A Short Visit to Edinburgh – Part 2

The view from Greyfriers Kirkyard at night looked like a scene out of The Exorcist.

We were quite tired when we got back to our apartment on Wednesday following the Marvelous Medical Tour in the afternoon. Our ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar had perked us up a bit, but it felt good to put our feet up for a while before our last outing of the day, the two-hour Dark Side of Edinburgh tour.

We arrived back at the Grassmarket a little before 8:00 p.m. as our small group was forming and getting to know each other. Our guide, Rhona, chatted with us all for a few minutes and then said “Let’s get started,” immediately transforming herself into the character of “Madame McKinnon,” a bawdy former brothel owner who had been hanged for the murder of three customers back in the day. She stayed in character throughout the tour – it was quite amazing and entertaining, but she knew her history and kept us interested (and scared us a few times too) throughout the entire tour.

It was flat out creepy walking through the cemetery at night, and our guide had plenty of scary stories to go with the experience.
The George Heriot School for Boys, just outside the Kirkyard, had a bit of an unsavory past. The school building was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts.
Our group stopped for yet another creepy story from Edinburgh’s past in an old close (alleyway).

Rhona took us through the Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery) in the dark, something I never thought I’d do (and enjoy), and we walked through alleys and other areas in Old Town Edinburgh that are said to be haunted. She had all sorts of stories and interesting facts about graverobbers, devil worshipers, sadists, and other unsavory characters including some of the places where we had walked during our earlier tour and on our own (Grassmarket, for example, hosted not only a market but well-attended public hangings as well). It was a fun and fascinating tour, and Brett and I totally forgot how tired we had been before it started. The two hours were over before we knew it.

Greyfriars Kirkyard was almost benign during the day. Several of the names J.K. Rowling used in the Harry Potter book came from graves in the cemetery (like Tom Riddle and Professor McGonagall).

We had one last tour to go on our last day in Edinburgh, a history lover’s tour of the Old Town. While our first two days had been sunny and pleasant, on Thursday the temperature had dropped by nearly 15 degrees and it had turned quite windy – not very pleasant weather for being outside. But, we kept reminding ourselves, at least it wasn’t raining. We started out a bit worried that this tour would be overkill, repeating some of the information we had learned on the tours we took the day before.

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We needn’t have worried; our final tour turned out to be the most interesting of all and although we visited some of the same places (we made a third trip into to Greyfriars Kirkyard and took our fifth walk down Victoria Street) we heard all sorts of new information about the places we’d been earlier and also went to many hidden places we had not seen before. Besides having a great sense of humor, our guide, Gains, also has a Ph.D. in Scottish history and was able to go into depth and help us put things together and make more sense of the history we were seeing and hearing. At the end of our tour, he offered each of us a small cup of whiskey (which I still don’t care for) before saying goodbye. Slàinte!

The Caledonia Hotel, Grande Dame of Edinburgh lodgings.
We enjoy not only our wine but the cozy chairs and warmth at the Caly Bar.

After the tour Brett and I walked over to the Caledonia Hotel, open since 1833 and now operated by Waldorf Astoria. Our goal was to 1) get warm, and 2) enjoy a drink in the Caly Bar, where our favorite fictional detective, John Rebus, sometimes met for a drink with “Big Ger” Cafferty, Edinburgh’s top gangster. The bar was posh and warm, and we each enjoyed a big glass of wine and watched what was going on out the window – the experience was everything we had hoped for.

The North Sea was dark and gray as we passed by on our way back to London.
We passed street after street after street of row houses as the train sped through Newcastle – some were new but most were old.

And then it was Friday and time to head back to Blockley. We went to bed Thursday night convinced we would be walking over to the station in the pouring rain (unless we got lucky enough to flag down a taxi), but wonder of wonders, the rain stopped as we left the apartment. We took a final walk up The Bow and walked a bit down the high street once more before turning left down Fleshmarket Close to the station (one of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus books is Fleshmarket Alley so this was a special treat for us). Our train left Edinburgh right at 10:00 a.m. and pulled into Kings Cross on time at 2:39. After that things fell apart though. Trains from St. Pancras were not on any sort of schedule, not that it mattered because any train departing from there left the station after our train out of Reading Station was scheduled to depart! We eventually got ourselves to Reading, and on to Moreton-in-Marsh, and a kind young couple from London offered to share their cab with us and we got home to Blockley a little after 8:00 p.m., exhausted but filled with wonderful memories of our time in Edinburgh.

All three of the great walking tours we took were booked through Airbnb Experiences, and the total cost for all three was $92, a bargain considering all we saw and learned. The tours were a fantastic way to get acquainted with Edinburgh and its deep history. The Distillery tour was booked online with Edinburgh Gin and cost £10/$12.25 each. It was also money well spent. If we’d had at least one more day we would have checked out the New Town (which is actually more than 250 years old!) and gone over to Leith to tour the former royal yacht, Britannia.

Yes, I rubbed the dog’s nose – maybe that’s why it didn’t rain during our time in Edinburgh.

*** We waited for our first tour by the famous statue of Greyfriars Bobby. All three of our guides, all from Edinburgh, were not particularly fans of the dog’s legend, and all the said the “custom” of rubbing the dog’s nose for luck was less than five years old, invented by a creative tour guide one day!

14 thoughts on “A Short Visit to Edinburgh – Part 2

  1. I like the guide who allegedly invented the rubbing of the nose myth. Sounds good to me.

    I love traversing the paths of fictional and real people! You’ve been putting in a few steps!

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    1. I didn’t think much about it, but all three of our guides thought it was so much crock!

      We walked over 4 miles the first day, over six the second and nearly four again on our last day. Yesterday we walked 2 1/2 miles. I’d like to think it’s helping to counteract all the ginger nuts I’ve been eating.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There were several tours devoted to Harry Potter – we thought about it but went with these other ones instead and still ended up learning a lot of trivia about H.P. And J.K. Rowling.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating! That price for all 3 tours is incredible, thank you for the tip! Funny thing about rubbing that dog’s nose, I had no idea about it. I’m learning something new every day!

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    1. We have had very good experiences booking tours, etc. through Airbnb. We can almost always find a tour we like for an affordable price.

      BTW, I knew about the dog but not about the nose rubbing. We also heard from one guide that the owner of the Greyfriars Bobby pub that’s right there got the statue turned so that the pub is the background in photos!!

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      1. LOL! Smart marketing move on the pub owner’s part.

        Looking at the photos, it’s interesting to see where JK Rowling got her inspiration from. I went to Universal in Orlando last year and went to the Harry Potter world which is an amazing reproduction, but I’m sure it’s pretty cool to see where it all started. When I was in London last year, there were a lot of Harry Potter themed tours that we didn’t get a chance to take, but it seems like a lot of her inspiration came more from Scotland. Funny how she took character names from the cemetery!

        It looks like the perfect place to be for Halloween! Enjoy!

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      2. Airbnb offered several Harry Potter tours in Edinburgh but I think we saw quite a bit in our tours. The first time we walked down The Bow I told Brett it felt like Diagon Alley so it was fun to learn it was the actual inspiration. Why she chose Tom Riddle’s name for Voldemort is strange as the real Tom Riddle (and his son) were very good and well-liked.

        The cemetery at night was very creepy. There was part of it that was locked up – I stared through the gate for a while because I was sure a ghost would appear!

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      3. That’s interesting about Tom Riddle. I looked him up and it seems his real name was Tom Riddel. I agree it’s strange JK turned him into a villain when the real person was the opposite.

        Did they say why that one section of the cemetery was locked up?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. All three of the tours was very affordable and we more than got our money’s worth. We always look through Airbnb experiences before we go somewhere – we’ve always had good luck with them.

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