Friday, June 18, 2010

Exploring Scotland 1 Castle at a Time Part 6 Mary King's Close and Edinburgh Castle

On the way to Edinburgh Castle we decided to stop off at one of the more interesting tours to dig deeper into Edinburgh's history. We went slowly down High Street reading the signs over the narrow alley's.  We stopped at a small passageway named Mary King's Close just down from Gile's Cathedral. 

Closes were narrow alleys that drew their names from the merchants  who conducted business there or the families who resided within them. In Advocate's Clsoe you could hire a lawyer. In Bakehouse Close you could purchase fresh baked bread.  At night after the merchant had extinquished the lantern or candle that lite their establishment they would draw closed an iron or wooden gate to lock out the predators that trolled the city at night.  

Mary King's Close is a small shop that sells souveniers, but it's also the passage way to an archaeological dig beneath the Royal Mile.  In fact there is a city beneath the city.  

The closes were narrow six to eight foot wide passages between the buildings.  If you lived on the bottom story or cellar you lived in constant twilight. Six or seven story buildings looming over your home or business on either side prevented the morning light from reaching the street below.  The narrow area would team with life with customers and family coming and going. By the mid 1600's the closes were a hub of business activity.  

The steep slope of the streets between the closes insured the raw sewage tosssed from chamber pots out the window each morning would be washed down hill to the Nor Lock that runs parallel to Princes Street---if it rained hard enough.  If it didn't rain that day, you had to contend with the stench.  

The  dig beneath the street dates the buildings from the early 1500 to 1850.  It was then that the tops of the buildings were demolished and vaulted ceilings constructed to hold the weight of the new buildings built atop them. The new structures sealed the older buildings and the streets around them off forever.  They became a time capsule locked away forgotten, or if not forgotten, ignored until 2001 when an archaeological survey was done of the area.

Our tour was conducted by a young lady dressed in period clothes of an early 1800's maid.  As she led us through the site she told us stories of the people who lived in each house. There was no need for embellishment because the lives of these real people were compelling enough. There were a few ghost stories thrown in for good measure. One about a little girl who may have been abandoned in one of the closes to protect her family from contracting the plague with which she had come down. Her name was Anne and visitors sometimes leave toys for her in the room she supposedly lived and died in.

Mary King was born at the end of the 1600's and married in 1616.  She had four children.  After her husband's death, she moved her family to Alexander King's Close, no relation. The name of the close gradually changed to her own when her business took off. She, and probably her children, worked as seamstresses, making sheets, pillows, napkins, and perhaps monograming them for their customers.  She died in 1644 and would have been the ripe old age of 60 or a little older at her death. 

Three months after her death plague hit Edinburgh, spread from Leith, a port where ships from Europe often docked.  The flea infested rats that brought it to Edinburgh doors nearly decimated Leith.  Nearly two-thirds of the population there died of the disease. And between a fifth and one half of Edinburgh's population died from it. 

That was just a wee bit of the history we learned while looking into the abandoned homes and shops along the closes sealed for all eternity beneath the Royal Mile.

After an hour we surfaced and continued up the steep slope to Edinburgh Castle.  


Edinburgh Castle truly is a fortress.  Perched atop a huge steep mountain of volcanic rock in the heart of the city of Edinbugh, it looms over the landscape.  Had I been in the midst of battle during the 12th or 13th century, within its walls would have been exactly where I'd have wanted to be. 

This is the Argyle Battery.  The cannon's you see date from the early 19th century and were made during the Napoleonic Wars with France.

These are the Cartshed's. Built in 1746, following the battle of Culloden, they housed carts that were used to bring up supplies to the soldiers that crammed nearly every spare inch of the castle. 

This is the entrance to the Scottish National War Memorial. 

Guarding the entrance to the Memorial are a unicorn and a lion on either side of the door.

This is the royal palace.  I was disappointed that only 4 rooms were open for us to view. The room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth and two rooms that had been remodeled for a visit of James VI.  But we did take pictures of the models depicting Jame's birth.    
 I can't imagine giving birth during such a time, being hold up inside a castle that would seem more like a prison, estranged from my husband, and waiting for the might of the English crown to come down upon my head.  The pressure on Mary must have been enormous. Of Edinburgh Castle she was supposed to have said,"It is damn drafty and cold."  Having visited and walked along the courtyards, with the wind whipping across it, I can certainly concur.  

This is the great Hall. 

The views you can see of Edinburgh from such a height are spectacular and must certainly have offered them a strategic advantage during battle.

Until tomorrow.
Teresa R.


Jody said...

Any creepy feelings at Mary King's Close? It is one of the most visited places for the paranormal. Did you by chance go to Greyfrairs Kirk which is located, if I remember correctly behind the Greyfrairs Bobby pub and the Covenanters prison. When we were there McKenzies' ghost hadn't been released but on my neices trip for school a year back, they wouldn't let the students go there because of the number of attacks on people by this ghost. I think the prison area is still not allowed open to the public.

Teresa Reasor said...

I just experienced a horrible sadness for the little girl abandoned inside the close while she waited to die.
I really wish we could have spend more time in Edinburgh.
Maybe next trip.

Teresa R.

Toni Anderson said...

So funny--we were just there!! Didn't know about the close. But having the kids with us meant we probably wouldn't have lingered anyway. Too sad.

Toni Anderson said...

Meant to say, lovely photos, Teresa!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Fantastic info today - I really wanted to visit Mary King's Close, but have it on the list for next visit. I don't know if you went to Stirling Castle, but I can see a few similarities such as that gorgeous ceiling. Amazing how they could create such beauty without all those power tools our guys use now.

Once again, thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to it each day.

Mary Ricksen said...

I am so enjoying your blog. I never heard of any of these places and love that you have taught me something new!Great stuff.

Keena Kincaid said...

Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities of all time. Did you get a chance to visit the memorial to Lincoln in the cemetery? Or Arthur's mount/hill (I can't remember it's exactly name)?

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks so much for reading my blog. I'm enjoying writing it.
Edinburgh Castle was our high point in Edinburgh. We didn't get to go to Holyrood Palace that day and we left the next day for the Aberdeen area. So tomorrow I'm going to talk about the places we stayed and how great the people we stayed with were.
And also 2 more Castles we visited
along the way.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Teresa, did you stay in B&Bs while you were in Scotland? We found the people in Scotland so friendly and kind to us. Always up for a conversation and information about the area.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Teresa,
We visited Mary King's Close too. Incredible. How did they survie, you have to wonder. We loved Edinburgh, did you see and hear the piper in full Highland regalia standing on the street corner? I didn't visit Greyfriarts Kirk, but saw the statue of the little doggie.



Teresa Reasor said...

Yes, we stayed in B and B's the entire time. The people were wonderful to us!!! My two favorite places were the self catering places we stayed at. I'll tell you all about one of them in a blog tomorrow.
I'd highly recommend every place we stayed.

Joanne Rock said...

Wonderful pictures, Teresa, and thank you for the excellent trip narration! Can't tell you how much I've been enjoying this :-).