Close Encounters

Trip Start May 22, 2009
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Trip End Feb 16, 2010


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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wandering around the streets of Edinburgh I was enchanted by the little 'closes' all along the Royal Mile.  Walking by these narrow passageways at first, went unnoticed between the shops, cafes, and pubs.  But soon I started to take notice of people emptying into the street from nowhere.  Glancing in, these were little alleys that mysteriously peeked down onto other streets or views of the city.  Each has covered tops, worn steps, and names.  Outside the openings is a beautiful metal plate displaying it's name across the front, but upon closer inspection, traces of old painted names remains and even older carved words are visible.  I found myself drawn to peeking down these streets of old to see the views that were otherwise hidden from view. 

As I was walking, the Royal Mile was getting more and more congested and closed in.  Increased police presence and barriers were starting to go up all around the streets leading to St. Giles Cathedral.  I wondered what could be going on.  Pathways were lined with men in uniform, and beyond the barrier were people under umbrellas, and beyond them were confused people trying to look on at what there was to see...nothing.  The one o'clock cannons fired and still there was nothing.  Rain began to pour from the sky and still everyone stood.  People stuffed into doorways and closes to try to shelter themselves from the rain.  Never have I heard so busy a street so quiet.  Somehow everyone sensed some sort of reverence and the only sounds were those of the raindrops and feet splashing as they stepped.  Huddled in a close, I spoke with a man who lived across the street from the location of a terrible arsonist's fire.  While the fire raged, a firefighter on his day off went in to rescue those inside, but lost his life when the floor collapsed.  This was the funeral procession. 

Intrigued more by these closes all over the city, I learned that there were more that I could not glance through or wander down.  These are buried beneath the streets and buildings of the current city and herald to times gone by.  Once the main walkways and tenements for daily life, the name of progress and development changed all of that.  Desired for a more level street and the development of the Royal Exchange (now the city chambers).  A few of these closes became sub-floors and foundations of the new face of the city.  Open for tours, you can climb down beneath the city and see where a different life once took place.  A life where 12-20 people lived in once small room, where effluence flowed through the streets twice a day at the call of 'guard you loo', where plague ripped apart families and legends of ghosts arise.  In 1645 when the plaque hit Edinburgh one quarter of the population deceased.  The main loch was a cesspool of dirt and disease.  White flags proclaiming 'plague' hung from every door, and doctors wearing leather caped and beaks to ward off even spirits did little to help their terminal patients.  Rumors have it that a way of protecting the health of other citizens, Mary King's Close was bricked p for quarantine with the residents still inside.  This has lead to a plethora of ghost stories surrounding this area of the city deep beneath the streets. 

This old city beneath the city, where layouts and hallways have barely changed in over 300 years is a great way to get a feel for what life may have been like back then.  Old millstones in the kitchen, and faded prints from wallpaper are scratches of evidence of there people's lives.  What will be left of our existence for future generations to ponder?
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