The next morning, feeling a bit better, we were off. Heading to Scotland and his heritage Ped was dressed quite nicely in his kilt. Our first stop was Hadrian’s wall. It was built under the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Rule in 122 A.D. to keep the Pics in Scotland out of England. It is 73 miles long and winds around the countryside. It has over the ages been a place to gather/loot stones from for other building projects, but is now protected. Even though it was built almost 2000 years ago, it is still very impressive. Once again I find myself being awed by the Romans and I haven’t even been to Rome yet. After the wall came our morning “wee wander” his time to a lovely waterfall. I love the exposure to nature on this tour.
We arrived at Edinburgh, Scotland in the middle of the afternoon and Ped took us all on a tour in the bus. Quite an impressive city. Lots of old buildings and it’s built on a large hill which at the top is, of course, the castle. The Royal Mile in the old quarter is the main road and has been since the city was established. Around this road, the city was built. After getting our fellow travelers checked into their hostel for the night, we decided to go on an early ghost tour before meeting up with the guy that we had decided to couch surf with (see below).
Anyway after wandering around the royal mile, we decided on Auld Reekie Ghost and Torture Tour (Auld Reekie was Edinburgh’s nickname when it had hideous sanitation in the 15-17th centuries – more on that below). We met at their starting destination and were a bit startled to see only 2 other people and the guide. But no worries, four was the minimum needed for a tour and we were off. Our guide was of course dressed in black to play the role and talked of how the city began and basically over the centuries became overpopulated, as did alot of other cities in medieval Europe. One of the major problems seemed to be that the city was landlocked by a large defensive wall that was built to keep out the English. It did not allow the city to grow outward, so people tried to rectify this by having the buildings grow upwards. Apparently Edinburgh was one of the first cities with medieval versions of skyscrapers where the tenement houses would span over 10 stories high. The first few levels were stone and then after that they were wooden. The buildings were all very close together and only a small footpath called a “close” separated the buildings. Even to be rich in these situations would be dirty by today’s standards but in those times, life was much worse. To be poor meant sharing these apartments with many others (20-30), and remember, there was no indoor plumbing. This was the dark ages, for some reason we had forgotten all that ancient Rome had to teach us about sanitation. All waste, be it kitchen scraps, urine, poo, vomit, etc. was collected in a bucket and then twice a day hurled out the window by one of the kids after screaming “gar de l’eau” to land in the center of the street where gravity then allowed it to “flow” into the Nor Loch (one of the lakes at the bottom of the hill – today it is a park with flowers! hmm I wonder why). The Nor Loch also just to let you know was where the drinking water came from. Can anyone say cholera and typhoid? Anyway add that to the fact that as time went on the buildings started to become dilapidated and start to collapse into one another and left many homeless and you have a hideous social structure. Edinburgh to try to solve the homeless problem in the 17th century then decided to make homelessness illegal and then the poor were forced to live underground in vaults beneath the city buildings, under the streets, with even worse sanitation and no lighting. Crime and disease was rampant. A curfew was strictly enforced at 10 P.M. and the police then herded all the homeless back underground. Per our guide (and remember I don’t know how much she is exaggerating for effect) the average lifespan after entering the vaults was 18 months for children and the elderly and 3.5 years for average “healthy” adults. She also spoke of some of the fears that circulated at the time and how Edinburgh was one of the leading cities in the hunting, torturing and slaughtering of “witches”. To be accused of witchcraft by a mob was basically a death sentence. They would torture a “confession” out of you and no matter what you said, you were basically thrown into the Nor Loch with your thumbs nailed to your kneecaps (or so she said) and if you sank you were innocent and if you floated you were a witch and were then retrieved and burnt at the stake. How lovely! So after all that wonderful talk we then spent 30 minutes (30 minutes too long if you ask me) wandering around the dark vaults beneath the city where supposedly lurks the South Bridge Poltergeist. Of the three chambers we entered they just kept getting spookier and spookier and our guide just kept talking louder and louder. I saw no ghosts but was very happy to be back above ground enjoying a cider at a pub when the tour ended.
After that excitement, went to a Mexican restaurant, yes a Mexican restaurant in Scotland shocked me too and I would have sworn I was in the U.S. had it not been for everyone around me eating with both their fork and knife at the SAME time. Anyway, after dinner went to find the flat of Steve L. He was a Kiwi now living in Edinburgh who had agreed through couchsurfing to host us for a couple nights. He was great fun to talk to and had this soft and wonderful bed that I sank into and slept for what felt like forever.