Tuesday we got an early start and drove down A82 into Fort William. A little more about the driving. Picture Quarry Rd (winding two lane road with a cliff on one side). That’s what the A82 is like. The speed limit is 60 mph! I can barely maintain that kind of speed and there are people flying up behind me! It was scary and fun at the same time. We drove through Glencoe which was spectacular. The most beautiful scenery I’ve seen thus far. Check out the cottage in the bottom right of the picture.
The mountains were still snow capped and fields were just beginning to green up. We slowly made our way through the countryside and arrived in Doune to see Doune castle. We didn’t have time to go in so we just took a look around.
Doune Castle is also known as Castle Anthrax in Monty Python’s search for the Holy Grail. It was hilarious to see. I recited about half of the dialogue “I burst my pimples at you, you sons of a silly person… Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!” Definitely one of the highlights… for me anyway.
We got back in the car and found our way back into Edinburgh (no small feat). They are absolutely tearing this place up preparing to install streetcars. They hope to be done in about a year. If you are planning to visit and drive around Edinburgh, delay your plans until then. We checked in at our Bed and Breakfast (No. 53 Fredrick Street). It was a Victorian four story flat that was over 200 years old. Very cute. We then walked into town for a quick tour with Amy Whitfield.
She took us to her favourite chippy (Fish and Chips) and we walked down to the harbour in Leith. We then took the bus back to town and on Amy’s recommend- ation went on a tour of Mary King’s Close. This was quite spectacular and it is hard to describe. In the 17th century the main street of town was High Street (built on the top of Castle Hill) and coming off it were skinny alleys running down the hill, each called a ‘Close’. Some of them remain to this day. Buildings were built on either side of these closes that got as tall as 12 stories! In the 17th century these were nasty places where up to 10 people lived in one room with a bucket in the corner for a toilet. Twice a day people would take the bucket and throw it out in the close (all 12 stories) where it would slowly run into the lake below. Yuck! The families down here were ravaged by the plague and in the summer of 1645 as many as 200 people were being carried out of here dead and there bodies were burned every day!
After the plague many locals thought the place was haunted and wouldn’t move in there. In 1752 the government built a building across four of these mostly abandoned ‘Closes’. They razed the top 8 floors off the top and built the building on top of the bottom two floors. These streets and homes were mostly forgotten until in 1993 when a group of business men explored these homes and somebody said, “I bet tourists would pay $15 to have a costumed tour guide walk them through these homes and tell scary stories about the dressed up mannequins” and they were right!
A couple of the homes have been left intact including a saw shop that was still being used for trade, underneath the government building, until 1930. It was very cool. This is where some of the widowed Jacobite supporters from the battle of Culloden would have come to stay with relatives, looking for food and escaping the famine in the highlands.
Highlight of the Amy tour was a walk down High St. “Mind the spit,” she said as we walked over a brick heart embedded in the sidewalk. She went on to tell us that there are two Soccer teams in Edinburgh, the Hearts and the Hilts. If you follow one of these teams you hate the other team. Hilt fans will lean back and hock a huge loogie on the heart in the pavement, hence the disgusting pile of spit all over the pavement. Before she can even finish the story a young woman, properly dressed no less, clears her throat and deposits a huge loogie right there on the spot. Priceless.