Scotland Day 5

Another day in the books! A record 25k steps- it seems as if Arthur’s Seat was a wee bit taller than we had previously thought… Either way, the kids were troopers as we walked like mad men and women across Edinburgh and Holyrood Park to make the summit before the rain. 

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We began the day enjoying breakfast on Prince’s Street as the sun shone through the windows. We were all happy to replenish our Vitamin D as we finally got a morning of sunshine as we walked down the Royal Mile. The mile runs from the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle all the way down to the Palace of Holyrood- Elizabeth II’s royal residence while she is in the capital. We walked passed various Harry Potter stores, Kilt Makers, Street Performers and crowds and crowds of tourists as Edinburgh is about to begin a month’s worth of outdoor festivals. These include the Edinburgh Arts Festival, the Fringe Festival (those acts that didn’t make it into the “official” Arts Festival), and the Military Tattoo. As such, the streets are packed and the city is bustling with all of the set-up for these various events. I think most of us are excited to visit places outside of such a busy metropolitan area in the days to come. Well maybe not Alex, he feels at home in the big big cities!

We first saw Arthur’s Seat from the base of the embankment at Holyrood Park. Ms. South told us the story about how James Hutton had looked on those rocks as his inspiration for some of the earliest theories regarding geology and “deep time.” We made our way up the winding trail, which was also filled with visitors and an ice cream truck, and stopped off for a minute at ruined outlook tower and spent a minute researching an unfinished “Acropolis” that sits on another Edinburgh mound. It turns out this half finished monument was intentional. It was meant to memorialize those who served in the Napoleonic Wars, but funds ran out at the start of the nineteenth century and as a consequence it was never finished. It served as another haunting reminder of how Scotland doesn’t always get top billing within the British Empire. 

While our hike only took us about 800 ft above sea level, it was winding and long, and many of us were huffing and puffing when we reached the top. Arthur’s Seat is aptly named because this is perhaps the site of a historical kingdom that ultimately birthed the legends connected to King Arthur. Speaking for myself, it was an incredible experience, other than the fact that the rain rolled in while we were eating our picnic lunches! That sunshine doesn’t last long in Scotland. We made our way back down the hill, and settled in to take in the views of the Scottish Parliament before our tour.

Entering the Scottish Parliament building feels like you are entering an alien structure. Varied lines, and beautiful leaf designs make it both aesthetically pleasing, as well as entirely distinct. We learned how Scotland was given its own separate parliament in 1999, and how only certain powers (national defense, the environment, criminal justice) still remained with the Parliament in Westminster. The Scots are proud of their Parliament, and the referendum that brought it into existence showed a 75% approval rate for the measure. Scotland’s Parliament had dissolved itself in 1707 when they voted themselves out of existence and joined Queen Anne’s Parliament in London. Until 1999, the Parliaments had been united, but now Scotland has its own autonomous self-rule (in many categories). The building also featured beautiful quotations regarding Scottish history, poetry, and commentary. 

After leaving Parliament, we made our way back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner and our Edinburgh Ghost Tour. Some of us had Scottish BBQ, while others enjoyed a nice Mediterranean themed restaurant. All of us together though met our guide, Bek, on the side of St. Giles who took us on our tour of the old Greyfriars’ graveyard.  It is called Greyfriars because the Franciscan order that used to own the church were literally Friars who wore Grey! Outside of the ecclesiastical heritage, we had learned about the Covenanters earlier when we visited St. Giles, but this outing gave us a more personal look at the history revolving those people who had fought for their Presbyterian faith. Bek took us through the prisons that housed twelve hundred Covenanter prisoners, and we visited the nearby mausoleum of the man who was responsible for locking up these religious dissenters (Sir George Mackenzie). We even spent a second to snap a photo with the most famous of Scottish pups- Greyfriar Bobby- a Skye terrier who guarded his master even after his death! Perhaps most exciting for many of our students was visiting the grave markers that marked the inspiration for Mad-Eye Moody, Professor McGonagall, and Tom Riddle of Harry Potter fame before making our way back to the hotel for a well deserved night of rest. Today we leave for St. Andrews- the birthplace of modern golf!

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