Edinburgh: Arthur’s Seat, Scottish Parliament, St. Giles Cathedral, Real Mary King’s Close, Scotch Whiskey Experience.

Today was a busy day for me in Edinburgh. I climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat, took a look inside the Scottish Parliament, popped into St. Giles’ Cathedral, went on a tour of Real Mary King’s Close, and took in the Scotch Whisky Experience. But first a couple of boring notes.

Note 1: I started writing this shortly after the Scotch Whisky Experience. It involved tastings. The typo ratio may be a wee bit higher in this post than normal. Sorry about that.

Note 2: Edinburgh is like no city I’ve been in before. I mean that mostly in a good way.

The city is still crowded with tourists, particularly the Royal Mile, a cobblestone street with wide paving stone sidewalks. The city closed off most of it to traffic. I’ve never been to Edinburgh before, so I’m not sure, but I think that’s just for the huge, internationally famous Fringe Festival. The festival doesn’t start for a few days, but the street already sports arches and information posts bearing the Fringe wordmark.

I mentioned the crowds yesterday and the day before, but I forgot to mention that buskers worked every block of the Royal Mile those days and today. They included singers, wandering and stationary minstrels, pipers, magicians, human mannequins in various costumes, and people doing unspeakable things. No, no. Not those sorts of unthinkable things. I just don’t know what they were doing, so I can’t speak of it.

Arthur’s Seat

Not Arthur's Seat
Not Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat is figuratively one of the top attractions in Edinburgh. Literally, it’s the top.

See that large, tall rock outcrop in the picture to the right? That’s in Holyrood Park, very close to Holyrood Palace. When I was at Holyrood Palace yesterday, knowing that I wanted to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a long-extinct volcano, I checked that the path running beside that outcrop led to Arthur’s Seat. A sign said it did.

Arthur's Seat
Arthur’s Seat

Until today, I was convinced that outcrop was Arthur’s Seat. I knew the backside of that rock (the backside of it is out of frame on the left side of the picture) had a gentle slope. I thought, “climbing that’ll be no problem. No problem, whatsoever.”

But, dear reader, that’s only part of Arthur’s Seat. From where I was standing, that rock eclipsed a taller, much more pointing hill. The summit of the eclipsed pointy hill, pictured to the left, is where you need to climb to if you want to say you climbed Arthur’s Seat.

I realize it can be difficult to get a feel from the picture for how high up the peak of Arthur’s Seat is. To get a sense of the scale, look at the people in the picture. I’ll wait. …

(The author completes a difficult sudoku puzzle while waiting for the reader to spot the people.)

The Real Peak of Arthur’s Seat

What do you mean you can’t see the people? Here. I’ll help you. On the right, I’ve circled them in red for you. Yeah, gulp.

Rick Steves’ Great Britain tour book suggested one of the ways to go up to the peak of Arthur’s Seat is to run up à la Chariots of Fire. I considered that, but I decided death wasn’t something I wanted to experience today. So I hiked up at normal walking speed.

The climb was long and high, but for the most part it didn’t feel very dangerous. The path faeries placed flat-topped stones at points where there wouldn’t otherwise be good footholds. And, in some spots, they created even more stair-like features out of stones.

I read somewhere that, climbing up the side I went up, it should take about 45 minutes to reach the summit of Arthur’s Seat. I didn’t check the time I started and ended (yes, I did reach the summit). However, don’t think it took me much longer than 45 minutes, if even that.

And that’s with stopping a few times to take photos. Although, the stopping for photos was really a cover for needing to pause occasionally to sate my need to rapidly take large gulps of air and to wait for my pulse to slow.

The views on the way up and at the top were beautiful. I went down the other side, so I got a different set of beautiful views then.

On the way down, there was a path that led up the gentle backside of that outcrop I used to think was all there was to Arthur’s Seat. I climbed that a bit, although I didn’t go all the way to its summit before turning back and heading to the street below.

By the way, at the summit, no one introduced themselves as Arthur. And there was nothing resembling a seat you might place in your home. There was a concrete cylinder. Some people stood on it. Others, such as me, sat on the edge of it. The reason for me sitting rather than standing wasn’t so I could call it a seat. The reason was I have acrophobia. Standing on a column with a not overly large radius on top of a high hill was more than I could do.

Speaking of acrophobia, I did not take the panoramic shot below from peak of Arthur’s Seat. I took it from a fair sized plateau a little way down on the route I took back. The motion required to take a panoramic shot from the summit would have stopped my heart.

Here are some photos:

Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament

That interesting-looking building to the right is the Scottish Parliament. Alright, it’s not that interesting in the picture. That’s the fault of the photographer, namely, me.

But trust me. It’s interesting looking.

Parliament wasn’t in session when I was there, but the public was allowed in. So I ventured inside.

On the ground floor, the parliament had a exhibit explaining the history of the Scottish Parliament, how it functions today, and what currently falls within its jurisdiction relative to the UK government.

There was also a temporary exhibit on press photography.

After looking at those exhibits, I climbed the stairs to the public gallery of the debating chamber. The debating chamber is an attractive, modern space with lots of soft-coloured wood. It’s pictured below. 

One of the advantages of the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament compared to, say, the public gallery of the Canadian House of Commons is that it has windows behind it. It you get bored of the debates, you can turn around and take in the beautiful views, also pictured below.

St. Giles Cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral is Edinburgh’s major old church. To my eye, it’s pretty, but far from spectacular. Although, there are some beautiful stained glass windows.

The exterior is a bit intriguing, but the ongoing setting up for the upcoming Fringe Festival obscured some of the base when I was there.

What I found most out of the ordinary—and, yes, I know this is probably just me—was the name. St. Giles?

I know next to nothing about saints, but Giles doesn’t sound to me like a saintly name. Saint Peter, Saint Francis, St. John, or St. Agnes, sure, but St. Giles? If there can be a Saint Giles, why not a Saint Joel? Really.

True, they’d probably want me to become Christian or, at very least, believe in one god or another. And that’s not going to happen. Ever.

Then there’s the whole not sainting you until you die thing. To paraphrase Woody Allen, I don’t want to become immortal through being sainted. I want to become immortal through not dying.

Alright. Don[t bother with making me a saint. Enjoy your sainthood, Giles. By the way, how’s that sainthood thing working out for you? Oh, right. You’re dead. Never mind.

Real Mary King’s Close

Mary King lived in the 17th century. When she became widowed she inherited her husband’s home and business.

Back in 17th century Edinburgh, the lanes that people built their homes on were called closes. They were generally named after the most prominent person on the close. Closes rarely carried the names of women. But, because of her inheritance, Mary was an exception.

Mary King’s close ran down a steep hill perpendicular to the Royal Mile. The homes on it were what passed for skyscrapers in pre-elevator days, 10 floors. Although, some houses on other closes were even taller, some as high as 14 floors.

Most families had only one floor in a building. Exterior ladders led to the upper floors.

In the middle of the 18th century, Edinburgh’s town council decided it wanted to build the Royal Exchange on top of Mary King’s close and some of the adjoining closes. They expropriated the buildings, lopped off the upper floors and built on top of it.

But, because Mary King’s close and the parallel closes slope down steeply, some of the lower level floors still exist under what has since become the City Chambers.

That’s what I visited. It’s marketed as Real Mary King’s Close.


I’m not entirely sure why they call it Real Mary King’s Close. Maybe it’s to let people know that Mary King was a real person. Or maybe there’s a counterfeit Mary King’s Close somewhere and they want want to distinguish themselves. I don’t know.

The guide introduced herself as a real person from the 17th century, but not Mary King. (I’ve forgotten the name she used, but the last name was attached to one of the adjoining closes.) I didn’t buy her story for a second. She was a bonny young lass who didn’t look a day over 200. (At the end of the tour she told us her real name and admitted she was, in fact, from Ireland, not Scotland.)

The guide led us through what remains of Mary King’s close and a couple of the adjoining closes under the City Chambers. In her scripted commentary, she described the nature of the homes and the living conditions there in the 17th century (including the plagues). She also told some known anecdotes from those times, including the fact that Mary Queen of Scots slept there one night when she was in hiding.

Sorry, I have no pictures for you. Photography was forbidden. The guide said it was because we were below the City Chambers and the city is quite strict about no photos in its chambers.

Um, really? I didn’t see anything that looked like it would lead us to the building above. I think the no photography rule was more because, as the guide said, “Don’t worry. If you want a souvenir photo I’ll take one before we leave and you can buy it in the shop on the way out. But there’s absolutely no obligation.”

The Scotch Whiskey Experience

The Scotch Whiskey Experience was interesting. By interesting, I mean a little bit hokey, a little bit informative, and a little bit tipsy-inducing.

I used to drink scotch occasionally but I mostly stopped probably a couple of decades ago for no particular reason that I can remember. Maybe I can’t remember because I drank too much scotch, but I don’t think so. I was never a heavy drinker of it.

But I’m in Scotland. How could I not drink some scotch whiskey?

I had been warned about the hokey part. Rick Steves’ Great Britain tour book informed me that the experience starts with a gimmicky ride. I sat in a fake whiskey barrel that had the top and front cut away. The ride took me past video vignettes and various displays describing the long, complex process of whiskey making.

After the ride, they let a number of barrels’ worth of people into a theatre. It had a 180-degree curved screen that showed a video of the various whiskey-making regions of Scotland. (The scenery was gorgeous. Then again, they wouldn’t show the ugly bits, would they?) The video had an instrumental soundtrack, but the commentary was provided live by one of the staff. He described the whiskeys of the different regions.

Next, we moved into a room with a squared-off horseshoe-shaped table around a display. The display and a video on a screen in front described the whiskey blending process.

All of the tours entitled everyone of age to a tasting of one scotch whiskey. In the room with the table, everyone indicated whether they wanted to taste a blended scotch or one from one of the regions. But we were told to not sample our scotch in that room.

Instead, we carried our glass to the next room, which allegedly held the largest whiskey collection in the world. I believe it. The four pictures below don’t show the whole collection.

My tasting glasses, with first and some of the second already finished. Relax. The middle one is water.

After the tasting, we moved into the bar next door. There, people who bought a gold tour ticket rather than a silver tour ticket got a tasting of an additional four scotch whiskeys, one from each of the regions, with tasting notes to go with each. The silver tour ticket holders had to satisfy themselves with just the one tasting. Or they were given the option of upgrading their ticket or buying individual shots.

I purchased the gold tour right from the start. So, as I mentioned above, please forgive me if this post has more than the usual number of typos.

The Scotch Whiskey Experience’s whiskey collection:


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