Walking along the Royal Mile’s cobblestone streets, I pause to hear the whispers of another time but I shake my arms and stave off the voices. I don’t have time to listen. I am rushing to hike Arthur’s Seat before the rain arrives and in Edinburgh, rain is imminent.
In summer, daylight blankets the city for more than 17 hours a day. The sun has been stretching for nearly four hours and provides me with needed inspiration for my climb. My hike to Arthur’s Seat, the looming hill that begins at the base of the Old Town, provides 360-degree views of the city. It’s worth the racing heartbeat and howling wind to get a better layout of this great Medieval City.
From atop Arthur’s Seat, I imagine the battles that took place in the fields surrounding Edinburgh Castle when clans armed with military might and passion for power fought for control of Castle Rock, the ultimate trophy. I peer out on the Firth of Forth and envision the great ships that docked in its waters and the hope and hopelessness of the people on shore. The wind whips around my body attempting to imprison me but I snap back into the present. Clouds hover, the vibrant color of the city changes to gray and subdued and I retreat down the hill.
Edinburgh symbolizes Scotland’s strength and resilience. The city encapsulates a rich history of war and peace, prosperity and poverty, religion and royalty. Wandering through the city’s streets, I am transported back in time. I wait for the extinct volcano on which the Old Town resides to quiver, to send shock waves. I conjure images of Robert Louis Stevenson’s, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and understand how one person could be consumed by two personalities in Edinburgh. Locals attribute the tale to Deacon Brodie, an infamous politician who served as a respected businessman during the day and robbed people by night. Others claim the novel is based on the division of rich and poor ever apparent in the differences between the Old Town and the New Town. In the late 1700s, as buildings deteriorated and disease ran rampant, wealthy families created a new living and business quarter or “New Town” off the Castle Rock and steps away from the Old Town. Today, tourist shops, cafes and pubs line the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s residence in Scotland, but there are still signs of a torrid past as the voices I heard earlier return and I understand there is no escaping the magic of this city.
People from all over the world are attracted to Edinburgh for its cultural significance. Students flock to the city for higher education and remain after their studies. My guide Chelsea, originally from Calgary, Canada, arrived in Edinburgh eight years ago to obtain a Masters of Arts at the University of Edinburgh. She says the city’s allure is often a romanticized version of its past where disease and despair receive more attention than the perseverance and pride of its people.
Known as the City of Literature, Edinburgh’s stories transcend time. The words of Edinburgh’s greatest writers awaken in the narrow passageways connecting the New Town to the Old Town and the past to the present. I often feel like I am navigating an Inspector Rebus novel or that I’m Hermione Granger, a character in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and the evil Voldemort will cast a spell on me any minute. There is an aura of mystery in Edinburgh where history, education, music, and storytelling are intertwined and revered and the talk of literature is as much a part of the conversation as the weather.
There are many more chapters to read and pages to write about this great capital city of Scotland but I am late for tea with the Queen* and I must not keep her waiting. I’ve heard there will be piping bands and I love a man in a kilt.
*My invite must have been lost in the mail