Friday, June 8, 2012

Literary Jaunt through Edinburgh

Edinburgh's bleak beauty has inspired an amazing list of authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to name a few.  On another rainy day, we went to pay homage to their old stomping ground.

The city's grey and brown edifices are divided into two main areas cleverly named, Old Town and New Town.  Old Town boasts being the birthplace of Sir Walter Scott, Scotland's famed historical novelist, poet and discoverer of the crown jewels of Scotland.  New Town proudly proclaims to being the birthplaces of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes - the most famous detective of all time, and Robert Louis Stevenson, author and poet.  We felt a great connection to Robert Louis Stevenson's hometown with our love of his novel, Treasure Island, and the city of Savannah, having visited Captain Flint's death place at the Pirates' House and the author's birthplace in the same year.

Rowling writing in Edinburgh
However, my main purpose in walking the streets of Edinburgh was to see the inspirations of my favorite author, J.K. Rowling. Though born in England, Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book while living in Edinburgh.  It was while traveling the national rail that she first imagined her character, Harry Potter.  Each lull on a train ride has me praying for a similar lightening bolt.  While she reportedly had a vision of a young orphaned boy in his school uniform walking through the train, my visions have been of mothers snapping at their kids to "Sit Down!", "Stop That!", or "Give That to Me!"  Vision or reality?  I think Rowling was traveling alone when she created Harry.  Maybe that's why I haven't had my creative burst this year- I'm never traveling alone.

To further retrace her inspiring steps, I searched online for the name of the coffee shop in which she wrote while her baby daughter napped.  I found conflicting reports.  One said she wrote in a shop called, Nicholson's Cafe which is now a Chung's Buffet King.  Another said it was The Elephant House.  Both were in Old Town near Chambers Street and the National Museum of Scotland where we had been the previous day.   Finishing our New Town tour with a stop in an Aga store (also literary because one of my favorite British novelists is Rosamund Pilcher whose characters always cook on an Aga), we crossed the Waverly Bridge into Old Town.

When we arrived at Chambers Street and the George IV Bridge, we discovered another literary character- a real life dog, The Greyfriar's Bobby.  I had never heard the story, but it was one of Greg's childhood favorites.  The true story went like this:

Emma at Bobby's Statue Fountain
It began raining while we lunched in the Greyfriar's Bobby Bar.  Greg took the kids back to play in the museum while I visited the Greyfriar and Tolbooth Kirk for a glimpse of the Bobby's grave.  After touring the small, but lovely church, I stepped outside to view the graveyard.  A gentleman volunteer for the church held the door for me and asked if I enjoyed the church.  As I answered in the affirmative, he continued walking beside me saying he would like a bit of fresh air.  As we ambled through the cemetery in the misting rain, he pointed out John Grey's grave and his faithful dog's, insisting on taking my picture by the dog's grave.  He told me the story of how the owner was a patrolman who took his lunch at the same pub everyday after the one o'clock firing of the gun at Edinburgh Castle.  After his owner's death, the dog remained on the grave, but at the sound of the gun he would get up and return to the pub where the kind keeper continued to feed the dog.  My personal guide, not accepting refusal, walked me to the exact spot of the old pub where the dog was fed.

Back in the churchyard, he asked if I liked the Harry Potter books.  With a resounding, YES!, he explained that Ms. Rowling used to write near here and even took some character names from the ones on nearby graves.  Again, he guided me through the drizzle to Moody's, McGonagal's and Tom Riddle's (a.k.a. Lord Voldemort) tombstones!  (I know I sound like a complete geek, but it was so much fun seeing these names.  I also thought it a clever tool to use a two hundred year old graveyard for finding imaginary character names.)

My enthusiastic escort concluded our tour at the outer church wall gates; the gates that separated the Kirk grounds from George Heriot's School, an exclusive private school with an incredible view of Ediburgh Castle.  The school and the castle were the inspirations for Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and I was looking at them both- just as Jo Rowling did!
George Heriot School

My private guided tour caused me to lose track of time. Greg had been calling my cell, and with no answer, came searching for me out of concern.  He arrived just as my specter was leaving.  I was so glad that Greg met him too or I may not have believed he was real.  Retracing our steps, I shared with Greg the tales of my new friend.  Ironically, I did not get his name, but I did learn that he has never traveled outside the city of Edinburgh, which I found amazing in this day and age.  Maybe he was a ghost after all.

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