Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Royal Mile: visiting Parliament House, Gladstone's Land and Saint Giles

*** update 10 August 2012

On 8th August 2012, I recreated this walk starting at the Tron Kirk  on the corner of High Street and the Bridges.  Much of the High Street is pedestrianised and there is a lot of street theatre on the way up to the St Giles Cathedral and the Mercat Cross.  I was posing by the Mercat Cross. 

Prof Whitestick indicating the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh
and pointing, he thinks, at the 'puggy' or unicorn which is
the Royal Beast of Scotland

We then turned left into the Scottish Courts precints and nodding to a statue of Charles II we entered the security to get access for Parliament House, with its superb hammer-beam ceiling.  This is the Court of Session and though closed, we were able to wander past the open (unlocked) files which are kept for advocates within the courts.  The lower floor has a cafe appropriately known as The Writz Cafe and the staff are extremely helpful in orientering one's way around. 

Prof Whitestick outside the Court of Session and Parliament House
precints in Edinburgh.  The sign indicates a cafe named appropriately as
the Writz Cafe

This is quite a high security building, but the security staff are quite approachable.  There were no tourists and it is a shame that Scotland's old parliament house isn't visited more often.  Corridors lead off to the Faculty of Advocates.  The adjoining Signet Library is currently being used as a champagne bar and we entered the square with the Heart of Midlothian, which is quite busy. 

Prof Whitestick outside the Signet Library in Edinburgh
which was being used as a champagne bar

The junction with George IV Bridge can be crossed and there was a crowd of people taking photographs outside Gladstone's Land of people in costume.  Further up is The Hub, where much of the Edinburgh International Festival administration, marketing and press is based.  There is a cafe and I'm going to a conversation with Barry McGovern at this location. 

*** end of update

This was my second solo walk in Edinburgh since losing my sight and without any prior reconnaissance with a sighted person.  I took the bus and got off near the High Street at Hunter’s Square, by the Tron Kirk.  Take care if you’re walking in this area as you could fall having climbed a few steps.  If you are a reader of Irvin Welsh and Iain Rankin, you might know the area is still frequented by winos and jakeys!

I walked up the High Street, which was a lot quieter as the festival had finished and there were fewer tourists around, though some loud music emerges from some tacky souvenir shops.  I got to the Merkat Cross, turned left into the law courts area, besides Saint Giles Cathedral and entered Parliament House. 

The courts were being refurbished, but entry to Parliament Hall is possible with the immediate surroundings.  During sitting days the hammer beam hall is usually busy with advocates and solicitors walking up and down.  On the day I went, there was a pair of lawyers doing the walk.  In the surrounding corridors are boxes where the advocates would leave their briefs and of course it was a matter of honour that these boxes were not locked nor were they to be opened.  Besides the security gate there is an enquiry desk and there is a very attractive booklet on sale (my father bought this for me in the 1990s).  The book is still available for £4 and it has many interesting photographs.  The booklet was written by Lord Cullen with a forward by Lord Hope, who was then Lord President (he is now in the Supreme Court in London).     

Parliament House is not usually on the regular tourist trail but it does give an insight into the Scottish legal system, though the High Court of Justiciary has been effectively moved across the road in the old Sheriff Court.  The security staff are very thorough and polite and I was momentarily separated from my cane, mobile phone before going through the gate.  ( )

The roof is spectacular as is the stained glass window, depicting the foundation of the Court of Session by King James V in 1532.  The fireplaces in the Parliament Hall can be made out, though these are later additions to the whole complex. 

I then went across to Saint Giles Cathedral, which I entered from the west door.  It had been a long time since I had been here.  The Church of Scotland has no bishops, so the cathedral is known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh.  It has been cleaned up over the years and as I walked down the nave, I could remember sitting in one of the pews in 1969/70 during the installation of Lord Reith as a Knight of the Thistle.  The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen Mother all paraded in their thistle robes.  I can’t recall having been in Saint Giles, apart from an organ recital, since.  My trip coincided with a 12 o’clock short service of a psalm, and readings Micah and a bit of Saint Mark. I spoke to the assistant minister who had taken the service, and she informed me that the minister, Gillespie Macmillan, had been inducted there in 1973, which is a long time these days in the Church of Scotland!  I was helped to buy postcards at the bookshop and was helped in finding the large statue of John Knox as I made my way back out into the High Street.

I managed to find the Heart of Midlothian, which has a large heart set in the cobblestones just outside Saint Giles.  If you like the novels of Sir Walter Scott, try the Heart of Midlothian.  It’s certainly funnier than the football club of the same name.  I then crossed the High Street to the Hight Court and then crossed again across Bank Street, past Deacon Brodies (ancestor of Miss Jean Brodie) and walked up to Gladstone’s Land. 

Gladstone’s Land ( ) is a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) property and I was warmly welcomed at the entrance.  I’ve been to this building many times and had attended a recital here by the MacDonald sisters in the 1970s.  In fact, a CD has been issued with recordings made of the group, which disbanded in 1977.  A film about them was recently shown on BBC Alba.  I had another interesting tour of the house, which is an Old Town tenement built on the High Street.  The painted ceiling is beautiful and similar paintings can be found at Culross Palace (also NTS) and at Kinneil House in Bo’ness.  My recollections of the MacDonald Sisters was probably met by a polite nod by some of the guides on duty till I met Audrie Robertson, who could remember when the Saltire Society used the building. 

In a fascinating bit of zeitgeist and synchronicity, I then went further up the Lawn Market and heard a fiddler playing (busking) a typical March Strathspey and Reel.  The Strathspey was Puirt a beul : Siuthad a’ bhalaichibh.  (This is track 16 on the CD, Solas Clann Dhomhnaill, listing POPPYCD007.)  I started tapping my cane to the Strathspey and ‘wheeeeched’ with delight as the fiddler (violinist) shifted from 3/8 tempo to 4/4, which is reel time.  The reel was ‘Deil amang the Tailors’ (The Devil among the Tailors) and the cound of the fiddle and my cane tapping the cobblestones attracted a bigger crowd (footfall).  I chatted with him afterwards and he played some more and I hope his takings had gone up. 

I then hit the Castle Esplanade and walked through the temporary tattoo seating, which was being dismantled and approached Edinburgh Castle.  This will be the subject of a separate post.  On my way back to the High street I stopped at the Hub and found the staff very helpful.  I enjoyed some coffee and had a Cranachan Pavlova, that’s a raspberry cream meringue.  It was beautifully laid out as if it were a coat of arms with a bend argent on a field sable.  This was actually icing sugar on a black plate with a white meringue topped with cream and a geometric design of raspberries.  A real treat! 

I then went down the High Street and turned left down Bank Street and the Mound and along Princes Street, catching a bus at the West End.