Saturday, June 27 in Edinburgh - our busy, adventurous day.
In 2007, St. Luke's J2A pilgrims spent their last day in London seeking out Platform 9 3/4, where Harry Potter catches the Hogwarts Express. In 2015, Harry Potter continues to cast a spell on this set of pilgrims as we follow the footsteps of J. K. Rowling by exploring the St. Andrews Building at the University of Glasgow earlier in the week, and talk about seeking out the cafe in Edinburgh called The Elephant House, where she wrote the first manuscript of the Harry Potter series. The pilgrims of 2015 are voracious readers, and have enjoyed the books and films from a tender age. As they mature, they continue to get a thrill from Harry Potter. They appreciate the creativity and resourcefulness of the author, and are in awe of the perseverance she demonstrated to pursue her dream of publishing her work. J.K. Rowling is a hero in their eyes, as well as a role model.
As soon as we finish breakfast, we pile into the van to go about our selected adventures during a "free time" in Edinburgh. Some choose to head to the Edinburgh Castle for an infusion of history while others begin the day at the bottom of the crag, at the Queen's Palace. John discovered that the car park closest to Holyrood was closed, and we see evidence of a special occasion. There are tents set up in the gardens of Holyrood and police barricades to control vehicle and foot traffic along the Royal Mile. We begin to speculate that Will and Kate are here! Excitement bubbles in the van as we anticipate a royal sighting. John drops offs the "lower Royal Mile" group and we set off in an uphill direction. Within minutes the group sees a military parade head in our direction, and the units stop in front of the Cannongate Kirk. It is the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and Armed Forces Day.
All throughout the day the pilgrims see various military units and bagpipe bands march through the streets, proudly bearing their colors and pride in the rich history of Scottish military accomplishments.
Finally we receive intelligence that the Duke of Kent will represent the Royal House at ceremonies marking the occasion. Not as exciting as Will and Kate, but the Duke of Kent is a first cousin to Queen Elizabeth II, and is known to be a kind man - a genuine member of the Royal Family. The pilgrims spot his motorcade and cameras click.
Stores selling shortbread, Christmas ornaments and woolens attract our attention, and as we reach mid-way in the Royal Mile we realize that we need to stop somewhere for lunch before our 1:30 meeting time.
The Elephant House is the agreed upon next stop, and there we find lots of choices for an appealing lunch. This cafe is a mecca for Harry Potter fans, and the cafe does a brisk business in HP memorabilia. They also sponsor book-readings for aspiring authors in support of Edinburgh's thriving writing community. If you ever visit, make sure you head to the loo with a sharpie to make your visit complete!
At 1:30 that afternoon, we met our guide David for the "Underground City of the Dead Ghost Tour." A daylight ghost tour? Well, it turns out that David leads us swiftly down a set of stairs and further downhill to a place where vaults under the South Bridge were built within the arches to house the city's poorest and neediest, and most damned. And they were quite dark and scary. And dirty. (Did I mention dark?) As well as haunted. David told lurid tales of a hardscrabble life for thousands of poor souls whose life expectancy dropped dramatically when they entered the city limits of Edinburgh and came to live in the vaults.We were all touched by the feelings of complete desolation and abandonment that the vault dwellers felt, and grieved at the horrid conditions to which they were subjected. We said many prayers for the lost souls who lived under such abysmal conditions, and gave thanks that we are much more fortunate and blessed.
One of the blessings bestowed upon the pilgrims was knowing that our evening meal on Saturday was provided for us by Emma's parents, Mary and Bill. We refreshed ourselves at the hostel, and met Mary and Bill at the rectory of St. John's. Along with the Mary and Bill, we were greeted and welcomed by the rector, Markus, and Andrew and Amanda, who had resided with the Iona Community for three years. Mary prepared the salad and main dishes, and fruit and ice cream for desserts. Markus made the most delicious cheesecake imaginable. The dining room at the rectory rang with conversation and laughter, and after the presentation of a few gifts to our hosts, we had to leave too soon to meet our next appointment, an evening walking tour of Edinburgh As we were preparing to leave, Markus met with the volunteer readers and chalice bearers to provide guidance in preparation for the service on Sunday. Amanda and Andrew taught us to sing a prayer they learned in Iona (in 2 parts!). We reluctantly left the comforts of the rectory to head to our evening walking tour.
The pilgrims met Peter, the guide for the "Saints and Sinners" tour at 8:30pm. There was still plenty of daylight left in the evening. Our tour began at Charlotte Square in the New Town, and finished up several miles later at St. Giles. In between Peter revealed the ancient history of Edinburgh, a city founded on a crag, a defunct volcano. During Medieval times the residents lived within the city walls and knew little of the world beyond. (Hence the tavern named "World's End.")
As the city grew, the building got taller, then city fathers built bridges over the sewage that flowed down either side, and added more stories to the existing buildings. There are some structures in the oldest parts of Edinburgh that are 14 stories high! Peter led us through the graveyards and along the King's Stable Road to the Grass Market, telling stories along the way that revealed life throughout the centuries in the city. We stood in front of Alexander Graham Bells's birthplace, and paused at the church where Agatha Christie was married (a bit clandestinely, apparently). We hear tales of hangings (some not as successful as others), literary figures, inventors, and robbers and thieves. Peter paints a vivid portrait of life in Edinburgh throughout the centuries, enlightened as well as murky. We are all fascinated by the stories, and come away with a better sense of the history of the city and its peoples. We bid Peter a reluctant farewell at the end of the entertaining tour, wishing there was more time to further explore the alleys and closes on either side of the Royal Mile.
John tells us the van is nearby, and we gladly pile in for a short ride back to the hostel. We meet one last time for "Joy, Junk and Jesus", sharing our thoughts of thankfulness for the good weather, the blessings of our life (none of us had spend our precious childhood working as a chimney sweep), and the joys of community. The day has been filled with the sights and sounds of a vibrant city. We were blessed with the warmth and graciousness of a home-cooked meal and immediate affinity with the people of St. John's, and blessed by the talents of knowledgeable and entertaining tour guides who painted vivid images of times past.
We went to bed tired of body and feet, well-fed in food and knowledge and adventure. Tomorrow would be our last full day in Scotland.