Castles, Tartan, Burke and Hare

My second day in Edinburgh, Robin and I explored Old Town, walked the Royal Mile, and climbed Arthur’s Seat. This post will describe the first two of these three activities.

The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle to the Queen’s house in Edinburgh (technically a palace, according to the signs). We started at the Edinburgh Castle end:

Approaching Edinburgh Castle.

Though it’s been refurbished over the centuries, this castle was inhabited as early as the 9th century BC! Totally unbelievable. It housed royalty for a while, then was used as a military fortress. Now it’s a tourist haven.

Some of the oldest rock I’ve ever touched…

We didn’t tour the castle because it was really expensive, but we did walk just inside the fortress to have a look-see.

What’s up, guy. Nice job guarding the castle and not letting anyone in who doesn’t pay 15 pounds.

After checking out the castle we continued our walk down the Royal Mile.

I can’t remember what the date is on this cross, but I know that I took a picture of it because it is ridiculously old. Also it has a really cool stag carved into it.

The walk was really beautiful and interesting. Robin was nice to let me stop every 5 feet to snap a photo.

Walking along the Royal Mile…

Along our walk we came to an official tartan/kilt shop. Inside they had the giant mechanical looms out in the open, and we could see tartan being made:

Kilt shop. You can see a loom on a platform in the upper right-hand corner of this photo. The mannequin working it is really talented.

There were some interesting items for sale in the kilt shop. For example, you could purchase this booklet to help you learn all the amazing qualities of being a kilt-wearer:


And you can also have your official Scottish family photo taken, with everyone wearing the appropriate amount of tartan attire:

I feel that this family skimped a bit on the tartan, but maybe it’s just me.

After the tartan shop, we continued down the Royal Mile. Every few blocks, I noticed a dark alleyway had been carved out of the rock wall. Each had an excellent Harry Potter-worthy title like Borthwick’s Close. It was almost too perfect.

This alleyway probably has some juicy stories to tell.

Speaking of Harry Potter, here I am in front of the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling started writing the books on bits of napkin. I’m full of sickeningly tourist glee…

At the Elephant House.

Robin was quite annoyed that everyone who comes to Edinburgh only knows it for Harry Potter, what with all the other great literature the city has produced. Sorry, Robin. HP4LIFE.

Anyway, here is a good story that is potentially related to the mysterious alleyways appearing throughout Old Town:

Burke and Hare

In the early 1800s, the medical school at University of Edinburgh became quite renowned, and the medical student body grew and grew. However, the stock of cadavers for use in anatomy lessons soon became insufficient; the cadavers typically supplied were the bodies of executed criminals, but due to a reduction in executions in the 19th century, there were not enough cadavers for medical students to practice dissection and other skills. Cadavers thus became a rare commodity, for which the school would pay a pretty penny.

Two men, William Burke and William Hare, saw this as an opportunity. (Mind you that they weren’t the only ones – “body snatchers” became widely feared throughout Britain). Over the period of about a year, Burke and Hare murdered 17 people and sold their bodies to the University of Edinburgh. Most victims were women or people with disabilities. Robin says rumor has it the university was aware of the “illegitimate means” by which the bodies were procured, but due to its dire need for anatomy cadavers, continued paying Burke and Hare for the bodies.

Robin told me this story as we were exploring some of the alleys, as he imagined some of the murders probably took place in these dark, cold, outdoor hallways in the dead of night.

World’s End Close. That graffiti is covering up a centuries-old blood stain. Just kidding.

Eventually Burke and Hare were caught, and Hare was bribed with immunity from prosecution if he testified against Burke. He did, Burke was hanged, and then Burke’s body went the way of his victims – the dissection room at Edinburgh Medical College. He was publicly dissected, and items such as wallets were made from his tanned skin and apparently sold on the streets.

Totally normal chain of events, don’t you think?

[Facts from this story not provided by Robin were taken from this Wikipedia page.]

ANYWAY. The last sight to see on the Royal Mile is the Queen’s palace in Edinburgh, which she visits frequently:

The Queen’s ugly, tiny shack at the edge of town.

This was on the wall next to the palace gate:

There are unicorns everywhere in the UK. I kind of love it.

And here’s another unicorn for good measure:

Basically Hogsmeade.


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