Saturday, 20 May 2017

Edinburgh Castle: easy but very scenic Balcony Trail around the city.

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Edinburgh must be one of the most photo friendly cities on the planet and you could easily take a 1000 holiday snaps here no problem without repeating the views. I was actually through here by bus to do another walk but in the late afternoon I still had time to squeeze in this superb balcony trail around the castle, directly under the steep walls.
West Princes Street Gardens are lovely at any time of year but spring has the most colour, closely followed by autumn so we will start here although, as you will see from the photos, you can start anywhere along this circular walk. A large scale map of central Edinburgh Streets can come in handy but not strictly necessary as it's basically a walk around the castle and you can't really go wrong even if you miss a street.
This is a new sculpture in West Princes Street Gardens celebrating Wojtek, the Polish War Bear, and very nice it is. I already knew most of the history of this remarkable partnership between bear and human during the Second World War so was chuffed to see this completed.
For those who don't know the story of how a brown bear ended up as a corporal in the Polish Army fighting against Italian and German troops then moved to Edinburgh in retirement here's the short version. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wojtek_(bear)

Still in West Princes Street Gardens here and after a short climb we are now on the flat balcony trail under the castle. Apart from a few spires sticking up in the distance you would never know you were still in the middle of a densely crowded city. Edinburgh can seem slightly claustrophobic at times if its very busy- with high orate buildings, packed narrow streets full of tourists, and closed in views. Some of the world's first skyscrapers started here before America got going and took the crown for building high so this green oasis is a real gem for finding a quiet spot away from the nearby hectic streets,- beggars, buskers, and bankers.
Someone doing just that. A quiet spot to read a book or contemplate life in the gardens near the Scott Monument.
A close up view. Jenners Department Store and Scott Monument- two fine examples of Scottish Baronial/ Gothic architecture in a city crammed with elaborate gems. The Scott Monument is also a delight to climb with narrowing spiral staircases and a restricted worm hole of a top level where two
snakes would have trouble squeezing past each other, let alone a six footer with a rucksack  descending and twenty Japanese students determinedly coming up. No queues usually- very cheap admission entry and great fun.
Mermaid Detail on the nearby Ross Fountain. One of the finest examples anywhere of 19th century cast iron work and made in France before being gifted to the city by local worthy Mr Ross.
A full view of the fountain. Due to internal complications the water is switched off at present to protect it.
Calton Hill. As it's only a short distance away this monument studded mound can also be included with the castle walk. Allow one hour for castle circular at fast walking pace but two to three hours if not in any hurry and you want to explore the history and interesting buildings on the way.
One of which can be seen here at the west end of Princes Street. The Parish Church of St Cuthbert. (central dome with two round towers). As this was on the route around the castle I popped in just before closing time for a look. The Princes Street entrance to this building is handily placed beside public toilets.
The interior dome. A version of St Cuthbert's church has existed near this spot since the 12th century although back then it was a rural parish, just outside the city boundary, with buildings clustered on the slope below the castle denoting the young city. Now the present building sits well within the beating heart of the city itself- which is still expanding to swallow more of the outlying areas.
Although I only had a short time to visit this fine church and surrounding graveyard before it shut its doors for the night it has many interesting features and you could spend a good half hour/ an hour here wandering around exploring. A well known slingshot champion depicted in this lovely stained glass window inside the church.
The Last Supper I presume. A detail.
Once out of the church and continuing through the other entrance you come to King's Stable Road and walk along that into another rising path under the castle walls, this time on the south side. This is another pleasant strip of wooded parkland so not the risk of boulders falling that it looks here but you can see how impregnable the castle was of old. The English Army were always a serious threat as they outnumbered the Scots ten to one and still do population wise to this day. West Princes Street Gardens, so scenic and green now was once a grim bare loch, deliberately created and deepened from a swamp as an extra moat barrier to discourage attack and on this circular walk you can still see traces of the old city walls that ringed and protected the town.
I had a seat on a bench and a packet of crisps here overlooking the Grassmarket and Cowgate districts. Two areas that up until the 1980s were distinctly down at heel and fairly working class with a strong Irish influx after the famine years (James Connolly, Irish Republican, and one of the central figures of the Easter Rising grew up in the nearby Cowgate when it was nicknamed 'Little Ireland' along with many other catholic districts in UK cities so waves of immigration and people living in tribal communities within cities are nothing new. Neither is social unrest among the indigenous population, uneasy about new groups arriving in numbers and overwhelming services. During this trip I counted around 40 different languages on buses and streets, ranging from African, French, Italian, Polish, Russian, German, Bulgarian, Swedish, Spanish... and loads I didn't know except that they were new to me. Edinburgh is a very cosmopolitan city.
Unfortunately most of the local accents I heard came from people sitting hunched up on the pavements begging for money- some very young- so obviously it's a year round thing here and in Glasgow, not just for Christmas/ New Year,where one homeless person dies every week.
In the media recently though it was mentioned it was people's generosity that encouraged them into the city districts in the first place as many can earn good money every day with which to buy drink or drugs. You don't notice them as much in Edinburgh on a nice sunny day because of all the tourists milling everywhere but in less busy Glasgow City Centre they are very visible and must be off-putting to the tourist industry as they do number in the hundreds in both city centres. Like everything else in 2017 it's a complicated picture as presumably folk have different reasons for ending up homeless and on the street and everybody usually has a strong opinion on the matter and what's causing it. Why does nearly every district, village and town in the UK have a food bank now though?- something unheard of  15 years ago. Just a trend or a need?- as the numbers using them seemed to have doubled or tripled year on year since 2008. Even affluent Milngavie, a well heeled suburb near Glasgow, has a food bank now, something that surprised me on a recent bike ride there although I suppose losing your job or being stuck on low wages with a large mortgage to pay and a family to support is a burden no matter where you live. Fashion trend or necessity? Why should they even exist I wonder, if, as the government says, we are almost at full employment in the UK with more people than ever in work and the 5th richest economy in the world- which ironically jumped from 7th up two places higher during a so called recession. Something doesn't add up somewhere. Like seven years of brutal austerity measures and service cuts yet the national debt is twice what it was before... so we are probably in for another seven years of that hardship on the bottom rungs, even though it's very obvious that plan isn't working to benefit the majority- just the top five percent-  as usual.
It's too complicated a problem for me to figure out with my tiny brain so I'll stick to birds. A goldfinch. One of the UK's most colourful and eye catching feathered friends with its red, white and black face and its bright flash of yellow wings in flight. (not seen here, hidden by leaves)
A flight of steep steps leads down into the Grassmarket or you can keep level and go down the Royal Mile instead.
The Grassmarket is now a gentrified area and as its both historic and interesting with outside seating... loads of pubs serving food and drink, continental style... and an open aspect with views it's very popular. It was more rough and ready when Robert Burns and William and Dorothy Wordsworth visited here on their travels and stayed at a local inn. Livestock and goods were kept and traded here in this open area which also doubled as a place to hang witches, passing strangers and people you had a grudge against.  Which brings us to this striking tale of incest, dark deeds, and slaughter which occurred just around the corner in West Bow. Edinburgh is thick with vivid history. Worth a read. An early inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde perhaps?
http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/entertainment/lost-edinburgh-the-wizard-of-west-bow-1-3300512
The street in question and how it looks today. You can walk along an upper lane three floors up in the middle of this picture, see roughly where the wizard (or possibly simply gone insane or dementia victims?) lived, and come out onto the Royal Mile near the castle entrance via an even slimmer narrow lane. This high sided street gives you some idea of how an entire labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys could grow up 12 to 14 floors high then the bottom floors of houses simply sealed over and new buildings placed on top.
 This happened here and several closes like this one disappeared underground and were completely forgotten until recently which makes Mary King's Close a unique and atmospheric visitor attraction under the heart of the Royal Mile.
Looking down West Bow from the third floor balcony. Fisher's Close, seen above, leads you into the Royal Mile, seen below.
Royal Mile and tourist buses. This is where Fisher's Close lane comes out and you can miss out the steep flight of steps down into the Grassmarket by viewing West Bow from here, coming out onto the third floor balcony above it.
St Giles Cathedral. (Also worth a look inside.) Walk down Bank Street from here and you complete the circle returning to West Princes Street Gardens. A great little tour of central Edinburgh and all for free.
This isn't. Balmoral Hotel. A five star stone cube that really draws the eye but £1000 pounds a night to stay in the J.K. Rowling suite where she went to get peace to finish her Harry Potter opus. Can't see me checking in here anytime soon but I have visited Mary King's Close and really enjoyed it as I like anything dark and creepy living underground.( Hello new girlfriend. I'll feed you soon. I found her in a graveyard in Edinburgh, just hanging around the crypts. She's warm and dry now though. I always try to bring back a little house warming present on trips away as it feels good to help others. That's my motto anyway. With so many lost souls to pick from that nobody seems to want one less will never be missed. I'm sure I'll find a use for her. Far better to be a stray dog in a city as they get immortalized and turned into heroes and statues. This way nobody can say I'm not doing my bit for the country. No need to thank me- it's a pleasure to help :o)










 






8 comments:

Anabel Marsh said...

Have walked past St Cuthbert's many times but never thought to go,in. Looks worth doing! Agree Mary King's Close is very god, have taken a few sets of visitors there.

Linda said...

I absolutely love this post and your photos are beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this lovely tour!

Linda W. said...

You covered a lot of ground for an afternoon's walk. Thanks for another great tour!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel, it's worth a visit that church- very nice inside. M.K.C was one place I was happy to pay to see and good value. A unique underground network that you would never suspect was under the Royal Mile.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda W,
Yes, the real destination was a coastal walk elsewhere but it was only 4:00 pm back in central Edinburgh and a beautiful afternoon when I returned so I thought of that easy castle walk as an add on and it turned out to be the highlight of the day. A five star route for any visitor who can handle a few flights of stairs and inclines although it's mostly flat and easy.

surfnslide said...

Great walk, and a whole host of interesting stuff in a small area. Particularly like the hidden streets and balconies around the Grassmarket

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
the Royal Mile is full of narrow, often steep lanes dropping down at right angles and you can easily clock up 3000 feet in a day if you add in Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat. It's a great city for a family weekend break with bags to do- either for free or for big bucks in admission fees to certain things, like the castle.
Scott Monument and Arthur's Seat plus Calton Hill make a terrific adventurous day for only a couple of quid outlay (for SM entry fee)
Notorious for traffic wardens though, hectic driving in the old city district and 20 mph new speed limits. Good news is you don't need a car to get around the city as its compact with frequent buses and trams running everywhere.
(The trams take a bit of watching until you get used to them- on several main busy streets you really need to be aware of where the tram lines go and what's approaching behind you.