This was the first time I ever sat in a bus with a toilet. We were off to Edinburgh from London in a National Express bus that wouldn’t stop anywhere on its route. It had only a minor stop at Milton Keynes where India had lost a Hockey match a few weeks back. But we were nowhere near the town. Likewise the stop at Newcastle-on-Tyne too was also for a short while away from the town. Passengers had to make do with the toilet that was onboard to cater to around 25 or 30 of them. Refreshments could be bought in the bus – the usual fare of sandwiches and coffee. With these amenities one did mot really feel the strain of a travel of around nine hours. to the city of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
As we got off the bus we checked with a transport official the way to our B&B. As we moved towards the bus stop on the Princes Street I could hear the faint strains of pipe being played by somebody. As we got on to the bus I saw a piper in full regalia playing on his pipe standing on the pavement. I don’t know whether the piper was trying to makes some money but the strains that emanated from his pipe were very soft and pleasant on the ear.We were headed for Broughton Street past the old Theatre Royal. Broughton Street was close to Princes Street and what was more interesting was that on the ground floor of our B&B were two shops run by Indian migrants selling mostly Indian snacks. I saw appetizing samosas kept in the hotcase.
Edinburgh is dominated by Edinburgh Castle on the Castle Hill. It is reputed to be a place inhabited from as far back as the iron age. It, however, exchanged hands several times and has, therefore, been witness to a lot of blood and gore. Marie Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in Royal Palace in 1566. From 1600 it held a garrison and later even hosted prisoners of wars. It continues to be a military base and at the same time is also a part of Edinburgh World Heritage Site.
Edinburgh has two iconic roads - Princes Street and the Royal Mile. The Princes Street was named after two sons of George III. Over decades it has changed as the road was planned and re-planned with the buildings having to abide by fresh municipal instructions. It is on this street that the Gothic Walter Scott Memorial is located close to Princes Street Gardens. R.L Stevenson, if I remember, used to live somewhere off the Princess Street.
A spanking new mall too was located on this Street. It was named Waverley – a name that rang a bell. I seemed to have heard it earlier. Long years ago our friend Vikram Shitole came down from Woodstock in Mussourie to pursue a regular Matriculation course instead of the one of American High School Graduation. Being a young man he used to talk about the girls in the neighbouring Convent the name of which happened to be Waverley. That’s it; after years I again came across this name and that too as the name of a shopping complex. Later, however, I came to know that even the name of the Edinburgh Railway Station too was Waverley.
The other iconic street in Edinburgh is the Royal Mile. The rock on which the Edinburgh Castle stands is between Princes Street and Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is, in fact, a succession of streets intersected by what are known as “closes” from the Castle Gate down to the Hollyrood Palace where the British monarch comes and stays. The distance from the Castle Gate to the Gate of the Palace is approximately a mile. The Royal Mile is a crowded thoroughfare mostly busy with the activities related to tourism.
It is a distinguished part of the Old Town and, naturally exploited and capitalized for tourism. No wonder Edinburgh is the second most important city for tourism in UK after London. Standing on the Royal Mile one can see a succession of old residential constructions, religious places as well as other structures that were used for purposes of governance. In the midst of all these one has the Castle, with its walls and the grounds green with trees sloping towards the Royal Mile. It has that touristy atmosphere a whiff of which we got while taking a ride in an open-top bus.
The railway station is situated in a steep valley between the Princes Street and the Royal Mile. The railway was allowed after a stout fight between the residents of then newly built residences who did not want the smoke from the steam engines to pollute the air and ruin their health. The railway with its station and other paraphernalia remained in the valley and to mask the effects of smoke in the area the residents built up gardens that are now known as the Princes Street gardens. To go across to the Royal Mile or the Old Town bridges were built for the benefit of travelers and commuters. The net result is that in Edinburgh you hear the railway engines but never ever see them.
We had a pleasant a stay of less than a week though if one went by what Stevenson said about the weather there one wouldn’t find it pleasant. We confronted rain only once but Stevenson complained of “rain, damp and blustery winds”. He wrote about the Edinburgh weather saying “ the delicate die early, and I as a survivor among bleak winds and plumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy them their fates. For all who love shelter and blessings of the sun and perpetual tilting against squalls, there could scarcely be found a more unhomely and harassing place of residence”.
This he said about Edinburgh and reckoning the current number of tourist footfalls in the town one would scarcely give any credence to such dark prognostications about the weather. One can only say how wrong he was in his perception of the town’s weather. Perhaps, his bronchial condition made him see darkness where, perhaps, there was light.