Wednesday, December 30, 2015


 Greyfriars is on of Edinburgh's most famous churches and was opened for worship in 1620, and in 1638 the National Covenant was signed here, which affirmed the independence of the Scottish Church.

Many of the headstones form part of the rear walls of adjoining properties, and the remains of the Flodden wall can be found here also. This is one of the few remaining fragments of the old city wall built in the early 16th century as protection against a feared British invasion.

 Many famous Scots are buried within the kirkyard, but probably the most notorious is Greyfriars Bobby, a wee Skye terrier, who from 1858 to 1872, maintained vigil over the grave of his master, an Edinburgh police officer. His story was later told in a novel by Eleanor Atkinson and a statue can be found outside the church yard, although his grave is just inside the entrance.

Edinburgh's Closes and Wynds

 Branching off from the Royal Mile are numerous alleyways, known as "closes" or "wynds". The narrow alleyways lead north and south from the mile and are narrow passageway between the high tenements and are a remnant from medieval days when the whole city was a mass of confusing alleyways.

A close provided entry to a tenement, and sometimes access  to the rear of the building. There was often a gate across the entrance that could be locked at night to "close" the alleyway.

One of the most famous of Edinburgh's closes, now a popular tourist attraction, Mary King's Close, was notable for a particularly gruesome event n the 17th century. In 1645 many residents of the close fell victim to the plague, and so in order to try and contain the disease, city officials bricked up the entranceway to the alley, leaving the residents within to slowly perish. It was never re-opened and eventually built over but the guided tours now take you down through the various layers of the tenements to the steeply sloping close. They are lead by guides in period costume who tell the stories of the various layers of life and society. Unfortunately no photos are allowed as the building overhead is a Government one!

 A wynd is a thoroughfare, open at both ends often between the various levels of the old town, usually very steep and filled with steps. Going down is fine, but I usually find an easier way of heading up. The arch over many of the alleys is known as a pend and adds to the charm.

Now many closes are much more open, often at both ends, although there are still quite a number gated and leading to residences.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Stirling Unicorn Tapestries

 These magnificent hand woven tapestries hanging in the Queen's Inner Hall have taken 14 years to weave with the final tapestry completed just last year.

There are seven tapestries in all and they tell the story of a unicorn hunted and killed by a group of huntsmen and dogs, and are based on a set of Renaissance tapestries woven around 1500 and held at the Cloisters Museum in New York.

The Unicorn was an important  mythical beast believed to be both powerful and pure, and could only be tamed by a maiden, In the late medieval period the unicorn was adopted as a supporter of the Scottish royal coat of arms and it was known that JamesV owned several sets of tapestries depicting unicorns.
These tapestries have been woven by hand over the 14 years, using traditional techniques dating back to the 1400s and are absolutely beautiful.

Stirling Castle

 It was bucketing rain as I got off the train in Stirling, and the Castle holds a high, imposing position overlooking the surrounding area, so taxi it was to the top. What an amazing place it is.
Historic Scotland has been restoring the place to how it may have looked in 1540 , when it was occupied by  Mary of Guise, the widow of James V, and their infant daughter. Mary Queens of Scots. There is so much to see from the renovation and restoration of the royal apartments to the tapestries and the story of their creation  - another post for those. The colours are vibrant and the building springs to life  creating quite a different castle experience. Thank goodness the rain did finally clear, so I did get to see a little of the exterior and of the town of Stirling. The exterior of the castle is very imposing with it's hundreds of statues and carvings adorning the walks and walls. The restoration brings history to life.

The drama was to unfold when I left and checked my phone. A friend had offered to come and take Millie out for a walk and to spend time with her, but all the recent renovation works , had caused the inner door handle of the house to malfunction and she wasn't able to get in, and Millie was locked inside. My train trip back from Stirling was spent phoning the builder - on holidays - and arranging for someone to meet us at the house and get ius inside and Millie out. Needless to say she was desperate. Thank goodness it happened then when I was out with my phone, or we could have all been in trouble, as often I take her walking with just keys and no phone.

Friday, December 18, 2015

John Knox House

The oldest surviving tenement in Edinburgh, parts dating back to 1470, it seems unbelievable to me that it is still standing and in operation. We who have such a short history, the age of the buildings in Old Town is just amazing.
It stretches over 3 floors, with walls 1 metre thick, a stoneturnpike winding staircase, huge tiled fireplaces, and on the 3rd floor, a painted ceiling,  oak paneling and massive floor boards.

The original residents were the family of James Mossman, a jeweler and goldsmith and keeper of the Royal Mint for the Stuart kings and queens, who joined the wrong side after Queen Mary was forced to abdicate and was part of the revolt that seized Edinburgh Castle for in Mary's name. After 3 years they were removed from the castle and executed.

It is the connection with John Knox that has saved to house through attempts to demolish it and widen the street. Although he was only connected with the house for a very short time, but it is believed he died there.
John Know was a famous religious reformerof the time, a powerful speaker with great influence over the common people and a powerful figure after the Reformation in Scotland

Scottish Parliament

 I had hoped to get back for the First Minister's question time, but it was all booked and the last before Christmas - maybe next time!

The Parliament building certainly creates an impression. A modern concrete confection nestled below Arthur's seat and opposite the Palace of Holyrood, it is one of those buildings either loved or hated, but certainly unable to be ignored. Created by architect Enric Miralles and opened in 2005, many aspects of the design are symbolic.

 The Main Hall inside the public entry has a low, triple arched ceiling of polished concrete resembling a cave or castle vault and is rather dark, but vast and spacious.
The Debating Chamber, above the Main Hall is the opposite and is light and airy with massive overhead oak beams, sycamore and glass to "shine the light on democracy". Certainly different to many of the parliamentary chambers I have visited. There are no set seats and no massive tables, it would be interesting to get to a sitting session.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Virgin Money Street of Light

 An event that lights up Edinburgh's old town, with over 26 arches and 60,000 lights that create a stunning canopy overhead in the Royal Mile..
 The lights are synchronised to music played and sung by choirs from across Edinburgh and provide a 20 minute spectacle enjoyed several times nightly, with some nights about 5000 people in the space. Thank goodness last night it was no where near that crowded and there was plenty of room to move about and getting home after was ot a big challengs

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

 Still a fully working Palace, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is open for viewing, but not photographing, inside at least. The Queen spends several weeks there over the summer and conducts her Garden Party, welcomes dignitaries, installs new knights etc and hols receptions and other state occasions.
The Abbey was founded in 1128, and is now in ruins. The castle grew from the extensions of the monastic buildings, surrounded by gardens,  the kings preferring to live here rather than at the castle.
James 1Vconverting the royal lodgings in the Abbey into a Palace

    Mary, Queen of Scots came to live at Holyroodhouse after her return from France, and her quarters are open for viewing as are the State Apartments, Great Hall, Dining room etc and the all the major rooms of State still used by the Royal Family for official purposes.
There are some amazing tapestries and art works in addition to many of the artifacts relating to the various occupants. Many of the art works by  famous Scottish artists can also be seen n the Queen's Gallery

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Espy, Portobello

With a name like The Espy, and being a Melbourne girl of a certain generation, I had to go visit this pub. Situated on the Promenade, like it's counterpartt in St Kilda on the Esplanade, the Esplanade Hotel certainly has an "Aussie" touch. The publican, I believe, is a Melbournian, and I don't know if the hotel has always been the Esplanade, but it is now. is welcoming and has a great menu, with a few Aussie

I little closer to the beach than our Espy, but itprobably is in a better state. The last I heard I think our Espy was in danger of being demolished for the inevitable progress.

The food is good, the staff friendly and the Aussie theme prevails, although there were no other Aussie's around that I could hear. I believe the owner has another pub in Edinburgh, this time with a Kiwi theme.

Edinburgh Farmers Market

Yesterday I went off to the Farmers Market. held every Saturday morning on Castle Terrace at the base of the castle. I am sure there are lots more stalls in the better weather, but there was a good choice of Organic vegetable, lots of exotic meats and fish and a variety of other goodies. Enough to fill my backpack with some food for the week at least.