My Highland Fling Adventure Day 2 tells of the full day me, Dave and Bunny had in Edinburgh before our Macbackpackers tour. We spent the day on walking tours and climbing Arthurs Seat.
Missed the previous part of the adventure go back to:
Heading Out Into Edinburgh
We got up in the morning with plenty of time to get to the Sandemans Free Walking Tour – me and Dave had done this a couple of years ago, but it’s always fun to redo things! Especially as you’re likely to get a different guide who may tell you different things.
We headed down to the free breakfast, which was ok. It was toast and cereal, which is what I’ve come to expect in UK hostels. But the kitchen was tiny, there were only about 6 of us trying to have breakfast and it was a tight squeeze!
After breakfast we headed to the Royal Mile and looked for the red umbrella that shows you where the Sandemans Tour starts. We found the tour and got our tickets (it’s free, they give tickets to count and split the groups if needed). Then we waited for the tour to start.
Starting A Morning Walk With A Grave Yard
Here I am going to tell you about the tour, I’ll try not to go into too much detail, but there will be some details. If you don’t want to know about the tour (as you’re planning to go on yourself and so don’t want any spoilers) I advise you to skip this section and pick up the story at ‘In The Kirk’!
Our tour guide was Eoin (which is the Irish spelling of Owen). He was a great guide, happy to answer questions, informative and a good laugh. He introduced himself and we headed off on our tour.
The first stop was Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Greyfriars Bobby is buried. Bobby was a dog that, after his owner passed away, refused to leave his owners grave. He stayed there for the rest of his life and is buried in the Kirkyard. People leave treats, sticks and dog toys on his grave.
In the Kirkyard you can see cages over some graves. These were to keep body snatchers out, as the university would pay for fresh corpses for research, people would dig up freshly buried bodies. This was the perfect point for Eoin to tell us a little about Burke and Hare, Edinburgh’s famous murders, instead of waiting for a funeral, they murdered people and sold the bodies.
There are also some fairly creepy carvings on the wall of the Kirk. The carvings are of skulls, skeletons and the like. This was to warn body snatchers that this was a plague pit, so not to go in it. And also to keep others away, to try and stop the spread.
Eion also took us to another part of the Kirkyard, where there are some locked gates. Behind the gates is a prison. It is where over 1,000 supporters of the National Covenant were held without shelter and very little food for over 4 months. Many died here.
Out Of The Kirkyard
After this thorough exploration of the Kirkyard, we continued our tour by heading over to the Grassmarket. The Grassmarket is so called because it used to be the main cattle market. Here we had a little break. Eoin pointed out Mary’s Milk Bar, saying it was great for ice creams. So the three of us headed other, even though it was quite a chilly July day! It was a good tip, the ice cream here was very good!
As we wandered around the Grassmarket with our ice creams, we noticed that Graeme E. Pearson was playing at one of the pubs that night. We thought it may be funny to go and see if we could freak him out a little, looking like crazy stalkers!
It was soon time to carry on with the tour, so we headed up towards the Royal Mile. We took a detour to some of the streets behind and Eoin told us a few tales of the city. He also took us to the Writers Museum, where there are quotes on the pavement outside. I really like this area, I could easily spend far too much time reading the quotes!
He also showed us a house that you could see where the stairs were from the outside. These stairs had a trap for any potential robbers, which can be seen from the outside. It is a trip step, that is basically a fake step. These steps have now been removed, but you can still see the tell tale signs!
We then headed to St Giles Kirk and the Mercat Cross. St. Giles houses one of three bagpiping angles in Scotland. He also told us the tale of Jenny Geddes, who it is said threw a stool at a minister in objection to the first use of an Anglican prayer book in the Kirk. He told us that the stool is on display in the Kirk.
The Mercat cross has a more gruesome story. This is where lawbreakers would have their ear nailed to for a number of days. The lawbreakers could either put up with the pain and ridicule of the public for this time, then be on their way. Or if they couldn’t stand it, they had the option of ripping their own ear off, but always being marked as a criminal.
In The Kirk
And that was the end of the tour. The three of us decided to book onto the Dark Side Tour that night as well. So after booking and paying we headed off.
We had a few hours spare, so we first decided to head into St Giles to see this famous stool that we’d just heard about and the bagpiping angel. We walked around the Kirk and couldn’t find either. So we headed to the information desk, turns out we had walked past the stool several times – the information guy seemed a little annoyed at us asking, he seemed as if it is the only question he is ever asked and so was sick of answering it!
They don’t make a big deal of the stool at all, which I think is a bit of a shame really. There’s not much information, it is literally a stool on a plinth.
We then went to where we were told the bagpiping angel is. But there was a lovely sign on the door stating when the next tour would be… With the time part left blank. So no bagpiping angel for us!
Hog Roast, Haggis And A Hill
We left the Kirk and the sun had come out. We still had lots of time to spare, so we decided to climb Arthur’s Seat. So we quickly headed back to the hostel to don our walking boots and then set of down the Royal Mile to reach the hill.
On the way we stopped for some lunch. We went to ‘Oink’ which is a hog roast sandwich bar. We each got a hog roast bap with haggis, everything is made amazing with haggis! And this bap really was!
We reached the bottom of Arthur’s Seat and had a little confusion as to which path we needed to take. Luckily we found a map and were able to figure out the correct way, we had to head left. So we set off. It’s a fairly moderate walk, with some pretty steep and difficult parts to it, especially towards the top. But we managed it, spotting a kestrel on the way. And what happened at the top? It started raining. A lot. You should always be prepared for a change in the weather in Scotland!
So we didn’t spend as much time at the top as we may have otherwise. But we spent a bit of time admiring what we could see of the view!
As we headed down the hill, the weather slowly improved again! How typical! It was nearing the time for the Dark Side Tour, so we quickly nipped to the hostel to change again and headed to the meeting spot.
Kelpies And Selkies
It turned out the Eoin would be taking us on the Dark Side Tour. Once again I will try not to go into too much detail, but if you don’t want any details of the tour, you may want to skip to ‘Food For Thought’!
First Eion introduced himself and the tour. This would not be a ‘ghost’ tour, like many other companies do in Edinburgh. Instead the tour is more about some of Edinburgh’s dark history and some Scottish folklore. Then we started walking.
Our first stop was on Calton Hill. Here he told us about Kelpies and Selkies of Scottish folklore. Kelpies are faeries in the shape of horses. They appear as a tame horse and encourage people (mainly children) to come near and ride them, but once you are mounted you become stuck on the kelpie. The kelpie will then take you to the river where it will devour you.
Selkies are another water faerie. They live as seals in water, but shed their seal skins to gain a human form on land. And obviously, they are very beautiful. It is said that if you take a selkie’s seal skin whilst it is human form, it can not return to the water and must go home with you, normally to be forced into marriage.
A View And Some Stories
We carried on walking and came to a great viewpoint for Arthur’s Seat. Eoin told us that it is unlikely that Arthur’s Seat was the original name, as Arthur was never rumoured to have visited Scotland. More likely that the original name was Archer’s Seat. People say the mount looks like different things, some people say a giant, others a lion and some an elephant. I could see the lion in the shape.
He then told us a story about cannibals. Apparently a couple of cannibals married and hid in a cave. They had children and their children had children, so there was quite a large family of cannibals. They would head up to the nearby road to kidnap their victims…
Next we headed over to one of the many Kirkyards in Edinburgh (unfortunately I can not remember which one). Here Eoin told us about the saying ‘Saved by the bell’. In Edinburgh people would often be buried with a bell, so if they had been mistakenly declared dead they could ring the bell and be saved. Apparently it was a common occurrence back in the day!
Writers, Dolls And Vampires
We wandered over to Canongate Kirkyard. Here we stopped and Eion told us a story about Arthur’s Seat. In 1836 two boys were playing on the hill and came across a cave. They entered and found seventeen miniature coffins, each with a doll inside. The dolls were dressed differently and they coffins had been made at different times as they were at different stages of decay.
It is unknown why these coffins were made and by whom, but there are a few theories. They could be used as part of pagan worship. Or, my prefered story, made by Hare, from the Burke and Hare murders. The two murdered at least sixteen people, after being caught Hare agreed to give evidence against Burke, so that he could go free. Burke was sentenced to death. Could it be Hare later felt guilty about the murders and his betrayal to his friend? So he made these effigies?
After this, we got onto a slightly cheerier note. Apparently in this Kirkyard is the grave of Ebenezer Scrooge, for A Christmas Carol. It is said that the real Scrooge was a merchant and Dickens, walking through the Kirkyard spotted the grave. The writing on the headstone had weathered and faded, so he read ‘Ebenezer Scrooge – Mean Man’ and so was inspired and came up with A Christmas Carol.
The last story Eoin told us was about a vampire. He told us of a guy that killed his best friend so that he could drink his blood and become a vampire. He even ate part of the head… Then he asked us how many years ago we thought this was… Turns out it was actually in 2005, so quite recent…
Food For Thought
And on that heavy note, the tour ended. It was a great tour, worth the money and creepy enough for me! The three of us said our thanks to Eoin and headed off to find some food.
I like Mussel Inn in Edinburgh New Town, so we decided to try there. Unfortunately it was full so we had to come up with another plan. I’d read about a place called The Dogs in the Rough Guide, and it was still in the New Town, so couldn’t be too far.
We found The Dogs and were able to to get a table. It’s a small place, so I was amazed they could fit us in and it didn’t feel squished at all! The restaurant is all upstairs and there is a definite dog theme!
I don’t fully remember what I had… I know I had my first try of Cullin Skink here (which was amazing) and then I had some sort of barley risotto… Whatever it was, it was lovely! And the prices were pretty cheap too. It’s definitely on my list of favourite Edinburgh restaurants!
Then it was back to the hostel and back to bed for us… We had to be up early to start our Macbackpackers Adventure, as we had to be at the meeting point for about 8.30am.
Follow the link to go to the start of the Macbackpackers Adventure!