Meeting Jennifer and getting to our hostel wasn’t much of an adventure. It was fairly easy to find the bus to take us into town and then a nice gentleman, who was walking our way anyway, showed us where our hostel was. Where we were staying, the Belford Hostel, is located in an old church (and more on that later). We dropped off our bags and headed back out (It was early, so we couldn’t even check in yet) to explore the city. Jennifer had been here before so she was a font of knowledge as we walked around.
After having breakfast at Ryan’s (and getting slightly lost passing St. James’ Church) we were finally on Princes Street, one of the two main roads in town. Immediately, the castle visible on the hill to our right, in what I would learn is called the “Old Town” (as opposed to the “New Town” which is just over from where we were). Between us and the castle was a great park, set into a wee valley. This, of course, is Princes Street Gardens and, if you’re me, anytime you hear that, you hear Fish singing “I saw a blue umbrella in Princes Street Gardens, heading out west on the Lothian Road.” In fact, due to his being Scottish, from Edinburgh, a lot of Fish’s (and by extension, early Marillion) lyrics tend to center on the area. So my head is a awash in song lyrics constantly. Not necessarily a bad thing, but still…
We ended up at Waverley Bridge, named for the Walter Scott (more on him, later, too) novel Waverley (and by extension, all of the Waverley Novels). We had decided a “Hop On/Hop Off” bus tour was a good way to get our bearings so we grabbed a bus, bought a ticket and climbed aboard. I would like to say that getting up early and excitement of everything left my mind and body sharply attuned to life and what was going on around me. Sadly… not the case. Nodded off on the first bus a few times. But that’s okay. This company actually operates several different lines with different tours so when we made it back to Waverley, we just hopped different bus and went right back out! This time I stayed awake and we got off on “The Royal Mile,” which is the other main tourist street, dead ending on one end at the castle (and yes, another Marillion lyric). We walked around and discovered a “close” (a small passageway) near to the Writer’s Museum and ended up joining a “Edinburgh Book Lover’s Tour” walking tour with a former professor who took us to all sorts of out of the way literary spots, including the teaching hospital where Arthur Conan Doyle learned medicine and also met the man who would inspire Sherlock Holmes. Robert Louis Stevenson’s favorite pub was on the tour, as were several sites from Ian Rankin’s Rebus series (inspiring me to pick one up at a discount shop) and, of course, The Spoon, the cafe (one of several claiming the honor) where J.K. Rowling wrote the beginning of the Harry Potter series (The end, by the way, was written in a suite in the 5 star Balmoral on Princes Street).
The tour ended near the Greyfriars Kirkyard, final resting place of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who slept, for fourteen years, on his late master’s grave. There’s a statue of the dog just outside the Greyfriars pub and Disney made a film of the story in 1961. But that’s not the main reason we stopped by. No, we stopped by because Ms. Rowling used to work at a school just the other side of the graveyard and as she was taking her daily shortcut through the tombstones, she would happen across names which intrigued and impressed her – McGonagall for instance, or Potter, and even Thomas Riddle. While wandering ourselves, we ran into one of the volunteer caretakers of the place, Mr. Ferguson, who, it turned out, was an actual Laird! Showed us his card and everything. He showed us the more important tombstones, told us some great stories and generally turned what could have been a boring, routine stroll into an exciting adventure.
From there, it was only a brief walk back to the Royal Mile and a hop back on the tour bus. In fact, we liked our guide, Evelyn, so much, we followed her to another line and went around again! All told, I think we rode four of the five different lines and really made the most of our fare. Dinner, first night in Scotland, consisted of a Chinese buffet and then a wander back to the hostel to check in and get settled for the night. Monday morning was a relatively early one, with a tour of the Borderlands forthcoming.