Saturday, March 23rd 2019
After a restful night we arose to confront our second day in Scotland. We have decided to spend it in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. We have visited the city before (see Glasgow 2012 – Day 8) but such single visits can never exhaust what a town like this has to offer. The map below shows the location of Edinburgh and our path there from Glasgow. Click for a live Google Map.
As we are not having breakfast at the hotel, we went to the nearby branch of Caffè Nero for coffee and croissants. Then we crossed the road to Glasgow Central Station where we bought train tickets to Edinburgh. Not seeing Edinburgh on the departures board, we enquired and were advised to go to Queen Street Station where trains to Edinburgh were more frequent. We walked to Queen Street and took an express train to Edinburgh Waverly.
Edinburgh is an ancient town whose origins are no longer known. The modern name seems to derive from an earlier name, Eidyn, which may have been the name of the settlement itself or of a wider area. This was later combined with the Anglo-Saxon word burh, meaning ‘fortification’ or ‘fortified town’. The Gaelic name of the town, Dun Eideann, comes from Eidyn joined with dinon, British Celtic for ‘fortress’. The meaning of Eidyn, which appears in combined forms in other placenames, is not known..
We did have a few places in mind to visit (more about those below) but, apart from that, we had no agenda and wandered more or less at random. This produced the photos shown below.
From Edinburgh Waverly Station we trekked up the sloping Cockburn Street. It is lined with fine old houses but there are also lots of shops.
Leading off it are a number of alleys or passages called ‘closes’. One of the most spectacular is this one, called Warristin Close, which consists of a broad staircase. It is named after Archibald Johnston, Lord Warrington. who lived there for a while.
This is a narrower, perhaps more intimate ‘close’. It is called Jackson’s Close, after one John Jackson whose family occupied a house here from about 1570 to about 1893 when they eventually sold it.
The somewhat unpleasantly named Fleshmarket Close originally served the purpose you would guess from the name, being the site of the meat market. This close runs on both sides of Cockburn Street and the photo shows the southern section that leads from Cockburn Street into the High Street.
Shortly after the point shown above, Cockburn Street bends to the right and joins the High Street, delivering us roughly in the middle of a more or less straight succession of roads called the Royal Mile. This is the main tourist area as is rendered obvious by the crowds and the gaggles of people being shepherded about by tour guides.
The High Street is broad and contains or links to some of Edinburgh’s most historic landmarks.
You would of course expect to find a memorial of some kind to Adam Smith (1723-90), given that he was born in Fife and spent most of his life in Scotland where he wrote and published his most famous opus, The Wealth of Nations. The statue is a bronze by Alexander Stoddart and was unveiled in 2008.
Attracted by the handsome façade of the Edinburgh City Chambers, we enterred the courtyard to take a look. Built in 1753-61 as the Royal Exchange, the Chambers are now the home of the Edinburgh District Council.
If you look carefully into the right far corner of the courtyard, you might be able to make out an interesting object.
The statue, by Polish artist Bronislaw Krzysztof, represents the Polish war hero, General Stanislaw Maczek (1892-1994). You will find more about his history here and an account of the background to the creation of the memorial here.
In case you are wondering, yes, I was persuaded, reluctantly, to have my photo taken sitting next to the general and, no, I am not going to show you the photo!
St Giles is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh and belongs to the Church of Scotland. Founded in the 12th century, the building underwent episodes of rebuilding and other vicissitudes until its last major restoration in Victorian Gothic style in 1872-84 by William Hay. An outline history of the Cathedral will be found here.
We now came to the first of the three places that we had intended to visit. This was the pleasantly styled Victoria Street. It was built in 1829 to 1834 to plans by Thomas Hamilton in ‘Old Flemish’ style. It was intended to enhance the Old Town and its gentle curve and colourful shopfronts make it one of Edinburgh’s most visited locations. We followed the raised walkway and then rejoined the street below via a staircase at one end.
Our second must-see destination was the Scottish National Gallery. Of course, it is doing that institution far less than justice to pay a quick visit as we did today. One could dedicate a whole day to it alone. Equally, it is impossible to collect a ‘representative sample’ of the works held there and the three shown below were grabbed more or less at random.
This romantically conceived and overly flamboyant scene was executed by the American painter Benjamin West (1738-1820) at the behest of Lord Seaforth, head of the Clan Mackenzie. It refers to an incident when the Irish exile, Colin Fitzgerald, during a hunting expedition with the Scottish King, allegedly saved the latter from injury by an enraged stag. Rewarded with lands by the King, Fitzgerald became the founder of Clan Mackenzie. Whatever the merits of the painting as a painting, this is a piece of shameless ego massage, according ‘heroic’ stature to the founder of the clan, and thus to his descendants. Of all the ways of flattering the ego, surely those that involve the suffering and pointless killing of animals are the most contemptible.
This painting, ascribed only to the ‘Scottish School’ (i.e. the artist is presumably unknown), gives us an intriguing glimpse of the gallery in which it is hung as that gallery appeared in the mid-19th century. For good measure, it includes some art students dutifully making copies of the masterpieces.
Immediately recognizable as a work by Paul Gauguin this painting is entitled Three Tahitians. Nowdays, Gauguin’s works sell for high prices but ironically enough, when he died in 1903 he was virtually destitute. Of this painting the Scottish National Gallery writes ‘Three three-quarter length figures stand out against a vivid, colourful background. Two women flank a young man, seen from behind. They may be offering him a choice, possibly between vice, symbolised by the apple, and virtue, symbolised by the flowers. This suggestion ties in with the allegorical character of many of Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings in which ideas from different cultures are fused together. Gauguin used the same two young women as models in other paintings made around the same time, during his second period in Tahiti from 1895-1901.’
As we left, I photographed the exterior of the gallery though it is not seen at lits best at present, the view cluttered with barriers and other accoutrements of building works.
Known simply as Jenners, this department store has been a retail and social landmark in Edinburgh since it was first opened by its founder, Charles Jenner, in 1838. It was acquired by House of Fraser in 2005 and this year it was announced that it is to close as the company ‘restructures’. I suppose it is possible that someone might take it on as a going concern but that seems very unlikely in the present economic climate. Perhaps it will find a new destiny as an office or apartment block or a shopping centre, conserving the famous exterior if not the interior.
We went for a look inside and I took a photo where the light well allows a view down several levels. While I have to admit that I rarely if ever buy from stores like this, I still find it sad that Jenners must close.
We now went in search of our third chosen location. This took us away from the crowded tourist areas into some quieter streets. One of these was Thistle Street. We were looking for number 25c.
And here it is – Henderson’s Vegan Restaurant! Time was when if you found a vegetarian – never mind vegan – restaurant, you would be pretty much on your own there. This is no longer the case. The vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are catching on and restaurants are proliferating. Henderson’s was virtually full when we arrived. ‘Do you have a reservation?’ they asked. We didn’t but they kindly managed to fit us in. Several customers who came in after us were not so lucky.
So what special dish do you eat when you go to Scotland? Why, haggis, of course! If you are not vegetarian or have become so only recently, you may not be aware that there are vegetarian and vegan versions of this primordial Scottish dish. In that case, you may like to try it if it is on the menu of your favourite eating place. It was on the menu at Henderson’s and so we took it.
After lunch, we went for another walk but time was getting on and we were beginning to feel that we had seen the best of the day.
We found ourselves approaching a park or garden called St Andrew’s Square. In the centre of it stands a column, lofty enough to be visible from many streets away. A tall, straight column with a human figure on top can only remind the observer of Nelson’s column although this one is roughly a third shorter (42.6m as opposed to 52m). The interesting thing about such a prominent monument is that the man that it celebrates was by no means univerally liked or approved of.
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811) was a politican, sometime MP for Midlothian and Minister for War. He opposed the abolition of the slave trade and was accused of misuse of public funds, though never found guilty. How could such a man come to have such a prominent monument? It seems that he was popular among the armed forces, many of whose members contributed to the subscription for the monument, and he enjoyed the good will of those to whom he had shown favour. A fuller description of his life and activities will be found on The Melville Monument.
There was still much more to see in Edinburgh but we felt that we had done enough for one day and Edinburgh will no doubt still be there if we decide to pay it another visit in the future. For now, we turned our steps towards Edinburgh Waverly Station and took a train back to Glasgow.