Saturday, 23 October 2010

Hiking and Exploring the Museums of Edinburgh

I was out of the hotel with the dawn Sunday morning. I headed east on Cowgate, whose name soon changed to Holyrood Road, past several buildings that are part of the University of Edinburgh. (The Queen's consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, is the university's chancellor. He must be a busy academic man because he is also the chancellor of Cambridge University.) Within a couple of blocks I realized I'd forgotten the camera, but I kept chugging forward in the cold dawn. My goal was to get to the top of Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park and back by 9am. I walked past the Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh interactive science museum which looks like a spiky white mutant beetle, and the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen's official Scottish residence whose art gallery is open to the public, to Holyrood Park, which also officially belongs to the royal family. The only other people out this chilly Sunday morning were a couple of cyclists undoubtedly heading for early duty on the job and a few brave joggers. Still chilly and a little dark I chose the steep path up the hill which remained steep for about 400 yards or so. It was warm work as I maintained a brisk pace. The path leveled out somewhat, and by then the broad vista of Edinburgh spread out below me, from Holyrood Palace to St. Giles to Edinburgh Castle standing solidly on it volcanic crag. The Firth of Forth lay placidly beyond.
Photo filched from the web. Probably
taken from the trail I took this morning.

I kept hiking although it soon became clear that I was either proceeding in the wrong direction or that it would take too long to make to the top and back to the hotel in time. I had not yet encountered anyone as I stepped off the main path to a much rougher narrow trail that required me to scramble over some rocks. A young woman jogged past me as nimble and sure-footed as a doe, making me feel rather old in my clumsy stumbling.

I soon turned back when the trail curved out of sight of the castle and I realized I may have made the wrong choice, and so I told a couple of Englishman who asked if the path led to Arthur's Seat. I said I didn't think so. (I later discovered I was wrong, though it would have taken at least another hour of hiking to get there by this trail.) A few minutes later a young woman jogged past me wearing a t-shirt--no sweat shirt or sweater: a t-shirt under cold and windy conditions. She didn't look as cold as I felt. At the bottom of the hill another young woman began her efforts to conquer the steep trail, only she was more sensible dressed in sweat shirt. These observations drew forth a couple of thoughts: first, these colleens of Scotland are pretty tough to be out this early on a not very hospitable Sunday morning; and second, where are the lads? Are they sleeping off the effects of Saturday night? Are they less ambitious than the young lasses? They better be careful or the lasses will run right past them and leave them behind in the dustbin of life.

I asked an older woman at the bottom of the trail whether she knew if it led to Arthur's Seat. She said yes, but I didn't believer her. (I now know she was right; I didn't ask her whether it was the shorter path. I mentally and spiritually apologize for my distrust.) I sat on a rock at the junction of my trail with another more gradual path that didn't seem to head up the volcano--though I concluded it must--the sun risen but not yet peeking over Arthur's Seat. A few more people were about, most with dogs to walk in the crisp morning. A young man, a tourist whose accent I couldn't place, asked me the way to Arthur's Seat. For the second time that early early morning I was burdened with the same task to which I was unequal. Good fortune came to my rescue in the form of a gentleman with a pair of dogs tugging at their leashes who overheard the question and promptly confirmed my suspicion that the second more gradual sloping path was the better route to Arthur's Seat, my trail being the efficient route to Salisbury Crags. Heartened by this confirmation of my suspicions and considering another attempt on Monday morning, I faced the wind and headed back to the hotel.

After breakfast we headed to the Royal Mile and walked up hill to Edinburgh Castle. Near the castle we stopped in at the Camera Obscura. Erika and Benedict paid the admission to a couple of hours exploring the mirror maze, the optical illusions, and the camera obscura itself. I chose to explore some of the closes of the Royal Mile instead.

Most of the Royal Mile is on a kind of ridge. On either side of the street, behind the buildings, the ground quickly slopes down, sometimes steeply. The closes are sometimes narrow passage ways to the streets below the Royal Mile and parallel to it. Sometimes they are entrances to courtyards. Sometimes they lead to apartments. Of particular interest was a close, Riddle's Close, that had a plaque announcing that David Hume, the philosopher, lived there in an apartment before moving to James' Court. I discovered James' Court through a close almost directly across the street, the street being the Royal Mile. Another plaque told me that James Boswell, Samuel Johnson's biographer, lived in a different apartment in the court the same time that Hume lived there. Johnson visited Boswell in his rooms here. Unfortunately those apartments burned down in 1857.

Left, this is what a close looks like on the Royal Mile. Right, the Flesh Market Close. Both images taken from the web.

After more than an hour exploring these and other closes, I returned to Camera Obscura. I found Erika and Benedict in the gift shop. They'd had a great time. They saw me on the street when they were looking at the camera obscura, and even picked me up! Funny, I didn't notice a thing. I was glad, however, that I had behaved myself--at least while they were observing me.

By this time it was noon and our priority for the day was to re-visit the National Museum of Scotland. But we were within 10 minutes of the National Gallery of Scotland, so that's where we went next. The first impression of the museum is that it has overwhelming collection and more important pieces than one would have thought. There is much significant international as well as Scottish art, but we were only devoting a couple of hours for our visit. Here is some of the art we had seen before in photos and you may be familiar with:

Olive Trees by van Gogh painted not too long before he shot himself. As
you might guess, this photo does not come close to doing the painting justice.

Rembrandt Self-portrait at 51

Adam Smith

David Hume

The Vale of Dedham by John Constable

A Group of Dancers by Edgar Degas

Titian's The Three Ages of Man

Antonio Canova's life-size sculptor of the Three Graces
We skipped the special exhibit of Impressionist artists, figuring we'll see plenty of such art when we get around to hanging out in the London art galleries.

After tea and short visit to the gift shop, we skipped up to the National Museum of Scotland (click link for collection highlights.) Though we spent about three hours in the museum, we were a little rushed in going through it because of the wealth of its material. Most of it is devoted to Scottish history, and there is much I don't remember anymore. I did write down a few random notes:

The museum holds the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame. In addition to the normal group of boxers, weight lifters, footballers, rugby players, golfers, and swimmers, the Hall also has some unusual entrants. Captain Robert Barclay Allerdice (1779-1854) is in the hall for his singular accomplishments for walking. He walked 51 miles and back twice a week. He exercised 22 miles before returning home. He walked 90 miles in just over 20 hours. Finally, he walked 1 mile every hour for 1000 hours, presumably consecutively. Donald Dinnie (1837-1916) dominated the Highland Games circuit from 1856-76. And though he isn't a member of the Hall, a baseball autographed by Bobby Thomson--he of the 'shot heard round the world' fame when his home run for the Giants in the ninth inning beat the Dodgers and won the National League pennant in a play-off game on 3 October 1951--held a special place in a display of athletic mementos on the strength of his birth in Glasgow in 1923.

The largest number of immigrants to Scotland are English with half a million crossing the border for a new life.

I can understand Chinese translations of Harry Potter books, but Latin?

DMA Design of Dundee produced the video game Grand Theft Auto.

The Scottish high tech industry, called 'Silicon Glen', made 35% of Europe's computers in the '90s.

An exhibit showed how tweed wool used to be made at the Scottish Borders (by the River Tweed).

Scotland's population is only 5 million, roughly the same as Colorado's and Minnesota's. 25 million people in other parts of the world claim Scottish ancestry.

2 million Scots emigrated in the 20th century.

Nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, president of Princeton College and the only clergyman (Scots Presbyterian) signer.

In the last year of his life, 1776, David Hume wrote in a letter: 'I am an American in my principles.' He was the only British intellectual to support the colonists' cause in the American War of Independence.

Scotland outlawed Roman Catholicism in the late 17th and much of the 18th centuries.

Monday morning we spent a pleasurable hour and a half in Blackwell's Bookshop across the street from University of Edinburgh's Old College. The book shop is the main supplier of academic books for university students. I discovered several books I'm eager to read but refrained from buying. Erika bought a couple of books to help Benedict's study French as well as a novel for him to read on the train to London.

We visited the Writer's Museum in Lady Stair's Close as our last act in Edinburgh. The museum is dedicated to Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It's small but crammed with letters, photos, books, biographical notes. Like all the museums we visited the last couple of days in Edinburgh--the Camera Obscura is not a museum--the Writer's Museum is free. Pretty cool.

Our last act in Edinburgh, actually, was to buy some wool scarves. I'm even getting one.

The trip home was mostly uneventful, thank goodness, with the only disturbance being a Rwandan dressed in a nice suit speaking too loudly on his cell phone. The train left on time at 1pm, Erika graded papers, Benedict finally did his homework and read the entire novel, and I read and snoozed.

1 comment:

  1. Nice way to decorate your walls. I have never done that. My effort to beautify the walls in my house was to order big-sized canvas prints from, from images of western art. I use the same angel motifs in all of the rooms painted by different painters, such as this one by very interesting English artist Stanley Spencer,