowed up to the exercise yard.
How it fits together: View of the Castle from the esplanade in front. The turret in the left-center background is the residential part of the palace. The cannon batteries are arrayed across the front of the rounded tower and the right wall at the top. The peaked roof to the right side is the Argyle Tower atop the second gate. The National War Museum square is on the far left side of the Castle.

The Castle, like the history of Scotland, is a complicated set of many layers with diversions interspersed along the way, a great adventure to understand how Scotland became such a brew of creativity and beauty.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

“Rood” is the Scottish word for “The True Cross,” the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, so the word, “Holyrood,” meant “Holy Cross,” and the Abbey was the “Holyroodhouse.”

It is more usually called Holyrood Abbey, for brevity’s sake. It was founded in 1128 by King David I in honor of his mother, Margaret, who was later made a saint. The Palace began life as a guesthouse for the Abbey, and then the Abbey gave its name to the Palace of Holyroodhouse when it was expanded to be a royal residence in the 15th century, and became the large and lovely place it is today.

The outer courtyard is large, but still dominated by this beautiful fountain. Everywhere I looked on it, it had another face, another animal, another figure or foliage. It’s amazing. Many hours of meditation are available here.

The Unicorn, a symbol of the Scottish nation, and the thistle, the national flower.
When I saw these two fellows, I wondered why they were grasping two ends of a sword, but not in a proper grip for fighting. It’s the problem with no guides to ask.

The palace is built in a large, square shape. The side facing the outer courtyard has the entry gate, and twin towers on both front corners. These particular towers, pictured below, are where Mary, Queen of Scots’ private royal chambers were.

The northwest tower, where Mary, Queen of Scots, had her chambers.
The entrance to the inner courtyard, and palace proper. The northwest tower is quite large – not just the two turrets that one sees from the front.
The gate to the inner courtyard. The entrance is closed by a pair of large wooden doors.
One way to know that this palace was built when Scotland was a separate country, is that there is no lion facing the unicorn on this coat of arms over the gate. It is two unicorns, the symbolic animal of Scotland, and thistles, the flower of Scotland.
Having just entered, looking straight across the inner courtyard.

It was a rainy day when I visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The rain came and went. The clouds hung around, sometimes lighter, sometimes darker, but always present. If you are concerned about having fresh water, you should come here.

A display of swords with the Scottish “basket” handle, designed to protect the hand holding the sword.
The ceiling of the Great Stair in the southwest tower, plaster images and friezes. Paintings are plentiful throughout the palace. The art work in the palace is wonderful. Decorations for this area were chosen mainly by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
A corner detail of the ceiling.
The formal dining room is by the Great Stair.
Partially blocked by the candles and chandelier is a portrait of George IV in the Highland dress outfit he had made especially to visit Scotland in 1822. The kilt is the Royal Stewart Tartan, along with a dirk, sword, belt, and powder horn.
These thrones were commissioned by King George V in 1911, for himself and Queen Mary.

Queen Elizabeth II stays here during Holyrood Week, and hosts lunch in the Throne Room for Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Thistle, the highest order of chivalry in Scotland. “Holyrood Week” is held in mid-summer and is designed to celebrate Scottish culture and history – probably skipping the rebellions.

Anyone who watched the BBC series of 2003 about Charles II will recognize this portrait that hangs in the Throne Room. It was painted by John Mitchell Wright (1617 – 1694,) a skilled painter, judging by his success in portraying the variety of textures that appear: ermine, satin, woven cloth, hair, and tapestries. Charles II died in 1685 of apoplexy, and was succeeded by his brother, James II.
The anteroom to the Privy Chamber. Guests waited here for their audience with the King.
Queen Elizabeth II has a small collection of family photos on display here.
The Privy Chamber, which apparently doubled as a place to entertain, judging by the card table.
The surface is covered with playing card imagery. I think it would be hard to play bridge on a table like this, but maybe a person becomes accustomed to it.
The needlework covering the chairs was stunning.
The KIng’s Bedchamber, just as the sign says. Tapestries lined the walls, and the ceiling was decorated with plaster and painted artworks.
The plaster work had amazing detail.
In this chamber occupied by Queen Victoria, you now see the Lion and the Unicorn representing Scotland and England. I couldn’t make out the Irish harp on the shield, but it should be there. Most of the rooms have ropes delineating where you may walk and where you may leave well enough alone, thank you. I couldn’t go close enough to look for the harp(s).
The Great Gallery, filled with portraits of kings, queens, and heroes past.

When Bonnie Prince Charlie returned to claim Scotland’s throne for his father in 1745, he stayed at the Holyroodhouse Palace for six weeks. During this brief time, the Great Gallery was used to host the Scottish lords and clan leaders with food, music, and other entertainment. Prince Charles then went on to the Battle of Culloden, which he lost, and with it was lost the dream of a Stuart Restoration. Prince Charles escaped to Europe, where he and his father lived in exile the rest of their days. (Recently, I read where an heir to the throne, descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie, has been identified and confirmed through DNA analysis. He did not, however, indicate any plans to raise an army.)

Prince Charles Edward Stuart

At the far end of the Great Gallery, visitors pass into the earlier days of Stuarts’ reign. There are artefacts from the life of Prince Charles, but one quickly passes these and goes up the steep, narrow, winding staircase to the upper floor, where Mary, Queen of Scots, had her royal chambers. It was here that she lived from 1561 until 1567.

The stairway up to the Queen’s chambers. At the top was a very low doorway. I bumped my head because I was watching the steps. Queen Mary, I learned, grew to be six feet tall. I don’t know how she tolerated such a low door way.

The northwest tower reflects the 16th century desire for a fortified residence, but the rooms that Mary used were quite comfortable. Her bedchamber had oak panelling on the ceiling and tapestries on the wall. Her private supper room was very small. It was here that her secretary, the Italian David Riccio (or Rizzio) was murdered by Lord Darnley and his supporters. Riccio was stabbed 56 times.

Mary’s private dining room. I stood in the doorway to take this photo, to give you an idea of how small it is. This is where David Riccio was killed in 1566. Mary was pregnant at the time with her son who would become James I of Scotland, and James VI of England, in 1603.
Queen Mary’s bedchamber (and the low doorway in the background.)
Mary, Queen of Scots
Lord Darnley and the young James, destined to be King James I of Scotland, and then also King James VI of England.
David Riccio, whose grave was moved to Canongate Kirk.

In the outer chamber, now filled with displays of jewellery and artefacts, Mary received visitors, often including John Knox. The devoutly Roman Catholic Queen Mary and the equally devout Calvinist John Knox had lively debates about their religious beliefs. Too bad their tolerance was not emulated by others of their generation.

As you exit Holyrood Palace, you enter what were once Holyrood Abbey gardens. As for the Abbey itself, only ruins remain, and just the nave, at that. In the 13th century, the Abbey Church could hold a thousand worshipers for mass. It was 250 feet (76 meters) long, with high vaulted ceilings, huge stained glass windows, gilded wood, and painted stonework. Large landholdings provided financial support for the Abbey.

Holyroodhouse served the secular world as well. It was a place where parliaments and councils were held, beginning with Robert the Bruce in 1327. From that meeting came the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton that brought peace between Scotland and England, at least, temporarily. James II was born, married, crowned, and buried at Holyrood. In 1469, James III and Margaret of Denmark were married here. In 1503, Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII) and James IV of Scotland were married. It was this union of Tudor and Stuart that resulted in the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England. It made Mary I, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, Queen of England, first cousins, and so when Elizabeth died without an heir, Mary’s son, James, became King of England as well as Scotland. Charles I, a Stuart king, was the last coronation at Holyroodhouse.

Within the Abbey grounds were a large octagonal chapter house, dormitories, a refectory, and cloisters. These were surrounded by gardens, providing food and medicinal herbs. Royal guests stayed in houses within the Abbey complex. The foundations of these other buildings and the larger church can be found in places around the palace gardens.

The Abbey suffered during the reign of Henry VIII, as he wrestled control away from the Pope, and the Abbey was abandoned altogether after the Protestant Reformation (1560 AD) when the eastern parts were demolished, leaving just the nave, which remains today. The chronology was not clear. It seems the church became Catholic again, because the church was attacked by Protestant citizens in 1688, destroying most of the interior and breaking open the tombs. The formerly magnificent building became a “romantic ruin,” inspiring artists over the centuries.

The Holyroodhouse church ruin. Holyrood Palace is on the left.

From the back of Holyrood Palace, there is a great view of “Arthur’s Seat,” a high bluff that is a popular place to climb for views of Edinburgh.

Arthur’s Seat, viewed from the back of Holyrood Palace.

Edinburgh Walkabout

At the western end of the “Royal Mile,” and a little beyond, sits the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert, the oldest Christian site in Edinburgh. The church’s congregation states in its history that the church was founded in 670 A.D. by St. Cuthbert himself (pre-sainthood, of course.) Other histories are more vague, and simply say the 7th century, during or not long after the life of the saint. The church has been through several iterations, and the original building survives only as part of the foundation of the current building, built in 1894.

The first official mention, however, is in the records of King David I, when he granted the church building to the Holyrood Abbey. (There was only the Catholic Church in that era.) The area served by this church used to be quite large, with several “chapels of ease,” meaning other small churches or chapels in the parish. But after the 1560 Reformation, it became a Protestant church, and was known as the West Kirk. After the Restoration came in 1660, the West Kirk’s congregation was loyal to the Covenanters, and has remained part of the Church of Scotland.

In one of the iterations of the building, in 1773, some bones and a leaden urn were found inside a leaden coffin. The urn contained an embalmed human heart, believed to be the heart of a crusader, that had been returned to his family from the Holy Land. There was no indication in the source that anything was done with the bones or heart, so presumably, they were placed again in the new church building.

I was visiting the church grounds – the church was not open due to the pandemic – and there were a lot of people walking around. The Princes Streets gardens are quite popular at the noon hour. Residents of Edinburgh enjoy their parks and squares, and don’t give them up even in a light rain.

St. Cuthbert’s Church sits at the Castle end of the Princes Street Gardens. Agatha Christie was married here on September 11, 1930, in the chapel to her second husband, Max Mallowan.

The Scott Monument is also on Princes Street, about midway along the stretch of city between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace known as the Royal Mile. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world. Scott was born and raised in Edinburgh, and spent some of his youth collecting folk tales from “the Borders,” an area to the south of Edinburgh.

Contemporaries of Scott’s considered these tales too lowly to dignify by writing them down, but Scott recorded them, and used these as inspiration for his poetry and romantic novels, the first such novel being “Waverley,” which he published anonymously in 1814. It was a new genre – the historical romance novel.

Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) is important to Scots and Scotland because he raised the image of Scotland at a time when Scots were considered dangerous by many in England, the Scottish Enlightenment notwithstanding. Gaelic had been outlawed in 1616, and tartans and bagpipes in 1746, after the Battle of Culloden, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, who claimed to be the rightful king of Scotland. It was a clear effort to suppress Scottish culture. Scott orchestrated the first visit by a British monarch in 171 years, and helped reinstate the language, dress, and music of the Highlands.

The monument is two hundred feet tall. Construction was begun in 1840, and the edifice was inaugurated in 1846. The sculpture of Scott and his hound, Maida, is made of a single, 30 ton piece of Carrara marble, created by Sir John Steele. There are 287 steps, divided by four levels (where you can stop and rest.) On one level, there is a museum, which was closed during my visit, in fact right now, no one can go inside at all.

Sir Walter Scott ponders life from the memorial built in his honor,
…the Sir Walter Scott Memorial,
…visible across most of Edinburgh.

While I loved Edinburgh, one of the disappointments of my visit was that many of the smaller museums were closed and did not anticipate opening again until 2021. The Sir Walter Scott Memorial museum and the Writer’s Museum, featuring Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson, were closed. The other disappointment throughout Scotland was the lack of music; there were no venues playing traditional music except for the occasional lone piper.

Lone piper on Johnstone Terrace. “The Pipes” were used to call men to fight, as referenced in the song, “Danny Boy.”

One country’s fight for freedom was another country’s rebellion. The India Cross, pictured below, is placed near Edinburgh Castle. It honors the “78th Regiment of Foot,” the Ross-shire Buffs, who died during the “Indian Rebellion.”

Sir Walter Scott helped raise the image of Scotland, but the Scottish Enlightenment was furthered by a host of people you’ve heard of, David Hume and Adam Smith among them, earning them each a statue along the Royal Mile.

Hume established himself with his first two books, “A Treatise of Human Nature,” 1739, and “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,” 1748.
Adam Smith’s statue, in front of St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Lesser known currently, but widely read in his day, was the poet Robert Fergusson. This statue of him stands in front of the Canongate Kirk, an unassuming church near Holyrood Palace. Robert Fergusson is buried here. Robert Burns himself paid for the tombstone, and then Robert Louis Stevenson (“Treasure Island”) himself was going to pay for the repair and renovation of that tombstone. In honour of the “three Roberts,” the Saltire Society had Stevenson’s words inscribed on the tombstone as part of the repair. (The Saltire Society was founded in 1936 to preserve Scottish culture and to encourage creativity.)

Robert Fergusson, Scottish poet of the

The Canongate Kirk was ordered built by King James VII (James II in England) in 1688. His idea was to create a chapel for the Order of the Thistle. The arms of King James were put above the door originally, but by the time the building was finished, those arms were replaced by the arms of King William III of Orange, according to the parish history. Politics moved at a speed faster than construction.

The current arms, near the top of the building, are of Great Britain, that is, England and Scotland. The plaque above the doorway indicates that the arms just above it belong to King James VII, the monarch who began construction.

The Canongate Kirk, originally adjacent to the Holyrood Palace grounds, is still very near – the palace grounds have shrunk some.

The Canongate Kirk is where Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) is buried. The plaque marking his grave notes that he was the author of the “Theory of Moral Sentiments” and the “Wealth of Nations.” The slab below is engraved with one of his more famous quotes, “The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.”

Adam Smith was an economist, author, and philosopher, educated at Oxford University, Balliol College, University of Edinburgh, and University of Glasgow, and considered the “Father of Economics,” or of capitalism, depending on your perspective.

One more person is buried here in Canongate Kirkyard whose name you might remember from the movie about Mary, Queen of Scots, with Vanessa Redgrave: David Riccio. Riccio was an Italian diplomat who became Queen Mary’s secretary. Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, became jealous of Riccio, believing that she favored Riccio over Lord Darnley. In 1566, a group of men murdered Riccio while he dined with the pregnant Queen, stabbing him repeatedly. In the movie, it was a ghastly scene, with Riccio crawling on the floor under the table, wounded, trying to escape. He was initially buried at Holyrood Abbey, but was later moved to Canongate Kirkyard.

A restaurant, capitalising on historical sympathies, posts this colorful statue of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” at their door. Was Bonnie Prince Charlie a real person?

The Stuarts ruled Scotland for around three hundred years. Robert the Bruce was a legendary leader in Scotland, though not a “king” in our modern definition of such. His son, Robert II, was the “High Steward” of Scotland, for King David II, his half-uncle, and succeeded David in 1371. Robert still carried the title “Steward,” which morphed into “Stewart” and “Stuart” over the next couple of generations as surnames came into use. The dynasty had remarkable longevity, despite the challenges of circumstance. James II became king at age 6; James III was dethroned by his son, James IV; James V inherited his throne at 17 months of age. Mary, Queen of Scots, was a Stuart, and became Queen while still an infant. Regents for the minors came and went, but the dynasty continued.

Scotland was joined with England when Mary (the one beheaded by Queen Elizabeth I of England,) Queen of Scot’s son, James VI of Scotland, became also James I of England in 1603 after Elizabeth I died without an heir. James I’s son, Charles I, was beheaded by Cromwell and the Glorious Revolution. After Cromwell’s death, Charles II, Charles I’s son, was invited to return. His successor, James II (VII of Scotland,) Charles II’s brother, although Protestant, tried to impose an Anglican prayer book on the Church of Scotland, which followed an austere Calvinist practice, and it was the final straw.

Mary, James II’s daughter from his first marriage, and her husband, William of Orange, both Protestants, were invited to assume the throne. William invaded in 1688, and Mary was declared Queen by Parliament in 1689, and they became King William III and Queen Mary (who bought a local mansion and created Kensington Palace.) They were succeeded by James II’s second daughter and Mary’s sister, Queen Anne, another Protestant, who died childless.

After James II’s first wife had died, but before he was deposed, James married Mary of Modena, a Catholic. They had a son, James Francis Edward, who was raised as a Catholic. When this James gained his age, he declared that, as James II’s son, he was the rightful heir to the thrones of England, Scotland, and, by this time, Ireland, as well, rather than George I of the House of Hanover, who Parliament had declared heir to the crown of Great Britain.

James Francis Edward’s claim was recognized as legitimate by Louis XIV of France, the King of Spain, and the Pope. James Francis had supporters, and not just Catholics. This was an age that still believed in the divine right of kings, and there were those who agreed that James should be king.

Parliament, however, had made their choice by rejecting his father’s continued rule and rejecting a Catholic successor, James Francis Edward, and by inviting William and Mary to accept the throne of Great Britain. Parliament passed the Settlement Act in 1701, which made it law that only a Protestant could succeed to the British throne. There was no interest in having the Catholic James Francis assume the throne, thus ending the Stuart dynasty.

Nevertheless, in 1715, James and his supporters attempted to regain the throne. This uprising became known as “The Fifteen.” James was disappointed by the too-weak support, and returned to France, where Louis XIV had been supporting him. However, Louis had died by this time, and James was no longer welcome. He went to Rome, where Pope Clement XI gave him a palace and an annuity. James married Maria Clementina Sobieska, and had a son, Charles Edward Stuart, born 1720. James Francis Edward became known as “the Old Pretender,” and Charles as “the Young Pretender.”

This Charles also became known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” He had many supporters, known as Jacobites, “Jacob” being the Latin form of “James,” after his father. There was an attempt to win the throne for Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, an attempt that was stronger than the Fifteen, but not strong enough to succeed. This attempt became known as “the Forty-five.” Bonnie Prince Charlie barely escaped with his life – he escaped, disguised as a woman servant, and was rowed out from the Isle of Skye to a small island, where he was rescued. It was the end of the Jacobite Restoration attempts. Ultimately, it was the friction caused by the Reformation, Protestant v. Catholic, the was the final undoing of the Stuart dynasty. On the Isle of Skye, the woman who rowed Charles to safety is buried in Killiemuir Cemetery, Flora MacDonald.

The Princes Street Gardens are filled with flourishes of decoration, mostly dating from the Victorian era.

One of the railings in the Princes Street Gardens.
A fountain in the Princes Street Gardens
I went back to the fountain on a different day, and found workmen putting up fencing all around it. They were going to do some repairs according to the man I asked. The result was that I could take photos by using my telephoto lens, shooting through the fencing, or I could take photos further back, which would include the very utilitarian fencing. I chose to try to eliminate the fencing, but the result was less than satisfactory. Though taken on the same day, the difference in light in the photos is due to the angle I had to strike to avoid the fencing.
“The Witches’ Well” commemorates the people, mostly women, who were executed near this spot on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. Execution was by strangulation or burning at the stake. Not a proud chapter in Scottish history.
Edinburgh in the rain, beautiful all the while. This happened frequently while I was there.
The University of Edinburgh School of Divinity. There is a statue of John Knox in the courtyard, but the school is closed because of the pandemic, and the courtyard gate was locked.
A memorial in the Princes Gardens to those killed during WWI
“If it be Life that waits, I shall live forever unconquered; If Death, I shall die at last, strong in my pride and free.”
The large gardens had several beds with thistles, the Scottish national flower.

It would take a long time to explore Edinburgh thoroughly. Like so many places I have visited, I hope someday I can return – I may need another lifetime….

Royal Yacht Britannia

Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves….”

The building of the Royal Yacht Britannia was commissioned by the father of Queen Elizabeth II, His Majesty King George VI. Sadly, he died before it was finished.

It was Queen Elizabeth II who smashed the bottle of wine to christen the ship: “I name this ship Britannia. I wish success to her and all who sail in her.” The Queen then pressed the button at the Clydebank shipyard of John Brown & Company to launch the yacht, ship no. 691, into the Clyde River.

For tourists, there is an upper level entry to the yacht, a bridge that connects the onshore display area to the ship. Subsequent decks are boarded by crossing similar bridges.
The bridge.

The bridge provides sight and information from the gauges, and it’s the place where orders about steerage are generated, but the yacht is actually steered from the wheelhouse, which is below the bridge. That’s because the bridge is visible to other ships and therefore more vulnerable to attack. The process is: orders from the bridge about direction and speed to the wheelhouse, and then instructions from the wheelhouse to the engine room regarding speed.

The ship’s wheel on Britannia came from a racing yacht that was built for the Prince of Wales (son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, later King Edward VII) in 1893. After he died, the yacht went to George V.

The captain’s quarters were near the bridge and looked very comfortable.

The captains of the royal yachts were always admirals, right up until 1995. The last admiral-captain of the Britannia was Sir Robert Woodard, KCVO. From 1995 until 1997’s final voyage, Commodore Anthony Morrow, CVO, served as captain.

The Captain’s personal quarters.
The ship’s compass.

The ship’s compass is carved from a solid piece of mahogany, and is one of two identical compasses. The other is in Greenwich, in the National Maritime Museum. The pair of compasses began life on the “Royal George” (1817,) then were moved to the “Victoria and Albert” (1855,) and to each subsequent royal yacht, until the Britannia, when they were separated.

View onto the front deck. The “Sun Lounge” looks out onto this deck.
A girl, considering whether or not to step up and see if her head would fit in the bell. Yes, it did.
The ship’s bell for the Royal Yacht Britannia.
The Sun Lounge.
Sailors were given a daily ration of rum from the early days at sea until sometime in the 20th century. The container resided in the Sun Lounge.

By tradition, the royal yacht was a “floating palace,” a family home for the royal family, with friendly faces, family photos, and the rooms used by the family were decorated accordingly. Enormous effort was made to allow the family, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip especially, to feel at home on the ship, such as bringing on Malvern water for tea. The crew, although members of the Royal Navy, were called by their first names while serving on the Britannia.

The Queen’s bedroom.
The Queen’s study
The Duke’s bedroom, which connected to the Queen’s.
Prince Phillip’s study
The “Fam”: Prince Phillip, Prince Edward, the Queen, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Charles.

Daily routine for the Queen included briefings from the Press Secretary and reviewing with the Queen’s Personal Secretary the contents of the government boxes sent daily.

Because of who they were, the ship was also the “Royal Court afloat,” so it had to be equipped for more formal functions. Leaders of other countries were sometimes hosted on board as a state visit. Such an event meant that about five tonnes of luggage (including the royal jewels) had to be brought on board, plus accommodating up to forty-five members of the Royal Household, such as valets, dressers, clerks, right up to, and including, the Press Secretary and the Surgeon.

The formal dining room. (White tie.)

Below is the drawing room, used for before dinner drinks and after-dinner activities, such as games or music, by the family, and for gathering for more formal occasions during a state visit.

The stairway connecting the dining room and drawing room to the private rooms.
The “butler’s pantry” that supported the Royal Family and state occasions on the Britannia.
The silver collection, a separate, locked room from the Butler’s Pantry.

The ship itself required twenty officers and two hundred twenty yachtsmen. “Daily Orders” were prepared and printed each day that had that day’s scheduled activities, times, and other details on them. Any last minute changes were posted on the “Red Hot Noticeboards” around the ship. In addition to being called by their first names, orders were given with hand signals in order to maintain a quiet, home-like atmosphere when the Royals were on board. Serving on the Britannia was so unique that an association of “Yotties” was founded in 1989 for all who had served from January, 1954, through December, 1997.

The crew functioned on an established hierarchy, and each group had their own mess, dining room, and quarters assigned to them. The decorations were done accordingly, with the officers ranking highest.

Officers’ mess.
Officers’ dining room.
This is a salt cellar, believe it or not. That’s all one piece, although it opened at a place underneath the figure supporting the ship. You can see it if you look closely. The monkey was hanging on it for reasons unknown, but was not part of the gift. The fireplace is a reflection of the installation on the opposite wall. I didn’t rank high enough to adjust the lighting.
A button from the uniform of Admiral Nelson.

I have probably gotten these out of order, so please forgive this landlubber if I have.

Petty Officers’ and Sargeants‘ mess.
Warrant Officers’ and CPOs’ mess.
Warrant Officers’ and CPOs’ quarters.
The surgery
Laundry facilities – pressing.

The laundry room is huge, and seemed large for the yacht, even this family’s yacht. And it was. It was made so large because the yacht was made to be convertible to a hospital ship if there was a war or other large military operation involving casualties, and additional capacity was needed. It was launched in 1953, so, luckily, the need never arose while the yacht was under sail.

Although Britannia never served as a war-time hospital, in 1986, the Queen did send her to rescue British nationals and other persons who were suddenly trapped in the middle of an uprising in Aden, some of whom were injured. Over 1,000 people were rescued from hotels that were being shelled. As a non-military ship, Britannia could enter the close waters without increasing tension in an already tense area or attracting fire.

The launch for smaller activities.
This is the formal boarding steps and ramp.
This is not the Queen’s actual Rolls Royce, but a similar model that was donated. There was a specific spot on the upper deck where vehicles for the Queen were stowed. It was a very tight fit.
On December 11, 1997, at precisely one minute past three in the afternoon, the Queen was piped ashore for the final time from Britain’s last Royal Yacht.
I ended my tour with tea on board the yacht, of course.

Close Calling in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Old Town is riddled with small alleys, singly called “a close,” too narrow for vehicles, that can take pedestrians from one street to another. Sometimes they are a direct route, sometimes they bring you to an open area, a square, or small plaza, and then out the other side through another close, and sometimes they bring you to a courtyard, but you have to go out the same way you came in. Sometimes they are fairly level, sometimes they have steps, sometimes a lot of steps. It just depends.

“The Real Mary King’s Close” is a tour worth taking if you have the opportunity. It is mainly underground, and it is designed to show you how the not-well-off people in Edinburgh lived during the 1600s and The Plague. It wasn’t pretty.

The waiting area for the Mary King’s Close tour. We descended a couple of flights from inside the building to reach the rooms we toured.

Edinburgh of the 1600s had become terribly overcrowded as people moved to the city, but the city walls held them in. Houses had no room to spread out, so they spread up, sometimes as high as eight stories. Existing houses were absorbed into the new houses as foundations, or simply ground floors. The closes themselves were only a few meters wide – with the tall buildings on either side, daylight rarely made its way in.

There was no indoor plumbing. People used buckets for sewage, which was then dumped into the gutters. The people living on the bottom floors had to live with open sewers outside their doors. Obviously, the higher floors were most desirable – they had windows, after all – and those went to people with some money. The ground floors went to the poorest, who lived there with few windows (and sometimes none,) the sewers, and the occasional cow living in the next room.

And then, 1644 rolled around and brought the plague with it. The rich left the city, but the poor had nowhere to go. Edinburgh lost almost half of its population. Gruesome stories circulated of people being locked into the close, left to die of the plague, but the reality was that they were quarantined and food and water was brought to them. Mary King’s Close was abandoned by 1645.

Our guide, dressed in period costume of the 1600s – 1700s, talked about the plague itself, carried by the flea-infested rats, and the different ways it developed. He also talked about Mary King. She was a widow and therefore able to own property. She established herself as a fabric merchant, and became a person of local prominence, which is why the name Mary King’s Close. The tour is called “The Real Mary King’s Close” because the developers of the tour wanted to emphasize that Mary King was a real person in 17th century Edinburgh, not a made-up character.

Eventually, people moved back in and were living there when city authorities decided to build a new Royal Exchange in order to stay competitive for business, which the New Town was threatening. (“New Town” was close by, more of a neighborhood name than a new city. Things in Edinburgh are still identified by these terms. As the city grew, new area names were added.) The location they wanted was across from the St. Giles Cathedral, where Mary King’s Close is located. They tore down the upper floors and used the lower floors as foundation, where people continued to live and work – people ran businesses from these low-ceilinged rooms.

The last to leave, in 1902, was a saw maker, Mr. Chesney. He and his business were forced out when the Royal Exchange Building, which had become City offices, was extended, and the last buildings were sealed off. These buildings had survived because of the steep grade that they had been built on – as upper floors were developed, the lower floors still had access to the close.

The tour was a couple of hours. To observe the social distancing requirements, there were letters A, B, C, and D painted in specific places in the rooms we visited so that we had two meters separating us. Again, the distance meant that getting to know others on the tours wasn’t possible. Also, photographs are not allowed because we were walking through the foundations of the government buildings above.

As I emerged after the tour, I was standing across from St. Giles Cathedral, blinking into the daylight.

St. Giles Cathedral, with its “crown dome.”

Edinburgh’s St. Giles’ Cathedral was founded in the 12th century, but this building was begun in the 1400s and completed in the 1600s, although significant changes were made in the 20th century. The church began as a Catholic church, but became part of the Church of Scotland in 1559 during the Reformation. John Knox was its minister, and is buried in the church, along with other notables.

St. Giles Cathedral from across Parliament Square.
Lady Stair’s Close led into a small courtyard. As the sign attests, Robert Burns lived here for a while.
St. Columba’s Free Church is at the top of a small alley leading to Victoria Terrace, overlooking Victoria Street. The street from where I took this photo is Johnston Terrace.
The Quaker Meeting House was on the road named Upper Bow Street between St. Columba’s and Victoria Terrace.
Overlooking Victoria Street from Victoria Terrace, The Great Wizard store is in the middle, across the street, in red.
I had lunch at Hanam’s Shisha Terrace, a shawarma sandwich, which brought back memories. Ahmed is from Syria. He says that there is a thriving Syrian community and they have felt very welcome. The biggest adjustment has been the weather.
This isn’t technically a close, but it feels like it. It leads to a restaurant, famous primarily for its patrons, James Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson.
The Literary Pub Tour ended at a pub in this close. You can see the entry toward the back of the photo. Behind me are steps that lead to the street below. Like much of Edinburgh, it’s on a hill.
The Anchor Close

Ah, the Anchor Close. Anchor Close is named for a tavern that used to be here, which was best known for hosting the “Chochallan Fencibles,” an 18th Century drinking club. The drinks fueled the intellectual debate, or so the guides would have you believe. Maybe it’s so: the club was founded by William Smellie, who edited the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Intellectual debates or not, I’m sure the drinks fueled the volume. And, of course, Robert Burns was a member.

Looking down the Anchor Close, there’s not much activity now, but it connects Cockburn Street and High Street.
Fisher’s Close, also in Old Town, but considered private.

The inscription above and the plaque pictured below are the same place. David Hume lived here in 1751. He was an economist and philosopher, a major figure of the Scottish Enlightenment. Two of his best known works are “A Treatise of Human Nature” (1740) and “An Enquiry into Human Understanding” (1748). He challenged the then-current beliefs, and was considered a radical. “I have written on all sorts of subjects,” he wrote, “yet I have no enemies, except all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.”

Riddle’s Close is even with the street face on Lawnmarket Street, but when you walk into the short tunnel, you are underneath a building constructed in 1727. Emerging from the short tunnel, you are in a courtyard that has been there since 1587, and used to be the front building. There is yet another courtyard to be found behind that, but there was no additional date given for that, so it may be contemporary to the 1587 buildings.

James VI attended two banquets here, both honoring Queen Anne of Denmark’s brother, Ulric, Duke of Holstein. Queen Anne was James’ wife, and Ulric was the envoy of the Holy Roman Empire. This was in 1598, before Hume’s time, and a few years before James VI of Scotland became James I of England (1603.) The house belonged to a wealthy merchant in Edinburgh. It’s been restored and is now available for hosting events, if you are so inclined.

A curious small door in the courtyard.
An entry to the building in the 1587 courtyard.
The entry to yet another courtyard (and a sign advertising the space for rent), but it seems to be also from 1587.

Riddle’s Close is notable for another visitor as well. “Fringe Festivals” began in Edinburgh, and have become widely known. They are artistic events, mostly performance arts, organized outside of traditional performance organizations. Riddle’s Court became a Fringe venue in the 1950s, and this is where Maggie Smith gave her first public performance. The rest, as they say, is history.

A person could spend the better part of a month exploring the collection of closes that are part of Old Town, and discovering their history. Someday, maybe.