Captain’s Log Day 3: From Witches to Democracy


Update to Glasgow:

We should’ve said that Perch relied heavily on audience participation. The audience could move around the open park, and the performers were throughout, getting us into it, including dragging me (Lisa) into a line dance. Possibly in front of cameras, but not sure.

We also should’ve said that she was deemed “a dangerous one!” at the beginning of the show, so it was a nice full circle.

Things are now crazy in Glasgow after the opening ceremonies and Scotland has won a gold for Women’s Judo (which we watched on TV). One of the headlines on the papers today said, “GLASGOLD!”

Update to Edinburgh:

Mons Meg, which Adam is posing against at Edinburgh castle, is the canon rumored to have been built used against the Douglasses at Threave Castle. She’s a formidable weapon, but her provenance is similar to a similarly named canon in Ghent. The more “legit” story was that this canon was a gift from the Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, to James II of Scotland. This is well recorded. The record for James II’s siege of Threave note the “Great Bombard” to be moved from there to Linlithgow afterwards, but there are no details describing the weapon, or whether it was the same one. However, the siege happened only the year after James II got the canon, so he may have wanted to use his new toy on the “unbreakable” fortress. The other half of the legend is that a local blacksmith forged the canon, which was “disproved” in the 1850’s, but locals have since found forges that you could walk carts into, so that one remains open. Either way, the rumor that the canon led to the Douglas surrender is a misstep: while they were surrounded, they had fresh water, supplies, and the castle stood – they were bribed, given opportunities for new lands, titles, and holdings to start over, and so that part of the family surrendered the siege.

Now back to…

Day 3 Edinburgh


We went back to our little breakfast spot to fuel a climb up Calton Hill, one of the three summits within the city (the Castle is the second and Arthur’s seat, a lush wild park, is the third). Calton Hill has several monuments, including a half finished Athenian Parthenon (they ran out of money) that was intended to be a Napoleonic War monument. However, the little park of monuments and an observatory gained Edinburgh the nickname “Athens of the North.”

Or so they say.

Really, Athens was also known as a center of philosophical thinking, the intellectual capital of Ancient Greece. At the time the statement was made, Scotland was already well committed to it’s education compared to the rest of Europe, going into the industrial revolution with a literacy rate of 73-77%, though the 15th century Reformation goal of having schooling for every child (a school for every parish!) took some time further to accomplish. The Enlightenment boomed in Scotland, fortunately in part because of the brainpower that could be called on to participate and the sheer infrastructure to support it (libraries, universities, free lectures, lodges, salons), and sadly, the Scottish diaspora, which spread those ideas. Names like economist Adam Smith, philosopher sFrancis Hutcheson and John Stuart Mill, scientists and naturalists like James Hutton, James Burnett Lord Monboddo, mathematician John Playfair, and many others in literature and the arts left a great impact. Even the next generation into the Victorian era, James Clerk Maxwell (hero of color photography), Lord Kelvin, James Wall, etc. impact other scientists and philosophers. Much of Rousseau and American thought is based on Scottish ideals.

(Two of those, from one generation to the other: Maxwell and Hutton.)

IMG_3055 IMG_3053

So, Athens of the North, indeed. There’s a wonderful wee book called, How Scots Invented the Modern World we read on a train once. I recommend it. Fascinating bit.


We took a shortcut up Jacob’s Ladder to Calton Hill.


A memorial to John Playfair, in Latin, including the dates in the Roman style, which was thrilling for a bit.


A view of the city, and our hostel neighborhood:


Back to Old Town went we, skipping down to what was once the end of the city, hence the name of this lovely pub:

The World’s End!


Hoping off the edge of the world, we went down to Holyrood and Parliament, which are essentially across the street from each other, blocked in view by a shop-gallery-cafe-loo number. But we discovered a surprise by this sign:


Their Royal Highnesses, aka, Charles and Camilla, must, while in Scotland, use their Scottish titles. The Duke of Rothesay is the title for the heir apparent of the Scottish throne, just like Prince of Wales for England.

But this did lead to people taking outside the gates taking paparazzi style photo shots.


Well, some of them. Most sat in the cafe or went to Parliament which was far more interesting than a closed Holyrood. (Too bad, they had a Stewart and Tudor costume in painting exhibit.) Except for one lady, who was “working the event tonight.” We watched her clearance process. Here she is getting met by someone outside the House:




Parliament is a super green and democratically designed building. It is very intriguing architecture, and with a brief stop in security, you can roll right in and pop into the debate chamber to see where things get done. Things getting done included a massive exhibit in the lobby, the Great Scottish Tapesty (which led Adam to quote Harrison Ford, “We have come to see your tapestries!”) hanging in the lobby and spilling into a meeting room, the length of 17 school buses, or over 350 ft, depicting the entirety of Scottish history from the creation of Scotland’s geology to hope for the future. In stitches.




We hit a walk past the Writer’s Museum to read selections of quotes from Scottish writers in the ground. Each year they put in a new quote. This year’s chiseling was for one of our favorites, John Muir:


I also liked this one:



And Adam was looking very dapper for our dinner out. No one here wears hats. I can’t tell if that’s because it’s a) summer, b) tourists, or c) Edinburgh. Now going out to a few places in the heat, Scots will wear sun bonnets and caps and such, but seriously, a lack of hats in Edinburgh. Glasgow too, but then the Games caps came out.


In any case, our tour guide, who was undead, said we raised the class level of his tour. He dug it. The dead are notoriously picky individuals. Look at vampires.

A lot of the tour concerned witches, however. Edinburgh acknowledges the horror inflicted by the masses of witch trials, but there is a fine line to walk as the City also has to acknowledge the very real fear people felt. There is a fountain commemorating the witches who lost their lives, and the plaque leaves open both the innocence and guilt of individuals and whether or not those who were killed or accused were either actual witches or wise people, or capable of the feats suggested as witchcraft by their contemporaries. It is a very conscious and carefully worded piece of statecraft, but in an honest attempt (I think) hoping to acknowledge the dual nature of humankind to both care for and mistreat each other.




Which does lead us to a few interesting things learned on our tour:

1. The narrow alleys, or closes, in Edinburgh, were much closer back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance when many collapsed or they cleaned them up. Some were barely 6ft wide, some more narrow, the width of a cane from records.

2. Buildings were taller, a thing we forget, just like in Ancient Rome. Many were over ten stories. Some stretched to fourteen, and they leaned on each other for support. Some CLOSED IN the closes. Get it?!

3. You know how back then the, um, “night water” got tossed out the window? In the city they had it timed. A man would call up or knock and move forward as he did so. Consider the number of stories involved, the number of potential residents packed into a tight slum. There are records that if you watched, it would be a waterfall of filth.

4. The filth explains a lot of things in life. Edinbugh’s nickname, Auld Reekie, a possible explanation for the origin of England (cheeky tour guide), disease and plague conditions, and why witches float: They had to sweep the filth out of the narrow closes where it would pile up, like a garbage pit, and push it to the river. This, with other debris, formed, at times, a permeable cake on the river. Children would play a game and run out onto the river to see how far they could get- there are records, so we know that walking on water is not that miraculous in Edinburgh.

There was the belief that witches had differences in their bodies physically, like moles, or weight, or other oddities, so dunking was seen to confirm or deny the body’s mass, or bone density (but without using those words). Witches could fly, and might have bones like birds, or float, or other nonsense that compared them with other things from the natural or unnatural world. So when the concept of witch dunking got to the fine zealous Scottish witch hunters, and they saw an accused witch land on the water and subsequently fail to sink, well holy crap! She’s a witch! And SO MANY FLOATED. They were also aided by the fact that only a single accusation was needed to bring a witch to trial. Scotland’s success at finding witches created a reputation for the witch hunters, and confirmed for other European common folk (popular belief) that the witch “threat” was real.

See, I told you I would say why witches floated. Filth!

We also learned about a gory traitor’s death (a three day affair) in which the last part, the head being left on a pillar in the center of town as a reminder, was the only kind part. Brutal stuff. The tour was aided by a “jumper ooter,” a costumed confederate to play the ghouls who had to run ahead of us, very athletic, and hide or prep things, including fog and other effects (hard on a sunny night). He should run for Team Scotland. He was also in good humor. He jumped out on the wrong side of the street on one part, and, bummed but rolling with it, tried to scare the folks walking on his side. No reactions. His sorrow was tremendous and his acting perfect. He did get a man in a kilt to show him a little leg for his efforts.

Another unsavory character, now a pub:


We also, if you are still with us friends and comrades in arms, found the GW store in Edinburgh. Here is their Hobbit window display with dwarves battle action:

IMG_0990 IMG_0989

So this day is a day of growth and extremes, it seems a long way to go from burning women in the streets for looking funny, or putting them to the screws, or barrel, or being worryit, for slights, misunderstandings, or nothings at all to becoming the Athens of the North, but Edinburgh did. It’s like the Renaissance starting in Florence, devastated in the Middle Ages; the Enlightenment was a reaction to superstition in many places, but you might look at it in terms of enlightened revolution from the Reformation in Scotland.

Leave you with some extras:

A coat of arms with golf clubs:

IMG_0947 The story behind the close where the Writer’s Museum was:IMG_0977 IMG_0918 View of Arthur’s Seat:IMG_0906


~ by glasslajora on July 25, 2014.

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