Edinburgh: Gladstone’s Land, Writers’ Museum, Georgian House, Calton Hill, Museum of Edinburgh
Today, my last day in Edinburgh on this trip, I took in a bunch of smaller attractions: Gladstone’s Land, Writers’ Museum, Georgian House, Calton Hill, Museum of Edinburgh. Well, Calton Hill isn’t exactly small, but the others generally were.
In addition, I walked between the attractions and saw some attractive scenes along the way. I also did a fair bit of aimless wandering that took me to handsome parts of Edinburgh. As has become my wont on this trip, I’ll post some pictures from those strolls at the bottom of this post.
However, before getting into today’s sights and sites, I’ll highlight one picture.
I live in a country that’s the upstairs neighbour of the United States. Because the U.S. is such a dominant force, Canadians would be hard pressed to avoid having U.S. political news wash over them. If not wash, then certainly a gentle rinse cycle. This is particularly true in the current absurd American political environment.
What’s more, I think I’m a bit more of a political junky than the average Canadian, so I may be a smidge more attuned to politics, even American politics, than average.
But here I am, on the other side of the Atlantic, spending great gobs of money (at least, great gobs from my perspective) trying to enjoy a nice little trip, and what was I assaulted with? Well, I’ll show you. Walking on the Royal Mile, I passed people holding the banner in the picture to the right.
The huge Edinburgh Fringe Festival starts tomorrow, but a few of the productions started performances before the official opening of the festival. Trump, The Musical is one of them. The people in the picture are promoting it. Argh. Did I need to see that? No, I didn’t. Not at all.
“Land” is what Edinburgh used to call tenements. Despite the North American connotation of tenement as a slum building, that wasn’t and isn’t the case in Edinburgh. Before the city expanded out and built the New Town district, when Edinburgh grew in population it had to build up, i.e. tenements.
Before they built New Town and the upper class moved there to get homes with multiple floors, and with multiple rooms per floor, all to themselves, richer people lived on the lower floors (but not the ground floor) of Old Town’s lands, which were the premium rooms. Poorer people lived higher up, where they had to lug their belongings up flights of stairs. If the poorer people’s floor had multiple rooms, an entire family might have only one of them.
Landlords often rented the ground floors to merchants because people didn’t want to live next to the smelly streets. (More on that later. See: Gardyloo!)
Thomas Gladstone, a merchant, built his land six storeys high. That wasn’t the tallest in Old Town Edinburgh. For example, Mary King, of Real Mary King’s Close fame, lived in a 10-storey land. And some were as tall as 14 storeys. (They were typically built on the sides of steep hills and had multiple entrances. So, people didn’t necessarily have to climb that many flights. They could walk up the alleyway to some floors.)
What sets Gladstone’s land apart from the other lands is that it is still there in its entirety. Most of the other original lands were demolished completely or had their tops lopped off, with a new building built over it.
Gladstone built his land in the late 16th century. Another wing was added in the 17th century. And a further one was added in the early 18th century.
My Visit to Gladstone’s Land
The visit to Gladstone’s land includes just two of the floors, the first and the second. (Note: I use European floor numbering here. The ground floor isn’t numbered. The first floor is what we North Americans would call the second floor.) A volunteer guide stood on each floor to give a bit of spiel to visitors as they came in and answer questions. There were also laminated sheets with information about the land and how people lived their lives in it. That’s how I got all the information above.
The second floor was basically an empty room. I was warned to expect some things that seemed out of context. In late July and early August, which is when I was there, through to the beginning of September the land is open to tourists only until 1:00 pm. In the afternoon, a theatre group stages a play there. It’s primarily for the Fringe Festival, but the performances start before the Fringe and continue somewhat beyond the end of it.
Consequently, there were some objects that belong to the play, not to Gladstone’s land. Also, the guide complained that she normally has some visual aids, such as a big map on a wall, but they were stripped out for the play.
The first floor contained a few rooms furnished as they were back in the day.
I forgot to mention this when I talked about Mary King’s close the other day, but I got the same information both there and at Gladstone’s land. So, here it is.
Back in the days of Mary King and Thomas Gladstone, there was no plumbing in Edinburgh. No running water. And no sewage.
People bathed their whole bodies once or twice a year. They washed key parts of themselves somewhat more frequently using small containers of water that they lugged up to their apartment.
That had a significant yuck factor for me, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The no sewage part was worse.
Each apartment had a chamber pot. The town council insisted that people empty their chamber pots only at two specific times during the day. Until then, the contents sat smelling up the apartment.
The town required that people on the upper floor carry their chamber pots downstairs and throw the contents into the close or onto what’s now the Royal Mile from the street level. Some people didn’t bother and emptied them out their windows instead.
Before casting out the contents of their chamber pots, whether from the street level or out the window, people yelled, “Gardyloo!” to warn passersby what was coming their way.
It’s believed that gardyloo was a bastardization of the French regardez l’eau, meaning “watch the water.” Apparently, they thought French sounded more sophisticated. And apparently they have a rather broad definition of “water.”
After hearing this, I decided that if I ever own a TARDIS I’ll stay close to it and use its toilet when visiting pre-plumbing eras. And I’ll wear a gas mask when I venture out of the TARDIS in those time periods.
The Writers’ Museum, situated almost immediately beside the exit from Gladstone’s land, is a small, quaint museum in a lovely old building called Lady Stair’s House.
The museum dedicates its collection to three of Scotland’s literary giants: Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott. (Yeah, yeah. I have no idea if they were literally giants as well as being literary figures. For all I know, they could have won limbo contests without bending back at all. But you know what I mean. Don’t be such a stickler. I hate that.)
In addition to placards with descriptive texts, exhibits included first editions of the authors’ works, handwritten letters, statues and pictures of them, newspaper clippings, and various gewgaws belonging to them, related to them somehow, or just of their time. There was also a small hand-operated press. And a room behind glass contained a larger press, a type-sorting table and cubicles, and some mannequins.
The Georgian House
Moving forward in time from Gladstone’s land, I visited The Georgian House. Built in the Georgian period (duh) this home is in Edinburgh’s “New Town.”
Being from Toronto, I find it hard to relate to this section of Edinburgh as New Town. The first owner of The Georgian House was John Lamont. His family lived there from 1796 to 1817. Huh. 1796 is new. It must be a European thing.
Don’t ask me why it’s called The Georgian House. All of the adjacent homes, and most in the neighbourhood, look Georgian to me. So, why not A Georgian House?
I suppose it’s because this one is open to the public and decorated as of the period. It’s owned and operated by the same heritage trust as Gladstone’s land.
A visit to The Georgian House begins on the second floor with a video that focuses mainly on John Lamont, his family, and the lives they lived. After that, I proceeded downstairs to look at the parlour and drawing room on the first floor. On the ground floor, I went into the master bedroom and dining room. The basement housed the kitchen, a wine cellar, a storeroom, and a servant’s quarters. (And the gift shop. There’s always a gift shop.)
The kitchen was quite large. Obviously, fire was the only cooking heat source back then. There was a large stovetop, an oven, and a roasting spit, each with its own firebox. The spit was automated. When the servants cooked something on it, the hot air rose and turned a fan. The fan then turned the spit. No one had to turn it manually.
I climbed up Calton Hill. After having climbed Arthur’s Seat a couple of days ago, Calton Hill was easy peasy. Very much so.
At the top were the now-unused City Observatory, a couple of monuments, an unfinished replica of the Parthenon (they ran out of money), and some fabulous views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. But none of that’s the best part.
The best part is that there was also a small outdoor bar at the top of Calton Hill. I bought a glass of Chardonnay, sat at table, and sipped my wine as I soaked up the views and enjoyed the sun that shone on what started as a grey day.
As I sat there imbibing and chilling, I thought to myself, “You know, I think this retirement thing I started last year is going to be ok. No. Much more than ok. As long as my health and money hold out, that is.”
Please ask everyone you know—and people you don’t know as well—to read this blog. Then, when millions of people start visiting it, I’ll slap some advertising on it, make a fortune, and be able to afford several trips a year in the style I’d like to become accustomed to. Hey, an old man can dream, can’t he?
P.S.: That bit of my fingers on the glass in the picture above and to the right is as close to a selfie as you’re ever going to get from me.
But, enough about me.
Museum of Edinburgh
The Museum of Edinburgh is a small, simple old museum that, through descriptive text, artifacts, town models, and street plans, tells the history of Edinburgh, with focuses on the histories of Old Town and New Town.
It comprises only about a half-dozen or so small rooms and is very accessible. That is, accessible as in easily understood and appreciated. Now that I referred to it as accessible, it occurs to me that I’m not sure it’s physically accessible. The museum is on the second floor (above the obligatory gift shop) of an oldish building. I don’t recall noticing a lift. (Lift is British for elevator. I’m trying to learn the language here.)
And another thing.
Photos I took while wandering around today appear below. I wanted to highlight the one to the right. So I will. I didn’t go into Bertie’s, but if you expand the picture to the point where the writing on the sign is visible, you’ll see that Bertie seems to be implying that I’ve been eating improper fish and chips all my life, or as much of my life as I’ve spent fish and chips.
Admittedly, that’s not a particularly high percentage of my life. Nevertheless, I’m now regretting not eating a meal in Bertie’s. I’m more than a little curious what proper fish and chips taste like. Probably chicken. Or, maybe it’s just a marketing ploy.
What a great last day in Edinburgh! I thoroughly enjoyed getting to hear about all the quirky old and older housing that’s been preserved by the land trust and turned into gift shops and historic recreations. Perhaps Robbie Burns owed his early demise to improper fish and chips. I’ve eaten fish and chips aplenty, part of Nova Scotia’s pyramid of basic foods. Now I am inclined to obsess about how Bertie’s differ. Maybe Bertie remembers to wrap them in newsprint. Or managed always to avoid the haar of “night-soil” as it was strewn willy nilly into the street by scofflaws from high tenement windows. There’s a picture for you. Private loos are a very welcome innovation, n’est-ce pas? Truly at least as desirable as private gardens (a few of which you passed). Good night, Edinburgh. Tata, Greatfriars Bobby, and Mary King, and RLS, and Arthur’s Tuchus, er, seat. Onward to meet the Glaswegians.