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Published: February 1st 2020
28th Jan: I have been to Edinburgh several times and it is a place I really, really like. I have seen and done quite a few of the major sights in the city, so I searched for some new or different (to me) things to do. Since I would be arriving in the early evening, I decided to do one of the ghost tours that go into the vaults under the city later in the evening. The tour I booked started at 9:30 pm. The meeting point was a short walk away from where I was staying. There were only about ten people on the tour so it wasn't too busy. First, we walked around to the back of St. Giles, which had been a graveyard. I think most of the bodies had been removed, but a few still remain. I wonder what the vicar of the church thinks about how his grave is now a parking spot. The guide went into some details about how crowded the graveyard was and about how people would come and snatch the bodies when not long after they had been buried to sell to the medical school. She also told us about the graves
having bells so that if you were buried alive, you could pull the chord in your coffin to alert someone above ground that you were still alive. I had recently heard that this is one of the origins of the phrase 'saved by the bell', so it was a good reminder. We were also told about Burke and Hare, two grave robbers and killers that terrorised Edinburgh in the 19th century.
Next we headed over to a close. Edinburgh is filled with closes and winds. The difference between the two is that closes had gates, whereas winds are open. They are pretty creepy in the dark and you can imagine people or ghosts hiding in the shadows. The guide told us a ghost story about some people who lived in a house in the close. To be honest, I didn't find it very scary. I need them to up the ante with the creepiness. A short walk away was the entrance to the South Bridge Vaults. This is the part of the tour I was really looking forward to. Edinburgh is filled with these vaults under the city and I had never been into any of them and I
was excited to see what they were like. We descended the stairs, passing a skeleton behind a wire gate. The vaults were massive and since this was the ghost tour the lights were off and candles had been lit in various places. This made it quite atmospheric. The guide explained a bit of history about the vaults in the city. They are all over the city, but most are closed off. They were used in the olden times. I think people worked, lived and stored stuff in them. Some, like these ones, have been excavated and opened for tourists. We walked around a few different rooms in the vault. It was quite creepy to imagine people living here and lots of underworld dealings going on. The guide told us about different ghosts that had been seen or experienced in the vaults. 'The Watcher' was one that follows people through the vaults and we came to another spot where there were said to be two ghosts on either side of the doorway. One was apparently quite vicious and didn't like pregnant women. We were also told about ghosts of children that haunt the vaults. In that room, I felt a real
chill on the bottom of my legs. Was it something from the afterlife or just an underground breeze? Guess, I will never know. We visited one more room, but still I didn't see anything. I quite enjoyed the tour, but it definitely wasn't scary enough for me. Other people seemed to find it quite scary, but I wanted more of a fright. It was interesting to learn about the history of the area and I would like to visit the vaults during the daytime to find out more about how they were used.
29th Jan: After getting the boring stuff I needed to do out of the way, I headed to the Surgeons' Hall Museums. I had never heard of these set of three museums, but it came highly recommended and after reading about it on the internet and seeing it was really close to where I was staying I decided to go. The entrance ticket was £8 and it allows you access to the three museums that make up the Surgeons' Hall Museum. These three museums are the Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum, and the Dental Museum. No photography is allowed in the museum. This
blog is rather devoid of photos, since none were allowed in the museum and I couldn't really take any in the dark vaults the previous evening. After getting my entrance ticket, I headed into the temporary exhibition. This was about how doctors and scientists had used animals to help them learn about anatomy and medicine. I loved looking at all the different skeletons on display. I then visited the main exhibit in the History of Surgery Museum. This was really interesting and very information heavy. There was just so much to take in, and my feeble brain failed at retaining most of it. The exhibits documented the history of surgery in Scotland, both the surgical advances and the people behind them, such as Joseph Lister and the development of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. There as also a small section about Joseph Bell who was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
I headed up to the next floor to the Wohl Pathology museum. This was spread out over two floor and you did the upper floor first before taking the internal stairs to the lower floor. The upper floor was filled with different body parts
in jars related to different areas of medicine. It was a bit weird seeing all the tumours and deformities, there's no way I could be doctor or nurse, I am too squeamish. The lower level was divided into two sections. One half of the room was filled with information and exhibits about how medicine and medical skills have developed during the different wars over the past couple of centuries or so. There were a couple of exhibits of human skin. It's strange to see these pieces of skin and to think they were once part of people, who breathed, talked, and walked. It was just too far removed for me. The other side contained information about famous physicians and surgeons from Scotland and their personal collections. Lastly, I headed up the Dental Museum. This part of the collection was a mixture of dental stuff and surgical stuff. I preferred looking at the dental stuff, it was just more interesting to me. the old dental chair reminded me of the open air museum I used to visit as a child. I liked looking at the implements on display. I am not scared of going to the dentists, but looking at some
of the stuff, I can see why people have an aversion. It was interesting to see the fruit scoops that people used to eat apples when they had lost their teeth and couldn't bite into them. I really enjoyed the Surgeons' Hall Museums, it was something different and worth a visit.
The city of Edinburgh is tied to the Harry Potter series and its writer, J.K. Rowling. Since I am a Harry Potter fan, I had decided to do one of the free Harry Potter walking tours. It met on the Royal Mile and I was surprised to see that the Spanish language tour had more people than the English language one. Spanish speakers obviously love Harry Potter, too. It was raining lightly when the tour started. I hoped that it wouldn't get any heavier. We didn't have to walk far to the first stop just up and across the road a hundred metres or so. We headed to the City Chambers, which is Edinburgh's town hall. The guide went into a bit of detail about J.K. Rowling's past and her move to Scotland from Portugal to be close to her sister after her relationship failed in Portugal. I
don't really know much about her personal life. In the courtyard of the City Chamber, there is Edinburgh's answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There are golden hand prints from notable Edinburgh figures. Then we headed to the Mercat Cross, which has Scotland's national animal, the unicorn, on the top.
Our next stop was just around the corner and it wasn't the actual place we were there for but the view. We could see across to Waverley Station and the Balmoral Hotel. Since her home life was pretty hectic, J. K. Rowling couldn't concentrate and write at home, so she checked-in to the Balmoral Hotel and got the book done. The hotel was, I think, one of the first places to have a clock in Edinburgh. This was so that people could make it to the trains on time. The clock is apparently a few minutes fast so that people don't miss their trains. We headed into a very cute close, I loved the turret in one of the walls. Our guide explained about the place that we would see briefly next, but instead of doing it out on the street, the close offered some protection from the
rain. The place he told us about was just around the corner and the inspiration for Diagon Alley. Victoria Street is a bunch of brightly painted shops including a joke shop and a broom makers. Parts of the street are under construction so we didn't get the best view. I think I will have to return and take a proper walk along the street. We walked along to 'The Elephant House', which claims to be the birthplace of Harry Potter. I had walked past 'The Elephant House' before on past trips to Edinburgh, and believed that it was the birthplace of Harry Potter, but the guide said that the story was actually started on a delayed train from Manchester to London, so I suppose we should thank the crappiness of British train travel for playing a part in the birth of Harry Potter. Also, J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of the first book in her brother-in-law's cafe in the city, which no longer exists. And we had already found out that she wrote 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' in the Balmoral Hotel. But this cafe was a firm favourite of hers and she held the launch party for the
Inspiration for Diagon Alley
books there, so maybe that is why it has given itself this title.
Our final stop was Greyfriars Kirkyard. It is said that J. K. Rowling used to walk her child around the graveyard in its pram to get it to sleep and that she got the inspiration for some of the characters' names from the graveyard. The views of the city from the graveyard were really nice. I liked the buildings that lined the edge. First, we saw the grave of someone called Moody, which could have inspired the character of Alastor 'Mad Eye' Mood. Then we headed to Sirius Black's grave. This was quite funny as the actual gravestone had been removed and someone had graffitied 'Sirius Black' on it. After dodging some puddles in the graveyard we came to the grave of Lord Voldemort, that of a man named Thomas Riddell, which sounds suspiciously similar to Tom Riddle aka Lord Voldemort. The final grave we visited was that of William McGonagall, who had been dubbed the worst poet in the history of Scotland. McGonagall is another traditional Scottish name and everyone knows Professor McGonagall played by the wonderful Maggie Smith. It was absolutely chucking it down
by now, so the tour wrapped up a little earlier, but I think everyone was glad about that. I had no desire to be outside anymore so made my way back to where I was staying.
It wouldn't be a trip away without trying some local cuisine. Since the weather was still really bad, I could hear the rain bucketing it down outside, and since my clothes were wet, I didn't fancy venturing out. Instead I opted to get a take away delivered. Just a bit earlier in the week, I had been talking to a Scottish mate, and we got on to the traditional Scottish food and we had been talking about Scotland's love of deep frying everything. I knew that this trip I had to try the classic deep fried Mars Bar. I looked through a few menus for different pizza shops and chippys, and found a place which had tasty sounding pizzas, cheap delivery fees and deep fried Mars Bars. I was really surprised when my food turned up within 20 minutes. Although it would be proper to eat the pizza first, I wanted to have the deep fried Mars Bar while it was still hot.
I was a bit gutted when I opened the box as it was rather small and only coated in a thin layer of batter. I expected (and wanted) thick batter like what you get on fish. However, when I took a bit into it, I loved it. It was all warm, soft and gooey, so much better than a regular Mars Bar, I can totally see why these became a thing. The sugar did hit my teeth those and gave me a pain, but it was worth it. Gotta try the deep fried Snickers on my next trip to Scotland. My pizza was really nice, too, but that was a bit of an afterthought after my deep fried Mars Bar.
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