Day 1 at the Museums

by Dee


Scotland Series:
Post #5

This is the second part of 24 December 2008 for Anne and me, and this part will focus on our day one of Edinburgh’s museums walk: Day 1. Our destinations ended up to be Camera Obscura and World of Illusion and The Writers’ Museum.

Museums Walk
Museums Walk

Museum 1: Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

We spent the first half of the day in Edinburgh Castle and because we’re not tired yet, we decided to head towards Camera Obscura & World of Illusion not too far from the castle. The museum was founded by Maria Theresia Short in 1835 to display instruments made by Thomas Short, an instrument maker in Edinburgh, after his passing. There was a scandal surrounding the creation of this museum. 

Maria Short came from West Indies and claimed that she’s the rightful owner of Thomas’ masterpiece, the Great Telescope. At first, she chose Calton Hill to display the telescope but then after pressure from the council, she closed the Calton Hill exhibition in 1849 and relocated to Royal Mile instead. She called the exhibition as Short’s Observatory and added two floors to the building which was once Laird of Cockpen’s townhouse. 

This building is now known as the Outlook Tower (Our Story: Camera Obscura). Maria Short died in 1869 and afterwards, Sir Patrick Geddes, a town-planner, bought the building and started organising the Outlook Tower as a museum and urban study centre. The museum closed after his death in 1932 and was purchased by the University of Edinburgh in 1966. The current owner of the museum took over in 1977 and have since operated the Outlook Tower as Camera Obscura & World of Illusion.

To be honest, Anne and I did not know what to expect coming in through the door of Camera Obscura. We were only armed with our endless curiosity about the place and what they exhibit. That’s all our “museums walk” is about. Little did we know, we spent nearly three hours inside. I don’t know for Anne, but for me, Camera Obscura released the child in me. 

I was hopping around and running and being excited every time I touched or saw a display. Almost everything here is permitted for touching-touching, unlike other museums. So, I touched and touched and touched everything. All rooms were adorned with marvellous lights play and glittering dots. I love it. I was a child again. We even loved the loo and took a picture of it! 

A small strenuous task for me was THE STAIRS! Goodness me, the stairs were aplenty and steep too! There are five floors and each floor has hundreds of interactive and hands-on exhibit. My eyes were treated with so many things at once, and my brain failed to process a whole floor. 

There was one floor where we can play with old cameras which were super cool. None of my pictures was perfect here. It was dark and we moved a lot because we were laughing all the time. Yes, I am easily entertained with strings of light and luminous ceiling. This was much more fun than the castle! Finally, we got to the rooftop where nobody’s there. 

We can see the whole of Edinburgh—well, at least as far as my eyes can identify that it’s Edinburgh. I have no knowledge of the city limits and whatnot. We didn’t care it was windy and cold. We just absorbed and enjoyed the view. It’s grey, of course, it’s Britain but it’s perfect in a way.

Museum 2: The Writers' Museum & Lady Stairs House

We managed to remove ourselves from Camera Obscura and it was too late past lunch hour. I didn’t remember if we stopped for a meal or two but we were pumped. I don’t know what it is about Camera Obscura that increase the level of my adrenaline. You know, when we got outside of Camera Obscura’s doors, the greyness greeted us again. But the day is young and we have our museums walk to go through. 

Our museums walk included The Writers’ Museum located in Makars’ Court. I wanted to take pictures of the fire insurance plaque (written in another post) and Anne was feeling like entering The Writers’ Museum. We were at Makars’ last night with Adam Lyal (deceased) and wanted to see it in daylight, so we decided to do that in today’s museums walk.

‘Tis but a wee minute walking distance from Camera Obscura. Again, nobody’s at Makars’ Court that day. Well, yeah. Tomorrow’s Christmas, people might be somewhere else warm and protected by walls. Luckily the museum was open with not many people inside. Okay, bear with me: Makar’s Court is located in Lawnmarket, it forms a part of Lady Stairs’ Close, and contains The Writers’ Museum. 

The name makar is said to have originated from a Scottish term meaning “skilled and versatile worker in the craft of writing” (1) The Writers’ Museum is located in a building that was known as Lady Stairs’ House. It’s a medieval-like architecture designed by Stewart Henbest Capper in 1892. The original house was built in 1622 for Sir William Gray of Pittendrum. In Makars’ Court there are slabs of pavements with inscribed quotations from famous writers.

We were tired by around 5 pm and decided to come back home to the hostel and ended today’s museums walk. We of course remembered that we wanted to pay a visit to Rendezvous, the Chinese restaurant next door to Caledonian Backpackers for some meals. 

We needed loads of Asian-themed food with proper chilli and spices. We first visited Rendezvous for take-aways and the owner noticed that we’re two little lost Asian gals who need sustenance and I remember she gave us a whole bag of fish crackers to gnaw on in our room. 

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