They used to call Edinburgh the Athens of the North due to the Neo Greek Architecture.A French and Flemish influence is also evident , in the pointed towers and stepped roofs called Crow Steps. A seat of learning for artists and philosophers, the city of Edinburgh was once dubbed old Reekie, due to the smoke and pollution.
Edinburgh is dominated by the old castle which is built on a huge slab of volcanic rock. In 1703 James Craig, the architect, was in his twenties when he won a competition to replace the dirty, jumbled streets with a new town. He was awarded a gold medal and Freedom of the City. Wide areas are bounded by Princes, George and Queen street with a church at either end. Nothing could be more delightful than to stroll along the Royal Mile and into the many side streets, each known as a Close.
From every Close, steep steps lead down the hill,with splendid views of the city far below. In 1826 a building collapsed in Paisley Close. Those searching among the rubble heard a cheerful voice, ‘ Heave away, chaps. I’m not dead yet.’
In another Close, we wandered into the Writers Center which honors Sir Walter Scott, remembered for such novels as Waverley. He romantized the Scottish myth, at a time when the Highlands were being denuded of their population by heartless landlords. The Clearances, brought new settlers to Canada, Australia, and the USA. Those who remained eked out a precarious living on poor strips of land near the sea, using kelp as fertilizer.
Robbie Burns, Ploughman Poet, has become a Scottish icon. He left school early but was fortunate to have a tutor who, among other subjects, taught him Greek and Latin, giving him both books and tuition. His writing is regarded as being tender and sympathetic, without being sentimental. Robbie had a weak heart and died in his thirties. He had the largest funeral ever given to a common man, attended by Dukes, Earls and the Cream of society.
Many familiar aphorisms and verses come from Robbie Burns. The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men, Auld Lang Syne, A man’s a man for all that – a name is nought but a Guinea stamp, My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose. Robbie had a reputation for affairs of the heart and the number of illegitimate offspring he sired, so his Love must have been a veritable garden of roses. It’s said that while he was being buried, both his wife and mistress were giving birth.
We saw the house of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was crowned as a baby and spent the majority of her life in captivity.In the quaint Worlds’ End Pub, with its dark panelling, rafters and low ceilings, we shared a glass of ale and thought how hard it must have been for Mary. Deacon Brodie’s Tavern commemorates a man born in 1741, said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A respectable citizen and virtuous member of the Guild of Wright’s by day, at night Deacon Brodie was notorious for drink and gambling. In order to pay his debts, he became a burglar and was hung in 1788 for his crimes.
Morag reminded us of Scottish sons like Simpson, inventor of anesthesia and the architect Robert Adam who designed so many wonderful buildings in both England and Scotland. We were glad she had told us not to miss seeing the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh (architect not known) In awe we gazed towards the splendid cupola, painted in a celestial blue, with a mass of star shaped skylights which brought a dazzling luminescence to the building. ‘What a pity we can’t take photographs,’ said Marjorie. We guessed they’d not do it justice.
It was uplifting to see so many masterpieces in the Royal Art Gallery which boasts an impressive collection, both classical and modern , a first for Marjorie. Then we enjoyed the luxury goods at Jenners , an opulent shop like Harrods in London.
The excitement of new places and faces, the lovely Scottish songs, an carefree atmosphere in the group brought a heightened awareness, and a longing for romance, whatever the age. By then the twinkle in Jack’s eye for Marjorie could have lit up the city, though he was at least seventy.
The demeanor of the ageing (for the most part) men in the group, when their wives were temporarily absent was funny. Many of us had sore throats and I was dosing myself with my favorite remedy, Cointreau on ice. ‘I’d never forget it if my sore throat came from Decima,’ said one of the old guys.
That night Marjorie and I came down the stairs in our dinner clothes and a cloud of Chanel No 5.A group of about six gentlemen were gathered below, ‘Wow,’ they said and almost swooned. No doubt their reaction would have been far more restrained had their wives been present. Marjorie giggled. ‘Craving a little excitement, poor things.’
Another time one of the older Aussies asked whether I’d done any sleepwalking. I couldn’t resist saying, ‘ Not yet. But you never know your luck.’ He and his wife roared laughing. She said, ‘You’re welcome to him.’ He wasn’t exactly the most romantic figure.
Marjorie laughed ourselves to sleep almost every night over some remark or antics from our fellow passengers. And enjoyed playing the Merry Widow and Gay Divorcee. Gay in the old sense.