This morning we met up at Waverly Station to board a train down to England to visit Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm. We had a section reserved for ourselves, which was cool because we were able to sit together. Several people expressed interest in seeing my Isle of Skye pictures, so I decided to bring along my Macbook to show pictures on the train, and to work some more on journals and my book.
At the train station in the restroom (which you have to pay 30 pence to use), they have these crazy hand dryers called Dyson Airblades, that are basically hand dryers with something like jet engines. They will dry your hands in a jiffy!
During the train ride down to Carlisle, England, I showed some of the pictures to Doug, Chelsea, and Dr. Bender. There were so many pictures that it took almost the whole train ride to go through them.
When we arrived in Carlisle, we then boarded a coach, which was a Mercedes bus. We were joking around about the “oh shit!” handles on the backs of the seats, and it was a clue that it was going to be a wild ride. It was.
One thing that was troubling was that our driver had never been to where we were going, and was relying on a GPS navigator to know where to go. The roads were very narrow and winded up and down through the hills into England’s Lake District, so much so that the handles were definitely put to use as our bus twisted through the hills.
England’s Lake District is beautiful. There are, obviously, several lakes, as well as lush hills with waterfalls cascading down into the lakes.
When we (finally) arrived in Hawk’s Head, everyone was ready to get off the bus, as many were experiencing some motion sickness. I didn’t feel so good myself after that ride either.
Hawk’s Head is a cute little town, with several quaint little shops and restaurants. We didn’t have much time before we were to head up to the Hill Top Farm, so I grabbed a salad at a store. They would not accept Scottish pounds there (even though Scotland accepts English pounds) so I had to use my credit card. We sat down to eat and then realized that we had to be back on the bus in five minutes. I wasn’t finished eating so I threw my food into the bag and brought it to finish on the bus.
We then arrived at the Hill Top Farm in Sawrey, Cumbria, which is the farm Beatrix Potter wrote many of her Peter Rabbit books. She bought the farm with royalties from her early Peter Rabbit books, and while living there did sketches of the house and farm which appeared in several of the books. As royalties kept flowing in, and also with her parents’ inheritance, she then began to buy up even more farmland around the area.
There were a lot of Japanese tourists there, as we had already noticed in Hawks Head. Dr. Bender said the reason for this is because schools in Japan use Potter’s books to learn English, so they are wildly popular in Japan.
We had arrived a tad bit late, so when we got there this snotty English lady started being kind of rude with us. We then had to filter through the wee cottage a few at a time. The cottage is supposedly exactly the same as when Beatrix Potter left it, with nice antique furniture and paintings. There were also letters and notes on display that she wrote. It was very small though, so it didn’t take much time to see everything.
Outside the cottage there were some gardens with some interesting looking flowers and plants. One of the flowers looked like a blonde headed pineapple. There were also these berries that looked kind of like grapes. This English guy standing there told us they were gooseberries, and then he ate one.
We then starting having camera fun, as we took a few group pictures outside the cottage, and a few of us started taking pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures. Ann Hamilton then started taking pictures of everyone’s “thug face,” and they were extremely funny, especially the one of Doris Cella. So here they are in all their glory, courtesy of Ann Hamilton McGuire:
We then loaded back up on the Mercedes rollercoaster, had a brief stop in Hawk’s Head for the bathroom and last-minute shopping, and then began the wild ride back to Carlisle.
On the way back to Carlisle, I came to a grim realization. I did not have my laptop with me. A full-fledged panic attack then ensued as I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed missing it. I tried to maintain my composure the best I could, and then gathered myself well enough to tell Dr. Rushing and Dr. Cella my problem.
When I informed them of the situation, Dr. Cella called the travel centre in Hawk’s Head, while Dr. Rushing and Dr. Bender helped me retrace my steps so I could figure out at what point I lost it during the trip. After looking through pictures of myself on Dr. Rushing’s camera, it appeared that I had left it in Hawk’s Head.
Before getting off the bus to eat lunch when we first arrived in Hawk’s Head, I had debated whether to leave my Macbook on the coach or to take it with me. I had decided that it would be safer if I kept it on me (boy was I wrong!). When we were eating lunch and realized we had to be back at the bus in 5 minutes, I threw my food in the bag to eat on the bus, and left my laptop on the bench as we rushed to the bus. I hadn’t carried my laptop with me hardly at all throughout the trip besides when it was in my luggage on my Highlands weekends, so for some reason I didn’t even think anything about it the whole time we were at the Hilltop Farm. If I had realized it at the Hilltop Farm, when we went back to Hawk’s Head afterwards I was standing on the other side of a wall next to the benches where I had lunch, and it could have been still sitting there (though highly improbable).
Not only did I feel like I was dying inside, this was very embarrassing as well because it seemed rather idiotic for me to go that long without realizing I had lost it. There were hours and hours of work I had done for both my projects for this trip and several other things I was working on that I hadn’t yet backed up. I had also imported all my pictures into my Macbook and deleted them off my camera’s memory card the day before, so they were all gone now too. I am passionate about my writing, both journalism and fiction, so it felt as if I had lost a part of my soul.
Fortunately, Dr. Rushing said he had a program that might be able to bring back some of the pictures off my memory card, which made me feel a little better. All the writing I had done could be (painstakingly) written again, as I still remembered most of it and still had most of my sources, but there was no way to recreate the pictures. With this being so far along in the trip, I had well over a thousand pictures, and I was hoping that all the photos of this grand adventure would not be lost forever, and only existing in my memories. I could get pictures from other people on the trip, but since I went to the Isle of Skye and Inverness by myself, those would be gone forever, and those were the best of my pictures and my fondest memories by far.
When arriving in Carlisle, I ran over to the police station and filed a report. I also gave them Ron Cella’s cell phone number so they could contact him if someone turned it in. I then ran back to the train station so I wouldn’t miss the train, because if I did it would be several hours before the next one.
I then tried to gather myself as best I could before I faced everyone again, because I felt heart-broken and embarrassed, and I didn’t want to let it show. I feel that I have made some good friends on this trip, and everyone’s concern really meant a lot to me. In a time of crisis such as this, it is good to be surrounded by people who seem to genuinely care about your well-being. On the train ride back, my mind was racing a hundred miles an hour, but I had to fight off the pain as best I could.
Up until this point in the trip, everything had gone perfectly for me. It was almost too perfect, to the point that something bad had to happen eventually, and unfortunately this was one of the worst things that could have happened (though there still could have been much worse). There were still a few days left on the trip, and there were several things I still wanted to see and do, so I was determined not to let this incident ruin the remainder of the trip. It had happened, and nothing could change that, so moping around and feeling sorry for myself would have solved nothing. I still had some valuable time left in Scotland, and I was determined to make the best of it.
I had discussed going on another ghost tour with some of the other people in the class, so we decided to meet up at Mary King’s Close later on that evening. After calling my parents to break the news to them, I set off for the Royal Mile. I ran into Doug who was coming on the tour as well, and we stopped and got a sandwich at Subway, then went to Mary King’s Close.
When we got there we were the only ones there from our group, the tour only had two spots remaining, and was the last tour of the night. I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to show up because it was already past the time we were supposed to meet, so we decided to book the last two spots.
Right after we booked them, Bre showed up and said she was delayed on the buses. I asked the lady if they could possibly squeeze one more person in, but she said they were not allowed to. I felt really bad, because she came all the way over there and now there wasn’t another spot. I thought about just cancelling and trying to go the next day because she really wanted to go, but then the rest of the girls showed up who wanted to go on the tour as well. I really needed to do the tour for my folklore research, and the girls said they would try to do it the next day, so I decided to go ahead and do the tour, and Bre could hang out with the other girls, and possibly go on the tour with them the following night.
This tour was different than the tour the previous night. We were not allowed to take pictures on this tour, and much of everything was staged models and people dressed up in period clothing.
Edinburgh’s Old Town consists of the Royal Mile and all the Closes leading off of it. A Close is a small street or path that runs off of the main street between buildings back into courtyards. They are usually named after a memorable occupant of one of the apartments back in the Close, or occupations of those trading in the Close, in this case, Mary King.
Mary King’s Close is a series of Closes that had several seven-story high tenement houses, and was one of the main places hit by the plague. Mary King, it’s most famous resident who the Close was named after, was a seamstress who sold garments on the Royal Mile. When the Royal Exchange was built, the tops of the tenement houses were demolished, but the bottom was encased underground to serve as a foundation for the building.
The tour guide, playing the role Mary King’s daughter, told us of the story of Mary King (who is believed to still haunt the Close) and the residents of the Close as we descended underneath the Royal Mile. It was interesting to imagine people living down there when it was above ground, and it was weird to see the sides of buildings underground.
There was a drunk guy in the group who was being obnoxious and started smoking a cigarette. The tour guide had to tell him to put it out, and he started getting an attitude. I thought she was going to lose it, but he eventually started behaving himself somewhat after she threatened to ask him to leave.
In one of the rooms was supposedly the ghost of a little girl named Annie, which is one of the most active rooms for paranormal activity in Mary King’s Close. Annie was a plague victim, and rather than infecting themselves and Annie’s siblings, her parents left her there to die, which the tour guide said was a sad but common occurrence during the plague.
There have been reports of hearing her singing songs and sightings in a corner of the room, and psychics have said there was a strong presence in that corner. There in the corner was a huge pile of dolls and toys, which looked creepy in itself, who visitors have donated to little Annie throughout the years.
There was a popular myth that during the plague, the city council trapped the victims down in Mary King’s Close to die, to keep the plague from spreading. The tour guide said this was not true, but that those infected were quarantined and had to hang a banner in their window so that passersby would know that plague victims lived there. She said that sometimes people would leave food and gifts outside, though keeping their distance.
There were mannequins of people infected with the plague in one room, along with a mannequin of a doctor, Dr. George Rae, dressed in a full-body leather suit to protect himself from the plague. At the time people thought that the plague was spread by bad air, when it was actually spread by flea bites, but the leather suit did not leave any skin exposed which protected the doctor from both, and looked very creepy. Not many doctors wanted to risk themselves to deal with the plague victims, and some of them caught the plague themselves and died, but Dr. Rae was paid handsomely for his work with the victims, and never caught the plague.
We then ventured down a corridor where the very first water pipe laid in Edinburgh was exposed, and then went deeper into the Close. One of the entrances to a building off the close was the living quarters and workshop of Andrew Chesney, who specialized in making and sharpening saw blades. The tour guide said this area had the most paranormal activity in the entire close as people have felt being shoved and scratched, along with hearing a voice saying “get out.”
She knocked on the door to make the ghost aware of our presence and opened it for us to look inside, though we were not allowed to go inside. The drunk guy in the group started being obnoxious again, trying to go inside when the tour guide said we weren’t allowed, and he started asking a bunch of questions to see if the ghost would answer them.
It was an interesting tour but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the tour the day before. In all fairness though, I was still very upset about losing the computer so that could have something to do with it. It just felt more like a haunted house and more of a show than the South Bridge Vaults tour, which had no props and everything was preserved the way it was.
After Doug and I came up out of Mary King’s Close, Bre was waiting for us and we went back down to the Grassmarket. Much like Mercat Cross, there were many people publicly executed at the Grassmarket as well. One of the most famous legends of this area is that of Maggie Dickson, who has a pub there in her honor called Maggie Dickson’s Pub at the site of the hangings, so we stopped off there first so I could get more information on the legend.
Maggie Dickson became pregnant by an innkeeper and tried to conceal her pregnancy, which was against the law. Her baby died shortly after it was born, so Maggie left it on a riverbank. It was discovered and Maggie was sentenced to death. After her hanging in 1724, on the way to the graveyard the workers heard clawing coming from inside the coffin, and upon opening the coffin, discovered that Maggie was still alive. This created quite a stir, as people weren’t sure if she should be hanged again. It was decided that this was divine intervention, so Maggie was allowed to live, and went down in Edinburgh legend as Half-Hanged Maggie.
Bre, Doug, and I then ventured back to the White Hart Inn, where there was some live music for Bre to record for her project. As this pub was the place Robert Burns stayed in his last visit to Edinburgh, the musician played a Burns ballad for us. He then broke out this weird drum and sang another song using percussion.
On the way back to the dorms, it was raining hard, so Bre put on a poncho. With all her camera equipment in her extremely large backpack, she wore the poncho over the backpack as well, which made her look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. We all got a big kick out of it and I told her she should go climb to the top of a bell tower and ring the bell.
This was a sad day for me with losing my computer, and throughout the night it bothered me greatly, but I tried to keep busy doing things to keep my mind off of it as much as I could. I had lost a tremendous amount of research, so it was imperative that I keep gathering research before my time was up in Scotland.