Hey team, go to the bathroom and make yourself some tea/coffee/glass of wine, this is one long blogpost! Strangely enough, Edinburgh is also chock-a-block full of Australians. In our first 11 hours there, Allie, Kait and I only met Australians. Our hostel even had an Australian flag not-so-discreetly pinned to the wall. There would have been another Australian there, Steph, but sadly she had to make a quick trip back to Aus. Also, I forgot to take my camera (intelligence!) so all my photos are locked on my phone. Thankfully though, Allie took hers so every photo in this post was taken by her.
After stocking up on the world’s best selection of travel snacks, we left Norwich at around 3pm and jumped on a train. I really enjoy the UK train system as it’s air-conditioned (heated), has the option of reserved seating, graffiti-free and has quiet carriages. Sydney Cityrail take note! We had stopovers in Peterborough and York and had to quickly learn to read the electronic timetables. Thankfully Kait and Allie had been to London on the train and knew what they were doing. We arrived in Edinburgh 6ish hours later and quickly came to the conclusion that everything in Scottland used to be a castle. So we left the castle-train-station and jumped in a cab, told him where we needed to go, drove past all the castle-buildings and were dropped in a castle-alley, right in front of a castle-hostel with a castle-pub. All the lights were off in the castle-hostel, but we were on the right street, so after a bit of a panic, we Googled where we were and where we needed to be and after a very short walk, arrived at the right castle-hostel. And promptly met about 6 Australians.
Because there was originally meant to be four of us staying, we got our own room, which no one was complaining about. It was freezing cold and getting late, so we decided to leave exploring Edinburgh ’til the morning. The street below was a bit noisy and the curtains weren’t superb, but we were all asleep pretty quickly and were very reluctant to get out of bed the next morning. Motivated by the prospect of breakfast at the Elephant Cafe, we were out and about by 8:30, before anything was open. After a bit of a wander, we stumbled upon the Elephant Cafe, and delved into the establishment where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series.
Inside, the owners had done really well. They obviously had a theme, with artworks of elephants and newspaper clippings adorning the walls but they kept a small section free from African Animals and titled it “Reviews and Literature”. Here were reviews of the cafe taken from newspapers and magazines, as well as an article on what to do in Edinburgh, and finally a couple of articles featuring JK Rowling and the Elephant Cafe. I thought they did this really well because it meant they were acknowledging that this was an important part of the Elephant Cafe’s history, without trying to cash in on the Harry Potter hype.
The bathroom, however, was truly a sight to behold. Every inch of wall was covered in Harry Potter quotes and messages to J.K Rowling. Some were witty, some sentimental but all were brilliant. I had inconveniently left my permanent marker at home but could have spent a good few hours just reading all the messages. This would have been a unconventional use of the weekend, so after Allie, Kait and I had all taken it in turns to enjoy the bathroom, we headed back to the hostel for a walking tour.
Unsurprisingly, our tour guide was Australian and he was an excellent leader. He was full of all sorts of stories, some older than others and kept things interesting. He also didn’t accept tips which was refreshing. First off, we visited a graveyard. Sounds morbid but it was actually really peaceful. There were around 300 headstones in this graveyard, but around 15 000 bodies. This was because, back in the day, this graveyard had been built on the other side of the city walls. During the plague, when people were dropping like flies, a trench had been dug just outside the city walls for people to throw their deceased over the wall, followed by a little bit of dirt to stop the crows getting at the bodies. Legend has it, if it rained for two weeks straight, bone fragments would start to stick out of the ground as the soil was washed away. Legend also had it that if you’re eating in the graveyard and you drop something, don’t pick it up and eat it because you might catch the plague. J.K Rowling also spent a lot of her time wandering through this graveyard looking for inspiration, and many of the names found on the headstones here have been given new life in her books.
In particular, Tom Riddle and Professor McGonagall have their namesakes here, and the inspiration for Hogwarts itself is not far away. In the middle ages, there was a gated school next to this graveyard at which only very rich parents could send their sons. In order to keep the poor people out of the school grounds, the whole property was surrounded by a very high, very sharp stone wall, making it impenetrable. Poor people would sit outside the gate, looking through at this magnificent building and eventually came to the conclusion that, because it was such an exclusive school, the students must be learning witchcraft. So J.K Rowling took the idea of an impenetrable school where witchcraft and wizardry were taught, made it her own and is now richer than the Queen.
But this graveyard had more to it than Harry Potter history. Our guide also took us to the crypt of a lawyer, who was in charge of getting information out of people during the 1600s. This was the time of Jacobian rebels, Jesuit Treason and civil unrest in much of the UK so there was much information to be gained and torture was the method of choice. One particular method involved driving wooden wedges behind people’s knees and hammering them in between the bone and the calf muscle to point of total separation. As happens with all mankind, this lawyer eventually died and his coffin was installed in his crypt with his family members. Hundreds of years later, a homeless man, seeking shelter from the harsh Scottish winter, broke in to the crypt and decided to have a rummage around in the coffins just to see what he could find. Understandably, 300 year old wood is not particularly stable so the floor gave way and the homeless man found himself neck deep in decomposing goop and muck. He soon realised that this was the residue of dead bodies and began yelling and screaming. Turns out the lawyer had been torturing people for fun in the secret basement of his crypt. Hearing the disturbance, the night watchman hurried to the crypt, only to see a figure, covered in bits of decomposing dead body, clawing its way up the stone stairs, screaming like the hounds of hell. The night watchman ran off in one direction and the homeless man ran off in another, never to be seen again. Legend has it, the ghost of the lawyer and all his victims still haunt the graveyard, making it one of the most haunted in Scotland.
And now for a happy story. Once upon a time, John Grey, a Constable in the Scottish police, was obliged to have a watchdog. No one knows what happened to his original watchdog but regulation decreed John must have a dog at all times. Being Scottish, he decided to adopt a Skye Terrier and he named it Bobby after the police. This dog became known as Greyfriar’s Bobby, because where ever his master went, Bobby was sure to follow. Eventually John Grey developed a cough and died. Bobby found his way in to the funeral, which was remarked upon by many because dogs weren’t allowed in the graveyard. The following morning, the curator found Bobby sitting loyally on his master’s freshly packed grave. Sadly, Bobby wasn’t allowed to be in the graveyard and was cleared out. The second and third mornings were exactly the same, with Bobby sneaking his way into the graveyard to be with his master. Eventually, moved by his loyalty, Bobby was made an honorary citizen of Edinburgh and allowed to roam the streets at will and sit at his master’s grave. When Bobby eventually passed away, he was buried in the same graveyard as his master, only closer to the front gate as he had become quite a town treasure. When a monument was erected in Bobby’s honour, a clever pub owner turned the statue around and renamed his pub “Greyfriar’s Bobby”. Now, whenever a photo is taken of the monument, the Greyfriar’s Bobby pub is always in the background and the proprietor has free publicity.
After recommending a few good, cheap places to eat, the walking tour finished back at the hostel. Rather chilly and rather hungry, Allie, Kait and I chose a cute place down one of the streets that inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. With it’s steep incline, jam packed shops and staircases leading to second storey establishments, it’s not hard to see why. It even had Christmas lights strung from one side to the other. After some delicious soup and smoothies, we set out into the cold again and whiled away the afternoon wandering around Edinburgh and shopping. Because it’s built on a hill, the entire city is a series of bridges and alleyways. You can walk down allies and suddenly find yourself on someone’s roof. We wandered back through Old Town where our hostel was located, over some bridges and through New Town where our walking tour had been that morning. It was really interesting just wandering Edinburgh is just so different from both Norwich and Sydney. To start with, it was established 400 years before Australia was even discovered so the architecture is definitely distinct.
After an amazing afternoon nap, we ventured back out in to the cold to a place called “Mum’s” which is famous for it’s comfort food. It certainly didn’t disappoint and we followed it with frozen yoghurt which went down a treat. We headed back to the hostel, but Kait and I decided to pop out again to check out an Australian pub close to the hostel. We were a good 10-15 years younger than most of the patrons but behind the bar was an excellent collection of AFL memorabilia and mechanise. They even had guernseys from GWS and Gold Coast! Top effort!
We then wandered over to the castle-pub had seen on our first night, but found we were wearing far too much clothing and had arrived a few hours too late as most of the people here were very merry. After a quick tricycle ride home, we woke Allie (sorry) and went to bed. We got up early and went back to the same soup place for breakfast. I have never had such a large bowl of supreme, creamy, delicious porridge! Puts my quick-oats at UEA to shame! After breakfast we wandered up to Edinburgh castle, which can be seen from most points around the city because it was built on top of a rocky outcrop. Nothing like ruling your people from on top of a rock. The castle itself has an incredible rich history due to it’s immense age. Mary Queen of Scots began her reign age 6 from this castle and later gave birth to a son, James. After a rather turbulent reign, Mary was forced to abdicate and James was instated as King James VI of England Ireland and James I of Scotland. He was just over one year old.
The Scottish War Museum is also housed at Edinburgh Castle and was well worth a look, particularly as it was warm inside. We also had a look at the Scottish War Memorial, which covers all wars from WWI-present and multiple nationalities. The Scottish Crown Jewels were definitely worth lining up for and have a long, interesting history of being buried, lost and found. They were most recently buried within the castle grounds in the ruins of a tower during WWII when Scotland was under threat of invasion.
After a good couple of hours we found ourselves castled-out but decided to wander down “The Royal Mile” which is a nautical-mile-long road which runs from Edinburgh Castle down to Edinburgh Palace. We decided we had seen enough royal recreation and skipped the Palace of Holyroodhouse but we did have a look from outside the gate and waved to Lizzy and Phil, just in case they were secretly in Edinburgh and watching. Being the Duke of Edinburgh, the Holyroodhouse Palace is where Phil stays when he’s in Edinburgh. Wearily, we began to wander back to our hostel as we didn’t want to run short of time getting our train. The trip home had only one stopover and, as much as we enjoyed Edinburgh, I think we were all pretty happy to get home. My flatmates even surprised me with a welcome home sign, and an 1830-something edition of a couple of Shakespeare’s plays! They really are too amazing!