St. Andrew’s Day

Today is St. Andrew’s day, and that is a fact which would have completely slipped by me had I not seen today’s Google Doodle. That Doodle made me inordinately pleased that the country I am in was being represented on the internet, and it occurs to me that to a degree I am starting to think of Scotland as “us”. Canada will always be “us”, and it is the most “us”, but Edinburgh is getting a wee slice of the pie as well, it seems. Anyways, I had plans for the day involving practice, studying, laundry, and various other things which I knew I have to do but did not want to do, and I happily dropped them all for free entry to all the tourist-magnet places I haven’t been to yet. This turns out to have been an incredibly good decision.

First I went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.


That isn’t the palace, that’s the sculpture thing in front of the palace with the palace behind it. I’m not very good at photography, but I did intend to take a picture of the sculpture rather than the palace. The sculpture had lots of faces and was very intricate, so I immediately felt a desire to take a picture.

The inside of the palace was a lot like the sculpture, it turns out. We were not permitted to take any photos, so a description will have to suffice – basically, everything was ornate to an extent that was a bit hard to believe. It was rich in an understated way. All of the wood was carved, and carved down to the smallest detail. If something had beads, they would be tiny beads, and different colours, and in a pattern. The ceilings were carved stone, the walls were carved oak, and the coverings on the furniture looked hand-woven. Really, it is a house in which no expense whatsoever had been spared, even though it wasn’t awe-inspiring. It also looked like it would be incredibly boring to live there if you were a royal adult. There’s specific rooms for very specific times of the day, and if you were to adhere to the functions of the rooms, you’d spend an awful lot of your time making use out of all the rooms, sitting there, and then going to the next one, probably while you were bothered with things that other people were doing. Of course, I suppose that wasn’t how it actually was. I did take one sneaky picture, I couldn’t resist:

An original two-manual Rucker harpsichord
An original two-manual Rucker harpsichord

The best part was the oldest part – the part in which Mary Stuart lived. It was a fairly small apartment, and very old, and to get to it one had to climb a very narrow stair. I didn’t have to duck to walk up it, but an average-sized person would. I found the quality of art on the objects impressive. There were many thumbnail-sized paintings on various objects, and my first thought was that they had been photocopied, reduced, and printed again, but of course they had been painted that way to start with, and I wonder how on earth they were painted that tiny. Same with the carvings, many looked like they had been done with a needle, the detail was so fine. There were some ribbons with messages on them, and the messages looked like they had been typeset and then done by a machine, but they would have been made by hand as well. The skill became obvious when I looked at the items made by Mary herself to pass the time while in captivity. Hers were amusingly shoddy – the embroidery was wonky, the stitching was bad, everything was lumpy – so I could only imagine the time and care it must have taken to produce items which she herself probably used casually.

The Holyrood Abbey was the most interesting structure.

Architecturally ahead of its time.
Architecturally ahead of its time.

abbey 2

It reminded me a lot of St. Giles, where I take my organ lessons. It was built around the same time as St. Margeret’s chapel, but fell into ruins about 300 years ago.

I took a brief tour through the Queen’s Gallery, but it didn’t seem nearly as impressive as the National Gallery, so I went back home for a snack, and then went to the castle.

I am very glad I went to Edinburgh Castle when it was free. It looks great on the skyline, but it is essentially a giant gift shop. There were only a few areas to go in – The Great Hall dining room, the royal apartments (bare of furniture), and some regimental museums. The regimental museums may have been good, but I didn’t go in. There is St. Margaret’s Chapel, which is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. It was built in the twelfth century, only a generation or two after St. Margaret herself.


It certainly looks as though it was built a very, very long time ago – those windows are actually stained glass, but it was used as a gunpowder shed during a few of the times the Scots were fighting off the English, and they had to restore the inside. It’s basically plaster, and with many people trying to fight their way through a very tiny room, there wasn’t much to see. There was one aspect of going to the castle that I didn’t anticipate, and that was the view.

castle view

Edinburgh really is right on the ocean, and I never realized how large the shadow of the castle was on the city.