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Published: June 20th 2019
The sun has come out to grace our tour today. First stop Blair castle, a 700 year old Victorian style mansion redesigned in the 1700s into a castle. This is the ancestral home of the Duke of Atholl (or Athole) of the Highlands, a title granted to the first Duke in the 1703 by Queen Ann.
The Duke must be from the Murray line and must be directly related in ancestry. When the last Duke died, there were no heirs. So the search began for a replacement. They found a distant cousin now living in South Africa. Bruce Murray was thus named the 12th duke of Atholl
A heritage fund was set up in 1936 to manage the castle and it was opened to the public. The site is 11,400 acres and not only includes the castle but gardens as well, all of which are beautiful. The building is 4 stories with distinctive whitewash walls with towers, battlements, and gables. We were treated to a private guided tour, a perk offered by Trafalgar, allowing us a glimpse in the magnificent edifice. When you visit Scotland, this is one of the many highlights to enjoy for sure.
A short drive and we arrived at Pitlochry and lunch. We only had a hour so Cathy and I hightailed it to the main street and walked passed all the crowds and found a perfect place serving local and Italian fare. Of course, we had the pizza and it was excellent.
While sitting waiting for our food, I started a chat with the young couple across the way. The young man was from the area (Skye) while the young lady was from Naples, Italy, so from this we knew we were in the right place to eat!
We enjoyed our chat, shared some stories, and all too soon it was time to go. Cathy and I headed to High Street to do some shopping. I found a nice Harris Tweed hat. Cathy searched in vain for some heather jewelry. I will make sure she finds one or we will just have to come back!
Next stop, St. Andrews’ golf course. For those of you who are golf aficionados, forgive me now. For those who do not know, St. Andrews is the birthplace of golf. It began here in the year 1400 and has been played here every day since. The course was designed by Old Tom Morris and had 22 holes. It was reduced to 18 holes in the 18th century. The area around the course is beautiful, with views of the ocean, the old St. Andrew College, and many a quaint shop and café.
I am sure the old course, one of 7 in the St Andrew circuit, is beautiful when you walk it but for a non golfing visitor there is not much to offer. I was disappointed being on the outside; I am sure it would be different with a set of clubs!
It is a little pricey for a round, about 200 pounds, add the caddie 50 pounds and you begin at 250 pounds. You also must reserve a year in advance or, if a single, you can enter a lottery to become part of a foursome. The lottery begins at 2 am for a round that can begin anytime in the next 2 days!
This is the site for the Open. In the US, we know it as the British Open, so many of the world’s top golfers have teed off here. We stopped in a café for a coffee, took some photos, and moved on to Edinburgh.
For those travelers not familiar with touring, while driving on the coach your tour director will keep you entertained and informed with stories of history, legends, interesting tidbits and so much more. Sure you are indeed spending time on the coach, but you are learning as well. So make the most of it. Ask questions, seek clarification but most of all enjoy.
The city of Edinburgh is beautiful. Similar to Glasgow, it looks similar in architecture but is less hustle and bustle. Only an hour train ride from Glasgow, many people choose to live here and commute to Glasgow for work allowing for the best of both worlds.
Tom, the ever efficient tour director, has told us many, many stories about what we are seeing. He is amazing at keeping us informed, on time, and entertained.
Edinburgh is the home of JK Rowlings, author of the Harry Potter series. She wrote the book essentially in The Elephant Café, although at least one other café claims the books were written there. I guess she, like I, wrote in several different places. She still frequents the area and enjoys life in the city.
Edinburgh was the inspiration for Hogwarts, using the local boys boarding school and the back drop. There is a cemetery called Blackfriars’ Kirk, near the Elephant Café where she walked often and used many of the names on the stones for key characters in the book. We walked the paths and learned several stories.
One very interesting story is the true story of Greyfriar’s Bobby. It seems that there was once a man, a bit down on his luck, who went looking for work. He had no skills so he was only able to get a job in the Greyfriar’s Kirk as a deterrent for grave robbers. He had a little dog, Bobby, as a faithful companion. Legend has it Bobby's owner died and was buried in the Kirk. Bobby was distraught. Ever faithful, Bobby spent every day of the next 14 years resting on his owner’s grave - amazing. When Bobby died he was buried in the Kirk and a statue was erected in front of the famous pub, Greyfriar’s Bobby.
On our walking tour we also learned the legend of half hung Mary. It seems Mary gave birth to a baby boy out of wedlock. The baby died, but it was suspected she killed the child. She was tried and found guilty and sentenced to hang. On the faithful day of her execution, she was dragged to the Grass Market area, site of all executions and put on the gallows. The crowds went wild calling for the hangman to do his duty. The trap opened and Mary fell, snapping her neck. The crowd cheered. The body was put into a coffin and nailed shut. On the way to the Kirk for a potters burial, Mary came back from the dead! They re moved Mary from the coffin, and at the urging of the crowd, took her back to the gallows to do it right. Back on the gallows, the hangman ready for the drop, was stopped by the magistrate who proclaimed that Mary should not be hanged again for it was God himself that wanted her to live. So from that day forward until her death she was unknown as “half hung Mary.”
One more interesting yet grisly story is about Burk and Hare, the grave robbers. Edinburgh is home to the college of medicine and surgery. As such they were often in need of fresh bodies for study. Most of the bodies came from execution of criminals so there was always a fairly good supply as there were many crimes for which the penalty was death. Soon the number of capital crimes was reduced resulting in a shortage of bodies for study.
Since the head of the surgical school, Dr. Robert Knox, was willing to pay 7 pounds for a fresh body, the art of grave robbing was born. Now 7 pounds was a high sum in those days, so grave robbing was a lucrative, albeit, criminal profession.
One of the better known body snatchers were the team Burk and Hare who plied their trade in the very same Blackfriars’ Kirk. Each night, especially after a burial, the team would steal into the Kirk, dig up a fresh one, and sell it to Knox, whose office was at the far end of the Kirk. Now Knox would turn a blind eye to the source of the fresh body, pay the team, and all would slink off into the night.
Now people were outraged that their loved ones’ final rest was disturbed by such a grisly deed and they sought a way to thwart the robbers. So the invention of the Moffat Cage.
A Moffat Cage was a heavy cage placed in the ground and over a fresh grave and locked by heavy chains designed to slow down the grave robber, at least until the racket made opening g such a cage could alert the Kirk Warden, who hopefully would prevent the disturbance of the grave.
Burk and Hare, their income disrupted, developed a new plan to secure bodies. Why wait for the person to die? Maybe we could just help them along! So they went on a killing spree, murdering prostitutes, sickly folks, and well people who would not be missed. Their business was booming when they made one fatal mistake. They tried for a twofer, murdering a prostitute and her female colleague. Things went wrong when the prostitute got away and called the police. Burk and Hare succeeded in killing the friend, but were soon captured by the police when the prostitute identified the duo as the killers.
Well, as it often happens, one turned on the other and Hare, wanting g to save his own skin, told the police the entire idea was planned by Burk. The police didn't care; they only wanted a guilty party so Burk was hanged and Hare and Knox got off Scott free.
Tom continued to lead us around the old city regaling us with more stories as we made our way to dinner in a local restaurant.
We sat for dinner and were given a choice of several main courses, two of which were duck or lamb shank. I wanted both, so did Sonya sitting next to me. So we cut a deal: she would order the shank, I the duck and we would share equally. A perfect solution to the perfect meal.
After dinner our goal was to do a pub crawl. Cathy, Coleen, Alan, and I stayed downtown while the rest of the tour headed back to the hotel. The four of us spent the rest of the evening walking, laughing and sampling the many fine scotches available at several pubs. We heard local music, met many different travelers, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
We caught an Uber back to the hotel and were safe in our beds by 11:30. Another beautiful day on tour.
When on tour, be adventurous, meet the locals, enjoy the food and the drink, but remain aware of your surroundings. Most people are friendly, but you are a tourist and can be a target.
Today I only discussed the highlights of what we did. Our experience was so much more. Get out there and TOUR!
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