Anne and I thought what’s it like to walk around Edinburgh at night. Would it be dangerous for two strangers to walk on the streets while everyone is enjoying their Christmas dinner? The answer was: we didn’t care.
Christmas Dinner a la Szechuan
Our late lunch-slash-dinner was terrific. Mrs Rendezvous really did open the restaurant, and we see quite some number of people dining in. We splurged, as I said, and good God, the meals were delectable! That woman is responsible for the well-being of Anne and me, indeed. I wouldn’t know how we would survive without her. I keep praising the owner, haven’t you noticed? Cause the foods were delicious.
Anyway. After a hot shower and lying supine for a while to rest the meals in the tummy, Anne and I decided to get out again against the cold wintry weather. This time, we went another way towards Mercat Cross through Cowgate. Seriously, nobody was on the street. It felt like a privilege to have Edinburgh to ourselves tonight.
Edinburgh Night Walk
It was only 5:00 pm, and darkness had befallen upon Edinburgh. We swivelled our ways through Barrie’s Close and got out at Mercat Cross somehow. Such adventurers, we brought no maps with us and just went where our feet carried us. Edinburgh at night was so quiet and tranquil. Despite the cold, I feel like this can be a home one day.
Oh, no! Suddenly, the educational baggage I left at Sheffield crept back and a thought slithered through my mind, “Why hadn’t I choose Edinburgh?” Then my logical side of the brain argued, “Well, because you will be tempted to travel the whole time instead of studying.”
That thought disappeared as I looked around the Mercat Cross. I have always loved plazas like this. It’s a place for me to do my other hobby: Leute beobachten, a.k.a. people-watching. But tonight, Mercat Cross was nearly empty with only a few humans walking here and there—mostly tourists like us, I guess. So, there was not much beobachtung(?) to be done.
Mercat Cross is listed in RCAHMS (1951) as Number 61, belonging to the burgh of Edinburgh. The concept of “mercat cross” (notice the usage of small caps here) is basically a market cross where merchants can display and sell their trade items to the people of the city. The earliest recorded mention of a mercat cross was in William the Lion’s charter stating that “…all merchandises shall be presented at the mercat and mercat cross of burghs…” (Black, 1930: 27). It means that the term “mercat cross” is common in Scotland.
Mercat Cross in Edinburgh dated back to 1365 in a charter that stood in the south side of High Street. The cross was then taken down in 1555 only to be re-erected at the same spot. In 1617, it was taken down again and was moved a short distance to the east of its original location.
Unfortunately, in 1756 it was demolished and was replaced with a stone. But then in 1866, the project for its complete restoration fell through. This spot then became the place where Royal proclamations are read. I’ve mentioned before in the Witchery Tour entry that some people were beheaded at Mercat Cross. Well, I’d say this is the perfect spot to do any public punishment.
People have been quartered, beheaded, burnt, hanged, and put in stocks in Mercat Cross since the 1500s. Those punished with the method of beheading usually had their heads put on a spike and displayed at Tolbooth. I have certain comments about this, but you’d probably think of me as a weird person. Let’s just say, I am fascinated by this type of human behaviour: displaying the dead. Tsk, my mind rolled back to one of my classes, again!
There was a fantastic display that night in High Street celebrating winter and Christmas. Anne and I spent quite some time enjoying the view and walking along High Street that’s nearly empty. In the square of Edinburgh City Chambers, the Alexander Taming Bucephalus statue was draped with a message display projected into the building.
I was being an ignorant person and did not realise that Mary King’s Close is only one of many closes that converges to Edinburgh City Chambers. It was right there and I didn’t even bother to photograph it when nobody was around. Duh! It is dang ridiculous that every corner I turned in Edinburgh is filled with a back story or two or three.
In November 1824, the Great Fire of Edinburgh happened here on High Street between St Giles’ Cathedral and Tron Kirk. The first started in Old Assembly Close and the fire spread quickly helped with the extreme proximity between buildings in this area. A few days later, another fire happened in the building on the corner of High Street and Parliament Close. Hmm? Coincidence or deliberate? I’ll do some reading later on.
Night-time, Tea Time
Anne and I had an idea to walk towards Holyroodhouse to see more of Edinburgh at night. Along the way, we found a sign saying “Forsyth Tea Room” on Chalmers Close. We thought it’s a good idea to rest for a while sheltered from this cold evening before continuing our walk. My mother would have loved the Forsyth Tea Room, it was exactly how she wanted her living room to be like. Floral patterns.
We ordered tea and scones and some other patisserie and chatted with the nice lady who owns the place. She was a little bit astonished that we were from Indonesia and got stranded in the British Isles. Yes, madam—that sometimes still flabbergasted me as well.
She was so lovely and we promised her that we made sure to come back again on Boxing Day and perhaps after we got back from Glasgow. She did ask why we would want to visit Glasgow and here was my introduction to the friendly rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Pretty much similar with Newcastle United and Sunderland or Indonesia and Malaysia—it’s a friendly rivalry—that happens, yes. We continued our walk after profusely thanking Mrs Forsyth (I honestly didn’t ask for her name) for the tea, the warm welcome, and the delectable scones.
Les demoiselles and their evening tea at Forsyth Tea Room
Tolbooth Tavern was on the way towards Holyroodhouse. It was built in 1591 and served as a tolbooth, its namesake. Next to the tavern is the People’s Story Museum which immediately went into Anne’s to-visit list after we got back from Glasgow. The announcement says that it will stay closed during Christmas week.
We also passed White Horse Close, an enclosed courtyard nearby. Of course, this close drew our eyes immediately because it’s the most beautiful and picturesque close along the stretch of High Street and Canongate. White Horse Close is most probably the royal stable or mew for Mary Queen of Scots. Other opinions say that the name of this close is related to an inn located in the area bearing the same brand: White Horse Inn in the 17th century. The inn functioned as the departure point for stagecoaches running between Edinburgh, Newcastle, and London in the 18th century.
Holyroodhouse is, of course, closed tonight as nothing was open around us. But we got there and got disappointed because it’s rather dark too. Well, disappointed is the wrong word. We took the long road back to Queensferry through the Royal Mile again and past the Princes Street Gardens. As fascinating Edinburgh at night was, we had to go back because tomorrow is Boxing Day. We needed to reserve much energy to do some shop-hopping (not a word) before heading to Glasgow on the 27th.
1. An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of the City of Edinburgh with the Thirteenth Report of the Commission. 1951. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
2. Black, W.G. 1930. The Scots Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. p. 27.