Not a Grail in Sight

This is my last really touristy day. Tomorrow morning, I take the train back to London, and then fly home on Sunday. So, probably no pictures on those days. Maybe even no posts at all.

Today, I took a bus tour out of Edinburgh again. My main goal for this trip was to see Rosslyn Chapel, and we got to see that, but we also went to Dunfermline Abbey and Stirling Castle. I was interested in seeing both of these places, so that was cool.

I have to admit, I was a little leery of this tour. It’s touted as the Quest for the Holy Grail tour, and rides on the popularity of Rosslyn Chapel that grew up out of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I kinda hate that book, and I really didn’t want to be sitting through discussions of the Priory of Sion1 and the Magdalene bloodline, and all that garbage.

Fortunately, no one on the tour seemed too interested in this aspect of it, and our guide instead spent the day filling us in on the stories of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Far more interesting stuff, in my opinion.

And I got some neat pictures.

This is the rail bridge crossing the Firth of Forth, just north of Edinburgh. It's almost 125 years old. Apparently, it was being built just after another railway bridge over the Firth of Tay had collapsed, dropping a train into the water and causing numerous deaths. This one is intensively over-designed in order to avoid something similar.

This is the rail bridge crossing the Firth of Forth, just north of Edinburgh. It’s almost 125 years old. Apparently, it was being built just after another railway bridge over the Firth of Tay had collapsed, dropping a train into the water and causing numerous deaths. This one is intensively over-designed in order to avoid something similar.

The rail bridge is one of two current bridges crossing the Firth of Forth here. The other one is for cars and trucks. It’s about 50 years old, and is suffering from being overburdened. Another bridge is being built, and should open next year. I really hope they call it the Third Firth of Forth Bridge.

After this quick stop, we were on for Dunfermline Abbey.

It's actually Dunfermline Abbey Church. This wall is about all that remains of the abbey itself.

It’s actually Dunfermline Abbey Church. This wall is about all that remains of the abbey itself.

This is the grave of Mary Wallace, mother of William Wallace. Because William Wallace was quartered and his remains scattered, this is about the only site where there's a grave that's associated with him. It's an interesting grave - it's in the Christian abbey churchground, but has a number of pre-Christian features: it's got a mound, and is planted with a hawthorn tree, which is the tree of life.

This is the grave of Mary Wallace, mother of William Wallace. Because William Wallace was quartered and his remains scattered, this is about the only site where there’s a grave that’s associated with him. It’s an interesting grave – it’s in the Christian abbey churchground, but has a number of pre-Christian features: it’s got a mound, and is planted with a hawthorn tree, which is the tree of life.

Inside the church, below the pulpit, is the grave of Robert the Bruce.

Inside the church, below the pulpit, is the grave of Robert the Bruce.

From Dunfermline, we continued our journey and our history lesson until we reached the Bannockburn memorial.

The whole Bannockburn memorial is pretty huge. There was no place I could stand to get the whole thing in one picture and still be able to tell what everything was. The centre has a flagpole flying the Saltire - the flag of Scotland. Around it, is a stone wall with a wooden ring circling the top carved with a poem welcoming everyone to Scotland. Then there's the cairn inside, with a quote from Robert the Bruce on it and, out the far side of the ring, a statue of Robert the Bruce on a horse.

The whole Bannockburn memorial is pretty huge. There was no place I could stand to get the whole thing in one picture and still be able to tell what everything was. The centre has a flagpole flying the Saltire – the flag of Scotland. Around it, is a stone wall with a wooden ring circling the top carved with a poem welcoming everyone to Scotland. Then there’s the cairn inside, with a quote from Robert the Bruce on it and, out the far side of the ring, a statue of Robert the Bruce on a horse.

Next stop was Stirling Castle. Up until the time of James VI2, it was the royal residence.

These are the inner gates, taken from the wall of the outer defences. It's a little smaller than Edinburgh Castle, but otherwise has a similar feel and design.

These are the inner gates, taken from the wall of the outer defences. It’s a little smaller than Edinburgh Castle, but otherwise has a similar feel and design.

This is the Great Hall, where meals were served. It's essentially a big barn with a roof made the same way the hull of a ship is made. The sandstone is washed with lime to preserve it, and the second coat of the limewash is coloured gold. Originally, all the buildings were this colour as a display of the royal wealth.

This is the Great Hall, where meals were served. It’s essentially a big barn with a roof made the same way the hull of a ship is made. The sandstone is washed with lime to preserve it, and the second coat of the limewash is coloured gold. Originally, all the buildings were this colour as a display of the royal wealth.

I tried to get a picture of the inside, but it was crowded all four times I went in, and I didn’t want just a picture of a bunch of other tourists. So, you’ll have to use your imagination.

One of the other buildings is the palace, and it’s got a few restored rooms.

James IV built the palace for his queen, Margaret Tudor, the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, and elder sister of Henry VIII. He died before ever visiting, which is why none of his furniture is here. This is the room where the king would have met important nobles. Note the colourful faces on the ceiling - they show all manner of people of the day.

James IV built the palace for his queen, Margaret Tudor, the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, and elder sister of Henry VIII. He died before ever visiting, which is why none of his furniture is here. This is the room where the king would have met important nobles. Note the colourful faces on the ceiling – they show all manner of people of the day.

This is the queen's bedroom. It's been decorated as it would have been in the 16th century.

This is the queen’s bedroom. It’s been decorated as it would have been in the 16th century.

After Stirling, our last stop was Rosslyn Chapel. It’s a beautiful little church, despite the mutilation it has suffered over the years. The restoration is top-notch, and the interior carvings are just overwhelming. But, as it’s a working church, they do not allow photography inside.

So, all I';ve got for you is a picture of the outside. Even the outside is pretty cool, though.

So, all I';ve got for you is a picture of the outside. Even the outside is pretty cool, though.

The lady who gave us our history talk at the chapel did a wonderful job of showing why the chapel is both important and interesting without resorting to conspiracy theories. She did give us some of the more interesting interpretations of some of the carvings, but stressed that, because none of the original documents exist anymore, no one can be sure what was intended. And that means, she says, that anyone can interpret it any way they want.

A good answer, in my opinion.

Then back to Edinburgh. I’m probably going to turn in early tonight – my long holiday is catching up to me.

And, as I said, tomorrow I start my journey home.

  1. Which was totally made up by a French dude in the 1960s to prove that his family was heir to the throne of France. []
  2. Who became James I of Britain. []
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Not A Step But Fashes the Dead

Okay, let’s get this out of the way first.

The Derren Brown show, Miracles, was amazing. My seat was right up front1, right on the central aisle. At one point, Derren was close enough to me that I could have licked him2. I’m not going to say anything more about the show, because it’s best to see it unspoiled. But see it. Really.

As for the rest of the day, I wandered around the Royal Mile for most of it, just kind of taking it easy and seeing stuff.

I found the Witches' Well that Sandy told me to look for. It used to be a fountain, but doesn't seem to have any water feature. This is where they used to burn witches, and the fountain is a memorial for that. There were a lot of witches tortured and burned in Edinburgh. They even had to come up with rules for the Witchhunters - you could only hold up to 13 witches at a time, and could only torture each one once per day. Of course, there was no law about how long the period of daily torture could last, so 24 hours was not uncommon.

I found the Witches’ Well that Sandy told me to look for. It used to be a fountain, but doesn’t seem to have any water feature. This is where they used to burn witches, and the fountain is a memorial for that. There were a lot of witches tortured and burned in Edinburgh. They even had to come up with rules for the Witchhunters – you could only hold up to 13 witches at a time, and could only torture each one once per day. Of course, there was no law about how long the period of daily torture could last, so 24 hours was not uncommon.

This is St. Giles, the church of the patron saint of Edinburgh.

This is St. Giles, the church of the patron saint of Edinburgh.

The statue of David Hume in the High Street. He would be very cold in that toga. I wondered about his shiny toe, and found out that it's traditional to touch his toe for wisdom, and that keeps the verdigris from settling - it keeps getting rubbed clean. Yeah, I touched the toe.

The statue of David Hume in the High Street. He would be very cold in that toga. I wondered about his shiny toe, and found out that it’s traditional to touch his toe for wisdom, and that keeps the verdigris from settling – it keeps getting rubbed clean.
Yeah, I touched the toe.

“But do ye never think about the Heart of Midlothian? Folks always spit on it in passing. That granite heart in the High Street near St. Giles that marks the gates of the erstwhile Tollbooth Jail – as nice a bit of demolition as I could wish, that. And there ye have it. The Heart of Midlothian. Of which County Edinburgh is the heart, so ye have the heart of the heart of the heart of Scotland, as ye might say, upon which we customarily spit because it marks a jail that isn’t there. There’s something right Edinburgh about that.” Robin Williamson, Edinburgh

“But do ye never think about the Heart of Midlothian? Folks always spit on it in passing. That granite heart in the High Street near St. Giles that marks the gates of the erstwhile Tollbooth Jail – as nice a bit of demolition as I could wish, that. And there ye have it. The Heart of Midlothian. Of which County Edinburgh is the heart, so ye have the heart of the heart of the heart of Scotland, as ye might say, upon which we customarily spit because it marks a jail that isn’t there.
There’s something right Edinburgh about that.”
Robin Williamson, Edinburgh

One thing that made my day awesome was that I took a ghost tour, and the guide told us about the Tollbooth Jail and the Heart of Midlothian and encouraged us to spit in it, just like in the Robin Williamson poem.

So, yeah, I spit on the Heart of Midlothian, and that made me happier than it really should have.

James was our guide on the ghost tour. His stories were fantastic, and his character performance was great.

James was our guide on the ghost tour. His stories were fantastic, and his character performance was great.

Something I really liked about the tour was that it didn’t deal with Burke and Hare. So many tours I’ve been on find any link to Burke and Hare, but this tour, in Edinburgh, where the pair committed their crimes, didn’t even bring them up.

There were better stories: the Duke of Queensberry and his cannibal son, Deacon William Brodie and his mad double life, Sawney Beane and his horrific family.

This is one of the underground sections of Edinburgh. After the Great Fire of Edinburgh, when the city was being rebuilt, a lot of little alleys and closes were covered over by the new construction. They were rediscovered in the 80s. This is Niddry's Wynd, and it was only discovered about 18 months ago. It was lit only by a very faint green lantern while James told us the story of Sawney Beane. Creepy as hell.

This is one of the underground sections of Edinburgh. After the Great Fire of Edinburgh, when the city was being rebuilt, a lot of little alleys and closes were covered over by the new construction. They were rediscovered in the 80s. This is Niddry’s Wynd, and it was only discovered about 18 months ago. It was lit only by a very faint green lantern while James told us the story of Sawney Beane. Creepy as hell.

Then, I had some nice dinner, and came back to the hotel to rest up for Derren Brown. You know how that part of the day went.

Tomorrow, Rosslyn Chapel, Dunfermline, and Stirling Castle. If the Dan Brown stuff doesn’t drive me to kill someone, I leave Edinburgh the next day, and fly back home on Sunday.

And now, for those wondering about the title of this post, I give you Edinburgh, by Robin Williamson.

  1. Well, second row. []
  2. I chose not to. I stand by my choice. []
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Towerin’ Tae The Moon

I’m pretty tired tonight, so this is going to be a quick update. Today was my trip up into the highlands.

Our first stop was Callander, on the edge of the highlands. We drove through Doun to get there, which got me thinking of a verse from Tramps and Hawkers. Later in the day, I did see Ben Nevis, but we never got near Crieff.

Our first stop was Callander, on the edge of the highlands. We drove through Doun to get there, which got me thinking of a verse from Tramps and Hawkers. Later in the day, I did see Ben Nevis, but we never got near Crieff.

Then, it was up into the mountains.

See? This is me in the highlands.

See? This is me in the highlands.

This is the scenery around that point, without me cluttering it up.

This is the scenery around that point, without me cluttering it up.

Looking out over the loch, which I don't know the name of, at the mountains. Note the snow.

Looking out over the loch, which I don’t know the name of, at the mountains. Note the snow.

It's a very pretty spot. I took a lot of pictures.

It’s a very pretty spot. I took a lot of pictures.

From there, we went on to Glencoe. That’s the spot they filmed the denouement of Skyfall in. It’s a very striking, dramatic place, and I very strikingly and dramatically fell flat on my face climbing up the side of a mountain to get a good shot. I was helped up by a little Indonesian woman who didn’t speak any English and wouldn’t let go of me until her daughter translated that I was okay. Though I seem to have bent my glasses a bit.

These are two of the Three Sisters of Glencoe. I was trying to find an angle to get all three when I took my faceplant.

These are two of the Three Sisters of Glencoe. I was trying to find an angle to get all three when I took my faceplant.

This is looking down the valley at Glencoe. Tell me that's not some top-drawer scenery.

This is looking down the valley at Glencoe. Tell me that’s not some top-drawer scenery.

Now, the next stop was Loch Ness. We ran into more traffic jams and slowdowns on the roads through the highlands than we did trying to leave Edinburgh during rush hour. The plan was to get there around 1:00. It changed to 1:30, and then hopefully in time for the 2:00 boat cruise. We made it there about five minutes before the boat set off – not enough time to grab some lunch first, but we’d agreed to take a half-hour after the cruise to grab some food.

I really wasn't clear on how big Loch Ness actually is. It's huge. Also, deep. We spent about an hour on the water, using sonar to try and spot the monster.

I really wasn’t clear on how big Loch Ness actually is. It’s huge. Also, deep. We spent about an hour on the water, using sonar to try and spot the monster.

Believe me, I was as surprised as anyone!

Believe me, I was as surprised as anyone!

After the cruise, I tried to get some lunch, but the sandwich I got was abysmal1. Back on the bus, and one final photo stop.

This is Loch Lagan. Again, beautiful scenery.

This is Loch Lagan. Again, beautiful scenery.

Back to Edinburgh, then, just before 8:30. I grabbed some fish and chips on my walk to my hotel, and managed to eat about half of it – fish and chips takeaway portions are huge, but I was starving.

Tomorrow, I am going to walk the Royal Mile and find the Witch’s Well for Sandy. In the evening, I go to see Derren Brown’s show, Miracle.

First thing, though, I need to find some ibuprofen, ’cause I’m out.

  1. First bad sandwich I’ve had in the UK. It was supposed to be chicken, but had about a third of a cup of mayonnaise on it. []
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Castellum Puellarum

Edinburgh is a weird city, as far as layout goes. It grew up in a strange way, and that makes it a downright puzzling city. See, first of all, you’ve got the huge basalt mound upon which Castle Edinburgh sits1. The basalt was resistant to the flow of glaciers, which cut hugely deep gouges around it. When the city grew up, it was Castle Edinburgh, and the Royal Mile, a single, mile-long with 50 or so Closes – tiny alleyways leading to off-street courtyards.

This ran directly down the hill from the castle to the city walls2. It wasn’t until the 1700s that the city started expanding, with the New Towns built3 around the old town. These new towns meant new streets and roads needed to be built, crossing over the huge rifts in the land, meaning bridges. The bridges were lined with houses and other buildings, so that they look like streets.

This means that Edinburgh exists on several criss-crossing, levels, streets crossing over each other, with height differences in the range of 50-100 feet. And that makes it hard to find my way around, even with my map app.

And Edinburgh Castle sits high above everything else. You can see it from pretty much anywhere in the city centre. And I thought York Minster loomed; it's got nothing on this place.

And Edinburgh Castle sits high above everything else. You can see it from pretty much anywhere in the city centre. And I thought York Minster loomed; it’s got nothing on this place.

So, this morning, I walked down to Waverly Bridge, and caught the City Sightseeing bus.

The Scott Monument is right near the bus stop. It's a neat, medieval-style monument. Also, the architect who won the contest to design the monument was found face-down in a canal before it was finished. No one was convicted of killing him, but there WERE 54 other architects who might have been miffed.

The Scott Monument is right near the bus stop. It’s a neat, medieval-style monument. Also, the architect who won the contest to design the monument was found face-down in a canal before it was finished. No one was convicted of killing him, but there WERE 54 other architects who might have been miffed.

I rode the bus around the tour once, and got off when it started bucketing down rain at the end. I had a bit of lunch, then got back on, and rode it around to Castle Edinburgh. That’s where I spent the rest of the afternoon.

This is the main parade ground before the castle gates. The whole place was very busy, so I don't have as many good pictures  as I might have liked. But it's an impressive gate, flanked by statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The motto over the gate translates as "You cannot provoke me with impunity."

This is the main parade ground before the castle gates. The whole place was very busy, so I don’t have as many good pictures as I might have liked. But it’s an impressive gate, flanked by statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The motto over the gate translates as “You cannot provoke me with impunity.”

The way up winds through the lower and middle wards, to the upper ward with the Royal Square. The square is surrounded by a building that holds the Crown Jewels, a banquet hall built by James IV for the wedding of his son and Mary of Guise, the older sister of Henry VIII.

The decorations on the hall feature both the rose and the thistle, emblems of England and Scotland.

The decorations on the hall feature both the rose and the thistle, emblems of England and Scotland.

There is a display of weapons in the great hall. Here are some big swords, a bunch of pistols and, in the case below, the key to the castle.

There is a display of weapons in the great hall. Here are some big swords, a bunch of pistols and, in the case below, the key to the castle.

This building holds the Scottish Crown Jewels: the crown, sceptre, sword of state, some other jewellery, and the Stone of Scone. This was just returned to Scotland in 1993, with the understanding that it must travel to Westminster to be used in any future coronations. "If it doesn't come back quicker than the 700 years it took last time," said our guide, Frank, "There might be trouble."

This building holds the Scottish Crown Jewels: the crown, sceptre, sword of state, some other jewellery, and the Stone of Scone. This was just returned to Scotland in 1993, with the understanding that it must travel to Westminster to be used in any future coronations. “If it doesn’t come back quicker than the 700 years it took last time,” said our guide, Frank, “There might be trouble.”

This is the War Memorial. No photography inside. But it's a very moving, affecting place. The names of all Scots who have fallen in the line of duty are entered in memorial books, one for each regiment.

This is the War Memorial. No photography inside. But it’s a very moving, affecting place. The names of all Scots who have fallen in the line of duty are entered in memorial books, one for each regiment.

This is Mons Meg, a huge medieval bombard. It was transported using the wheels, but it would be dismounted and set into a trench in an earthworks to fire. It could lob one of those 330lb gun stones up to two miles.

This is Mons Meg, a huge medieval bombard. It was transported using the wheels, but it would be dismounted and set into a trench in an earthworks to fire. It could lob one of those 330lb gun stones up to two miles.

I looked around the other museums here, including the regimental museums. They had the standard captured by Charles Ewart at Waterloo, when he took the regimental colours and gold eagle from one of Napoleon’s regiments. The eagle, unfortunately, is on loan to the National Museum, so it wasn’t here.

Then, on the way out, I saw this.

So, I had this idea about climbing Arthur's Seat. It's a fairly smooth path up the Salisbury Crags to it, and it offers amazing views of the city. But here, I got a good look at the place from the parade ground of Edinburgh Castle, and nope, I don't think I'm gonna be climbing that.

So, I had this idea about climbing Arthur’s Seat. It’s a fairly smooth path up the Salisbury Crags to it, and it offers amazing views of the city. But here, I got a good look at the place from the parade ground of Edinburgh Castle, and nope, I don’t think I’m gonna be climbing that.

I rode the sightseeing bus around to the start again, and then walked back to my hotel, stopping for some dinner.

Tomorrow, I need to be up early. I’m on a tour up to the highlands, including Glencoe and Loch Ness.

Should be fun.

  1. This site has been inhabited for about 3000 years. They have found Roman and late bronze age archaeological sites on the rock. []
  2. Which has a pub called The World’s End, because it was the end of civilized Edinburgh. []
  3. And haphazardly planned. []
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Back to Edinburgh

Have to say, Oban was fun, even though I didn’t get to see Fingal’s Cave. The Old Manse was delightful, and Simon and Anna were fantastic. They really went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome, and to encourage breakfast conversations amongst their guests. I was sad that I only had two nights there.

The train ride back to Edinburgh was in brighter weather, so I got a better look at the very striking scenery on the trip. Honestly, a lot of the terrain was right out of story books. Absolutely gorgeous.

I have to say, though, that the Edinburgh train station was the most perplexing I’d been in. I wound up leaving the station through the wrong exit, and my phone directions were kind of messed up. I wound up having to climb up through a steep but interesting alley called Fleshmarket Close.

That led me, inadvertently, around to Edinburgh High Street. I look forward to walking it when I don't have all my luggage with me.

That led me, inadvertently, around to Edinburgh High Street. I look forward to walking it when I don’t have all my luggage with me.

It rained off and on for my walk to the hotel, including when I had to walk down a slick flagstone street. It was so steep, it actually had a handrail.

But I made it. Tomorrow, I go on the city sightseeing bus, and I’ll start actually seeing the city.

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Poor, Lonely Fingal

Well, the seas were too rough for my tour to land at Staffa so that I could see Fingal’s Cave1. The boat captain took us out past the shelter of Iona, and the seas pitched us around pretty well, so we all got the point about it not being safe. It reminds me a little of my attempt to visit the Skelligs in Ireland – one chance in an out-of-the-way village for a boat trip that is dependent on the weather. And the weather just didn’t co-operate.

So, Fingal got no visitors today.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the adventures I did have.

This is the view from the yard of my guesthouse. Almost makes climbing the steep streets worthwhile.

This is the view from the yard of my guesthouse. Almost makes climbing the steep streets worthwhile.

This is the waterfront of Oban as the ferry carries me away towards the island of Mull.

This is the waterfront of Oban as the ferry carries me away towards the island of Mull.

This is Duart Castle, the family seat of the MacLean clan. It's sitting on a very picturesque headland on Mull.

This is Duart Castle, the family seat of the MacLean clan. It’s sitting on a very picturesque headland on Mull.

The Mull portion of the Three Isles Excursion I was on was essentially riding on a bus for 70 minutes to get from the harbour nearest Oban to the harbour nearest Iona and Staffa. Some very pretty scenery and interesting bits2, but it was all through the windows of a bus.

The next stage was supposed to be the boat ride to Staffa, but we all know how that turned out. Instead, the boat took us across to Iona3, where we had a few hours before catching the ferry back to Mull. So, I went to look at the very cool stuff on Iona.

The Iona shore. It looks so nice and clear, but the wind out of the shelter of the island is fierce.

The Iona shore. It looks so nice and clear, but the wind out of the shelter of the island is fierce.

Iona is a special place in the history of Scotland and Ireland. St. Colomba built his abbey here, and this is where the Book of Kells was written, before it was moved to Ireland to keep it away from the Viking raiders.

In the village on Iona is a 13th century nunnery.

In the village on Iona is a 13th century nunnery.

The nunnery doesn't look pleased to see me.

The nunnery doesn’t look pleased to see me.

This is an interesting carving. It's pretty worn, and I've done some fiddling with contrast and stuff to make it show up clearly. It's a sheela-na-gig, a carving of a woman with her legs spread. It's supposed to chase away evil spirits. The origins of this belief and motif are unclear, but they're fairly common in Scotland, Ireland, and England on churches from the 13th and 14th centuries.

This is an interesting carving. It’s pretty worn, and I’ve done some fiddling with contrast and stuff to make it show up clearly. It’s a sheela-na-gig, a carving of a woman with her legs spread. It’s supposed to chase away evil spirits. The origins of this belief and motif are unclear, but they’re fairly common in Scotland, Ireland, and England on churches from the 13th and 14th centuries.

This is St. Colomba's abbey. It's the same site as the original abbey from the 6th century, but the current building is from around 1200.

This is St. Colomba’s abbey. It’s the same site as the original abbey from the 6th century, but the current building is from around 1200.

This is the Road of the Dead. It originally led from the Bay of Martyrs, back by the village, up to the abbey, and is the route that chieftains would be carried for burial at the abbey. Most of the road is underneath the current ground level, but this section, near the abbey, is all that remains above ground.

This is the Road of the Dead. It originally led from the Bay of Martyrs, back by the village, up to the abbey, and is the route that chieftains would be carried for burial at the abbey. Most of the road is underneath the current ground level, but this section, near the abbey, is all that remains above ground.

This is the interior of the abbey church. It's still used for services here on Iona, and is the site of pilgrimage.

This is the interior of the abbey church. It’s still used for services here on Iona, and is the site of pilgrimage.

Okay. This is another cool carving. It's called the Tormented Soul, and features in a number of churches. It's set at the point in the ceiling where the priest should direct his voice for the acoustics of the space to make it carry to the entire area.

Okay. This is another cool carving. It’s called the Tormented Soul, and features in a number of churches. It’s set at the point in the ceiling where the priest should direct his voice for the acoustics of the space to make it carry to the entire area.

The Ninth Duke of Argyll  paid for restoring and repairing the abbey, on the condition that it be used for all Christian denominations. He died before it was complete, and is buried in his home tomb. His wife survived to see the work finished and, being from the islands herself, is interred here, next to a memorial for her husband. Note that the Duke's crown is below his feet, while the Duchess's crown is on her head; that's how you can distinguish between an actual burial and a memorial. I learned that today.

The Ninth Duke of Argyll paid for restoring and repairing the abbey, on the condition that it be used for all Christian denominations. He died before it was complete, and is buried in his home tomb. His wife survived to see the work finished and, being from the islands herself, is interred here, next to a memorial for her husband. Note that the Duke’s crown is below his feet, while the Duchess’s crown is on her head; that’s how you can distinguish between an actual burial and a memorial. I learned that today.

The walls surrounding the abbey cloister are lined with some of the many, many gravestones they've found on the site.

The walls surrounding the abbey cloister are lined with some of the many, many gravestones they’ve found on the site.

The two column sets in the foreground and the only original cloister columns that have survived. The rest have been recreated, and each set carved uniquely by a different stonemason while working on restoration of the abbey. They did these columns in their spare time, over the course of thirty years.

The two column sets in the foreground and the only original cloister columns that have survived. The rest have been recreated, and each set carved uniquely by a different stonemason while working on restoration of the abbey. They did these columns in their spare time, over the course of thirty years.

So, after the abbey, I caught the ferry back to Mull, and the bus back to the other ferry, which took me back to Oban. By the time we docked, it was pouring rain. I had a nice dinner at a restaurant called Piazza, then walked back up to the Old Manse. I took the less-steep way that Simon had told me about, and it was much better.

Iona was cool, and I’m glad I got to see it and spend the time there. I’m disappointed about not getting to see Staffa, but that’s the way it goes.

Since I didn’t get to see Fingal’s Cave, I’m leaving this here.

**EDIT**

The YouTube video I linked here doesn’t seem to be available outside of the UK. So, here’s an attempt at linking in an mp3 of the same tune. This is Natalie McMaster and The Chieftains playing a set that starts with Fingal’s Cave, an old Scottish tune, either a march or a strathspey depending who you ask and how it’s being played. It’s off the Fire in the Kitchen album.

  1. Listening to the folks on the tour, I was surprised to find that pretty much everyone else wanted to land at Staffa to see puffins. Only me and a music teacher from Washington really wanted to see Fingal’s Cave. []
  2. Okay. Our guide pointed out a standing stone in the middle of a cottage garden. He said that the power of this standing stone was to allow cell reception, which was otherwise lacking on the island. You had to stand out in the garden and touch the stone, and it only worked if you had a Vodafone contract. His delivery was so wonderfully deadpan that I actually heard some folks saying wow. []
  3. We were slated to visit Iona after Staffa, anyway. []
Posted in England/Scotland 2015, Oban | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Leaving England

Leaving York this morning, I had a really nice talk with Al, one of the folks who runs the guesthouse where I was staying. He asked what it was that I liked about York. I thought for a bit, then said, “London is awesome. It has everything. But it’s kind of overwhelming – you know you’re never going to be able to see and do it all. Oxford is fantastic, full of cool history and architecture, but it’s all kind of one flavour – University. York has a little bit of everything, including stuff you can’t get anywhere else, but it’s a manageable size.” He liked that, and it kind of sums up how much I like York1.

It was shortly after 9:00 that I caught the train in York up to Edinburgh. It was a nice ride, past some lovely scenery2, especially after Newcastle, where the rails start to follow the coastline. I missed spotting Lindesfarne, which I was told to look for, but saw lots of other very cool stuff.

Also at Newcastle, a group of young people3 got on, heading to Edinburgh to celebrate a birthday by hitting some bars and music shows. One of them wound up sitting across from me, and was a very entertaining conversationalist, mainly talking about the difference between Canada and the US.

I had to race a bit at Edinburgh to catch the Glasgow train, but I managed to catch some glimpses of the city as the trains entered and left the station. It got me all excited for going back there on Monday.

By the time I got to Glasgow, it had cooled off a fair bit from the very nice morning weather, and had started to rain. While the Glasgow Station is very nice, it doesn’t offer enough amusement to fill the three hour wait I had there. But finally, I got on the three-hour, whistle-stop train to Oban.

The ride to Oban reminded me of my tour of Connemara in Ireland. Rugged hills, hidden lakes and inlets, very dramatic scenery. We stopped about every 15 minutes throughout the three-hour trip. On the bright side, I had been wondering if I should have bothered to bring the external battery to charge up my phone – today’s trip showed that it was, indeed, worthwhile.

I made it Oban around 7:45. Here's a quick picture looking across the bay towards part of the waterfront.

I made it Oban around 7:45. Here’s a quick picture looking across the bay towards part of the waterfront.

The walk to the Old Manse guesthouse was up some very steep hills. I was met partway by Simon, one of the owners, who told me that there was a less lethal way to get to the place, and I will be very glad of that tomorrow.

I kind of missed the food options by getting to Oban late – most non-pubs were closed, and the open ones, I am told, stop serving food at 9:00. I debated running out for something to eat, but decided I am more tired than hungry, and am making do with one of my emergency Clif bars for dinner.

The breakfast menu for tomorrow looks great, though.

  1. A lot. []
  2. That I totally would have photographed if it hadn’t been going past at 80 mph behind a dirty train window. []
  3. Mid-30s. Young people get older every day, it seems. []
Posted in England/Scotland 2015, Oban, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Learless

I’ll get to the title in a little bit.

This morning, I had nothing planned, but I hadn’t done a post last night. So, I made my way into the city centre, found a Starbucks, and sorted my pictures and wrote a post for the blog. Then, I went for a wander to see some last bits of the city and get some final pictures, because I’m off to Oban tomorrow, fairly early.

This is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate, said to be the shortest street in York. It runs from where I'm standing to the Mali salon you see at the end. The numbers on the street are 1, 1B, and 1 1/2. It doesn't reach 2. The name is said to be a corruption of a Danish Viking phrase that means "neither one thing nor another."

This is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate, said to be the shortest street in York. It runs from where I’m standing to the Mali salon you see at the end. The numbers on the street are 1, 1B, and 1 1/2. It doesn’t reach 2. The name is said to be a corruption of a Danish Viking phrase that means “neither one thing nor another.”

This building, near Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate, apparently came in second in an Ugliest Building in the UK competition. Then the winner was demolished, so this is the ugliest building in the UK by default. The style is called Brutalism.

This building, near Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate, apparently came in second in an Ugliest Building in the UK competition. Then the winner was demolished, so this is the ugliest building in the UK by default. The style is called Brutalism.

 

Just in behind Whip-Ma-Whoip-Ma Gate is the Shambles. This is a medieval street, and used to be the street of butchers in York. The word comes from Fleshammels, an Anglo Saxon word meaning "flesh shelves," referring to the display shelves in front of the shops. It's very narrow.

Just in behind Whip-Ma-Whoip-Ma Gate is the Shambles. This is a medieval street, and used to be the street of butchers in York. The word comes from Fleshammels, an Anglo Saxon word meaning “flesh shelves,” referring to the display shelves in front of the shops. It’s very narrow.

One of the shops in the Shambles is Barghest. It's full of dog-related merchandise. A Barghest is a monstrous, ghostly black dog in the folktales of Yorkshire.

One of the shops in the Shambles is Barghest. It’s full of dog-related merchandise. A Barghest is a monstrous, ghostly black dog in the folktales of Yorkshire.

I headed back to York Minster for a little while, then. Some of my pictures hadn’t turned out, so I wanted to retake them, and my ticket is good for a year, so I figured why not. There was a guided tour starting as I came in, but I was planning on catching a movie in about an hour, so I didn’t join it.

 

This is the Quire, or Choir. They spell it with the Q in York. It's where the clergy and chorus sit when there's a full service, though attendance these days means that entire services are held here. You can see the crests for various clerical positions and bishoprics along the back row. This is the area below the central tower, behind the screen with the statues of church primates. It's big enough to be a church all on its own.

This is the Quire, or Choir. They spell it with the Q in York. It’s where the clergy and chorus sit when there’s a full service, though attendance these days means that entire services are held here. You can see the crests for various clerical positions and bishoprics along the back row. This is the area below the central tower, behind the screen with the statues of church primates. It’s big enough to be a church all on its own.

I walked down to a movie theatre, then, and saw Mad Max: Fury Road. I liked it a fair bit – it reminded me of how much I enjoy the other three. So, I’m going to have to rewatch those.

That was mainly because I had a few hours to kill before seeing King Lear tonight. I showed up at the Theatre Royal, where I thought the show was, only to be told it was actually at York University. The very helpful lady gave me directions to get there, involving walking back to the train station and catching a couple of buses, then crossing the York University campus. “You should just make it, if you hurry,” she told me.

I went back out to the street, and it started raining on my. At which point, I gave up and went back to the guesthouse.

Tomorrow, I leave York. I’ve had a great time here – I really like the city. London was overwhelming, and Oxford, though very cool, was kind of all one thing. York is small enough that I was able to see most of it, and varied enough that there was a lot to see.

So, I’m on the train early tomorrow, for a long ride. First to Edinburgh, then to Glasgo, and finally to Oban. There may not be many – or any – pictures, as I spend the day on the train.

Good night.

Posted in England/Scotland 2015, York | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Busy Day

Yesterday was a long day. I didn’t have anything booked until 1:00, so I decided to spend the morning seeing York Minster and walking the walls of the city.

The folks at the guesthouse where I'm staying told me about a shortcut through the Yorkshire Museum Gardens that goes to the city centre. I decided to walk that way.

The folks at the guesthouse where I’m staying told me about a shortcut through the Yorkshire Museum Gardens that goes to the city centre. I decided to walk that way.

I'm not sure if it's any shorter, but it certainly a nicer walk than just going down the street.

I’m not sure if it’s any shorter, but it certainly a nicer walk than just going down the street.

The gardens were once the site of St. Mary's Abbey, just outside the walls of York. It was one of the victims of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries after he broke with the Church of Rome.

The gardens were once the site of St. Mary’s Abbey, just outside the walls of York. It was one of the victims of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries after he broke with the Church of Rome.

I started with York Minster. It's the largest Gothic cathedral in the UK. And it looms really well, which is kind of a requirement for Gothic architecture.

I started with York Minster. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in the UK. And it looms really well, which is kind of a requirement for Gothic architecture.

The place is huge. Okay, stadiums, arenas, and airports are larger, but there's a palpable feeling of weight in the stone that encloses this large volume. And the place is big enough that you could build other buildings inside the main area. In fact, they have. That wall you see at the far end here is a smaller chapel built right under the central tower, with the organ above it.

The place is huge. Okay, stadiums, arenas, and airports are larger, but there’s a palpable feeling of weight in the stone that encloses this large volume. And the place is big enough that you could build other buildings inside the main area. In fact, they have. That wall you see at the far end here is a smaller chapel built right under the central tower, with the organ above it.

Here's a closer view of that wall. Note the statues of the primates of the church, and the gold-chased pipes of the organ above. The central chapel is set up as what seems to be the Archbishop's court.

Here’s a closer view of that wall. Note the statues of the primates of the church, and the gold-chased pipes of the organ above. The central chapel is set up as what seems to be the Archbishop’s court.

Below the foundations of the Minster, they found (surprise, surprise) Roman ruins. Here's a bit of a well in the basement that shows one of the pillars of the Roman fortress that once stood on this spot. And, because it's a hole in the ground, people throw coins in. I guess.

Below the foundations of the Minster, they found (surprise, surprise) Roman ruins. Here’s a bit of a well in the basement that shows one of the pillars of the Roman fortress that once stood on this spot. And, because it’s a hole in the ground, people throw coins in. I guess.

Down in the undercroft, they also have a number of treasures of the cathedral. This is a carved elephant tusk horn that dates from the Saxon period.

Down in the undercroft, they also have a number of treasures of the cathedral. This is a carved elephant tusk horn that dates from the Saxon period.

The York Gospels, from the 13th century.

The York Gospels, from the 13th century.

Outside the Minster is a statue of Constantine the Great. He was here in 306 when his father, the Emperor Constantius, died, and Constantine, with the support of his army, declared himself Emperor.

Outside the Minster is a statue of Constantine the Great. He was here in 306 when his father, the Emperor Constantius, died, and Constantine, with the support of his army, declared himself Emperor.

After seeing the Minster, I climbed up the stairs at Bootham Bar1, and decided to walk that section of wall.

The walls are very cool, but very, very narrow. Especially compared to someplace like Londonderry. Built in a different time to defend against different threats.

The walls are very cool, but very, very narrow. Especially compared to someplace like Londonderry. Built in a different time to defend against different threats.

The Minster dominates the view, when the trees aren't in the way. By civil ordinance, no building can be as tall as two-thirds the height of the Minster.

The Minster dominates the view, when the trees aren’t in the way. By civil ordinance, no building can be as tall as two-thirds the height of the Minster.

I followed the walls around to Monks Bar. The statues at the top of the towers are called the Wild Men of York, and it is said that, if York is in peril, they will come to life and toss their boulders down on attackers.

I followed the walls around to Monks Bar. The statues at the top of the towers are called the Wild Men of York, and it is said that, if York is in peril, they will come to life and toss their boulders down on attackers.

This gate also holds the Richard III museum, but I didn’t have time to head in there before my tour out to Castle Howard. I’m hoping to get back there today.

Castle Howard is the seat of the Earls of Carlisle, and they’ve lived there for over 300 years. It’s a wonderful example of a stately country home of the aristocracy.

It's also where they filmed both the 80s miniseries of Brideshead Revisted and the 2008 remake.

It’s also where they filmed both the 80s miniseries of Brideshead Revisted and the 2008 remake.

The gardens are both extensive and amazing.

The gardens are both extensive and amazing.

The Atlas Fountain is the main feature of the yard.

The Atlas Fountain is the main feature of the yard.

Atlas is in the centre, holding the world on his shoulders. Surrounding him are four tritons, spraying him with water. The tritons are about eight feet tall, so Atlas would be 10-11 feet tall if he were standing upright.

Atlas is in the centre, holding the world on his shoulders. Surrounding him are four tritons, spraying him with water. The tritons are about eight feet tall, so Atlas would be 10-11 feet tall if he were standing upright.

This is the Boar Garden. I was hoping for something more exciting based on the name.

This is the Boar Garden. I was hoping for something more exciting based on the name.

This is the Temple of the Four Winds. It's a classical-style folly standing out at one corner of the main grounds.

This is the Temple of the Four Winds. It’s a classical-style folly standing out at one corner of the main grounds.

In the main entry hall. The painting over the fireplace is Vulcan at his forge.

In the main entry hall. The painting over the fireplace is Vulcan at his forge.

A very nice backgammon table in the Turquoise Parlour.

A very nice backgammon table in the Turquoise Parlour. The black draughts are not on the board. I don’t know why not.

The long gallery of Castle Howard.

The long gallery of Castle Howard.

Castle Howard chapel. Tiny and perfect.

Castle Howard chapel. Tiny and perfect.

These are the stables. Yes, all of the building is the stables. Now, it's been converted into a visitor welcome centre.

These are the stables. Yes, all of the building is the stables. Now, it’s been converted into a visitor welcome centre.

Inside the stable courtyard. There are shops, a cafe, toilets, benches, and an actual butcher's shop.

Inside the stable courtyard. There are shops, a cafe, toilets, benches, and an actual butcher’s shop.

We got back to York around 5:30, and wandered my way down to the King’s Arms2, had some dinner3, and caught my Original Ghost Walk at 8:00.

This is an old pub on the river. It floods regularly.

This is an old pub on the river. It floods regularly.

There are four or five ghost walks in York. The one I took was highly recommended on Tripadvisor, and by the folks at my guesthouse. I can see why. Good stories, a lot of ground covered, and the guide was wonderful, keeping conversation going between the stories, so that everyone had a good time the entire tour. Absolutely fantastic.

It was about 10:30 by the time I made it home, and went to bed. I’m still kind of tired today, so I’ve spent the morning in Starbucks sorting my pictures and writing this post.

This afternoon, I’m thinking about going to see Mad Max: Fury Road.

If I can find the theatre again.

  1. In York, they have a saying that I have heard repeatedly from all the guides and several others. “The streets are gates, the gates are bars, and the bars are pubs.” This means that most streets are Somethinggate, like Gillygate or Monksgate, because gate is a corruption of the old Danish word for street. The gates are called bars, from the same root as barbican. And, of course, the drinking places are pubs. []
  2. I was feeling quite smug and self-congratulatory at how easily I was navigating the twisty streets of York. Then I realized that I had passed Betty’s Tea Room three times in the past fifteen minutes. I withdrew the self-congratulations. []
  3. At a restaurant next door – the King’s Arms doesn’t serve food. []
Posted in England/Scotland 2015, York | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

York’s Past

Gorgeous morning today. Bright, clear, warm, just enough of a breeze on the top deck of the sightseeing bus to keep you cool and alert. The tour was good, and I got off about half-way through at Clifford’s Tower.

Clifford's Tower was the keep of the old York Castle that used to stand here. It's just a hollow shell, now; neglect, and a 17th century mishap where the powder stores were ignited during gun salute blew the top off the tower.

Clifford’s Tower was the keep of the old York Castle that used to stand here. It’s just a hollow shell, now; neglect, and a 17th century mishap where the powder stores were ignited during gun salute blew the top off the tower.

There were a couple wooden castles that stood on this spot. One was the site of a rather horrific episode in 1190, when about 150 Jews, pursued by mobs all het-up with antisemitism and Crusade fever, sought refuge. The Jewish population pushed their way into the castle, locking out the royal constable, and set about holding off the maddened, rioting mobs. They were offered their lives if they would be baptized, and promised death if they refused. In the end, they set fire to the castle, choosing to immolate themselves rather than renounce their faith and accept the dubious guarantees of the Christians.

Not something York is very proud of.

This is the interior of Clifford's Tower. Back before the gun accident, there were wooden floors and partitions in here, turning it into an actual livable location. The large slab in the centre was the base of the central pillar that reached up to the former ceiling, providing support for the higher floors.

This is the interior of Clifford’s Tower. Back before the gun accident, there were wooden floors and partitions in here, turning it into an actual livable location. The large octagonal section in the centre was the base of the central pillar that reached up to the former ceiling, providing support for the higher floors.

Clifford’s Tower is right next to the York Castle Museum. The rest of York Castle is long gone, and the remaining buildings are a former women’s prison and a former debtor’s prison. It’s a pretty great museum.

Near the entry of the women's prison wing of the museum, there are a few rooms set up to reflect different eras. This is a very nice Victorian parlour.

Near the entry of the women’s prison wing of the museum, there are a few rooms set up to reflect different eras. This is a very nice Victorian parlour.

Here's a dining room from the Elizabethan era.

Here’s a dining room from the Elizabethan era.

One of the main draws of the museum in Kirkgate, a reconstructed Victorian street. Well, I say street, but it's actually a couple of streets, with some nice twisty alleys. All the building facings are authentic, having been moved to the museum from various cities and neighbourhoods to build their authentic street scene.

One of the main draws of the museum in Kirkgate, a reconstructed Victorian street. Well, I say street, but it’s actually a couple of streets, with some nice twisty alleys. All the building facings are authentic, having been moved to the museum from various cities and neighbourhoods to build their authentic street scene.

Some of the shops on the street are open, like this Victorian pharmacy.

Some of the shops on the street are open, like this Victorian pharmacy.

A little dead end alley, with washing hanging from the higher floors. The two posted papers are a notice about how to avoid disease from city water, and an advertisement for an exhibition of torture implements and accounts.

A little dead end alley, with washing hanging from the higher floors. The two posted papers are a notice about how to avoid disease from city water, and an advertisement for an exhibition of torture implements and accounts.

One of the cool things about this street display is that they put up handbills. Victorian streets wee plastered with these kinds of ads and notices.

One of the cool things about this street display is that they put up handbills. Victorian streets wee plastered with these kinds of ads and notices.

The other wing of the museum, which was once a debtor’s prison, featured an in-depth look at the impact of WWI on the UK, and York in particular.

One section was a mock-up of a trench, with little offices and rooms opening off it, providing more displays and accounts.

One section was a mock-up of a trench, with little offices and rooms opening off it, providing more displays and accounts.

You can go out to see the exercise yard of the old debtor's prison. You can even walk down outside the wall to see an old mill. There are some toys and stuff in here for the younger visitors; I don't think they're original to the yard.

You can go out to see the exercise yard of the old debtor’s prison. You can even walk down outside the wall to see an old mill. There are some toys and stuff in here for the younger visitors; I don’t think they’re original to the yard.

I did meet some other Canadians in the exercise yard, though. They very graciously did not attack me even though I would up between the parents and some of the goslings at some point.

I did meet some other Canadians in the exercise yard, though. They very graciously did not attack me even though I would up between the parents and some of the goslings at some point.

After I finished up there, I went to find Jorvik, a special museum dedicated to showing off the Viking finds on the site in the 70s and 80s. Very cool stuff. A lot of it was in the form of a little car ride through a rebuilt Viking village full of animatronics1, but there was a lot of interest there, too.

Here's the reconstructed Coppergate Helmet. It's based on the remains of a helmet found at this site.

Here’s the reconstructed Coppergate Helmet. It’s based on the remains of a helmet found at this site.

There was a really nice fellow here, at this coin-striking demonstration. I got him to strike a coin for me, which was very cool, and he let me take this picture of his tools and props.

There was a really nice fellow here, at this coin-striking demonstration. I got him to strike a coin for me, which was very cool, and he let me take this picture of his tools and props.

At this point, I went and got back on the sightseeing bus, planning to go see the Richard III museum. Unfortunately, I missed the stop, and the day had clouded over and gotten chilly. So, I rode the bus around to the start of the tour, and got off to find some lunch.

I wandered down through the twisty, turny, medievally part of the city near the Minster, and found a neat pub called Ye Olde Starre Inne2. Now, the thing that caught my eye about the place was that it didn’t have any street fronting. The Starre Inne, like the House of Trembling Madness and a few other places I saw, had been cut off from the street by new buildings, so they made their own arrangements. The House of Trembling Madness had its entry through another store, while the Starre Inne had a large sign across the entire width of Stonegate Street3 and a little alley that led to the Inne’s gardens.

The Inne has a couple of beer gardens, and a moderately large tavern. They serve a really good fish and chips, and have some tasty cider.

The Inne has a couple of beer gardens, and a moderately large tavern. They serve a really good fish and chips, and have some tasty cider.

After that, I just wandered the streets for a while, trying to decide if I was going to call it a day or if I would try to squeeze in a visit to York Minster today. I made my way over to the Minster, and saw that it was going to close in half an hour, so I decided to save it for tomorrow morning.

So, that, and maybe a walk on the city walls, is slated for tomorrow morning. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ve booked a trip out to Castle Howard. That should be cool.

  1. As Paul said, kinda Disney. []
  2. Apparently, extra letters – especially Es – were very cheap in the Elizabethan period. []
  3. Paid for in 1652, originally. []
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