And I find myself in the ‘wrong’ place at the top of the year. In truth, I wrestled with the idea of going home to Edinburgh for the celebrations but didn’t feel quite up to things emotionally after a difficult time this year and so chose a quiet, sometimes solitary time in Nottingham. I knew I’d have some regrets about this but didn’t know what else to do really. I hope for better times, times when I can truly enjoy myself with my many faithful pals in Edinburgh, in better condition to give a bit back to the people in particular who I’ve become very close to over the years.
I’ll miss my buddy and his partner’s house, the chat, the banter and laughs, I’ll very much miss my ‘little sis’, the People’s Republic of Leith, roaming down the shore. I can only think about past times at Easter Road for the moment and my dear home place of Musselburgh. Portobello’s esplanade and a run into the sea breeze along there lies in my imagination at the moment. A brisk stroll down Princes Street and a meander up the old town will have to wait.
There’s an Edinburgh derby game going on with my beloved Hibs taking on ‘them’ from across the city. Friends will be there and win, lose or draw it will all result in a blurry, long post-match amongst a gang of old mates and new. We are all one.
Not for me this year the Edinburgh Street Party celebrations nor a stool at the bar of the beautiful Cafe Royal or negotiating the revolving doors of the Guildford Arms and warm welcome of many other hostelries I’ve inhabited for so many years. There will be no house parties. It’s what I appeared to choose. All I could do.
People are not here now, things have changed and in their place just memories remain.
There’s no sorrow though in knowing that I will be back, hopefully in better fettle, not feeling weighed down by a ton of emotion laced with grief. Ready to move forwards again. I know those friends and that beautiful city will still be there.
As I write it’s too early for New Year’s wishes but my thoughts are with you all.
Here’s to a better 2015 and a hope that surviving will turn into flourishing and steady growth.
‘What else am I gonna do. To keep this world from hurting you’ Stuart Adamson
YESTERDAY, I CAME HOME from my work at the usual time, a little weary, ‘another day, another dollar’ as they say, with its usual trials and tribulations. Collect the mail, what’s for tea – the usual mundane routines that many of us enact. On this day however, there was a large envelope with something substantial enclosed on my doormat. Now, I don’t get all that much mail and for that I’m often grateful!! It’s all brown envelopes isn’t it, never that much fun these days, pay this, respond to that, most of it goes straight to the bin without collecting two hundred pounds. I think we all know the script. But this was different.
Ripping open the package, to my enormous surprise I find a pristine hardback copy of ‘Gordon Smith: Prince of Wingers’ the biography of the great and legendary Hibernian and Scotland right-winger and member of the Easter Road club’s Famous Five forward line. I instantly remembered that a little while ago a friend and one who I should add that I have yet to meet in person had promised to send me the story of Gordon Smith, written by his son, Tony Smith. Turning the front cover back I see a note and a host of autographs signed by Hibernian legends. Wonderful.
I find this so humbling. That someone a few hundred miles away in my home city had woken up one morning and taken the time to think of me, taken that book in hand, packaged it and sent it to my home in Nottingham. It is a very typical gesture of the kind that I have been the recipient of during the last few difficult and trying months of ‘starting again’. During those months too I have suffered in trying to concentrate for significant periods, something which has upset me and affected my ability to gain enjoyment from a great love of mine, reading but gradually that is slowly coming back, thankfully. So a gesture like this is a significant and important one for me. It is a motivation and part of the process of becoming well again.
I have had support close at hand for which I am very grateful, crucial support at times and yet this link, this huge warmth coming from Scotland has been immeasurable and enduring. It it an extraordinary comfort blanket that I have been able to resort to in times of great need. The constant messages, the hospitality, the gifts, the acknowledgments, the warm words thoughts and deeds, the love and friendship – truly extraordinary and yet should I, knowing what I know, expect any other? Perhaps not. When I was a young laddie I like to think that I was raised with many good Scots values. I was brought up to understand that to give to others is better than to receive. Without being a saint, I have always remembered these words and had a shot at living that way wherever possible. It seemed the right way to me. I now find myself the recipient.
I won’t embarrass the kind and thoughtful friend who has extended me this kindness but just to say, if you’re reading ‘K’ thank you for the gesture. Always here for you.
FRIDAY THE NINTH OF MAY, 2014 rolls inexorably closer and it’s almost at long last time to go back to Edinburgh. It is always time to go back to Edinburgh but this occasion feels especially significant.
The past few weeks since the calamitous and tragic loss of my dear partner, Sue have at times been shocking, harrowing, lonely and at times isolating. There have been ‘good’ things of course and at the forefront of that is the support I have received from my family and true friends, almost universally. I have learned much about myself, about life and about people. I take these lessons forwards as I plan a rebuild of my life alone. It is a rehabilitation process and not at times without it’s difficulties. I keep trying, I Persevere and (unbelievably to me at one point) I am still standing
Those early dark days of February saw a call to that dear group of volunteers, The Samaritans, when at first it all felt just a little too much and I didn’t wish to go on. There was another long talk with a suicide bereavement counsellor who spoke to me in a straight and forthright manner. How could I ever live the rest of my life after this horrendous experience? What meaning did it have? Survival mode kicked into place and I decided to play this game of life with a straight bat, without the ‘assistance’ of medication or by misusing alcohol.
I also knew instinctively that my friends could help too, by talking, by me asking for and accepting their support. None more so than a close friend here in Nottingham, my dear friends in Edinburgh of so many years and by a new friend from that city brought to me like an angel. I won’t embarrass those people but if you’re reading, you know who you are. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me.
So on to tomorrow. I catch that familiar train and will walk upon Edinburgh ground by lunchtime tomorrow. I have awaited this time and upon feeling ‘up to’ doing it. Being in and around Edinburgh, with all it’s memories can have a powerfully emotional feeling for me and I needed to be ready to use that constructively. I’m now ready and it’s part of the pathway ‘back’ for me.
I have a Hibs-related surprise awaiting me tomorrow! A sweet gesture by my aforementioned new friend which I in turns feel intrigued and happy about. The fates have conspired to offer up a hugely important game for my beloved Hibs at Easter Road on Saturday which I will attend. Excellent sense of theatre lads but I nevertheless wish you had sorted out the relegation worries ahead of my visit to Leith! God bless the Hibs.
Anyway, I’ll try to fight the impulse to get down on the floor and kiss good old Edinburgh ground when I alight at Waverley tomorrow. After all, I’ve things to do and good people to meet. The very best. Wha’s like you?
WELL, I FINALLY managed to get along to see the Sunshine on Leith movie
I can say from the heart that in no way was I disappointed – despite huge expectations.
I’m certainly not a great fan of musicals generally but Sunshine on Leith worked very well for me with the songs being melded into the dialogue opportunely and fairly seamlessly. Of course, being an admirer of The Proclaimers’ body of work helps but nevertheless I felt this aspect of it, from my layman’s point of view, was excellent. A script that possessed genuine emotion and elicited a certain caring for the characters moved things along nicely between Morningside and the old port.
The landscape shots over the city? Well, I expected to be impressed as even from my personal (and biased) view, Edinburgh is the most photogenic of cities. However, I found myself choking up several times over the true grandeur of Old Reekie in all its historic and geographic glory. Simply stunning – even to those of us who know and expect these sights and those feelings
The Proclaimers/Hibs connection was skilfully performed with no overkill and just in the right amounts.
There is nowhere like home and this eagerly awaited cinematographic ‘ribbon of dreams’ made me want to walk to my car and drive straight to Edinburgh without stopping. I can offer no higher compliment.
Well done to all.
Driving into Edinburgh, the long road behind me.
The Forth sparkles to my right, the signs up ahead say,
Bill comes on the radio – seems kind of fitting.
Welcome back, Stu
AT THE TOP OF THE YEAR it was reported that the Waverley Steps in Edinburgh had undergone a transformation with a new covered walkway and escalator. The 145 year-old thoroughfare’s new look is said to have cost a cool £7m.
My own first thoughts on seeing newly released images of it were that the construction looks quite incongruous with the surrounding architecture of the adjacent classic Balmoral Hotel, particularly in the way the roof is situated half way down the hotel’s windows. I really can’t see what else the designers could have done too differently though, apart from shelve the project completely. I’m satisfied that they’ve probably done all they reasonably could with the new structure.
The new Waverley Steps construction
As it was – a formidable sight for the weary traveller
Although the design perhaps seems a little ‘chancy’ when considering the historic environment, there are some good points regarding this improvement of the old access to Princes Street. It always seemed to be blowing a huge gale down those steps and it could be a slightly inhospitable first experience of Edinburgh to the visitor. The fact that disabled access to Waverley Station is improved is also a very welcome addition.
Blowing a gale!
I guess I was just interested in this story as that familiar trudge up the steps was always a bit symbolic to me. I never minded it because I knew I was visiting back home again and I was always anxious and pleased to see the old place again sometimes after a long wait and that few expectant hours on the train. Edinburgh really does show it’s best face to the visitor almost immediately after alighting the old stairway – much more than most cities where the railway stations are often situated in less attractive areas. I tend to drive to Edinburgh these days but the thought of a quick pint or two, with my travel bag chucked in the corner of the Guildford Arms or Cafe Royal after climbing those steps would always set me up for a nice stay. That familiar brewing smell in the Edinburgh air, the old sights followed by a pint in one of my favourite pubs always felt good and welcoming. ‘The holidays starts here’.
It’s heartening to read that most people appear to be pleased with the the Edinburgh institution’s new incarnation.
It’s been a fairly austere time to be a Hibs supporter for the past while. Positivity has been at an all-time low and good fortune is indeed always hiding. There is however one chink of daylight, one source of fun that’s always a guaranteed source of mirth. It comes in the form of Heart of Midlothian’s soon-to-be former owner and loopy Lithuanian, Vladimir Romanov. Many have been his sparkling statements over the past seven years via the organ of his club’s official website (the webmaster must run and hide when he sees the latest pearls of cranky wisdom heading his way) but I honestly think this might be one of the most messed-up yet. Here it is in all it’s glory:
Press me to listen
Vladimir Romanov statement
“As soon as Hearts moved closer to the third spot the monkeys start to squeal, lie and create conspiracy plots.
I thought I had expressed myself clearly – I am selling the club and I am not going to give any more money away. It is pointless to support show business, not football. Hearts is now living out of its own budget.
Everyone knew, including players, media and SPL that the wages are going to be paid as soon as the money was received for Eggert Jonsson, who was sold last year. But media still tried to create conspiracy plots about the team and managed to get a prompt and unwise decision from the SPL meeting, which the club asked it to postpone until next week in order to get opportunity to pay the wages.
As such I have not cheated anyone. The monkeys tricked the SPL, fans and themselves and showed who is in charge of the football mafia. They will continue to cheat as this is their job.
I am used to their lies. I remember when the fight started between two people at the end of one of our AGMs and all the cameras were there as they were expecting it. Later that episode was covered by all major stations as backdrop of the AGM, trying to portray the club as a mess.
I feel sorry for the poor monkeys. Mowgli is asking to work for the publicity of the Old Firm, that’s why they have to lie and tell tall stories.
But there is no future for Scottish football while these media monkeys are in charge. Not just for football, but for the whole country. When people tried to protest in the streets, media turned it into chaos, demonstrating masked instigators and hired gangsters in front of the cameras.
I have nothing to prove. Seven years ago I proved that there was no football, but only show business. When Kaunas threw Rangers out of the competition you switched your TV off to avoid embarrassment. Fear takes away the wisdom.
I am going to reiterate once again – I am not going to gift the club money anymore. The only thing left for the club to do is to develop its own youth and attempt to enlighten people who have been deceived and held as part of a stupid crowd by Mowgli.
The progress is there – Mowgli is under prosecution and in exile. But until they open a zoo for the monkeys and keep them in cages, they will keep jumping on people who are straightforward and not afraid to speak.”
Yes, you read that right. Pull back your chair, go and have a cup of coffee and some fresh air or something. Collect yourself.
Boy, I’m going to miss this man when his wagon finally rolls out of Edinburgh. All we need to figure out now is who is Mowgli? This could take as long as it took to discover who shot JR.
On a delightfully warm June day a few months ago, I had the good fortune to do something that had been on my mind for some time now, whilst back on one of my many sojourns to Edinburgh. How many wonderful days and night’s have I spent in Hibernian FC’s new and old stadium watching those bright emerald green jerseys with the white sleeves, yet never ventured much beyond the stands for that couple of hours spent supporting my team from boyhood?
In truth, that’s not strictly accurate. Way back in 1978, whilst visiting with a friend, I wandered into the very different ‘ER’ of the day and was kindly taken on an impromptu tour by the then groundsman. My memories of that include an explanation of how the recent ban on alcohol in Scottish football had cleared the Easter Road match day aftermath of two skips full of empty bottles and cans. They also extend to a little tour through the players changing rooms and observing the Hibs youth team playing out a five-a-side training game. This tour was entirely due to one man’s hospitality but now things are a little different.
As you can see, a peek behind the scenes at the ‘new’ Easter Road was well overdue. With that I mind I was very happy to have my phone booking accepted for myself and my partner’s father, visiting from Canada, by the friendly and helpful club staff that June morning. A couple of hours later and we duly arrived to fulfil our booking and were ushered through to the man reception area where a group of people were already gathering for the Easter Road experience.
I was glad and happy to re-make the acquaintance of a friendly face in the tour guide Bill Bryson, something of an old Hibee friend by the good grace of the Internet. As we sat down for Billy to offer us his wide knowledge and intriguing stories about the club and its residence, it felt great to be ‘home’.
Of course the whole of the West Stand in which we sat was completely rebuilt and refurbished within the past decade. Space abounds in this new and modern facility and there was an airy atmosphere of potential for the numerous yet-to-used areas of this excellent resource. This is for the future however and we were there largely for history and plenty of it. Our friendly tour guide, Billy, did not disappoint in this respect. Continue reading
In Edinburgh each year an event called The Stockbridge Duck Race is held in that most pleasant of north Edinburgh areas. For the 21st time this year, 2000 numbered plastic ducks will be launched from over the bridge at Deanhaugh Street, Stockbridge into The Water of Leith. The ducks float/speed (depending on your fortune) past the Canonmills apartments along The Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s river, where my partner and I and our friends have stayed for my Birthday celebrations the past two years and this is what caught my eye.
All photographs are from here.
The race has it’s own Facebook group. You can find more details of the fun here.
The Water of Leith just outside the car park of where we stayed. Unfortunately there were no duckies out in the bracing November when we stayed.
01 Riordan does it again! Is there any Hibby, with the possible exception of Ian Murray, that takes so much pleasure at putting one over Hibernian’s Edinburgh rivals?
It ended in high drama last night – with a penalty eleven minutes from time after Hibs hit man Riordan went tumbling in the box before getting up to coolly side-foot the ball inside the oppositon’s right-hand post. It was all too much for some of the home supporters as the goal triggered a small pitch invasion. Comically, one Hearts fan, in his attempts to get to the jubilant Riodan managed somehow to punch himself inthe face and was led off with a ‘sair yin’! (see video)
What is really remarkable about this famous victor is not that it means Hibs are unbeaten against Hearts this season but that Hibernian had a full ten first team players absent through injury. In effect, Hibs visited Tynecastle with their ‘B’ team and still ran out winners!
Glory Glory To The Hibees!
An interesting story came my way this morning by way of an internet discussion forum. It concerned the case of convicted murderer, Patrick Nicol, a young man who is serving twelve years in Shotts Prison in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Nicol’s conviction came after he was found guilty for the first-degree murder of George Reid, who was stabbed by his assailant Nicol over one hundred times.
Napier University, Craiglockart Campus, Edinburgh
The Scottish Sun newspaper reports that Nicol is now studying economics at Edinburgh’s Napier University, regularly attending lectures and participating in general student life whilst under the guard of a security firm. His fellow students are reported to have no knowledge of Nicol’s conviction. This brings up many discussion points for me. It is important however to be wary of that particular newspaper’s usual dismal style of sensationalist reporting when viewing the ins and outs of this story.
Hibernian yesterday completed the signing of former striker, Derek Riordan from Celtic after a torrent of rumour regarding a possible deal. Fans’ nerves were stretched to breaking point waiting for the Messiah-like return of the former golden boy of Easter Road until an announcement during the evening. Although the talk of a return seemed well-substantiated, it was far from a formality with Hibs having to comply with Celtic’s wishes regarding a sizable sell-on fee.
Hibs’ pre and early season form has been poor and erratic and Derek’s return will give a great boost a to a beleaguered club board and concerned and angry supporters alike. It’s just the fillip required at Easter Road and one can almost feel the tides of goodwill and optimism flowing from club’s faithful fans today.
The rarest commodities in football are surely true goalscorers- those that have the happy knack of being in the right place when it matters and able to despatch the ball into the back of the net in a variety of methods. Derek Riordan is just such a player. Not for him the most robust aspects of the game as a very slimly built forward player it must be stated. His tackling won’t trouble too many apart from nuisance value but his talents are far more valuable in and around the opposition penalty area where he excels like few others. A study of Riordan’s goals is an examination of how to score in a myriad of ways. Twenty-five yarders, tap-ins, mazy dribble and finishes, all taken with a cool clinical precision. Hibs are very fortunate indeed to have the player, who is also a life-long fan of the club back in the fold. It is perhaps a regret to the player and at the same time incredible, that the Glasgow club seemed unable or unwilling to unleash his considerable talents too often. That is for them to reflect upon. In the meantime the whole of Leith (and those of us further adrift) with a love of the old club will be celebrating and have a new spring in our step today.
DEREK RIORDAN IS BACK!
Quite often these days I like to listen to a little music when running alone. I succumbed from this practice for a lot of years, mainly because I like to appreciate some of the attractive environments I chose to run in. After all, what could be more pleasant and uplifting than listening to Spring birdsong when gliding through a dappled glen, or listening to mighty waves beating against a sea wall on a beach. Sometimes though it’s good to have the company of a little music, especially when the running might be trying for whatever reason.
I see many people that run along in time to personal stereos these days, we all know what a common sight that is on the streets and pavements. Apart from one or two very significant safety drawbacks it’s easy to see why people are still continuing the jogging boom of over thirty years ago with the encouragement of a beat or a melody to step out to. On a shorter run I tend to like up-tempo music, perhaps not surprisingly. There’s a tendency to seek out music with a personal meaning or history for me too. One such piece of music I fins particularly stirring is the title track from a little-known, low budget movie from years ago entitled Restless Natives.
A run at Portobello seems the most apt start to the day once more. I smile when passing the public bathrooms at Joppa noticing that the water in the block is heated by solar power. Good old Edinburgh, in spite of what some may think I still believe it leads the way in quite a few areas of thinking and planning.
Back home refreshed, I veer towards a plan to enlarge my ever-increasing supply of available reading matter. This means a visit to West Port near the infamous ‘Pubic Triangle’ to take in a several second-hand book stores.
A fresh day ahead and time to take in the old sites and experiences of whenever I coma back home. First of all though I have an appointment – with a certain beach for a morning run. Portobello has always been known as ‘Edinburgh’s Seaside’ situated three miles east of Edinburgh on the south shore of the Firth of Forth. It has an interesting if chequered past and was once an extremely popular resort in Victorian times and on. In earlier days the town had an impressive pier which was eventually demolished due to the effects of storm damage. The town also boasted a feature known as ‘The Marine Gardens’ which was an early theme park of it’s day. Curiously, one of the attractions of the Gardens was a specially imported African tribe who lived there for people’s entertainment and wonder!
Portobello is the next door town to place of my family’s origin, Musselburgh – more of which another time. Suffice to say that ‘Porty’ holds many wonderful childhood memories for me and this is just one reason why I still love the place. In my childhood days Portobello seemed a place of wonder, with it’s long, sandy beach and popular promenade with attractions for holidaymakers. One of those features was an outdoor pool with a wave machine – arguably the first such item in the world. The water in the pool, though artificially ‘heated’ was probably the iciest in the world! I also have memories of a loud klaxon that would sound when the next wave was due – when us kids would ready ourselves and jockey for position for the ride down the pool. There are less comfortable memories too. One was of one particular late afternoon when a young Stu stayed on the beach playing football just that little bit too long… Fortunately dad was best placed to run down onto the beach from the high walls and scoop me up under his arm as I was cornered by a fast-approaching tide!
It was a Tuesday morning early, time to wake up and tackle the drive to Edinburgh this morning. The portents looked healthy as I took an early run in the morning sunlight and home to prepare myself for the journey. Bags packed I stepped into the car and headed off north at 10am towards the A1 and a few hours behind the wheel.
Ploughing on through squally showers and dark skies I was soon passing over the Scottish border with only a briskly taken cup of coffee behind me. Heading towards a favourite lunch stop, Eyemouth, a small seaside town. A stroll and a breath of fresh air on the promenade later, I headed towards the renowned fish and chip shop on the main street. It’s the seaside – I’ve driven a long way – I deserve fish and chips I reasoned. The food came over the counter, I paid and received my first sight of a Scottish banknote in a while when I suddenly realised the full weight of what I was about to receive. This place hardly holds back in it’s portions as I manhandled what seemed like a family meal in a large, reinforced cardboard box. It may as well have been a pallet.
Settling down to a seat on the prom in the bright and welcoming sunlight I tucked in with both elbows. There were actually two fish in the box (or was it a small shoal) and a mountain of chips. I gave up the fight and handed much of it to a panting black labrador with sea water still dripping from him. Have you ever seen a dog smile? Small children gambolled around in Scottish football jerseys as dad’s kept a wary, blearly eye over them. Faint school holiday noises rose from the beach below me. Continue reading
Being fortunate enough to have made a trip to the ‘Burgh for the past few days I took the opportunity offered by a friend for an early morning visit to the new Hibernian FC training centre at East Mains.
On a mostly deserted Saturday morning before 9pm it takes the use of the imagination to envisage a day’s hard work being put in by the playing staff from Easter Road at East Mains but still the centre remains extremely impressive. The only sign of life was a tractor pulling a gang mower in the far distance (thankfully) as we pondered this new and vital facility for Hibs’ future.
How archaic is Scottish and British football generally when we are informed how very few clubs own such a training centre? It’s said that the majority of top clubs in France for example train in such circumstances. With some of the success the French have had in recent years we can see that this is perhaps no coincidence.
The centre sports some of the lushest, greenest new turf I’ve seen in a while. Around the main buildings, the turves are currently still knitting together at this time and infant saplings have been planted to surround the playing areas and offer an eventual windbreak in what look to be potentially fairly windswept conditions.
I finally caught up with Rebus comparatively recently. In my case it was only last year that I began reading the series in spite of the generous reviews and Edinburgh being of my origins. It was the latter that finally convinced me to read the Rebus books and I have to say that seven or eight books later I’m glad I did.
Despite the sometime prickliness of the main character he remains difficult not to like, his quick and acerbic wit sees to that. His is a character written by Ian Rankin with great depth and with many levels and skins. The same can be said of many of the main personalities in the books who usually manage to remain unpredictable yet believable. Inspector Rebus is rarely portrayed in a heroic way, but rather as a maverick figure. This may at first appear a little routine in a police story but this facet of his personality is handled carefully by Rankin and never overplayed nor in the least predictable.
A landmark birthday then (twenty-nine again) and it was decided at a late stage that this should entail a sojourn up north back to the homeland. Where better to spend a weekend without spending the equivalent of the national debt on enjoying oneself with a little mild hedonism for a couple of days?
Four of us ‘to go’ then. beginning at the testing time of Friday at five-ish on the M1 motorway. At least I think it was the M1 as it was completely obscured by a mocking, snaking train of stationary rear view lights as far as the eye could ascertain. Oh the joy, and a quickly disappearing vision of some semblance of a very welcome evening spent in the social coil of Edinburgh.
I’ve actually never struggled to leave Nottinghamshire as much as I did last Friday night. After fully two and a half hours we were merely sampling the delights of Blythe services around 30 miles north. What fun circumnavigating those plastic cones in a darkened services car park though. An unmissable experience. Continue reading
It was a return to my roots last week with a few days of a visit to Edinburgh over a long weekend. It seems I often tend to visit Auld Reekie at this time of year, I can only suppose that historically this is because it coincides with the early clashes between Hibs and their opponents at Easter Road. I love Edinburgh in Autumn as I love it in Spring, I love it all the time it has to be said. The early crisping of leaves in Princes Street Gardens reminds me of coming of the harsher winter days so familiar from past times, mid-winter celebrations and good company.
The story of Mary King’s Close first came to my awareness during my school ‘daze’ via some dusty library tome. The tale fascinated me then and still does. My interest was rekindled some years ago by Billy Connolly on his ‘World Tour of Scotland’ series when he plunged down into the close with the aid of a guide and camera crew to re-tell the story of the infamous wynde. His story it seems was inaccurate however, more on that later.
Fairly recently, Mary King’s Close has evolved into a genuine tourist attraction and visit. In the old days, private tours had to be arranged through the council until one or two Edinburgh ghost walks started broaching into a small part of the subterranean street. I had my own historical appetite whetted by the latter and had always wanted to go back now that access was more fully available.
There are countless accounts of the history of Mary King’s Close and rather than offer a detailed historical time-line my preference is to rather give an account of my visit and the personal feelings surrounding that. Suffice to say that the City Chambers situated on the High Street above opposite the austere and imposing St. Giles Cathedral in the heart of the old town now sits above the close. What were formerly tenement buildings of up to seven stories along the close (the world’s first skyscrapers anyone?) were demolished down to three stories in order to make way for the chambers sitting at street level among the granite sets of the Royal Mile. The present day remains are not troubled by daylight where once a little sun filtered into the deep, dank depths of this part of the ancient city. Latterly it seems there was little metaphorical sunshine either.
After a short wait, our excellent young guide in the 17th Century garb of a local merchant ushered us through the entrance to the head of the steps leading underground. After a short, spoken introduction we descended into 1635AD, a time of much poverty and deprivation in the area. Edinburgh’s old town in those days was a filthy, unsanitary environment with open sewers running down the middle of the street and into the old Nor’ Loch, the infested body of water that was drained to give us the splendour of the present day Princes Street Gardens. In those days the loch was used as a handy place to duck ‘witches’, in fact it was used for dumping practically anything that was unpalatable to your world. Unsurprisingly disease and ill-health were not uncommon in those dire conditions, the worst curse of all being the rapid spread of Bubonic Plague or ‘Black Plague’ as it was known due to its unfortunate sufferers’ skin turning that hue upon the greater progress of its awful grip.
Here’s where the stories of Mary King’s close differ. I had always believed that the poor, wretched inhabitants had been barricaded alive in the close by fearful neighbours and local authorities due to the belief that this was the epicentre of the disease. I also believed that the corpses of the dead were left down there for many years as authority workers refused to handle the dead as they were too smitten with fright of the plague. Not so according to our guide. Apparently people stayed there and died there – there was little place superior for them to go elsewhere it seems. This to my ears is a reasonable enough story though of course a tad less romantic (and gory) than the former version.
The tour takes the visit through several homes and places of work. At times the architecture is unstable and various ancient wall stencilling is under threat from the regularity of visitors down there. Perhaps a memorable moment for some was the visit to a small vault with the lights turned out! The guide bade us all to sit on long chests as he announced a ghost story of severed limbs and other 17th Century niceties. Perhaps not for the faint of heart…
The story of little Annie who died in the close is a touching one which should be saved for the actual visit. Beside the vast pile of toys left for her ‘ghost’ lays a collection which nourishes the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital to the tune of thousands of pounds, happily.
Alighting into the actual close towards the end of the tour was the most evocative scene for me personally. Interesting enough were the various vaults and workshops, one owned by the local saw-doctor but I felt like I wanted to stay there balanced against a wall of the steep old wynde for a while longer. It was easy to drink in the atmosphere and feed from the hard lives of these former people of Edinburgh, part of the people who I descend from indeed. Peering down the narrow, eerie close was an unforgettable and unique experience, opening a page into Edinburgh’s history. I will go there again one day and pay my respects.
If you find yourself in Edinburgh one bright day, go to Mary King’s Close, you will not forget it, nor have experienced anything at all like it.