The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
St. Giles Cathedral
Hello faithful readers,
This is an update to my original article that I posted about a week ago, just before Halloween. The Real Mary King’s Close was so kind to grant me permission to use their awesome photos. All photos in this post are credited to them. Many, many thanks, indeed! Now you’ll really be able to get a feel for this hidden treasure. Enjoy.
Sooo, who’s ready to meet some ghosts? Me too. Let’s go!
In my previous blog post (What Lies Beneath-Part 1 ), I gave you a little history of how the city of Edinburgh was built. How it expanded east from the castle and how Mary King’s Close and the other nearby alleys came to find themselves frozen in time underneath the City Chambers. So now we are ready to head below ground and visit what I think is one of Edinburgh’s most compelling attractions, The Real Mary King’s Close.
Are you feeling adventurous? I hope so because I would love for you to join me on a little trip below the City Chambers on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Below the Chambers, you ask? Yep! We’re soon going to head underground to visit The Real Mary King’s Close. So, if you’re game and not too afraid of the dark, come on! I promise, I won’t jump out and scare you (although I can’t promise no one else will…).
Deep below ground, beneath the tourist hustle bustle, the souvenir shops, pubs, performance artists, and busking bagpipers, there lies a hidden labyrinth of narrow alleyways and abandoned dwellings. It is an utterly fascinating and well-preserved peek into what life was really like in Edinburgh’s 17th century past. But to understand it more clearly, I need to tell you a little bit about how the city of Edinburgh grew. That’s what we are going to focus on today.
You might recall that the city of Edinburgh had its beginnings outside the walls of Edinburgh Castle and eventually spread east along the sloped stretch of road called the Royal Mile. Because the city was surrounded by a wall meant for protection from invaders, Edinburgh’s residents (who coped with extreme overcrowding) were unable to expand the city outward and were therefore faced with no other alternative than to build up. What they ended up with was a web of narrow alleyways (called closes) that led off of the Royal Mile, with buildings that grew many stories high.
On a breeze,
Catch the past.
A cobble mile
Of trodden path.
Feel its life
You’ll never leave.
All will stay.
The Number 11’s brakes squealed and let out a whoosh as the bus jerked to a halt on Edinburgh’s busy Princes Street. The driver opened the door and two people who had never before crossed an ocean now found themselves about to step out into the heart of Scotland’s capital city. We bubbled with anticipation. Excited about the day ahead, we climbed off of the red and white double-decker and took our first tentative steps onto the bustling street. Buses, cabs, cars, bicycles, pedestrians…all were players in the well-organized chaos around us. Ahead, the Scott Monument-very Gothic and very impressive-pointed sharply toward the sky. The squeal of a bagpipe cried in the distance. It was May, the weather was fine, and we had a destination in mind. Edinburgh’s Old Town and the Royal Mile.
You have probably heard it said that it’s not about the destination but the journey. The Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” I like your point, RLS! But if your destination is Edinburgh, Scotland, then I want to submit to you that your journey has only just begun.