Of Singing, Storytelling & Spirits
Edinburgh is the friendliest big city I have ever visited. That is probably because of it’s history. There used to be a toll to leave or enter the city centuries ago. Since most people could not afford the tax, most people never left. The buildings were built higher and higher to accommodate the increasing population. Interestingly enough, the architects of the Middle Ages discovered how high they could actually layer a building when it did not collapse upon itself. A pub stands at the edge of the city called, “The End of the World.” For most of the inhabitants, at that time, this was near the end of their world; inside the walls was the only world they knew and the people here had to learn to get along with their neighbors since they could not just leave.
The city survived three plagues and villains such as the famous murderers, Burke & Hare, who killed wayward travelers and locals, “no one would miss”. They sold their corpses to the medical school down the road. I was amazed at how many of our colloquial sayings come from this area: such as “laughing ’til your head falls off” and “graveyard shift”. People here seem to know how to tell a good tale from their history. If the teller embellishes, “just a little”, to make it a better yarn; then, you bet, the history will be highlighted with a few extra tidbits.
I heard three different versions of the Stone of Destiny and all guides told me that they had the historical truth. The tales of the dead and the spirits which still walked or haunted the living in underground vaults, the graveyard, city streets and old buildings were a main attraction among the ghost tour guides. The later the tour in the evening hours, the more scary the tales….”Boo!” Things can get a little jumpy with the slightest of sounds. Even though I originally wanted to also attend the 10 PM night tour I found that the stories at the 8:30 PM session was all I wanted to handle before bedtime.
Guides of ghosts tours aren’t the only ones that are famous for their story telling around here. This is one of the few cities I have ever found a literary museum celebrating the work of home town authors; Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) remain a few of their greatest from Edinburgh. But the Elephant Cafe is an even more bustling place than this museum as it is the “Birthplace of Harry Potter.” Yes, J.K. Rowling started her famous series here and you too can sit in the place of her creating for only the cost of an overpriced burger….By the way, wifi is extra.
So when you tire of the spoken or written tale you can listen to the rhythm of the story. You will always find a lyrical version of the stories you hear in the plentiful, yet local, pubs. I loved the fast moving jigs but often, if you listen to the words, you’ll hear sad Scottish stories coming through; such as in the song, “I swear I killed my liver over you.”
Which leaves us with the other type of “spirits” in Edinburgh. Instead of Beer Pubs, expect Whiskey Pubs in Scotland. There are full menus of the variety of aged and processed Scottish whiskey. “We drink it straight or with only a few drops of water to unleash the flavor”, I was told. It is an expensive drink in Scotland and not my favorite; but, I found it was the only thing that could get a few bites of the traditional haggis down. Don’t ask me what it is made of…you don’t want to know.
So, in this city you can find two kinds of spirits and many types of story tellers. I learned that I should not always believe what I hear, approach any spirit with caution and the music is never too far away in this capitol of Scotland.