St Andrew’s Day – no patriotism please!

30 November this year promised to be one of those crisp late autumn/early winter days that need good use to be made of them. In anticipation I had already established that I did not need to celebrate the national saint but could benefit from free entry to Edinburgh Castle. It was due for a proper visit after our excursion to the tattoo last year but then Jane declined on the basis it was expensive and she’d been as a child. I couldn’t remember being taken as a child and was keen to go but agreed that not much change from £30 for two was indeed pricey.

I realised that I was not alone in having an eye for a bargain further compounded by it being the most popular historic attraction in the UK. Portcullis was due up at 9.30 and I had an appointment on the west side of town at 12; speed and efficiency were of the essence. As was judicious parking but then I do have a university permit for occasional users of a car park adjacent to Edinburgh College of Art and even nearer to the Vennel. For those unfamiliar with the Old Town this is a historic stair alongside George Heriot’s school that cuts down to the Grassmarket with a section of the Flodden Wall for added value. From there another flight on the other side of the Grassmarket takes you up to the Castle Esplanade – all very convenient if a little energetic. It was all smiles and tartan welcomes into the castle until I stepped over a low chain for some art photos from the Half Moon Battery. As usual I was taken for a male European by a very surly guide who said tha’swhathechainsfer geroff which was barely intelligible even for a native Scots English speaker. I decided against my usual tactic of feigning Germanic origin in case he had more talents than were immediately obvious, but I was quite pleased with the pictures.

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When I arrived at the Royal Apartments there were few other visitors but I scuttled anyway around all the ‘must sees’. The Honours of Scotland were displayed in an oddly funereal fashion but I knew Jane had that childhood memory of their importance and I had always wanted to see the Stone of Destiny. Mary Stuart’s apartments though had retained a whiff of atmosphere and historical significance. Not least because of Schiller’s marvellous yet tragic play of her final days. We had greatly enjoyed the 2005 Donmar production at the Apollo in London. The shop had various romanticised versions of the Queen’s biography but not the Schiller. The view from the leaded window over Calton Hill to the sea was quite poignant – I mused on her distant gaze and thoughts of France.

I was pleased to hear an American tour guide explaining the origin and significance of the one o’clock gun – to enable ships to navigate into the Port of Leith. St Margaret’s Chapel seemed to loose some of it’s dignity with the number of tourists who seemed to need their picture taken in front of the alter – and I’m not religious in any way but I had hoped for a candle to light. Alas, they don’t go in for that Roman nonsense in the land of Knox.

My plan had been to go to the Camera Obscura, which I thought was also free, but it turned out it was a small child that was free and two cats are quite enough. So back down to the Grassmarket for a coffee before climbing back up the Vennel. Back at the car park I noticed a very odd plaque – I think it must be an art installation of sorts but then again maybe we’re the ones in the parallel universe …

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