Edinburgh, capital city of Scotland, maybe a small city (the population is just under half a million)) but is one brimming with history. From medieval Old Town to elegant Georgian New Town complete with gardens and neoclassical buildings, it rolls out into Victorian and modern suburbs. Its parks and open spaces such as the Links, the Meadows, and Princes Street Gardens contrast with Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano in Holyrood Park, and the Castle which broods on it hilltop, watching over its city, protecting Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny.
Like its Old Town, Edinburgh’s New Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. It was built between 1767 and 1850, with the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment when the city’s elite determined to remove themselves from the overcrowding of the Royal Mile into more appropriate surroundings. Between Old and New lay the Nor Loch, its pollution leading to the decision to drain it which was done by 1817.
The New Town’s most famous street is Princes Street, though today’s architecture reflects little of the neoclassical or Georgian and rather more of mid 20th century architectural brutality. But it and George Street, which runs parallel to it, are the streets where all the big name retailers are to be found.
The shops in the Old Town are more quirky and, dare I say it, more touristy. Chips of modernity amongst the stones of history. Scots often lament the tartan and whisky image bestowed on us by the rest of the world, but we have to acknowledge the part both of these have played in our economy and in the social fabric of the country.
It used to be morning suits or tails that were the outfits of weddings, but those have long been banished for the kilt. Today, weddings without kilts, worn by male members of the bridal party and guests, are something of a rarity.
So lots of shops in the Royal Mile selling tartan, whisky too, though you will also find wonderful treasure chests with designer knitwear, leather goods and tablet for Scots always had a sweet tooth. Even today, those fundraising for various causes often resort to selling dinkie bags of home made tablet in various flavours.
But lest these commercial attractions hide the real gems of the ancient mile between Castle and Palace of Holyrood House, here’s a wee reminder of some of the old mile’s people and institutions.
Deacon William Brodie was a cabinet-maker, deacon of a trades guild and Edinburgh city councillor. His respectability by day was countered by his evening burgling activities to fund his gambling, his mistresses and his raft of children by them.
Robert Louis Stevenson, fascinated by the contrast between Brodie’s respectable façade, and his true nature used him as the inspiration to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Deacon Brodie is commemorated by Brodie’s Close, a close off the Royal Mile that contained his family home and workshops, and by a pub in the Royal Mile.
The Signet Library was completed in 1822 in time for the visit to Edinburgh of King George IV. The library is home to the Society of Writers to her Majesty’s Signet, an association of Scottish lawyers and one of the oldest professional bodies in the world. The Society’s origins lie in the 15th century as the ‘writers’ of documents sealed with ‘the Signet’, the private seal of the Scottish kings. Members are known as ‘Writers to the Signet’ or ‘WS’. Today both the upper and lower libraries can be hired for weddings and other receptions, and you can even have a special afternoon tea in the lower library.
While we’re on the subject of food, the buildings which host The Witchery, one of Edinburgh’s prestigious restaurants, date back to 1595, with much of the old paneling lining the interiors coming from St Giles Cathedral when ‘modernised’ in Victorian times. Other nearby Witchery buildings, Jollie’s Close and Sempill’s Court, date back to 1635 and were built on the site of the Palace of Mary de Guise, French mother of Mary Queen of Scots.
So even if the weather isn’t Mediterranean (it’s not what you came here for anyway!) the Royal Mile boasts plenty historic buildings and eating (and drinking) places to provide shelter. Enjoy.
Fascinating and informative, as always. Love the idea of converting old police boxes to sell ice cream and coffee. So much better than tearing them down. Despite being Canadian, I’ve no clue about “sasine”. Such obscure wording, at least by today’s standards. That site of the last public execution–creepy.
Thank you. I’ll need to look into the Nova Scotia plaque. I had a brief look at Google but it all looked very complicated without answering my questions. I know many Scots emigrated to Nova Scotia, and the name itself means New Scotland, but 1625 is before the clearances and before the union of the crowns or the parliamentary union with England. Sasine is a legal term in Scots law in connection with feudal property and land, so the plaque suggests (?) Scots held land in Nova Scotia at this time. Must pursue.
They most likely did. I’ll ask a Nova Scotian friend if she knows anything about it.
Wonderful. Cannot wait to explore! What is tablet???
Tablet is a very sweet confection made mainly with sugar, so not recommended in today’s healthy living dictates. But a small piece with your coffee can round off a special meal nicely. Here’s the recipe in case you feel inclined to try it.
1lb granulated sugar, 2 ozs butter, 1 teacupful milk (my family always used condensed milk but that was maybe a hangover from war days and rationing), 1 tablespoon syrup, Vanilla essence.
Put sugar butter, milk and syrup in pan and bring slowly to boil. Boil to 240 degrees F (I’m using an old traditional cookery book) or when mixture forms a soft ball when a little is dropped in a cup of cold water, stirring all the time (watch it doesn’t burn). Remove from heat and add vanilla. Beat until beginning to grain (thicken). Pour into shallow greased tin and cut when cold.
There are variations with walnuts, cocoanut etc, but that’s the basic recipe.
It sounds like something we call ‘fudge’. Or do you have that too?
Chris, that would be great. Would love to hear her thoughts on it.
Thanks for the tour! I’ll put it on my bucket list now.
Festival time is a great time to come, though this year summer has given us a miss.
We have fudge too, but it’s softer. Tablet is firmer, more like a butter biscuit in texture, and melts in the mouth.
Can we have photos of the ice skating in the Princes Street Gardens at Christmas and the parks in Spring, too??? Just an idea.
Great suggestions, Pat, but I don’t have photos of those. We’re not in Edinburgh often – too much hassle trying to find a parking space, and instead of visiting shops I opt to be lazy and shop online. I have written about the Christmas skating rink in my next book – Any news from India – almost ready for months but which I haven’t yet got round to signing off.
Pity we aren’t nearer the new railway line or I’d certainly have used the train. The station would have been ideal for taking photos of both the gardens in spring and the skating rink and accompanying festivities.
Hop you’re writing/publishing is going well.
With regard to the plaque concerning Nova Scotia: In short, the government of Scotland wanted to lay claim to lands in Nova Scotia (at that time it included current provinces Nova Scotia (New Scotland), New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) and they needed barons to take possession of the lands. They took soil from Nova Scotia to Scotland whereas the would-be barons who didn’t have to leave their homeland stood on it and accepted their positions. There was some sort of rule that they had to stand on the soil of where they would become barons, so this worked in their eyes.
You can read a little more about it here: http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/heritage/FSCNS/Scots_NS/New_Scotland/Scotland_New_Scotland_Menstrie.html
In part, it states: Part of Edinburgh Castle was deemed granted to Sir William as part of Nova Scotia.
Since this still exists, technically if I visited Edinburgh Castle and stood on that soil, I’m in my homeland.
Thank you so much for this information, Diane. I had no idea what the story was – amazing what you come across on a walk up The Royal Mile. I knew there was a connection between Nova Scotia and Scotland but thought it was down to settlers and didn’t realise we had barons standing on soil in order to claim land.
Interesting that the castle was deemed part of Nova Scotia. My history, sadly, is very hazy, but I assume at that period Stirling castle was perhaps seen as of of more importance than Edinburgh. Otherwise why would Edinburgh Castle have been ‘given away’. More of the political machinations that abound in our history. Fascinating, must see if I can find out more.
Nova Scotia is very connected to Scotland. Some of us even fly flags on St. Andrew’s Day. I have mine. My grandmother was a McDonald, descendant of Alexander McDonald who arrived here in 1783. Our provincial symbols are very close to Scotland’s. We even have Robbie Burns day in January. My daughter used to be in Highland Dancing. Bagpipers in kilts lead the Canada Day parade. The army in the highland battalions wear kilts.
I recently read the following article that states there may be more MacDonalds in Nova Scotia than Scotland. I’m not certain if that’s true. Certainly there is a Mac on every corner. We have a New Glasgow, Glasgow Mountain, Glasgow Brook, Glasgow Harbour and several other Glasgow locations. There are several ‘glen’ locations: Glen Tosh, Glencoe, Glen Haven, Glenelg and a dozen more.
Here’s the article I referred to. They are working on a documentary to inform those in Scotland about Nova Scotia: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/documentary-scotland-heritage-1.3224834
I must look out for the documentary being made by STV. It sounds as if you’re more Scottish than the Scots! Many cultures are being lost because of globalisation, films and television, with the dominant cultures overriding those of other countries and areas. Such a pity as many of the traditions and ways of life that made places so distinctive are being lost in the global cement mixer.
McDonald remains a fairly common name here. Do you know where your ancestors came from? Would it have been Skye? And all these places named after Glasgow. I was born there, and stayed there until I was married, but I scarcely recognise the city now. And it will undoubtedly have changed dramatically since your ancestors left – though buildings from that period remain. But much of what made the city the ‘second city of the Empire’ as it was called, has been swept away by so-called progress.
I know there are close musical links between Scotland and Nova Scotia and many musicians travel over for the Celtic Connections festivals. Perhaps the STV documentary might reignite interest in working on some joint projects that help reconnect people with their histories.
Great to learn of all this. I’m going to pass on that link to others and hope we can catch the documentary.