We strolled up the Royal Mile this morning to St. Giles Cathedral. St. Giles was founded in 1124; however, much of the interior and exterior was heavily renovated in the 1800s. Of most interest to us was visiting the Thistle Chapel, added to the structure between 1909 – 1911.
We arrived at the chapel after 10:30 a.m. and I scanned in with the QR code posted at the doorway. Nearly every indoor space we have visited in Scotland (aside from smaller stores) has hand sanitizer and a unique QR code posted at the entrance. I simply hold my phone camera up to the code and our movements are tracked accordingly. We have observed pretty consistent practice in requiring masks whenever we are in an enclosed area.
We approached the reception and were quickly advised that the Thistle Chapel was closed due to COVID-19 and not being staffed well enough to ensure social distancing. Sally was crestfallen as this was probably the #1 place she wanted to share with us on this journey, having visited Scotland numerous times previously. Before we stepped into the sanctuary, our man-at-the-desk was on his radio attempting to locate assistance. Soon a young woman arrived to cover the desk and our new gentleman-friend was leading us back to the Thistle Chapel for a private tour! The best part was when he handed Sally the huge skeleton key with which to open the chapel door.
We came to learn that our benefactor was himself a Knight as Sir Douglas provided us an in depth oration of the chapel’s history and construction. The Thistle Chapel was constructed for the Knights of the Thistle. There are only 16 members in this “order of chivalry” and each one has his own seat and symbols above. When appointed to the knighthood, the honoree chooses a symbol to represent himself. Traditionally, those symbols would be worn on top of the helmet to identify the wearer from a distance. Those in the chapel were colorful and fascinating. For instance, one knight who greatly enjoyed a collection of Jaguars (cars) was represented by a replica jaguar (the animal) over his place.
The intricate wood carvings in the chapel were done by two brothers over a period of approximately 15 months. Within those carvings are oodles (word one uses when the count escapes memory) of angels, including three angels playing bagpipes. I was handed the key to lock the huge door when our time there had ended. Sir Douglas was a fount of knowledge. It was such a remarkable privilege to have had this private tour.
From the cathedral we headed down Advocate Close towards the Devil’s Advocate Tavern for some lunch. We were seated outside under an awning and it was remarkably comfortable. The weather, though gray and a tad dismal, was actually temperate in temperature! I enjoyed a starter of corn, mint & courgette fritters, rocket, and red pepper jam. I have no idea what “rocket” was but there was arugula on my plate. The fritters were delicious. My fellow travelers enjoyed soup.
We hiked back up the close back to the Royal Mile and commenced pursuit of Greyfriars Bobby. According to a placard outside Greyfriars Kirk (church), Bobby was a Skye Terrier who belonged to the night watchman for the Edinburgh Police, John Gray. When Gray died, Bobby spent the next 14 years on his master’s grave. In spite of efforts to coax him away, the keepers of Greyfriars eventually built him a shelter and kept him fed. Bobby died in 1872 and was buried just inside the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard. The kirkyard was an interesting place to wander about. There were even graves that would fenced over with metal grates to prevent grave robbers. It was an apparently lucrative business to rob graves and sell the bodies to be used for anatomical studies.
Sally had read of an overview of Edinburgh Castle that could be reached by traversing some upward steps. We made our way to Grassmarket and then up the Vennel steps. We are definitely getting our steps in! Back down to Grassmarket Square and a stop at The Last Drop tavern. Grassmarket Square was the location of public hangings and it is said that The Last Drop either refers to the last drink taken by prisoners prior to their hanging, or – a reference to the moment they take their last drop through the trapdoor of the hanging platform.
Around and up from Grassmarket Square is a series of colorful buildings and shops. I love the windows and signs that abound in European cities and Edinburgh does not disappoint.
Our final “must do” was mine – I wanted to see Bill in a kilt! We walked in to the Tartan Weaving Mill where I, fairly easily, convinced my traveling companions to play dress-up. Oh my gosh, I think Bill was made to rock a kilt- He looked so handsome! I have never participated in one of those old-timey pictures, or any kind of tourist dress up, but I have to say this was an adventure!
We decided to return to The Royal Mile Tavern for another good meal before calling it a night.