Edinburgh Favorite Tips by JessH
Edinburgh Favorites: 290 reviews and 256 photos
The Anchor Close, Edinburgh, August 2008
Favorite thing: There are numerous small streets that lead away (north and south) from the Royal Mile. Antique maps of the Old Town actually show the city resembling the skeleton of a fish with the castle as the head and the narrow streets on either side as the ribs. These are called "closes" and "wynds" (rhymes with kind). But what's the difference, I hear you say?
> CLOSE: An entrance to a tenement (collection of residences), also sometimes providing access to the rear of the building. There was often a gate at the front which was closed at night.
> WYND: A thoroughfare, open from end to end, allowing residence to use them as a "short cut" through the city. These are narrow passages, often going up or down hill between high buildings, and linking streets at different levels.
Fondest memory: These dark and narrow streets echoed to shouts of "Gardy Loo!", from the French "Gardez l'eau" meaning "watch out for the water!" Each night, Edinburgh townsfolk would empty their chamber pots out of the window into the street below. Somehow, that does take-away from the romantic ideas we have about the old part of the city... haha!
These small, cramped and dark streets were also often witness to dodgy dealings, rapid spread of disease, prostitution and even murder. Most of Edinburgh's ghost tours will take you for walks down some of the most "notorious" closes and wynds... Prepare to have the hairs on the back of your neck stand up!
--> Useful website: www.edinburgh-royalmile.com/closes/royalmile-closes.html
"Beautiful city of Edinburgh! the truth to express,
Your beauties are matchless I must confess,
And which no one dare gainsay,
But that you are the grandest city in Scotland at the present day!"
View down Princes Street, Edinburgh (2008)
Favorite thing: > Edinburgh was founded in the 7th century, but it was not until c. AD 950 that the city, referred to at this time in the Pictish Chronicle as "oppidum Eden", fell to the Scots and finally remained under their jurisdiction. During this period of Germanic influence the city's got its Germanic suffix 'burgh'.
> The city sprawls over a landscape which was caused by intense volcanic activity and glaciers.
> Edinburgh is affectionately known by Scots as "Auld Reekie" meaning "Old Smelly/Stinky"... because with its open sewers and refuse left to fester in the narrow closes & wynds, the city's *aroma* used to be pungent (understatement of the century...). It can also mean "Old Smokie". This nickname refers to the smoke from the chimneys of the tenements and closely packed houses, many of which are still stained in black soot to this day.
> Many forget (or don't even realize) that Edinburgh is actually a coastal town, lying on the East Coast of Scotland by the North Sea. The harbour area is in the district known as Leith.
> Edinburgh is located in Greenwich Mean Time Zone.
> The weather in Edinburgh is always unpredictable. Even in summer I would pack some warm clothes, a raincoat and umbrella. Comfortable walking shoes are always a good idea.
> Edinburgh's population is almost 450,000. But that figure swells to well over 1 million during its famous arts festivals in August, making it the second most visited tourist destination in the United Kingdom, after London.
> The buildings of the "New Town" are from the 18th century; they contrast with the 16th and 17th century tenement buildings of the High Street and Old Town.
> Currency: GBP (British Pound) and the Scottish Pound (equal value).
> Country telephone code: +44, city code: 0131.
> Emergency Telephone for Police, Medical, Fire & Coastguard: Dial 999.
> The electricity in the UK is 220-240V/50Hz; 13 amp plug with 3 rectangular pins.
Fondest memory: > Each year, Edinburgh hosts the biggest New Year street party in the world (Edinburgh's Hogmanay) and the biggest arts & culture festival in the world, The Edinburgh Festival or "The Fringe" (in August).
> Edinburgh University, one of the most famous universities in the world, was established in 1583.
> There are over 60 art galleries and museums in Edinburgh.
> Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the city skyline, is the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland with over 1 million visitors each year.
> The Palace of Holyroodhouse is The Queen's official residence in Scotland.
> Edinburgh, along with Bath, Rome and Venice, has been designated a World Heritage Site.
> Useful website: www.edinburgh.org/
A cemetary in Edinburgh (August 2008)
Favorite thing: In the 19th century, Edinburgh university specialized in anatomical research, but obtaining bodies to dissect was difficult. This shortage resulted in "Resurrection men" (body snatchers) raiding graveyards to unearth semi-fresh bodies and selling them to the medical professors.
William Burke and William Hare were both Irish immigrants, but they only met when Burke moved into a boarding house run by Hare and his partner, Margaret Laird.
Their "year of fame" started in 1827 when one of Hare's lodgers died without having paid the £4.- rent. That's when the pair came-up with the ingenious idea of selling the body. Professor Robert Knox gave them 7 pounds 10 shillings for it... and so their macabre business venture began.
Contrary to popular belief, Burke and Hare were not grave robbers or body snatchers. They didn't want to wait for someone to die, so they skipped a step and went straight to murder! Their chosen method was to smother their victims by covering the nose and mouth while the other restrained them. This left no suspicious marks on the body and provided anatomy students with undamaged cadavers. This method later became known as *Burking*.
Besides, newly murdered bodies were fresher than the already buried ones, so they continually delivered "fresh supply" to Professor Robert Knox (on a no-questions-asked-basis, of course).
At first they deliberately preyed on people who wouldn't be known or recognised, mainly prostitutes. But later they started seeing almost anyone as a target, and famously got their victims drunk in some of the Grassmarket's Pubs like the Whitehart Inn (see my separate "Nightlife Tip").
Fondest memory: Eventually, they became lazy and made mistakes by murdering some more well-known residents and they were captured. They murdered at least sixteen people in just under a year before being caught, although the figure could have been as high as thirty.
Hare turned King's Evidence (basically made a deal and testified against Burke); Burke was sent to the gallows. On 28th January 1829 over 25,000 people attended and cheered the hanging of William Burke in the Lawnmarket. In an ironic end to the story his body was donated to the medical school for what they called "useful dissection". His skeleton is still on display at the University Medical School. A pocket book was also made of his skin and this is on display at the Police Museum on the Royal Mile.
There was much public anger at the fact that Hare was allowed to be let off 'Scot free' but despite attempts to bring further charges against him, he was released in February 1829 and escaped to England. Nobody is sure how he lived-out his days or when he died.
Although Professor Knox actively encouraged the pair to supply as many bodies as possible, he was also acquitted for his part in the crimes, but his reputation in Edinburgh was ruined and he eventually moved to London.
These days most of the Ghost Tours around the city will include the story of these 2 murderers, and it is said that Burke still haunts the streets of Edinburgh, namely the White Hart Inn (there's even an effigy of Burke with the noose around his neck on the wall here) and some of the closes & wynds of the Royal Mile.
"Up the close and down the stair,
In the house with Burke and Hare.
Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief
Knox, the man who buys the beef".
- Old Children's Song.
--> Recently (2010) a film was released called "Burke & Hare" starring Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Bill Bailey and Tim Curry.
--> Useful Website: www.burkeandhare.com.
The gallows outside Maggie Dickson's Pub (2008)
Favorite thing: Margaret (Maggie) Dickson was a young & pretty fish vendor from Musselburgh. In 1723 she fell pregnant after an affair, the baby died shortly after birth and Maggie left the corpse on a riverbank. After the body was found it was assumed she had killed the child. She contested her innocence to the very end but was nonetheless found guilty under the act of 1690, for "Concealment of Pregnancy".
She was sent to the Grassmarket in Edinburgh for execution on 2nd September 1724.
According to historical accounts of the proceedings, she was hanged for the usual amount of time and when declared dead, was placed in a coffin for her family to take her back to Musselburgh for burial. On the way her family stopped for a break and some food in Peffermill, where they noticed that the lid was moving and they heard noises from within the coffin: Maggie was alive!
Perhaps she had a Guardian Angel looking over her.. or perhaps she had befriended the hangman, who tied the rope wrongly that day... we'll never know.
Fondest memory: If Maggie had been sentenced in England, she would have been strung up again, as English law dictated that a person must be hanged until dead. But under Scots law Maggie was legally dead (hence her marriage was also dissolved) and she was allowed to go free.
So, Maggie was allowed to live-out her days, and apparently a few days after his miraculous escape her husband re-married here in a small ceremony. She went on to live for another 40 years during which she ran a nearby ale-house and had many more children.
The date of her eventual, natural death is unknown but reports show that she was a familiar figure around Edinburgh, where she was known as " Half Hangit (half hanged) Maggie".
Today, a pub in the Grassmarket No. 92, adjoining to the West Bow, is named after her. A plaque on the wall tells her story.
The Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland (Aug. 2008)
Favorite thing: In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle you will find the Grassmarket.
During my first-ever visit to the city we stayed in a small self-catering apartment here and found it to be a fantastic area with lots to explore and discover.
The Grassmarket's origins lie with it being in a valley carved by glaciers during the ice-age, which meant it was easier for livestock and carts to access rather than having to walk up the steep slope to the Old Town. For this reason the area was probably used as a market from the 1300s. Historical records confirm that weekly horse and cattle markets were held here from 1477 to 1911. Cattle would be driven from the surrounding fields through The Cowgate in the east and West Port Gate to the West.
The area was also used to conduct public hangings, and a memorial marks the spot where the gallows once stood. The history of the Grassmarket and the gallows are inextricably linked, it is difficult to think of them without also imagining images of body snatcher Burke and Hare, the unlucky Captain Porteous of the town guard, and "half-hingit" (half-hung) Maggie who actually survived the execution!
The area still has taverns and shops which have been here since the 1500s and continue to be a popular attraction. Most of the buildings in the Grassmarket date from the 1800s following a period of improvement in the Old Town. Several buildings from the 1700s survive on the northern and eastern sides most notably the White Hart Inn (see my separate "Nightlife" Tip). Sadly only one complete building remains from the 1600s at the entrance to Victoria Street, which dates from 1616.
Nowadays, The Grassmarket is a convenient meeting point for locals and visitors alike who enjoy the various shops, bars and restaurants whilst soaking up the medieval atmosphere of the ancient marketplace with splendid views of the nearby castle, looming over the city from its position atop an extinct volcano.
Fondest memory: Useful websites:
--> LOCATION: http://www.grassmarket.net//mapsanddirections.asp
--> HISTORY: http://www.the-grassmarket.com/
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