Seriously. Today was a beautiful day, just like Seattle. This means that it dawned clear and sunny, then clouded over, but never rained. And it was warm enough for short sleeves most of the time. I’m here during festival time, but I’m not here for the festival although I’m almost sure I remember thinking that I’d like to come here some time just for that. But the festival, which consists of both acts in various venues and what seems like a giant street fair, is not what I want this time. I don’t care much for crowds, and I’m too tired to enjoy live theatre or music or comedy acts. But none of that matters, because I had lovely walks all over town today, I saw what I wanted to see, and did what I wanted to do.
It started off well when I asked at the hotel which bus to take to the castle (have fun storming the castle!) and the owl-eyed, round-headed man at the desk asked if I liked to walk and suggested going through Holyrood Park to get downtown, mentioning that I looked like a walker. This meant that I started at Holyrood Palace and walked up the Royal Mile, instead of starting at Edinburgh Castle and walking down, but I thought a walk in the park sounded like a great idea. And it was.
The park is rather wild, but there are paths and green lawns and terrific views even if you don’t climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano. I felt refreshed just being able to walk without being jostled. Plenty of other people were also walking, but the park had plenty of room to spread out. I walked downhill to the palace following the road, considered climbing to the summit of Arthur’s Seat, thought better of it, and walked up the Royal Mile instead. I had a goal in mind: a yarn shop I’d read about online that specialized in local Scottish yarns.
The Royal Mile is of course packed with tourist trap shops, advertising kilts and cashmere and Nessie hats. Many claim to be the Real thing…so many of them that it made me skeptical. And some have dreadful puns as their names; I’m thinking of Thistle Do It, which seemed to have a bit of everything. There is so much plaid everywhere that it might be its own category of color. In the tourist shops most of it is in such garish colors I can’t imagine that it is at all traditional. I like to look, though, and the wall of the new (2004) Scottish Parliament building has tiles scattered about with various inscriptions, including this one by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
What would the world be, once bereft of wet and wildness?
Let them be left, O let them be left;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
I have been reading Exiles, by Ron Hansen, a novel about Gerard Manley Hopkins, the writing of his poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, and the actual event that inspired his poem, so encountering that quote by him seemed a lovely bit of providence.
Soon I ran into the Fringe festival, which is that giant street fair. You know the sort: street performers, acrobats, costumed actors representing William Wallace (Braveheart), someone else dressed like Conan the Barbarian, a kid playing a guitar and singing in a monotone, a boy playing “I’ll be seeing you” on a tenor saxophone. Many people passing out flyers for various shows. And people massed everywhere, watching.
After a certain amount of confusion–streets are not laid out in a grid in the Old Town–I found the yarn shop, an oasis of calm. I found yarn, too, although, again, I exercised restraint, buying only enough for Stephen West’s “Metalouse” shawl: one skein of Opal (which admittedly I can get anywhere) and two skeins of a local fingering weight super wash wool.
After the yarn shop, I found the Elephant House, which was nearby, and went in to have a cup of coffee and read more of Ron Hansen’s Exiles. Then I decided I wanted to find the Roman Catholic cathedral. One thing I’ve noticed about Edinburgh: lots of churches, but very few of them Roman Catholic. On the way to St. Mary’s, the Roman Catholic cathedral, I stopped in at St. Giles, the cathedral for the Church of Scotland. St. Giles is old enough that it probably started as a Catholic Church, but of course at some point it became Church of Scotland. It’s a fine church, as churches go, but it lacks something: a sense of presence.
I did find that presence at St. Mary’s. In Italy, all the churches are Catholic, and it’s hard to pray in them because of all the tourists. Here, though, St. Mary’s was peaceful and very quiet. It is not actually all that beautiful inside: they had a rather ugly replica of the Pieta (in plaster), and everything else was quite plain. But the Stations of the Cross were carved in wood bas-relief, and perhaps the fact that they marched in a tight row along the southern wall is not so important. The Lady chapel was simple, but I liked the statue of Mary with the Christ child. I prayed a rosary for my parents while someone practiced on the organ.
After that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I decided to walk back to the Royal Mile while I thought about it. By the time I reached it, I decided to walk back to my hotel via the park. Once more I thought of climbing to the summit of Arthur’s Seat, and even started up the trail, but I made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up hiking back to the place where I’d entered the park in the morning. It was a lovely walk.
I found my way back to the hotel, rested for a bit, and the went out to the same pub as last night for dinner. It seems that pubs are a great place to get a meal. And so I’m back at the hotel, and it’s time to pack. I’ve got a 9:29 train to Forres (site of the writer’s retreat, the main purpose of this trip).
Would I return to Edinburgh? Definitely. But probably not during the festival.