Sunday, March 19, 2017

I Didn't Die

Except for the first few hours of my trip here it was rainy in Edinburgh. Not the drenching skin-soaking rain of a summer downpour but the damp drizzle I grew up with: enough that you need an umbrella but not enough that you need to wring your clothes out if you forget it.

Enough to make the walk up Arthur's Seat muddy, scary and treacherous especially with crepe-soled shoes.

I mean they sort of warned me.

After climbing Scott Monument on my first morning here I spent a couple of hours at the National Galleries at which the Impressionist room was a lovely surprise.

Before my trip I spent some time researching places to eat because I know how it is if you don't: you just end up at some disappointingly mediocre tourist trap because you're hungry right now and don't have the wherewithal to make a better decision.

By and large I ate rather well.

After a very Scottish Eggs Benedict (black pudding instead of Canadian bacon) I visited Edinburgh Castle.

This might have been the first Close in the city which is full of Wynds (staircases connecting streets at different levels on the hillside but sometimes just a short length of road - often a dogleg connecting two parallel road. But not always. I'm not sure what exactly makes a wynd)

and Closes (usually covered walking passages between streets).

We have this idea - or at least I do - that a castle is just a building like a very large house but so often it's more like a walled compound especially when its at the top of a hill as this one is.

There are buildings and passageways

and a prison which turned out to be the most interesting part for me not least because of the fire alarm that caused us to be chased out.

After the castle I stopped at Tartan Weaving Mill which is at the start of the Royal Mile where I had fascinating conversations with the three kilt makers (after an apprenticeship it takes about ten years to work up to two kilts a day and they're seeing fewer and fewer apprentices) and a weaver who had fascinating information about the looms used by the mill, some of which may be well over a hundred years old.

He explained how the tartan patterns are programmed, how the rapier looms work without shuttles and have a stitcher which keeps the cloth under tension by stitching it to a selvage as it's being woven and then cutting it off as the warp advances. He showed me the machines that wind the warps, let me feel the selvage from looms that do not use continuous weft threads so that each end is woven back into the selvage creating a double weight edge. He seemed happy to answer any questions I had and talk about the history of the mill, different types of tartans, the rugs (more like blankets) that they weave at a looser sett using more softly spun yarn that they can brush to create a fuzzy surface - it was all so very intrtesting. The most modern looms they have date back to the nineteen seventies or earlier.

On the way to Holyrood Castle I stopped at St Giles Cathedral with its pretty vaulted ceilings.

Sadly I was too late and the castle was already closed so I started walking back in the twilight drizzle.

And then I found myself in the Calton New Cemetary where I saw headstones for people born in the seventeen hundreds.

The next morning I found the coolest coffee shop specializing in cold brew (but that's not what I had) and made my way to Holyrood Castle.

This is a working castle used by the royal family. There's an annual garden party and a massive hall where important people get to hobnob.

So the thing that struck me about the castle wasn't so much it's history or its massive walls in the oldest section or the wood paneling or priceless antiques; it was how worn and shabby all the textiles were. The red silk damask curtains in the bed chamber were badly streaked and faded. The needle-pointed chairs in the sitting room were threadbare - there were great holes on the sides of the seat cushions. The carpets were worn and faded.

I'd say nothing if this were a museum but as we were repeatedly told it's a working castle. The royal family sometimes stays there. Sits in those holey chairs, walks on those worn carpets. These people with wealth through the ages are surrounded by shabbiness among the grandeur here. It's weird to me.

What I really loved was the ruined Holyrood Abbey.

It's ruins. They speak to me.

And then since it's right there, I had to climb Arthur's Seat even though it was still damp from the morning rains.

I was warned after all but I didn't take my grippy-when-dry but lu Ed-when-wet crepe-soled shoes.

The lower path was paved but roughish so the walking was fine. As the incline got steeper so the path got muddier and slicker.

I was very careful.

The final (or so I thought) ascent was via a rough stone staircase, rough and uneven enough that I was reasonably confident that careful and measured placement of my feet would avoid death by mountain and I was doing pretty well until the steps were displaced by a very steep very muddy path perhaps twenty feet from the summit.

At that point life won over ascent and I turned around only to find the descent almost more unnerving.

But I didn't fall off the mountain and die which I celebrated later that evening by gorging on seafood.