Blog posts with the tag: "Edinburgh"

Gravestone in Greyfriar's Kirk

Gravestone in Greyfriar’s Kirk


On the second day we seemed to spend a long time searching for the elusive Gallery of Modern Art, which is quite a walk away from Prince’s Street. My mum ended up asking two different people for directions while I squinted begrudgingly at my unhelpful map (I am really stubborn about asking for help and try to do everything myself, which is silly, I know). Eventually we got there and of course the first thing we did was have coffee and cheesy, herby scones with butter.


I was intent in visiting this gallery, and indeed it was the main reasoning behind my visit to Edinburgh, other than the fact that my novel is set in Scotland. The reason being because of the exhibition called Witches and Wicked Bodies (it ends November 1st though so anyone interested had better hurry). This was quite an extensive collection and showed many famous paintings that I had heard of before, such as John William Waterhouse’s exquisite The Magic Circle (indeed, one of my favourite painters; magic and myth were a constant subject of his paintings). The first few rooms showed mainly grotesque woodcuts of old naked crones with drooping breasts, wild hair and whiskered chins such as Albrecht Durer’s Die Hexe and they often lacked any feminine facial features at all, such as in Henry Fuseli’s Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth. This was the most common way in which the witches were portrayed and fuelled the belief that they were vile hags, sexual predators and that they cavorted with the devil. The only other representation of these women was the polar opposite; of radiant young beauties as depicted by Waterhouse and Frederick Sandys. My mum wondered aloud where all the paintings were of the classic witch with a pointed hat and green skin – but this was more of a twentieth century stereotype created by film studios and the commercialisation of Halloween. I suspect the movie version of The Wizard of Oz had something to do with it.


That evening, we had yummy fish and chips Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, named after William Brodie, one of  the inspirations behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Fantastic food served there and had the cranachan for pudding, another Scottish dish, which was delicious. Then we embarked on another underground adventure, this time visiting The Real Mary King’s Close. This was a close, like many of the others still seen today running down either side of the High Street but is now underground, along with what seemed like a labyrinthine array of rooms and corridors (the tour only took us around a small part of it, I believe, as we passed many closed-off areas). The close was covered up when the City Chambers were built over it, because when the city was walled, yet expanding, the only places they could build were up or down. We really enjoyed this tour, and although there were only a  few ghostly tales thrown in, it was interesting to hear how cramped and horrific the conditions were back then.


Greyfriar's Kirk

Greyfriar’s Kirk


A Wee Bit of Live Music


Edinburgh Cafe


A Selection of Scottish Children’s Books


Greyfriar’s Bobby


On our final day in Edinburgh, we visited Holyrood Palace (just from the outside), ate haggis yet again and had an amazing Eton mess cheesecake at the World’s End Pub, plus made our way around Greyfiar’s Kirk to see the grave and statue of little Greyfriar’s Bobby. Final stop was at the Writers’ Museum which is dedicated to the three great Scottish writers Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Much is made of the men’s lives and travels and there are portraits and personal objects belonging to the writers.
We had a wonderful time, and I got plenty of writing inspiration. I wish we had had time to see the Mary Queen of Scots exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, the Edinburgh Dungeons and much more, but I’m sure I’ll return to Auld Reekie soon enough.

One of the many closes

One of the many closes


The first night in Edinburgh I had booked us in for one of the many ghost tours that frequent the streets. We used the Mercat tour called Doomed, Dead and Buried and our hooded guide, Faith led us into many of the locations from the capital’s rich and dark history. I love a good ghost tour – probably because from a young age I adored hearing spooky stories. I haven’t done many – in fact this is my fourth after doing the York ghost tour (again, one of many to choose from), the New Orleans Ghost tour and the London Haunted bus tour – all of which I highly recommend).


Night shot of St. Giles' Cathedral

Night shot of St. Giles’ Cathedral


*Apologies for the lack of pictures – my camera is new and I struggled with the night settings so none of them actually came out right, as you can see in this photo which is spoiled by dust particles (or are they ghostly orbs?).


As we were walking down one of the narrow closes, trying to see in the dark and enjoying being spooked out, my poor mum was the unfortunate victim of a pooping pigeon from up above. This is obviously nowhere as bad as the buckets of excrement that used to be flushed down the streets once upon a time, but my mum wasn’t particularly amused (although I was – and I had to clean it out with a tissue). Besides, I reminded her, being pooed on by a pigeon is supposed to be good luck and bring good fortune, so it’s not all bad (sidenote: I can’t actually recall if I have ever had good luck after being shat on by a generous bird – I just remember being pretty peeved, particularly when a pigeon did an epic splatter all over my dinner on my honeymoon).


One of the most exciting parts of the tour, and the part I was most anticipating, was seeing the underground vaults. Oh yeah, that’s another thing I love; subterranean spaces and abandoned places. I suppose it goes hand in skeletal hand with the fascination with ghost stories, the gothic and the supernatural.


If you want to know more about this fascinating part of Edinburgh’s history then I highly recommend this book . This is my first foray into reading about the Vaults, so I’m certainly no expert, but for a long time the area around the Royal Mile was walled- in to prevent English invaders. The city’s population was growing, especially due to immigration and the influx of people fleeing their homes due to the Highland Clearances and the Irish Potato famine (many of these people obviously chose to go further afield to places such as America, Canada,  Australia and New Zealand, but I can understand those not wanting to move far from home – I get homesick from Scotland and I’m only an hour’s flight away).


The Vaults were used for storage and for business by tailors and cobblers and such but also by Edinburgh’s notorious grave robbers.  Our guide told us how many visitors feel or see things unexplainable, and although I’m a sceptic, I’m still always on the look-out. Apparently some people feel breath on their neck, or a tug on their clothes, and cameras and other electrical equipment stop working and strange shadows are seen. She told one particularly frightening story about a room used as a  temple by a pagan coven in 1996. The coven leader placed a large mirror in one corner of the room as it was required for certain ceremonies. Not long after, he started sensing an evil presence in the vaults and bravely decided to spend the night alone in the temple to challenge the entity. Late into the night, he heard something crawling from the mirror. On other occasions visitors to the temple saw a white figure in the mirror, and even claimed that the figure stepped out of it.


Well I felt changes in temperature but that could be normal, and my camera took one bad photo then refused to work, but it’s new and I’m still getting to grips with it. I did see a shadow a man against a far wall, and even the tour guide seemed distracted by it, but it turned out to be a trick of the light, a shadow thrown by a candelabra. However, I did later get the creeps late at night as I lay awake in bed, thinking about the mirror that hung on the wall and imagining something crawling out of it.


The tour ended in the Canongate Kirk – a graveyard which still bears the evidence of grave robbery; some tombs have metal bars above them to stop people getting in (or out!). Read further about the grave robbers here. Again, I was swept away by the atmospheric surroundings and thought I saw an ominous hooded figure standing on a grave stone under a tree. Of course, when the guide flashed her torch in that direction, it turned out to be part of the tombstone. Damn you, imagination! But it’s good that my mind played those tricks on me, especially as I enjoy writing supernatural stories so it gave me food for thought.

Edinburgh from the castle

Edinburgh from the castle


Last week I was lucky enough to visit Edinburgh with my mum for a wee research trip for my novel, as well as doing some sightseeing. I have been plenty of times before but on this occasion I felt like there was a lot more on offer to see and do.


After checking in to our hotel, we visited The Scottish National Gallery to see Rodin’s The Kiss before climbing up the many steps towards the Royal Mile. En route we stopped off at the Whiski Rooms because I needed to eat some haggis, neeps and tatties. Yes, needed to. I don’t know if it’s because Scotland is in my blood, but I absolutely love Scottish cuisine. It is one of my favourites, especially in colder weather. So I ate some pretty amazing vegetarian haggis (I’m excited because I went into my local Waitrose and they sell it there) and neeps and tatties all washed down with a lovely red wine. So far so good.


The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile


Walking up the Royal Mile (slowly, because I had a food baby) we stopped to peruse some of the (many) Scottish-themed shops along the high street. I’m sure to the people who live in Edinburgh, they might be tiresome with their incessant bagpipe music and tartan everywhere the eye can see, but I find them pretty charming and I always end up stocking up on some Heather flavoured tea and having a quick glance over the tartan and info cards about my maternal family name Munro. Plus all the plush toys of Scottish Terriers and Nessies and Highland Cows are pretty cute (although the Scottie dogs did tug at my heartstrings as I lost my beloved Scottish Terrier Sweep last year to cancer). I also ended up buying the Horrible Histories Scotland book. I don’t care if they are aimed at kids – they are entertaining and I enjoyed reading the Ireland edition during my recent holiday in the Emerald Isle.


Just before you arrive at Edinburgh Castle (which up close is fascinating but never as breathtaking as when you first see it, majestically looming over the city from Castle Rock as viewed from Prince’s Street), you come to the hotel and restaurant The Witchery. I keep intending to dine there as I’m a bit of a foodie and from what I have seen from the website, the interiors are wonderfully gothic. Just opposite and quite tucked away, so I’m not sure how many people notice it, is the Witches’ Well. It is a cast iron wall fountain, which is quite small, but is there to commemorate the place where over three hundred people were burned at the stake for accusations of witchcraft. The Witchcraft Act was in force between 1563 and 1736 with well over 3,000 people throughout Scotland accused. In the 16th Century more witch were burnt at the stake at Castlehill than anywhere else in Scotland, with the victims often suffering brutal torture before being put to death.


Witches' Well

Witches’ Well



It is difficult to imagine the fear, superstition and hysteria that were experienced in those times, but if you are interested in the history of witchcraft and witch-hunts, it is well worth seeking out this small memorial of those who perished. For more information on the Scottish witch trials see here


We were lucky as two of the days we were in Edinburgh we were blessed with crisp, sunny weather, so climbing up to Edinburgh Castle was well worth it for the panoramic views of the city alone, stretching out to Arthur’s Seat and the Firth of Forth.


Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


We explored the Castle, taking in the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, as well as the chapel and the prisons. My mum and I searched fruitlessly for the dungeons and tunnels that legend tells weave beneath the castle. I felt sure that as I child I visited them – but perhaps I am muddling this part up with another castle. If there are any deep tunnels below the castle then they are kept secret – which is no surprise really since the Castle is a military garrison and I’m sure they don’t want people sneaking in!


Heather Blanchard

Welcome. Are you a writer, a bookworm, a daydreamer? Are you still clinging on to that magic that pervaded childhood? Pull up an armchair and get cosy. This blog is my dreamscape through an enchanted forest to a world of stories and the little things that make me happy; a chance to add a dash of sparkle to the daily grind. Here you will find the whimsical, the coveted, the Gothic and the romantic. Happy exploring!

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