Our last day in Edinburgh was an exciting day for Doris. She’d been waiting for this day all week. Her best friend, Stephanie, was travelling through Ireland, England, and Scotland with her mom just like us–except they swapped the order of Ireland and England, so we had yet to be in the same country or city at the same time. Finally, this was the day that our paths crossed. The plan was to join up with their walking tour for the day.
Their tour guide, Niall, took us on a leisurely stroll along a tiny and little known river, which led to a peaceful residential area. It was astonishing just how quiet everything was despite the fact that we were just a 15 minute walk from the heart of all the madness of the Fringe Festival. All the trees acted as a sound barrier, leaving the lucky people of this neighbourhood in serene silence.
We continued on our way towards Edinburgh Castle, the oldest structure in the city. It really is the heart of the city. It acts as a great geographical reference point, and it is one hell of a scenic backdrop. Along the way, Niall told us about witch burnings that used to go down back in the day He also introduced us to Wotjek, the Nazi-killing bear!
This adorable little Syrian brown bear was purchase in Iran by some Polish soldiers. According to Wikipedia, he apparently rose in the ranks from private to corporal in his time. He served with the Polish Second Corps’ 22nd Artillery Supply Company. Though our guide said he was a famed Nazi-killer, his Wiki page says Wotjek was used mainly for carrying crates of ammunition. I much prefer to imagine the former to the truth rather than the latter, so we’re going to stick with the Nazi-killing story. After he retired from the line of duty, Wotjek lived out the rest of his days at the Edinburgh Zoo.
The castle itself offered some great views of the city, as well as some interesting history about the prison on the grounds. It was used through several wars, including the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, and the Napoleonic Wars. Over the years, it was home to prisoners of several nationalities. The castle does a good job of recreating what it would have been like for prisoners to live there. Rows of hammocks are lined up in a large poorly lit room, and recordings of “officers” speaking play as you walk through. They even add fat toy rats to add to the “authenticity” of the experience.
My favourite part of our entire trip was this guy, though. At first, he just seemed interesting because he’s kinda scary looking. Then I read the sign beside him. It reads, “Private McBain at Malpaquet: It was at Malpaquet that a soldier’s wife who had been in winter quarters, decided to return home to Scotland. She handed her infant son to his father, Private McBain, who was on parade. Having nowhere else to put him, Private McBain fought the battle with the child in knapsack.” Then I actually noticed the freakin’ baby the guy was carrying! I don’t think there was such thing as Children’s Aid back then.
At 1 pm, we gathered at the big green cannon facing the city. By the time we got there, though, there was already a huge crowd, and we couldn’t hear a thing the officer was saying. We just watched him do his thing and march to the cannon to fire it off. It was loud and quite badass, but not having been able to hear the officer speak, we had no idea what exactly was going on. It turns out this tradition started back in 1861, when ships would set their maritime clocks to the sound of the cannon to help them navigate the waters.
Once the spectacle was done, we headed to the nearest Internet Cafe to Skype with ol’ mumsy, walked around for a while, had pizza for dinner, and called it a night. The girls sad their sad goodbye, and they tragically parted ways.