Scotland Adventure: Day 6; Edinburgh Castle


So far day six has been a rather busy day. Exploring the Royal Mile, St. Giles’s Cathedral, the Heart of Midlothian and yet with all this, the day’s adventure was only half done.

We stopped for lunch and this is where we decided to split off. Two of my friends had to go meet a friend for dinner while my other friend and I went to explore a few more sights. Our first stop would be Edinburgh Castle. We arrived close to closing time but we had enough time to explore only one of the castle’s amazing sights. Within the castle we had several areas to explore but we decided to view the Scottish Crown Jewels. Within the royal palace I was able to see the many artefacts and images of the kings and queens of Scotland but the grand finale were the crown jewels of Scotland.
The Scottish Crown Jewels, Scottish Regalia or Honours of Scotland date back to the 15th and 16th centuries and are the oldest surviving set of crown jewels in the British Isles and have never left Scottish soil. They were used in the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1543 up until Charles II in 1651. Since then they have been used to represent Royal Assent in both the Estates of Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. They were also used in state occasions such as the first visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
There are three primary pieces to the Honours of Scotland; The Crown, The Sceptre and The Sword of State. They also appear in the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. The red lion of Scotland is wearing the crown and holding the sword and sceptre. I found some information on each of the pieces …

 

The Crown
In 1540, the crown was remodeled by James V, by Edinburgh gold smith John Mosman. It weights 3 lbs 10 ozs, or 1.644 Kg. It was made from Scottish gold from the Crawford Moor mine and encrusted with 22 gemstones and 20 precious stones from the original crown and freshwater pearls from Scotland.

The Sceptre
A gift from Pope Alexander VI to James IV in 1494 and then remodeled in 1536.  Made of silver gilt and topped with polished rock (possibly Cairngorm) and a Scottish pearl.   It also has religious symbols on it including the Virgin Mar hold Christ, St. James the Great and St. Andrew holding a saltire or the Cross of St. Andrew.  

The Sword of State
A gift from Pope Julius II to James IV in 1507. It is an etched blade about 4.5 mtetres long that includes the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul. The sword was damaged, broken in half to be hidden in 1652 when it was being hidden from Cromwell’s troops.

Honours of Scotland and Stone of Destiny

One other item that is not part of the Honours of Scotland but housed with them is the Stone of Scone. Also known as the Stone of Destiny or the Coronation stone it is housed with the Honours of Scotland. It is a rather unimpressive large block of red sandstone that was used in the coronation for many Scottish and later English monarchs for centuries. However, this artefact was kept in the now-ruined Scone Abbey in Scone, near Perth Scotland. It was also known as Jacob’s Pillow Stone and Tanist Stone. It is about 66 cm (26 inches) by 42.5 cm (16.75 inches) by 27 cm (10.5 inches) and weights about 152 Kg (336 pounds). It has a rough incised cross on one surface and iron rings on either end, probably for easier transport. It was last used in the coronation of Elizabeth II.
In resent history a group of Scottish Nationalists stole the stone back to Scotland in 1950 but it was quickly returned. This has brought into question the authenticity of the stone. Yet in 1996, as a symbolic response to Scottish dissatisfaction with the British Government, they decided the stone should be kept in Scotland when it is not being used in coronations. On November 15 1996 a handover ceremony was held at the border and the transported to Edinburgh Castle. On November 30th 1996, St. Andrew’s Day, it arrived at the castle for the official handover ceremony. Prince Andrew, Duke of York, representing Queen Elizabeth II, formally handed over the Royal Warrant transferring the stone in the safe keeping of the Commissioners of Regalia.

 

Honours of Scotland and Stone of Destiny

We only had a few hours to read through the history of the Honours of Scotland and also viewed them. I was told that if you like history Scotland has a lot to offer, well I was not disappointed. From kings and castles and now the Honours of Scotland I could spend the days just reading the writing on the rich history Scotland has to offer. But this day I was privileged to view a few pieces of history that has affected the destiny of millions of people.

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Scotland Adventure: Day 6; The Heart Of The Matter


Outside the St. Giles’s Cathedral is a very famous landmark in Edinburgh known as the Heart of Midlothian. It is near the west door of St. Giles’s High Kirk on the High Street section near the Duke of Buccleuch statue. It is also near the Parliament House, which use to hold the Scottish Parliament but it is now the home of the Court of Session. The Heart of Midlothian is a heart-shaped mosaic made from granite setts and built into the adjacent cobble stone walk way. It is named after the historic county of Midlothian, which Edinburgh is a part of.

If you are in Edinburgh you may find the locals doing something rather disgusting to this famous artistic landmark; they would spit on it. Not something you would think people would do to something that looks pleasing to the eye but there are a few traditions and stories around spitting on the heart. Some say it is good luck to spit on the heart; others that it is a gesture of good luck for the Edinburgh football team the Hearts F.C. For visitors, the only way to guarantee your return to Scotland/Edinburgh someday is if you spit on the heart. Yet as nice and interesting as those stories may be, the true legend of the Heart of Midlothian is a right more interesting.

 

The heart is actually located at where the Old Tolbooth building once stood. Built in the 14th century the building housed the administration centre of the town and the prison. In fact the heart is the location of the front entrance to this infamous prison. It had a reputation all across the United Kingdom (UK) because of its vile, damp and dark conditions. No one was safe within these walls for it housed every manner of person from petty thieves to murders and even the innocent. Stories of torture were not unheard of here too.  
Bad as all that sounds it did not stop there. The Old Tolbooth was also the location for many public executions by hanging. Many were tortured and then left for dead, while others were publicly mocked by wearing iron collars. If that was not bad enough body parts and severed heads were impaled as a warning to others to not engage in criminal activity. The conditions at the prison got so bad that Mary, Queen of Scots stepped in , in 1571 and had a New Tolbooth built. The Heart was built at the doorstep of the New Tolbooth yet torture and executions continued until it too was finally torn down in 1817.

The Old Tolbooth building

Many believe that the spitting came from the people expressing loathing at the acts of atrocities, while others say that it is an insult by the debtors that were released from the prison. Some Scottish people say it is way to show their disdain for the authorities and this is possibility why I heard all over Scotland ‘The Law is only a suggestion.’
Whatever the reason I too spat on the heart, as a precaution so that I guarantee my return to Edinburgh. Yet after doing the research into the Heart of Midlothian I appreciate my act a bit more. Yes I too have a disdain for what happened at the Old and New Tolbooth, but I am more of a rogue/pirate at heart and I love the idea of showing my contempt for the authorities, therefore I too will take that Scottish phrase ‘The Law is only a suggestion.’; to “heart” as well.  

Heart of Midlothian

Scotland Adventure: Day Six: Part 1


After running around the Scottish highlands and lowlands for five days we ended up in Edinburgh at the Adria house. A quaint Georgian town home now run as a bed and breakfast (B&B), this is a wonderful location to begin our exploration of Scotland’s capital.

Adria House on the Royal Terrace

After another great breakfast (like I said I loved the food in Scotland), we set off to explore Edinburgh on foot. We made a quick list of some things we would like to get while we were out to bring back to Canada. Most of it was of course souvenirs, yet I would be looking for something more traditional of a local flavour. I had my heart set on purchasing a kilt to bring back with me. Not a simple kilt such as something you would wear for a costume, more along the lines of something I could wear to a party, formal gathering/wedding or simply on a special occasion. My friends knew about this and I got some well-needed advice and hints on purchasing one.
However while I was looking for one I would be taking in a lot of the local atmosphere of this old yet beautiful city. Our first stop or journey would be to walk and discover the wondrous things a street called the Royal Mile had to offer.
The Royal mile, as the name suggests, is about a mile long starting from Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill, to the Holyrood Palace at the base, near the Scottish parliament buildings. This main street in the old town where many businesses cross is the busiest tourist street in the old town. Along this street you can see many tourist shops and attractions as well as many cultural centres such as The Real Mary Kings Close, St. Giles’ Cathedral and or course Edinburgh Castle; all of which we visited.
But first, we explored the streets looking and taking in the atmosphere that is Edinburgh. We walked up and down the side streets and we came upon the café where J.K. Rowling sat in to written her famous Harry Potter books. We even walked by George Heriot’s school, the school that she modeled Hogwarts after. From this location we were able to get a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle. As we were walking to the castle the view reminded me of another castle I had read about long ago from another famous author, JRR Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings, Edoras. Edoras is the city capital of Rohan. Looking up at the castle I imagined that I was on a quest to Edoras to see King Théoden. You can call me a nerd but views such as this, stirs my mind to places created and destroyed within my imagination. Yet imagine, hundreds if not thousands of people have walked these streets seeing the same views, the same places.   However many simply walk past oblivious of the moment in time they are experiencing. This moment will never come again, we should savour it to its fullest and this image will be one I will treasure for a long time.
We will be exploring castle but first we explored another building seemingly stopped in a moment in time, St. Giles’ Cathedral. Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Giles’s Cathedral is the main place of worship for the Church of Scotland. Dedicated to St. Giles, the patron saint of Edinburgh; he was a very popular saint in the Middle Ages, probably because he was also the patron saint of cripples and lepers. Today’s church dates back to the late 14th century even though it went through extensive restoration in the 19th century. Today it is seen as the “mother Church of Presbyterianism”.
We made our way into the cathedral and it is a lovely example of architecture of the day. I’ve seen older churches but this church had some wonderful stain glass windows I have only seen in pictures. I found their artistry enchanting and I spent a great deal of time taking in the little details in them. I particularly enjoyed the stain glass windows near the altar that depicted the main life moments of Jesus. The most memorable were the miracle at Cana, the expulsion of the money changers, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the assentation. I know all these stories from reading them in the bible and of course hearing about them at church. Yet no matter where I go I love to see other people’s renderings or interpretation of these events. I love to see which parts of the stories the artist chooses to add to the artwork.

 

Art is everywhere no matter where you look.

Scotland Adventure: Day Five: An Artistic Evening


 

Once in Edinburgh, we checked into a wonderful bed and breakfast and decided to relax a bit after a busy day because the evening would be filled with more exciting things. We would be meeting up with a few friends, of my traveling companions, from Scotland for dinner. However we took the opportunity to take in two sights on our way to dinner.

We would be having dinner with ever one in Falkirk, about a 45-minute drive from Edinburgh. Yet two incredible artist and engineering landmarks are within a few kilometres of the restaurant. The first landmark we went to was the Falkirk Wheel. A marvellous feat of engineering that is described as a 21-century lock system that replaces the previous 11 locks that connected two canals. It is a rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal to the Union Canal which opened in 2002. The wheel raises and lowers boats about 24 metres to and from the aqueduct. To explain how it works would take too long, therefore I have added two YouTube videos that explains the mechanisms and principles of the Falkirk Wheel.

 

I have seen this marvel on a number of videos but seeing it was rather impressive. From this artistic and engineering wonder, we went to another beautiful and impressive artistic and engineering marvel, the Kelpies. The Kelpies are 30-metre high structures of horse heads. They are next to the Forth and Clyde Canal and River Carron. They were designed by sculptor Andy Scott and completed in 2013. The Kelpies were meant to be a monument to the horse powered heritage of Scotland. However there is a more mystical background to what are the Kelpies.
Kelpies or water kelpie refers to a shape-shifting water spirit that would inhabit the lochs and pools of Scotland. They are usually described as appearing as a horse but is able to appear in human form. Some of the myths say that they retain their hooves in human form, sometimes associating them with Satan. Most every loch in Scotland has a kelpie story but the most famous is Loch Ness. The origins are believed to be that these where wicked water horses used to warn children not to go near water or for women to beware of handsome strangers.
The Kelpie is usually described as a powerful and beautiful black horse that lives in the deep waters of rivers and streams in Scotland, preying on humans it encounters.   One folk tale from Barra (an island in the North west of Scotland) goes like this …

 

‘A lonely kelpie that transforms itself into a handsome young man to woo a pretty young girl it was determined to take for its wife. But the girl recognizes the young man as a kelpie and removes his silver necklace (his bridle) while he sleeps. The kelpie immediately reverts to its equine form, and the girl takes it home to her father’s farm, where it is put to work for a year. At the end of that time the girl rides the kelpie to consult a wise man, who tells her to return the silver necklace. The wise man then asks the kelpie, once again transformed into the handsome young man the girl had first met, whether if given the choice it would choose to be a kelpie or a mortal. The kelpie in turn asks the girl whether, if he were a man, she would agree to be his wife. She confirms that she would, after which the kelpie chooses to become a mortal man, and the pair are married.’ McNeil (2001), pp. 68-72.

 

 

When I first saw these structures we were driving along the highway and out of nowhere they appear beside the road larger than life. We were able to get there after dark to get some amazing photos of the Kelpies. They truly are a sight to behold in person. These 30-metre high horse heads rising out of the ground, illuminated in different colours were simply spectacular to behold.
We spent quite a long time taking photos and looking at them from every angle, yet we had to leave the Kelpies to meet up with our dinner companions. For even though we saw some amazing sculptures, we did not want to miss out on the best part Scotland had to offer; the amazing people who make this country the marvel that it truly is.  

 

Enjoying a wonderful dinner with my new Scottish friends.

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Scotland Adventure: Day Five, A Busy Morning And Afternoon


Day five was a rather busy, filled with such amazing things that I couldn’t place it all in one post. Therefore, this post will have our adventures of the morning and afternoon, however I will post the evening activities very soon.

If there is one thing I will always remember about going to Scotland, it will have to be the amazing food. The most memorable were the breakfasts. This morning was no different. We walked into the Black Bull Inn restaurant for a Scottish breakfast and once it arrived I was not disappointed. The usual fried egg, Scottish bacon, two different sausages, a tattie scone/potato scone, a fried tomato and black pudding. However, this morning I was treated to a patty of Haggis with everything else. This was the first time I had Haggis and I have to say I liked it. I shouldn’t be too surprised, I love black pudding, which most people don’t and Haggis is not that from it.

The breakfast was rather large, yet we needed the extra energy because we were going to the Grey Mare’s Tail Natural Reserve. A rather steep hike up a small mountain, along side Grey Mare’s Tail Waterfall to a wonderful view of Loch Skeen. However, our drive to the reserve was met with sheets of rain and once there the rain was replaced with ice pellets and heavier rain. For safety reasons we all agreed not to do the climb, yet it did give us a wonderful opportunity to return to Moffat. We were not intending to go back to Moffat because we would make our way to Edinburgh after the hike. We wanted to visit some stores in town but by the time we were ready to leave everything was still closed. One major destination on our return into town was the Moffat Toffee Shop.

Rules are made to be eaten. The law is only a suggestion.

Sweets upon sweets, a great place to indulge your sweet tooth. I am not much of a sweet person but my traveling companions wanted to visit and bring something back to our colleagues. They make their own toffee on site and I took the opportunity to purchase some for my family back in Canada.
After treating ourselves, we made or way to Edinburgh, however we would be making a side trip to a very historical site, Rosslyn Chapel.   Situated on a small hill above Roslin Glen; Rosslyn Chapel was founded in the mid-15th century by William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness as a Catholic collegiate church. The original was a large college to celebrate the Divine Office and to celebrate masses to the faithful and of course the Sinclair family. After the Scottish Reformation of 1560, Roman Catholic worship came to an end, even though the Sinclair family continued to be catholic until the early 18th century. It was closed to the public until 1861 when the Scottish Episcopal Church reopened it as a place of worship as a member of the Anglican Communion.  
In resent years, the chapel has been at the centre of much speculation and controversy with theories of connections to the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and the Freemasons. You may remember it from the book by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent movie. Even though there is no basis for these theories in historical records and historians refute this claim, may people still want to believe in theses theories.
At first glance the chapel is not that impressive, yet once you get closer and see the artistry of the stone work, you begin to appreciate the time, effort and care that went into this remarkable landmark. The best examples are the pillars, especially the Master and Apprentice Pillars. The legend goes that the master mason received a model of a pillar of such eloquence and design that he did not want to proceed until he say the original for himself. The master journeyed to the original believing that his younger apprentice could not complete the task of carving the pillar as well as the master. However, in his absence the apprentice received a vision/dream that he finished the work therefore he began working on the pillar. On his return, the master mason seeing the competed pillar fell into a fit of jealous anger. He grabbed a mallet and struck the apprentice on the head, killing him. As a continued punishment, the master mason’s face was carved in the opposite corner so that he would forever look upon the apprentice’s pillar.
The pillar carvings were only a few of the thousands in the chapel that brought a certain majesty to the place. Knowing a bit of the history and talking to a wonderful tour guide, she help me appreciate it more. One such note is a referral to Ley Lines in Rosslyn Chapel. A phrase created in the 1920s by Alfred Watkins, which referred to the geographic and historical locations of ancient megaliths and monuments. The one passing through the chapel is the telluric lines traversing Scotland named the “Rose Line”. Popularized in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the guide was able to show us were the line intersects with others in the chapel. I stood on it at the centre of the chapel and if you look up, you can see the main keystone, in the arched ceiling, was directly above it. For something built some 500 years ago and to have such a level of accuracy and connection to the natural world, this knowledge truly made me stop and think.

Our stay was quite memorable and in some ways I did not want to leave, however our adventures for the day was only beginning.

 

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Comic Strips: Anti-Virus Software


This month’s instalment of, The Craziest Things has less to do with the flu shot and more to do with talking in a language that the students’ understand. Whenever I am in a classroom and doing a lesson, the biggest issue I have as a teacher is if the students understand the concept that is being put forward to them. Whether it be math, language or even art; if the student does not understand, it is up to me to help them.

On many occasions I will present something and ask if they understand and I get blank looks, so I then ask how would you explain it to me? Or I would even use something totally different like sports or draw it out to try to help their understanding. That is where this cute like comic came out of. Many of the students where talking about the flu shot some time ago and I know that many take it because their parents told them to. However, I wondered how they relate the flu shot in a modern way and thought of the computer analogy.

I hope you enjoy the latest instalment of, The Craziest Things; Anti-Virus Software.

Comic Strips: Tap, Tap, Tap.


 

I was unable to post last months instalment of, The Craziest Things do to my busy schedule outside the country, therefore I will post last months this week and April’s next week.

In this comic I explore the growing trend of this generation of students using more and more technology instead of traditional media, such as EBooks instead of real books. Mind you many of the students today use books but surprisingly I have actually seen this with the some students. I would imagine it would be the same for me if the past generation gave me a slide rule to calculate math problems, where I am use to a calculator.

This is a funny take on technology and how much it has progressed and entered every aspect of our lives. But in some ways it is a reflection on who we are. If we only look forward and forget where we came from what does mean for us as a society. I remember a quote …

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana

With this in mind, I hope you enjoy the latest instalment of, The Craziest Things; Tap, Tap, Tap.

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