Let me take a moment to describe how we got in over 20k steps today. With loads and loads of sites and castle is how! I couldn’t be prouder of all of our students for the great attitudes they displayed all day. All of you have given 100% to Ms. South and I each day, and we are both so thankful to be sharing these sometimes arduous experiences with you. We know we are asking a lot of you, but keep trucking along and you’ll have these amazing memories for the rest of your life.
Today- we started with a wee castle… Well, Edinburgh Castle is anything but wee. It’s actually enormous and settled on an extinct volcano. We made our way up the giant esplanade and headed into the castle right at opening. After a short tour from Gabby or Abby- the jury is still out on that one- we headed right in to see the Scottish crown jewels while the crowds were small. I was impressed by how many of our students knew about the sword and scepter as symbols of European monarchy, and all of us were in awe as we made our way and looked at the jewels up close. No photos allowed in this area, so unfortunately we don’t have anything to share! After the crown jewels we made our way into birth room of James VI or James I depending on which period you are discussing. This gave me a great opportunity to share some impressive tales that really demonstrate the Stuart motto: Nemo me impugne laccessit (No one attacks me with impunity). We discussed how Mary Queen of Scots (a Stuart) had her husband murdered in a bombing after he had orchestrated the murder of her close friend in front of her! No one attacks Mary with impunity!
Afterwards, we visited St. Margaret’s Chapel. This has the clear distinction of being the oldest building in the city of Edinburgh (11th century). We also discussed why Robert the Brus decided to leave St. Margaret’s chapel- hint hint, it included the fact that the Church was already upset with him after he murdered an arch rival in a separate church (we will visit this one too) under the pretenses of having a “peaceful” discussion! We had a chance to visit Mons Meg- the largest cannon ever built in Flanders which was given to the King of Scotland as a gift. We ended our time at Edinburgh Castle with spending time touring the dungeons, including a stop-in at an exhibit showing American POW graffiti from the American Revolution (picture included to show the sailor’s etching of the American flag!)
After leaving Edinburgh Castle we made our way down to see St. Giles. Originally built as a Catholic Cathedral, it was radically altered during the Reformation, but after some extensive modern renovations, a visitor today can see the Cathedral in much of its pre-Reformation glory. Within the Cathedral, we had the opportunity to share the story of the young women who led a riot against the minister of St. Giles when he tried to institute the Book of Common Prayer on the congregation (an Anglican text). St. Giles’s own architecture is so unique with its “crown” shaped steeple, and “who’s who” of Scottish history statues in the courtyard (including Adam Smith- the writer of The Wealth of Nations).
We enjoyed a quick lunch underneath the church, saw an impressive statue of Charles II as a Roman Emperor, and headed up the street to visit the Elephant House. This cafe has the distinction of being the place that J.K. Rowling wrote much of the early Harry Potter series. It was a charming little cafe that some of our students decided to relax a bit and take in the sights within. I took the group that was ready for a bit more of a walk and we came down the Royal Mile to look at various shopping venues as well watch an escape artist performing in the street.
On the walk down the mile, we were able to see Cannongate Kirk. This church was an excellent opportunity for our students to juxtapose the Roman Catholic aesthetic with the Presbyterian one that was emblematic of the influences of John Knox and other early Protestants in Scotland. After a conversation regarding David I and his vision of the stag (which adorns much of the Cannongate Kirk), we finished down the Mile, and spend a bit of time having a look around outside the modern Scottish Parliament building as well as caught a glimpse of the Palace of the Holyrood- the Queen of England’s official state residence in Scotland. We made our way back up the mile in time to meet the rest of our group and head out to the local movie theatre.
We watched a hilarious comedy / musical / informative piece on the history of England created by a series called “Horrible Histories.” The stories poked fun at the Roman emperor Nero, and his inept managing of the Empire, as well as told the story of Boudica. Her story is one of survival and resentment of the Roman expansion into Britain. Much like the movie, we have focused on issues of Scottish identity in our class, and the movie itself seemed to encourage a future in which the descendents of Boudica and the descendents of the Romans might live harmoniously together in a synthesized new way. On a day when much of the politics has been divisive here in Scotland, it was a hopeful film that was useful in contextualizing long-standing grievances in Scottish history. After the film, it was back to the hotel for some cards and “Around the Horn” before we dismissed everyone for a well deserved night of rest. Tomorrow we plan to hike to Arthur’s Seat, and will end the day with a Ghost Tour of Haunted Edinburgh.