Today was based around plans and bookings we had made yesterday to see a couple of Edinburgh attractions before meeting up with the Michies for dinner. That put some fixed points in our schedule but left some time for other opportunities that might emerge.
I was awake before 6:30 am and had time to write my entry for yesterday before breakfast. Our late night had prevented it being done sooner. After breakfast Majella got some laundry started before we set off with Charles who had offered to drive us into town so that we could have the day without bothering with our rental car and then come back with them after meeting up for dinner.
It was about 10:30 am when Charles dropped us at the wharf in Leith, the port for Edinburgh, where we had purchased online tickets to HMY Britannia. The Queen’s yacht was decommissioned in 1997 after which it was moored in Leith and is a significant tourist attraction. We had bought tickets online but had just the emailed record and were not sure if we needed to exchange that for tickets. The queue to buy tickets was long but there was another for pre-purchased tickets and we joined it. The was no point at which to get tickets and the queue was moving slowly toward the entrance as people read the material on the walls. Eventually we bypassed several of them to see what was ahead and found that our email was enough to let us in.
The tour is facilitated by a tower on the wharf that allows visitors to follow the tour path, moving up and down levels mostly on the wharf and entering decks as needed. As for other tours we have done recently there was an audio guide in which we entered the numbers of each of the 27 locations. The tour was interesting and informative but much of the commentary was too fawning for the taste of republicans who were not impressed by the pretentiousness of privilege. Sailors on board did not wear caps so they were technically out of uniform which did not require the royals to be constantly saluting. Nevertheless we enjoyed the tour though the rain put a dampener on parts where we needed to step outside. Majella was keen to have tea in the tearoom on board but there was a long queue for that and we needed to move on to our next activity.
Our next tour of Mary King’s Close was booked and paid online and scheduled for 1:30 pm. That was on the Royal Mile where we had been yesterday. We exited the shopping mall beside Britannia, found a bus stop for the city and waited. A few minutes later a 22 bus appeared and we were on our way. It was just 5 km but that took almost 30 minutes with traffic congestion and stops.
Charles had suggested a couple of places for lunch but they were further away from Mary King’s Close than where we alighted in Princes Street and time was short. We decided to take our chances on finding something nearer our destination and headed in that direction. We took some stairs up toward the Royal Mile rather than walk the longer way round the street and found ourselves at the entrance to Mary King’s Close. There was an associated café there so we decided that would do for lunch in the 30 minutes we had.
Majella had soup and I had a panini with bacon and brie. It was served with salad and we were surprised to see the salad moved by bare hand from a large container to the plate and the bread held with a bare hand while it was cut. Charles and Cathy assured us later that food handling is regulated and those practices would not be acceptable. The food was tasty but the organisation for serving it left a lot to be desired with no evident system for keeping track of who had ordered what.
Our tour of Mary King’s Close was fascinating. We had done an informal tour arranged by Charles on our first visit to Edinburgh in 1995 but it is now a very well organised tourist attraction. The close was one of many narrow alleys that led down either side of the ridge of rock on which the Royal Mile sits between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. Because the old city was confined by defensive walls it was not possible to build out and instead people built up, reaching as many as eight levels beside the closes into which all manner of rubbish, including human waste, was thrown twice each day. It was an unhealthy place where the poorest lived.
In the 17th century the city chambers were built over the top of Mary King’s Close and two others beside it. The existing buildings were demolished to the level of the Royal Mile at that point and the lower levels remained as foundations. They were preserved that way for centuries so the tour is able to show how local people lived from medieval times. The operators have resisted any temptation to turn it into a ghost tour and the focus is on the history, archeology and sociology of the site. Our guide, Mark, did an excellent job of describing the conditions of life over the centuries.
Once our tour was done we had some time available before meeting up for dinner at 5:30 pm. We thought we might watch a performance from one of the Fringe shows and began looking for something interesting. Majella was taken by an a capella group, Sweet Nothings, who had a show starting around 3:30 pm in a venue just off the main street. We watched their performance which had a feminist theme and was well choreographed with opportunities for all 11 performers to share the lead. They were 11 young women from Exeter University who sang very well and entertained a sizable audience for just less than an hour.
We walked the 3 km or so from there to The Scran and Scallie where we were to meet Charles and Cathy and their son, Calum, and his family for dinner. We arrived early, which was better than being late or lost, and had drinks while we waited for the others to arrive.
We had not seen Calum for about 20 years and had never met his wife, Cattie, or their children Luciana and Sebastian. The children were suitably impressed by the gifts Majella had brought – a fairy bag for Luciana and a pokemon keyring and chocolate for Sebastian. We had a very enjoyable dinner with lots of conversation across a wide range of subjects.
Back at Balerno Cathy made Pisco Sours, a family favourite because Cattie is from Peru, but unknown to us. Those helped us to round out the night with more conversation, enough to delay this writing until the following morning.