6/23 Edinburgh’s Underworld, A Clone That Said “Baah,” Man’s Best Friend, and a “Royal” Jam Session

This morning we had class again, and it was really neat to be reunited with everyone and hear about their adventures over the weekend. I could have gone on for hours about my weekend, but I had to try to condense the vast amount of experiences down or I would have just kept going on and on about it. There were several other people that had some grand adventures over the weekend as well, but my Isle of Skye adventures (in the previous blog entries) were pretty damn epic and fun to discuss.

It was also good to see that several of us in the media class made leaps and bounds on our projects. Time was running short on being able to gather information and do filming (for those that were doing films) with one week remaining, and the free weekend looked to be highly productive for several of us. Now with five days remaining, it was going to be crunch time for the media class, and this day turned out to be yet another highly productive day for many of us, as everyone was willing and eager to help each other out.

After class we headed over to the National Museum of Scotland. Admission was free, so this was a good place for Chelsea to do some filming for her documentary on saving money while visiting Edinburgh. We first checked out the basement, which was the main thing I was looking forward to seeing for my research on the ancient Celts.

The basement contained several ancient artifacts from the Picts, Celts, Vikings, and Romans. There was also a room that showed the prehistory of Scotland and how it was formed. I found it interesting that Scotland and England used to be two separate lands which collided together during continental shifts, and that Scotland used to be on the Equator.

Another interesting fact was I found out that Arthur’s Seat used to be a sacred hill to the Celts (yet another fairy hill perhaps?), who performed rituals and sacrifices on the hill, and there were several artifacts in the museum as evidence of this. There were several relics on display that the Celts believed to have magical powers, including several sacred gems and stones.

We then checked out some artifacts from the Middle Ages, including some from the times of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and no, William Wallace did not look like Mel Gibson.

The weapons room was awesome and had a bunch of really big broadswords, spears, and axes. It really makes you think what it was like back in the day when wars were fought with hand-to-hand combat. Chelsea and I were joking about how bad it would suck to be the guy standing in the front while we were looking at a picture of a Roman battle formation. The guy would have to know he was going to die, yet would charge right in as a kind of human shield to begin to help chip away at the other army. Close to the room with the weapons was a room with torture and execution devices, and items used particularly to torture supposed witches.

With my rich background in music, some other highly interesting artifacts to me were some old instruments and gramophones. We were having a hard time finding the gramophones so we asked a tour guide that worked there where they were. It was kind of funny because he had no clue where they were, and he was a tour guide. I could tell he felt embarrassed, and he eventually had to ask another tour guide where they were.

I have some experience DJing and working with digital audio, so it was awesome to see all of the old audio equipment, and they had the equipment set up in a time line from the oldest gramophones to the modern audio equipment of today.

Downstairs from the gramophones was Dolly the sheep. Dolly was the first animal successfully cloned, but died after six years after developing lung cancer. She was stuffed and encased on a spinning platform, with fake droppings and all. Some think that because the sheep Dolly was cloned from also only lived six years, there might have been some kind of genetic defect that was shared between the two, where Dolly was pre-determined to only be able to live six years.

After the museum, Bre helped Chelsea do some filming outside and then we went over to the Greyfriars Bobby pub to get a pint and some lunch. Just outside the pub is a statue of the legendary Skye terrier, and after my great weekend on the Isle of Skye, I am now a big fan of all things Skye.

Greyfriars Bobby belonged to an Edinburgh City Police night watchman named John Gray, and they were inseparable, even after death. Gray died in 1858, and legend has it that Greyfriars Bobby guarded his master’s grave for the remaining 14 years of his life. In 1867, he was adopted by the Edinburgh city council because ownerless dogs were put to sleep. At the sound of Edinburgh castle’s one o’clock cannon shot, he would go over to a nearby pub where they would feed him. He died in 1872 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard close to his master’s grave. A statue was then erected in his honor and the pub that fed him was renamed Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar. The inscription on his grave reads, “Greyfriars Bobby — died 14th January 1872 — aged 16 years — Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.” Indeed.

Greyfriars Bobby is one of the most photographed statues in Edinburgh, and it was pretty funny as we were walked over to it because we saw Cait and Rebecca working on their stop-motion film with their doll. A stop-motion film is when pictures are taken in a series of an inanimate object to make it appear to move, so right there at one of the most visited tourist attractions in Edinburgh was Cait, Rebecca, Beth, and this funny looking doll with people walking by wondering what in the world was going on. They were getting some funny looks and I thought it was hilarious. Those three always crack me up every time I hang out with them, and they definitely have the carefree kind of personality it would take to do that and not be embarrassed. Kudos to them.

Inside the Greyfriars Bobby pub Bre, Chelsea, and I got a drink and some food, and I helped Chelsea do some filming inside the pub because even though the pub is world-famous, it is reasonably priced from those traveling on a budget. Bre pointed out that we were sitting in an area called the “Bullshit Corner,” which I thought was hilarious.

I got this weird vegetable sausage sandwich that was very good, and this Scottish dude noticed we were Americans and kept asking us random questions about the states. He was pretty drunk, and when we were leaving he was getting VERY friendly with Chelsea and Bre, trying to kiss them on the cheek and stuff, which was kind of creepy.

After that we walked around Princes Street a bit and then Bre and I went to meet up with the group down in the Grassmarket at the White Hart Inn (the oldest pub in Edinburgh), to help Cait and Rebecca do a pub scene for their stop-motion film. The White Hart Inn was also the place Robert Burns stayed during his last trip to Edinburgh, and was frequented by the infamous bodysnatchers Burke and Hare (more on them later). After filming on the inside of the pub, Cait and Rebecca went outside to do more filming and got some more funny looks from passersby, and even had a guy come over who claimed to be a puppeteer, but he seemed like kind of a creep.

After that, Bre and I walked around the Royal Mile to try and locate a ghost tour for that evening, so I could continue my research on folklore. I decided to go on a ghost tour of the South Bridge Vaults, which is supposedly one of the most haunted places in the world. The tour began at Mercat Cross, where hundreds of women believed to be witches were executed in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The tour guides were very animated and spoke with a passionate tone of spookiness, and liked to yell out of nowhere to startle everyone. They told us that unlike some of the other ghost tours in Edinburgh, they were not playing tricks to scare us, and everything we were to see is really believed to be haunted, and nothing was staged if we saw something wierd. When they saw I was taking notes, they joked about giving a test at the end of the tour. I told them I was doing research on folklore for a book, so they began speaking directly to me on several occasions during the tour.

We then went down into the South Bridge Vaults, where the only light was candlelight, and they told us the story of The Watcher, who is one of the ghosts believed to haunt the vaults. The vaults were populated by the homeless in the 1800s, who lived in very poor conditions because there was no puddling clay to keep out water, and the vaults would constantly flood. There were large families living in cramped quarters with poor air circulation, and no running water or sanitation. The Watcher is believed to be the ghost of the vaults’ unofficial landlord, who watched over the people who lived there, and supposedly follows people around the vaults because he has been spotted in several different locations.

The South Bridge Vaults were also an underground network for the body snatchers to transport bodies dug up from graveyards to the Edinburgh Medical College, where they were sold for dissection. Two of the more infamous body snatchers were Burke and Hare, who not only dug up graves but murdered 17 people down in the vaults. When detected, Hare gained immunity by testifying against Burke, who was given a death sentence. After Burke was executed he shared the fate of his victims by being dissected at the medical school. His skin was used to for the binding of a book, on display at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and his skeleton is on display in the anatomy library of Edinburgh University’s Medical School. Hare fled to England.

It was very creepy down there, and it was hard to imagine how people lived down there with no sunlight in horrible conditions. With only using candlelight it made things look even creepier, with flickering light dancing across the walls.

We came into the Cobbler’s Room, who psychics have said is the friendly spirit of a shoemaker. In the corner of that room people have seen an apparition of a woman wearing a veil covered in blood, who is confined to that spot. We then went into the Wine Room, where there were several bottles of wine stored, and there is supposedly the ghost of a little boy named Jack who has been heard giggling in the room.

We then went into the most haunted room of the vaults, where the most activity has been reported. The tour guide told us to watch the candle in the room, because there was no draft coming into the room, and that the candle was flickering wildly earlier that day on a previous tour. The candle did do some flickering, and I definitely felt a cold spot in the room. The guides said people have felt things touching them in the room on previous tours, and once a whole tour group heard something say “get out.”

The tour guides told us a bunch of ghost stories, but many of them were not about the vaults. I wished they would have had more stories about where we actually were, rather than telling stories about other places in Edinburgh. After we came up out of the vaults we headed over to Canongate Graveyard, where they told us stories of people being buried alive, and a story about a demon.

On the way to walking to the graveyard, I talked some with one of the guides about my book I was working on. She told me that the best place for me to go in Edinburgh for researching folklore, legends, and storytelling is the Scottish Storytelling Centre, located in the old John Knox house. She said the storytellers there are very helpful, and I would be able to find a bunch of information there.

One neat thing about the graveyard was that it was where the Scottish poet Robert Fergusson was buried, who was one of the main inspirations for Robert Burns. Fergusson was buried in an unmarked grave in the graveyard, and upon hearing about this, Robert Burns paid for a gravestone and had this inscribed, “By special grant of the managers to Robert Burns who erected this stone this burial place is to remain for ever sacred to the memory of Robert Fergusson.” Later on, Robert Lewis Stevenson paid to have the headstone repaired after it had been damaged. These three are sometimes referred to as “the three Roberts.”

After the tour was over Bre and I talked with the tour guides some more, who told me more about the Storytelling Centre, and mentioned some pubs we should visit for traditional Scottish folk music for Bre’s project. We thanked them and then set off for a pub close by called The Tass.

The Tass was really cool, and this was my first experience getting to listen to traditional Scottish folk music, because all the live music I had heard in the majority of pubs I had been to was American music. Bre asked permission to film the group, and they were cool with it. One of the guys then sang a Robert Burns ballad, and then they started jamming once again on the fiddles and guitars. The bad thing was that it was over in about thirty minutes, because The Tass closed at midnight.

Another pub that the ghost tour guide had mentioned was the Royal Oak, and it stayed open until 2 a.m. We were talking with the band afterwards and one of them, named Douglas, was headed over to the Royal Oak and gave us a ride over there, so we didn’t have to walk. It was funny because Bre went to the wrong side of the car to get in. It definitely takes some time get used to having the cars and streets backwards from what we are familiar with.

The Royal Oak was awesome, and was my favorite pub I had been to throughout the whole trip. It was basically a huge jam session with the whole pub participating. There were several people playing guitars and fiddles, and they invited anyone to come up there and play with them and use their instruments, so random people throughout the pub would play with the musicians. Some were better than others, and I seriously thought about jumping in myself but it had been awhile since I had played guitar, so I had to pass.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was when this guy brought out some Polish bagpipes called “dudy,” which is Polish for “pipes.” With me being Polish, it was highly interesting for me to see these because I didn’t even know Polish bagpipes existed. They have a more bassy tone than Scottish bagpipes.  I reached in my pocket for my camera to take a picture of the guy playing, and it wasn’t there. I started getting really worried and asked Douglas if I could check to see if it fell out of my pocket in his car, and there it was in the back seat. Close call. The guy had finished playing when I got back into the pub, so I asked him if I could take a picture of the “dudy” in the case, and he obliged.

Later Douglas grabbed a guitar and joined in on the action as well and the jam session continued throughout the night until closing time. Bre and I then walked back to the dorms.

This was a great day to follow up my great weekend, and like I said previously, it appeared that all the media class got a tremendous amount of work done for our projects, and most everything was excellent for mine.

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