In a previous post, I described Edinburgh’s layered topography. A city as old as Edinburgh (it was founded in the 7th century AD and became a royal burgh in 1125) is bound to leave a city full of character. The city has plenty of hills – in fact the castle is built on top of extinct volcanic rock over looking the city. The Royal Mile leads from the castle downhill to the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace (the official home of the Queen when she’s in Scotland).
From the Royal Mile there are many small alleys leading to various layers of the city – to Princes Street Gardens (once a lake where “witches” were condemned to death) or to the Grassmarket, where traces of the Flodden Wall that once guarded the citizens of Edinburgh from the English and dragons remain (it’s now a place to grab a deep-fried Mars bar or some pints).
These alleys are called “closes” (pronounced as in “close to the edge”). If you’re visiting Edinburgh, pick a random close and see where it ends. If you’re from North America and used to the grid system, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as you’ll end up completely different from where you expected to end up as you walk up and down the worn steps that have been traipsed upon by kings, queens and peasants at one point in history.
I like to think that I have a good internal compass. I’m observant and can easily figure out how to get to a destination – even if I’m slightly lost. However, during my first experiences travelling in Europe I was completely thrown. If I turned left thinking I could comeback to the street I had previously been on – it often took my on a winding adventure somewhere completely different. I’ll admit this unnerved me at first – not being in control of my destination. But I then started embracing those moments as they would often lead me on an equally interesting adventure – full of buskers, graffiti and sometimes if I was really lucky – gelato.
Edinburgh is much the same as other European cities but even more interesting with the many hills. So one moment you can be walking down the touristy Royal Mile looking at cashmere and the next you can find yourself in Cowgate on the lower level of the city where night outs end in a haze of hen and stag (for another word of the week) nights and cheap shots.
So next time you’re in Edinburgh, take a turn down a close or perhaps even book one of the many ghost tours found at St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile so that you can be led down the closes listening to a mixture of history and legend. It won’t disappoint.