Excited and ecstatic, I have had the opportunity to visit this fascinating and vibrant city at the height of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in mid August 2009.I have also found out much about the roots of my name ‘Carr’ and links to a country that relatives and ancestors on my Scottish Grandfather Lawrence William Carr [1914 – 2004] side once came from.
Qs from Wee William of Fyfe
As from Katy Carr
How did travel to Edinburgh?
Easyjet from Luton Return flight cost £50. Upon arriving at Edinburgh Airport I took the frequent Airlink bus £6 return to the city centre. These buses end in Shadwick Place in the West End of Edinburgh… for times and fares see flybybus.com t 01315556363
Where did you stay?
I stayed with a dear friend as she was performing at the Fringe Festival. She put me up and therefore I had a free place to stay albeit that I bought her the greatest breakfast ever! Stayed in a flat on Causewayside. Apparently my friend paid £1000 to rent the flat for the month of the Fringe from a local property agent.
What were your first impressions of Edinburgh?
Really beautiful. Dark brick buildings and lots of little secret hideaway places – you knew that a lot if history and had happened on these streets. The city was in full Edinburgh festival fury so I kept bumping into the odd and random skeleton or some laughing clown pulling a suitcase trying to juggle 3 balls. Ladies with bright pink hair and men clasping WW2 hats or canes were popping out from underground quarters. One group was performing ‘Much ado about nothing’ and sang the words of Shakespeare to a salsa flamenco backing acoustic guitar. Wow!
What did you learn about Scottish History?
I visited The National Museum of Scotland and from there started to learn about Scottish history. I got an overwelming sense that the people of Scotland have had a very hard time for many many centuries. Not only battling adverse and changeable weather conditions with temperatures usually the lowest in the UK [- the coldest ever UK temperature of -27.2 °C (-16.96 °F) recorded at Braemer in the Grampian Mountains on 11 February 1895 and the highest of 32.9 °C (91.22 °F) at Greycock, Scottish Borders on 9 August 2003] they were also fighting against continual oppression from various religious schools of thought, fear of battle and of sheer poverty – Scotland was considered arguably the poorest country in Western Europe in 1707.
The Kingdom of Scotland sovereign state before 1 May 1707 when it entered into a political union with the Kingdom of England to create the united Kingdom of Great Britain.
The Scottish Enlightenment was an important period in 18th century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By 1750, Scots were among the most literate citizens of Europe , with an estimated 75% level of literacy.
Among the advances of this period were achievements in philosophy, economics, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, archaeology, law, agriculture, chemistry, sociology. Among the outstanding Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period were Francis Hutcheson, Alexander Campbell, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson, John Playfair, Joseph Black, James Hutton. The Scottish Enlightenment had effects far beyond Scotland itself, not only because of the esteem in which Scottish achievements were held in Europe and elsewhere, but also because its ideas and attitudes were carried across the Atlantic as part of the Scottish diaspora which had its beginnings in that same era. As a result, a significant proportion of technological and social development in the United States and Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries were accomplished through Scots-Americans.
What did you find out about Edinburgh as a city?
Well! I found out many interesting facts and had the good fortune of having a great guide that of Ronnie Gurr whose home town is Edinburgh. I had met Ronnie in Memphis at the Folk Alliance when I sat on a panel entitled folk around the world. Ronnie is a great person and a proud Scot so I just let him share his knowledge of Edinburgh with me.
Ronnie drove me around the city one evening as it was pouring with rain and firstly took me to Arthur’s Seat……
Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holywood Park a remarkably wild piece of highland landscape in the centre of the city of Edinburgh about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. The hill rises above the city to a height of 251 m (823.5 feet), provides excellent panoramic views of the city, is quite easy to climb, and is a popular walk. Though it can be climbed from almost any direction, the easiest and simplest ascent is from the East, where a grassy slope rises above Dunaspie Loch.
Many claim that its name is a derivation of a myriad of legends pertaining to King Arthur, such as the reference in Y Gododdin. However it has also been claimed that the name is a corruption of the phrase “Archer’s Seat” on the supposition that the rock was a significant point of city defence in the Middle Ages.
Holyrood Park and Abbey
Holyrood has the largest and most diverse area of unimproved grassland in the Lothians. Once part of the Forest of Drumsheugh, was enclosed in 1540 by King James V who used it as a royal hunting preserve. The land then formed part of the sanctuary associated with Abbey of Holyrood, founded in 1128 by King David I. According to legend, the king had a miraculous escape from death here. While out riding he was attacked by a stag. As the king was about to be gored the stag vanished, leaving a cross in his hands – the Holy Rood. In thanksgiving the king founded an abbey on the spot, although all that remains today is the roofless nave of the church.
The city is affectionately nicknamed Auld Reekie [ Scots for Old Smoky), because when buildings were heated by coal and wood fires, chimneys would spew thick columns of smoke into the air. The colloquial pronunciation “Embra” or “Embro” has also been used as in Robert Garioch’s Embro to the Ploy
Some have called Edinburgh the Athens of the North and Auld Greekie for its intellectual history, with the Old Town of Edinburgh performing a similar role to the Athenian Acropolis Edinburgh is also known by several Latin names; Aneda or Edina. The genetive of the latter, Edinensis, can be seen inscribed on many educational buildings.
Edinburgh has also been known as Dunedin, deriving from the Scottish Gaelic Dùn Èideann. Dunedin, New Zealand was originally called “New Edinburgh” and is still nicknamed the “Edinburgh of the South”. The Scots poets Robert Burns and Robert Fergusson sometimes used the city’s Latin name, Edina. Ben Jonson described it as Britain’s other eye,[and Sir Walter Scott referred to the city as yon Empress of the North.
Princes Street Gardens came from draining The Nor Loch – see below…
The Nor Loch was initially a marsh and part of the natural defence of the Edinburgh Old Town. Because the Old Town was built on a steep ridge (still clearly visible today), it expanded on an east-west axis, eastwards from the castle; expansion northward, as would happen with the later New Town, was extremely difficult at this point. The Nor Loch was thus a hindrance to both invaders and town growth.
In 1460 King James III ordered the Nor Loch area to be flooded in order to strengthen the castle’s defences. It is thought never to have been particularly deep.
As the Old Town became ever more crowded during the Middle Ages the Nor Loch became similarly polluted, by sewage, household waste, and general detritus thrown down the hillside. Historians are divided on whether the loch was ever used for drinking water. Apparently you could smell Edinburgh from England.
The Nor Loch fulfilled a variety of other roles during this period including:
- Defence – Scotland, and particularly Edinburgh, suffered frequent English invasions during its independence.
- Witch dunking – over 300 suspected witch trials are documented at this site, as commemorated by a plaque on the castle esplanade, and it is possible that many more went undocumented. In many cases, these “trials” would have been fatal, and the suspects thus acquitted.
- Suicides – The Nor Loch was a popular spot for suicide attempts during its existence, later superseded by the city’s bridges.
- Crime – The loch appears to have been used both as a smuggling route, and a site for the punishment of crime.
In 1759, the Nor Loch was drained and formed part of Princes Street Gardens.
The Chapel is regarded as ‘a hidden gem’ of the Old City of Edinburgh sited as it is under the shadow of George lV Bridge see info below
Hidden in the the Cowgate in Edinburgh’s Old Town, just to the W beneath George IV Bridge, is the 16th Century Magdalen Chapel. This small chapel was built 1541-4, with a bequest from a Michael MacQueen (or MacQuhane), who had died in 1537, augmented by his wife Janet Rynd, who lies buried within. The couple wanted to build a chapel which would also serve as meeting-place for the Incorporation of Hammermen, an important guild of comprised numerous crafts and professions who had worshipped in a small aisle in St. Giles Kirk since the late 1400s. The Chapel included a hospital or almshouse which looked after the poor and sick.
Magdalen Chapel is important for several reasons. Firstly it was the last Roman Catholic chapel to be built in Edinburgh before the Reformation. Secondly, following the Reformation, it became the cradle of Presbyterianism, holding the first assembly of the new Church of Scotland on the 20th December, 1560 including, amongst the 42 assembled, John Knox (c.1513-72). Thirdly, it includes the only examples of Pre-Reformation stained-glass remaining in their original location; four roundels representing the arms of Scotland, of Mary of Guise (Lorraine), of MacQueen and of MacQueen and Rynd together. The steeple was not completed until 1628, and the bell, cast in Flanders, is dated 1632, however the Victorian street facade effectively hides the age of the core. Inside, two walls are almost entirely covered with panels recording bequests which had been made to support the work of the Chapel.
Queen Mary’s Bath House situated in the grounds of Holyrood Abbey
Although there is no concrete evidence that the Queen ever visited the building, or indeed that it was ever a bathhouse (it was more likely a dovecot) over the years it has become quite a famous tourist attraction. Legend has it that the queen used to bathe here in sweet white wine!
Dunbar’s Close Garden
An oasis of tranquillity located to the east of the Canongate kirkyard on the north side of the Canongate, Dunbar’s Close Garden is was laid out in the manner of a 17th century Burghal garden occupying a long and narrow plot which was typical of the time. It is the work of landscape architect Seamus Filor and was commissioned in 1978 by the Mushroom Trust, a local charity which promotes the creation of establish urban gardens. The Trust gave the garden to the city and it is now run by the City of Edinburgh Council.
Planted with flowers and herbs, it is open to the public and provides a pleasant and relaxing place to sit away from the bustle of the Royal Mile. The site has associations with town-planning pioneer, Sir Patrick Geddes (1854 – 1932).
What did you find out about your name Carr?
Carr is a common surname in northern England, deriving from the Old Norsekjarr, meaning a swamp. Kerr is a Scottish variant. Carr is also a common surname in Ireland, where it often derives from the nickname, gearr, meaning short (of height). In some cases it is thought to come from the old Welsh word “Cwarr”, meaning giant.
The great Clan Kerr is well remembered in Scotland as one of the most loyal but warlike Clans of the turbulent Border territories. The Kerrs arrived in Britain after William I’s conquest of England in 1066, and the Clan Kerr descend from two brothers, Ralph and John Ker, who settled in Jedburgh around 1330. The Clan soon grew and prospered, building themselves a position of influence through their sheer strength and tenacity. The Clan Kerr controlled two castles on the border with England, and were quick to fend off any intrusion by the Southerners, but were not indisposed to a quick venture across the divide whenever they fancied some prime English beef for their tables. Rival Scottish border clans included Clan Heron and Clan Scott
The Kerrs have typically been associated with left-handedness; some of their buildings, such as Ferniehirst Castle, have been explicitly designed with this in mind. There is an anecdotal link between the Kerrs and left-handedness, although it is unclear whether or not present-day individuals with the surname of Kerr have a higher incidence of left-handedness than the general population.
Kerr Tartan below
Did you like what you saw of the Fringe and would you return at this time of year?
Yes, most definitely if I am around!
You say you visited the beach – which one was it and how did you get there?
I took the train to North Berwick which took approximately 30 mins from Edinburgh Waverley Rail station. The sands at North Berwick were beautiful and I visited the sea centre where i found out that In February 2000, during the construction of the Seabird Centre over 30 skeletons were discovered on the site of the Auld Kirk graveyard. The skeletons ranged from a new born to an elderly woman and were in a remarkable state of preservation, the oldest is thought to date back to the 7th century.
I also found about The Witches Coven…
During the 16th century there was reputedly a witches coven practising in the town and a well publicised trial of the North Berwick Witches took place in 1595. Accused of conspiring to do damage to King, James VI during his voyage from Denmark with his new bride. Their ship was caught in a terrible tempest and although the royal couple escaped, the storm was later blamed on a group of witches who met in North Berwick.
The town’s connection with the plot to shipwreck the king seems to have begun with a poor maidservant from Tranent, Gelie Duncan. Employed in the house of a wealthy local man, Chamberlain David Seton. Gelie Duncan had an exceptional gift for healing and comforting the sick. In an atmosphere of fear and misgiving it was not long before her skills aroused suspicion and fearing that she possessed supernatural powers, her master put her to torture, using the ‘pinniewinks’ thumbscrews, designed to extract quick confessions from suspects. When Gelie Duncan kept her silence, Seton had her body examined for marks of the devil, a popular method of identifying witches. As the devil’s signs were identified on her throat, she confessed and was thrown into prison.
Under torture and interrogation, Gelie Duncan claimed that she was one of 200 witches, who at the behest of the Earl of Bothwell, one of James’s greatest enemies, had tried to overshadow the king. Some of their most extraordinary plotting she said took place in North Berwick. At Hallowe’en in 1590, Gelie Duncan revealed, the witches sailed to North Berwick and gathered at the Kirk. On a dark and stormy night the devil appeared to them in the church. Surrounded by black candles dripping wax, he had preached them a sermon from the pulpit. While in the churchyard, Gelie Duncan played a Jew’s harp and the throng danced wildly, singing all the while.
The king had everyone named by Gelie brought before him. Among those put to death were Agnes Sampson from Humbie and John Fian, a Prestonpans schoolmaster. Both were ‘convicted of divers pyntis of witchcraft and brynt’.
Historians dismiss the witchcraft at the Auld Kirk as a myth, the story being tortured out of poor servant girl Gelie Duncan and in the end she was burnt as a witch on Castle Hill, near what is now the castle esplanade in Edinburgh. Few cases were recorded after 1690, the last witches to be sentenced to death in East Lothian came from Spott and were burnt on the top of Spott Loan. To this day, an unmarked stone by the side of the road commemorates their shocking fate.
Research suggests that the trials were brought about by the efforts of the minister of Haddington, James Carmichael, working in consort with James VI and David Seton of Tranent. Basically, it was a royal and clerical outrage that was committed against ordinary people, which furthered their own political and clerical ends. There had been witch hunts before these trials, but they had the effect of unleashing a national terror that lasted until the repeal of Witchcraft Act in 1735.
The victims were tortured in the most terrible ways until they said what their inquisitors desired. Bothwell was the one they implicated, not as the devil, but as one who attended their ‘conventions’. This happened at a time when Elizabeth of England had asked James VI to deal with Bothwell, only a few years after she had his mother executed. Bothwell stood trial in 1593 and was found not guilty. There were no conventions, pacts with the devil, or witchcraft practices, just ordinary people trying to survive in an age of unbelievable horror – caused by the kirk and crown.
Do you think you will return to Edinburgh and since you have no photos to show us so hopefully next time you visit Scotland it will be with a camera!!!
Absolutely! I can’t wait to return to this incredible city and country! I hope to come to Scotland to write some songs inspired by the Queen Mary Queen of Scots and Robert Burns. I am so intrigued by Queen Mary’s Bathhouse – if any of you have any pictures of this please post below and add comments if you think you have more to add about your experiences of Edinburgh.
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