Today, I decided to spend some time in Edinburgh as a tourist. I have lived here for nearly forty years, and in that time it has changed out of all recognition. Every now and then, we have guests staying and we take them round the main sites, but we never really explore the city through new eyes. I also wanted some specific photographs to support a blog I am preparing on “Edinburgh for free”. So my trip was guided by places I may include in that. However I hardly scratched the surface for the blog post, so it might be more suitable as an eBook. Time will tell.
In Edinburgh the buses are pretty frequent even on a Sunday. It was a lovely bright day, and remarkably warm for February. I have a free bus pass, so effectively the day cost me nothing. It was about 11:30 by the time I got into the town centre, and this is what I was able to cover in about 3 hours, without exerting myself too much. I didn’t actually go into any of the places, just photographed them. If I had gone into even one or two, my day would have vanished! (And I knew where I was going, no map-reading breaks)
National Museum of Scotland
I decided to start my journey at the National Museum of Scotland. There have been a lot of changes here. No longer do you enter via the grand steps, but by a door at the side. They have built a whole new basement display area and a cafe, as part of a major refurbishment. The galleries have all been refurbished, the whole place is bright and airy
It used to be that few things in Edinburgh were open on a Sunday. That has definitely changed. Not only was the museum open, but it was free. It is well worth a visit, particularly on a cold wet day, when you are trying to keep your children entertained. Although I do wince a little when I see things I grew up with, now shown as ‘History’.
Just round the corner from the museum, there’s a statue of a wee dog, Greyfriars Bobby.
The story is well documented here, but the quick summary is that this wee dog was so attached to his master, John Gray, that when he died, he spent the rest of his life sitting on his grave.
The Lord Provost at the time, William Chambers, paid for his dog licence and his collar, which are now in the Museum above.
The dog himself was buried in the same graveyard, and today his grave still attracts a lot of attention.
The graveyard at Greyfriars Kirk is very old, being built in 1602. You can see from the board on the left that the earliest burials were from the 1500’s. Part of Edinburgh’s history is here. Both Mary Erskine and George Watson founded schools which are still going strong today. William MacGonagall was a well known Scottish poet in the 1800’s but I admit, I struggle to understand the broad Scots…
I wandered up round the Castle, a must for any tourist. Now entry to the Castle is not free, but entry to the Esplanade is, and as you can see, many tourists were out and about, enjoying the sun and taking plenty of ‘selfies’.
I have only been toured the castle once and that was years ago, but I have attended the Edinburgh Tattoo a few times. I confess I enjoyed it better when it wasn’t raining! However the show itself is great. (Free toilet facilities just below the castle – always good to know, well at least they were today!)
Royal Mile / High Street
I carried on down ‘the Royal Mile’. Now this street is indeed a mile long, split into the Lawnmarket at the top, then the High Street and the Canongate at the bottom, near Holyrood House. Just below the Castle is the most lovely converted church. It is now an entertainment venue, The Hub, Built in 1842-1845, it towers above the skyline, and its spire can be seen from a lot of the city.
The one below was taken from a position several streets away. The castle is just out of shot, on the left
I stopped in briefly at Lady Stairs Close. You will find the Writers Museum here (free and open on a Sunday!). The Royal Mile has many Closes. At a rough guess 40 odd, but I’ve not counted them. Many of them are open to wander down. If you have the time, do take the opportunity.
I continued my wander past St Giles Cathedral. (Free to enter, but please avoid Church services, this is an active cathedral)
Onward, down the hill. (This is the easy way, the Castle is on a very steep hill from Holyrood House and the new Scottish Parliament at the bottom, to the Castle at the top). The Castle was placed on Castle Rock to enable it to repel armies!
The Mercat Cross is interesting. The present cross has part of the original 16th century in its shaft. (The very original cross dated from 1365!)
Today, formal proclamations such as the dissolution of parliament and the accession of a new monarch are still read out from the Mercat Cross. (I believe about 48 hours later to reflect the time it used to take a messenger to come from London to Edinburgh, but I have to check this??)
I am about 1 hour into my journey at this stage. I am now crossing into the Canongate, still part of the Royal Mile, but originally a different town to Edinburgh, with different laws.
The reason for my visit here was that there are several free museums that I wanted to check out. The People’s Story Museum and the Museum of Childhood. Both are free and also open on a Sunday.
The People’s Museum is right next to the Tolbooth Clock.
This is a landmark in Edinburgh. It marks where the tolls between Edinburgh and the Canongate were collected.
As I wandered along, I was surprised by this lovely bronze statue to Robert Fergusson who sadly died in bedlam aged just 24.
This ended my research really, but I continued to wander.
For years there has been building / roadworks next to the rear entrance to Waverley Station on Market Street. This has caused me no end of issues for some years. Try explaining to visitors who come to Edinburgh from cities / countries that have far better integrated systems, that not only can you not enter the station itself, you cannot even park nearby. So our best answer has been that two of us go in the car together, one goes into the station, meets the friends from the train, the other stays with the car, and ‘lurks’ nearby. Then when there is not enough room in the car for everyone to go home, some go in the car, others take the bus!!
Things have improved in that there is now a car park, albeit quite a long walk from the main station platforms. However some of the rational became clear this afternoon.
My eye was caught by a sign ‘Street Food and Flea Market’, so I wandered into Sibbald’s Close which has been transformed out of all recognition. They have regenerated the whole area. What was a really run-down area a few years ago, is now a vibrant area of new hotels, offices, street market, with a lot more coming in 2017.
I carried on retracing my footsteps, but at a level down towards the Scottish National Gallery. yet again, free, and open on a Sunday.
I wandered along through Princes Street Gardens
Which also gave me a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle
And then I saw my bus coming in the disctance, and hopped on it.
A quick 2-3 hour tour of Edinburgh, that cost me absolutely nothing, except a bit of shoe leather. Everything I have mentioned is free to visit. (Note: Castle Esplanade, not the Castle visitor experience). I didn’t go in them, but I did check that they were free. So watch out for my blog post to come, because there are a lot more that I passed, that I haven’t even included just now. At 1400 words it’s time to stop.
I hope you enjoy my zip through a very small part of Edinburgh. Please feel free to comment!