So I've found my hostel, High Street Hostel on Blackfriar Street, and it's great. I've not stayed in a hostel before, and already it's looking like a good solution to the issue of becoming isolated when travelling alone. I'm in an 8-girl dorm room, and the lounge and kitchen are really cosy. I'm not intending to make most of my own meals, but I can easily see how you could turn up with a little bottle of cooking oil and be able to sort your own food. I dropped off my stuff and went to explore the Royal Mile, starting with Edinburgh Castle.
I took one of the free tours round the place, and I'd recommend it. Our guide Graeme turned an indistinguishable muddle of grey stone buildings into a story. Once you start to understand when certain parts were built, and why, it all starts to make sense. There was the chapel built by David I to honour his mother Margaret, the hiding of the Honours - the crown jewels of Scotland - and their subsequent rediscovery by Walter Scott. The Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, over which Scottish monarchs are crowned. It was stolen from the Scots by the English, then pinched back again by some students from Glasgow University. They hid it in various places round Edinburgh before giving it up. It's the size of a sports locker! There's metal rings in it so I can see how they moved it, but where on earth did they put it when they were sneaking it out?!
Having a knowledge of Elizabethan history from my A-levels definitely helped, as so much of the history links into Mary Quen of Scots, her treason against Elizabeth I, and then James I and VI taking the throne. I knew of a few placed where English history intersects with Scottish but I've never considered what the Scottsh had been doing the rest of the time! I also had a crash course on whiskey by an enthusiastic member of staff. I was more interested in the beautiful presentation cases that are made for the especially prestigious ones, and was stunned to find out that whiskey prices can easily go into thousands of pounds. They had one on display for over £3000, because of it's rarity and grand old age of 70 years!
The sun came out then, and the castle has some great views. From the Forth Bridge in the west, along to the silver gleam of the Firth of Forth to Arthus Seat and the odd 'Lonely Mountain' of Berwick Law in the east. I wandered down the hill, found the National Museum, and some food in a little Mediterranean cafe, then went for a half hour sunbathe in the Meadows park. Heard a seagull making sounds that sounded like a human doing an impression of a seagull - weird.
I'd booked onto a tour of The Real Mary Close but I had time to kill before it started. I was browsing the streets to the rear of the castle when I came across some scrubby green space on a slope. A few people were there, and some rabbits were out munching grass. I decided to sit for a bit and, on seeing a boy nearby who had removed his shoes, I remembered that I like to do the same. It was your classic Boy Meets Girl. He was barefoot, I was barefoot, he sidled over and told me folk stories about Russian mermaids, I told him the Human Statue story, he said he thought I was cute, and I must admit that his stubbly beard and accent were winning me over. I'm only here for two days but I gave him my number anyway. Trust me to be in a completely different country when I meet a guy I like!
Sadly I had to leave and catch my tour. The Royal Mile between the old and new royal residences of Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House sits on the rocky spine of a hill, with streets falling off to either side called 'closes'. Buildings there could be seven or nine storeys high, so when the Council House on the Royal Mile needed to be expanded, then simply lengthened the floor until it covered the closes, leaving them underground! The tour was led by Rachael, in the guise of one of Mary King's children. She led us around and told us the stories of the people who once lived in these now empty, underground rooms. She did a magnificent job. I love stories well told and she gave it some real character. I also won her contest for 'weirdest thing yelled by a visitor during the obligatory photos', but then I did use . This had the bonus effect of endearing me to Beth and Kim, visitors from Canada and Australia respectively. We struck up one of those 10min friendships you can do when travelling alone, and spent our brief time together mocking each other's countries and laughing uproariously. Back to the hostel for tonight, and Arthurs Seat tomorrow