Wednesday, 3 October 2007

In Life And In Death

How did Mags get here? Is this what happens when you make jokes about sitting on the Queen’s throne? Well, since it appears that Mags is still laughing, it cannae be all that serious now, can it?

Let’s take a step back to the start of the day, specifically the start of Doors Open Day, an annual event in which many of Edinburgh’s finest, oldest and most interesting buildings throw open their doors and allow the general populace in free of charge. Since many of the participating buildings are either not usually open to the public or usually charge a hefty fee, this is an incredible opportunity to get to know the city much better.

Alien Wally and Mags started the day on Calton Hill, with a tour around the old observatory, where the ancient original telescope had been especially dusted for the occasion (though the guide bravely, but with embarrassment, pointed out that he had missed a few spots). The next stop was intended to be the Nelson Monument, but since this proved popular with everyone else as well, causing a long queue to form, Alien Wally and Mags decided to give it a skip. The monument is usually open to the public for a fee, and Alien Wally and Mags decided that they’d just get over their thrifty Scottish heritage and pay the money at another date. However, they would like to ask readers of this blog to support them in this and, in the tradition of that great Flying Circus poet, to “lend [them] a poond till Thursday…”

As skipping part of their proposed tour left them with a wee while to spare, Alien Wally and Mags decided to wander around Calton Old Cemetery, also part of the Doors Open Day. Now, while Mags likes a good ghost story as much as the next, and especially loves those spine-chilling ones set in macabre cemeteries, the reality just doesn’t match the hype. Well, either that, or Mags is just weird. See, Mags finds cemeteries peaceful – either the residents are long gone, or if they remain, tend to be gentle souls. Either way, cemeteries are interesting historical places to visit. Alien Wally and Mags were excited to see a memorial to Rabbie Burns in this one, until they spotted the spelling mistake and did a bit of research – turns out that Robert Burn was the architect of the Nelson Monument and is not to be confused with the other famous Robert!

While on the subject of cemeteries, Alien Wally and Mags visited another one later that afternoon – Greyfriars. First, homage was paid to Bobby, though Alien Wally and Mags hadn’t thought to bring any dog food with them, unlike a previous kind visitor.

Then Alien Wally and Mags joined in with the tour going around the graveyard. Lucky us, they thought, we’ve just made it onto the next tour – what timing! It was only at the end that they realised that they’d made assumptions and actually joined in with a walking tour of Edinburgh that happened to go around Greyfriars as part of its route. So, they slunk away quietly, with Mags trying to achieve a level of nonchalance always aspired to but not yet achieved by someone who waves at policemen when she feels guilty about something….

So, while Greyfriars Churchyard is peaceful, there is a locked section in the back corner that is alleged to have bad vibes about it. It is known as the Covenanters’ Prison, where those people who had signed the covenant denouncing allegiance to the English King were held until they recanted or were hanged. This area, along with a mausoleum nearby, is the site of the MacKenzie Poltergeist, a very active entity who leaves scratches and bruises on people who come at night to do officially sanctioned tours of the area, and in many cases causes people to collapse. All Mags could feel in the area was peace, but then again, she doesn’t seem all that keen to let Alien Wally test her by taking her on one of the night tours ;)

Inbetween the two graveyards, Alien Wally and Mags visited The Caves, the vaults under South Bridge which have been (and are still being) restored. As with other underground areas in Edinburgh, these vaults were put to good use by past residents of the city, and once housed things such as a whisky store and stables. Today, The Caves are home to a bar and concert venue.

The last stop on the tour for the day was the Sheriff’s Court, actively used by Edinburgh’s current baddies as well as those more concerned with law and order. After being shown the very smart courtrooms upstairs, the group of visitors was led down to the cell area. With each step, things got less sumptuous and more functional. And bleak. Down there, you’re not a human being, you’re not a person in custody, you’re simply “a custody”. Mags may have been smiling in the picture above, but she knows that she never wants to see the inside of a cell ever again….

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