Our guide for the bike tour, Peter, was quite the character. He toured us around the city for about 4 hours on power-assisted bicycles, telling us all kinds of stories of his adventures.
Along the way, Peter described how Edinburgh evolved from a hilltop fortification in the Middle Ages, to the royal residence of Scottish kings, to what since the middle of the 14th century has been considered the capital of Scotland. In the 12th century, King David I of Scotland allocated parcels of land along the market street running up to the castle to local merchants. The structures that were built on these parcels were designed to provide protection for the inhabitants. Each is referred to as a “close”, from the Old French clos, meaning an enclosed yard, and each is named for the owner of the parcel, or for the business that was conducted there.
Starting in the late 1760’s, the upper classes, and much of the merchant class, started to migrate to the area north of Edinburgh’s Old Town. This left the lower classes to exist in the increasingly wretched conditions that were left behind. This deterioration of the Old Town area continued through the 1980’s, ultimately turning the area into a slum. Amazingly, now Old Town Edinburgh is a lively area for shopping for Scottish wool and cashmere, and fine dining.
It is also interesting to note that, even though Edinburgh played a prominent role in the establishment of Protestantism, and many of its periods of extended conflicts were religious in nature, as you walk through the streets of old town Edinburgh today you will see that the majority of churches and cathedrals have been converted to markets and coffee shops. Amazing!
The stops along our bike tour included Holyrood Palace, which we serves as the Queen of England’s residence when she comes to visit. After that, we rode past the new Parliament building to Holyrood Park, which is a large area that encompasses an extinct volcano just to the east of downtown Edinburgh. The park contains the ruins of Saint Anthony’s Chapel, a few small lochs, and numerous hiking trails. The summit is called Arthur’s Seat, standing at 822 ft. The shrubs with yellow flowers, shown in the photos, are called Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), and they smell like coconut.
After our tour around Holyrood Park, we rode to the village of Duddingston, on the southeast edge of the park, and visited Dr. Neil’s Garden on Duddingston Loch. That was our final stop on the tour.
Hike Up to Salisbury Crags
After the bike tour, we had a well-deserved Starbucks break, and since at that latitude and on that date, the sun wasn’t setting until 9.05 pm, that evening Patty and I took the opportunity to hike about 3 miles from our hotel up to the top of the cliffs of an extinct volcano in Holyrood Park that overlook the city, called the Salisbury Crags. Afterwards, we went out for a late dinner at TBD.