Sci Walks Hadrian's Wall, Part Two

Aug 07 2013 Published by under Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

Ok, we're not to Hadrian's Wall yet. Patience. Patience.

Day 3: Edinburgh, part the third.

Did you know that bagpipe renditions of Coldplay exist? I could have gone my entire life without knowing that. Sadly, it was blasting from a souvenir shop. Which means, of course...I had to find it and share it with you.

You adore me, don't you.

Anyway, we had a lot to fit in this morning! Started out at the High Kirk of St. Giles, the main cathedral below the castle on the Royal Mile.


You can't take any photos inside (unless you pay), but it's really gorgeous, with a full set at the back of stained glass depicting the life of Jesus, and a small chapel for the Order of the Thistle, which has lovely warm wood paneling. There are also monuments to various things, including one which I enjoyed, a monument blessing the invention of chloroform for anesthesia.

From there we headed to the Royal Museum/Museum of Scotland, two museums merged into one. One half tells the history of Scotland, while the other has...everything else. It's rather confusingly organized. One minute you're looking at taxidermied narwhals, and the next...mummies! We had trouble finding a coherent narrative in the Scottish history section, either, though I see what they were trying to do with it. We did see "the maiden", the famous guillotine that ended up executing the guy who designed it.


The main hall of the museum was great.


But amidst all the other stuff they had...Dolly!

(Sci meets Dolly).

Dolly was the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. As a sciencey person, I have to say that seeing her was...honestly pretty emotional for me. She's an embodiment of some of the wonders of science. And she's looking very good for her age...nice taxidermy work. I was also very impressed at the exhibit surrounding her, which had a whole educational thing where you could elect to learn more about cloning, and then it asked your opinion as to what you thought about it, whether cloning should be used for medicine, for example, and then showed your response and how it compared with others. I thought it was very effective.

There was also a special exhibit on Mary, Queen of Scots, which was very cohesive and extremely interesting. In every country there are a few historical people who really stand out, for one reason or another. England has Elizabeth I, Henry VII, Cromwell, Richard III. The US has Washington, Franklin, Custer. And Scotland has Mary, Queen of Scots, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and James the VI and I (the last is the son of Mary, and united Scotland and England under a single monarchy after the death of Elizabeth I).

Mary, Queen of Scots had a...well a rough life. Not all her fault. But some of it probably was. She became queen at 6 DAYS old (her father having died, possibly of a fever, after a massive defeat from the English at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542), and immediately became the subject of wars and political craziness. Henry VIII of England wanted her (his great niece) to marry his son Edward (who became Edward VI). Her mother, Mary of Guise, wanted her to renew the Auld Alliance and marry Francois, the Dauphin of France. Henry VIII came in with an army and sacked a few cities to try and get the Scots to agree to a betrothal (called the "rough wooing"). Given this touching display of romance, I'm not surprise the Scots ended up going with France over England. They smuggled Mary out of England to be raised in France by the time she was 5, partially due to constant issues with the English, but MOSTLY due to religious issues between Protestant and Catholic (Mary was Catholic).

Mary grew up at the French court, married the Dauphin, and was, for a short time, Queen of France AND Scotland, while her mother ruled as regent in her place. But Francois died, and Mary came back to Scotland to rule. It didn't go very well, there were a lot of religious tensions (things leaned Protestant, and Mary was thought to be too open about Catholicism), a lot of political tensions (a woman, rule?! God forbid!), and there were personal tensions as well. Mary was, by that time, very French, and clearly preferred her life in nice warm France to the Highlands. The Scots did not appreciate it at all. Mary then went and got married again, to Henry Lord Darnley. Apparently it was love at first sight, that then went VERY sour. Everyone else hated him too, but Mary said she didn't want his death "on her conscience". So some lords probably set up the plot that ended up murdering Darnley in a large gunpowder explosion. Mary then runs off with the Earl of Bothwell (charged with Darnley's murder, but acquitted), and marries HIM (she may have been forced to it, but no one really knows). She's forced to abdicate the throne and flee to England for asylum, Bothwell dies insane in a prison in Denmark. Mary is placed under house arrest in England where she stays for 19 years before being tempted into providing evidence of treason against Elizabeth I, who then has her executed. With history like this, why read a novel?

The exhibit on her was VERY good, with lots of maps and a nice timeline to guide you through, and a AV thing on who really murdered Darnley (answer, well everyone had a motive...).

We stopped for lunch at an AWESOME little cheese shop that had sandwiches! And then I FINALLY got my scone. Two. Covered in clotted cream and jam. Heaven.

We then visited the University of Edinburgh building, which has a fabulous library.


(They don't build 'em like that anymore, do they)

We then headed to the Greyfriars Kirk. It's a pretty little church with lovely gardens, and home of the Greyfriars' Bobby, a little terrier that stood by his old owner's grave for 14 years (don't worry, they did give him a doghouse). He even has his own little grave.


And statue.


The church is surrounded by old graves, some of which still have the iron gratings across, put there to stop grave robbers taking the bodies and selling them to the medical school as cadavers.


The garden contains pretty little plots of medicinal plants, with little tablets stating their purported uses. The man who managed the church chatted with us, and told us that the gardens are a form of therapy for some of the mentally ill.


(I don't know how Alex Wild does it. I could NOT get this bumble bee to pose)

We then wandered the Price St. gardens next to the castle. They are gorgeous, and have a nice memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson.


And a completely awesome clock that is made out of plants and WORKS!


For dinner we went to Wiski, where we enjoyed a delicious flight of...whiskies (of course), and more tasty haggis.


Then we raced off because we were almost late for...the Literary Pub Tour! Edinburgh is home to lot of the world's greatest authors (Burns, Stevenson, Scott, etc, etc), and the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour takes you through some of their former haunts, stopping at each pub to have a drink and hear hilarious and interesting anecdotes. Really interesting and lots of fun! And a hint, when they say "the Bard" in Scotland, they don't mean Shakespeare. They mean Burns. We ended up at the Cafe Royal with a group from Sweden (hello, Malmo!!)


Day 4: Goodbye Edinburgh, Hello Newcastle!

After a breakfast where I finally discovered traditional Scots porridge (how do you make porridge?! Is it just...oatmeal? It's WAY better than oatmeal. Someone needs to teach me this. SO GOOD), we spent our final morning at the National Gallery of Scotland. It was small (half is closed for repair), but they had Rodin's "The Kiss" on loan, and the famous Skater painting and many others (also, can someone tell me what the HECK it means when a painting is described as "painterly"? What does that even MEAN?). A good collection of European art as well, though some of the subjects were a little weird. For example, there's a painting of St. Agatha (or a young girl posing as her namesake) posing holding a pair of her own breasts, which were cut off as St. Agatha earned her saintly status. So the girl is just posing there with a rose and a pair of breasts in one hand. Like you do.


(Intrepid neuron with roman busts. I'm pretty sure the one at center was on the cover of my first Latin Primer)

We snagged more cheese sandwiches for lunch and then I got a PASTY! I thought this would be an essential experience. Really, I'm surprised they haven't caught on in the US. Nice little handheld pie full of bacon and cheese. It's GOT to be a winner, right?!

We loved Edinburgh, but now we were coming to the real purpose of our journey: Hadrian's Wall, a Roman wall built starting in 122 CE (by the Emperor Hadrian, of course) to separate the Roman empire and the "wild" people of Scotland. It runs 73 miles from Newcastle Upon Tyne to Bowness on Solway. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it also has a path running alongside it. If you like history, hiking, and beer, you can't possibly find a better way to spend a week. But I admit I was starting to get a little nervous. When we signed up for a tour (you hike on your own, but the tour means they put you in a B&B every night and take your bags on a truck. Because that is how I travel), the company emphasized that we should train and that the hike "should only be attempted by those who are used to a good walk" ("walk" being the UK version of "hike"). We...didn't train. We were hoping our long distance training would get us through.

But first we had to get to Newcastle, and ended up walking a good 1.5 miles with the packs to find our hotel (and an Italian dinner that, while cheap...did not go down well at all).


(Our hotel was across from a cricket pitch. We watched a while. We had NO idea what they were doing).

Day 5: Newcastle upon Tyne

Hadrian's Wall begins at Wallsend (yes) in Newcastle upon Tyne. You can hike the first day all through Newcastle. We decided to skip out on this first day, and instead spent the day seeing Newcastle itself. We started at the St. Thomas Becket church, where a very friendly guy who works there (and is from Texas, strangely enough), told us all about the church, how it was built originally to say "sorry" for the murder of St. Thomas a Becket (who, as far as I can tell, wasn't really all that great of a guy, but turned suddenly extremely holy when appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury. This did not agree well with the king, Henry II, who got him the appointment. Murder ensued), and how it was eventually moved to where it stands today. He had some great recommendations for places to eat and drink along the wall, and asked us to look out for the locals on the hike (the weather was unusually hot for the area, he worried they didn't carry enough water. But don't worry, we didn't see dehydration!).

We then headed to the Great North Museum, which has a fantastic interactive exhibit of Hadrian's Wall, with lots of characters and descriptions and a model of the temple of Mithras, which was found along the wall itself.


(Examples of Roman armor. Left is an Auxilliary, right is a man of the Legions)

Also, it had a giant deep sea crab.


(Giant Crab. Mr. S provided for scale)

Side Note: In Europe, Vodaphone stores have little lockers where you can charge your phone!! This is great as while our chargers had the right voltage...we did not realize they had the entirely wrong plug shape. You just put in a pound and lock the phone and take the key away. Come back, phone is charged! Saved our butts.

When then headed to St. Andrews, the oldest church in Newcastle. Most of it was built before the 13th century, but people have worshipped on the spot since before the Norman Conquest (1066).


(St. Andrews)


(An interesting memorial, dedicated to men who worked in the Newscastle Brewery and who died in the world wars. I thought it was kind of nice that the company would do that)

Next stop was St. Nicholas, the official Church of England Cathedral (as opposed to the Catholic Cathedral which is just down the street, and while also a Cathedral, is not a Church of England cathedral).


(St. Nicholas)

Then we hit up the "New Castle" (ever wonder where the city name came from?), built in 1080 by the eldest son of William the Conqueror (he of 1066 fame) as a wood fort, and then a stone castle was built by Henry II in 1177.


(The New Castle Keep)

The site, another nice high precipice, this one over a river, has been used for defense since Roman times (hence the wall). The castle was a last hold out of the Royalist group in Newcastle during the Civil War in 1644 until the Scots took it. Not much of a museum, but a very nice view from the top! We then headed back, picked up our packs, and took a bus to Heddon-on-the-Wall, to a nice little B&B called Hadrian's Barn (you know it's nice when you get your own cottage), and grabbed a super taste dinner at the local pub called the Swan (which has a "cutlery" which is basically a buffet with lots of meat). Tomorrow: the WALL! (Not that wall. Though I guess, in a way, winter is coming...)



(The Hadrian's Barn concierge. Not so great at recommending places to eat, but really knows his way around a frisbee. Snuggles and chase free of charge)

Final Edinburgh shot!


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