Sarah Coles


Bill drove us to Portobello and parked among an estate of very proper 1930s bungalows.  Weirdly, a 19th century mausoleum like a giant concrete block towers over them.  It is the Craig Miller Mausoleum (what Miller did no one seems to know) and its sides depict the crossing of the Red Sea.    One has a plaque with the Israelites, a man and dancing maidens, called ‘the song of Moses and Miriam’.  There’s a hen or two, and a cow.  Water laps their feet.  On the other side is Pharaoh on his chariot – you’d recognise him anywhere – as he and his men and horses are overthrown by miniscule waves.  Extraordinary, and beautifully done.

Next to the cemetery, with its mundane ‘RIPs’ and ‘In memory of’ is a crammed Pets Cemetery, with hundreds of heartfelt inscriptions, all individual, all intense.  Boysie Boy How I Miss You!  Miss Tiddly, You Gave Me Joy!  This is true love I thought.

Back to Carlton Terrace for lunch, then Bill walked me briskly along Princes Street and over the Mound to the Castle (on the way a cat along a roof ridge) to see a couple of cannon balls embedded in a wall.  Views!  And then, the Witches Well.  This is where over the years more than 300 witches were murdered.  An art deco plaque shows a good witch and a bad witch, with a sententious message stating there are good women and bad women … god what crap.

Down the Royal Mile with its shops of Scotterie run by Pakistanis and here is an original slum tenement, preserved.  Bottom half of windows are wood.   Others are now rebuilt as smart hotels with similar fenestration to the old slums.  A golden eagle clutches a shrew (?).  Originally stinking and foetid, the tenements are now the epitome of charm and glamour.

Inscription with stone head of a boy above a door.  When a tenement collapsed, men dug at the rubble and were about to stop when they heard a voice calling ‘Heave away chaps, I’m no’ dead yet.’  The boy was saved – no one knows his name.

A statue of Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus.  Why?  We suppose Alexander’s the Lord Provost and Bucephalus the rabble being kept in order.

We stop for a coffee, and I have to wear a mask (these Covid days) to order it.  Bill stays outside because he won’t wear a mask on principle.

And down to Canongate Church; this is where the royals worship when in Edinburgh.  Outside stands a statue of a famous poet I’d never heard.  Robert Fergusson died aged 25 in 1774.  He wrote Auld Reekie (= Edinburgh), part of which goes:

Now morn, with bonny purpie-smiles,
Kisses the air-cock o’ St Giles;
Rakin their een, the servant lasses
Early begin their lies and clashes;
Ilk tells her friend o’ saddest distress,
That still she brooks frae scouling mistress;
And wi her joe in turnpike stair
She’d rather snuff the stinking air,
As be subjected to her tongue,
When justly censur’d in the wrong.

I take photo of Bill and poet.

We see shining metal bars inserted among the cobbles to show where gallows stood, and walls to keep any unruly rabble out.  At Hollyrood Palace are three metal Ss embedded in the cobbles.  If you were chased for debt and stepped beyond them, you could gain S for Sanctuary.  You were allowed out on Sundays for church, or in one case, to preach.

Up the hill, past the students’ accommodation – not that many students around, are they Covid scared? – some stretching full length along their windows, iphone in one hand mug in the other.

Next day, in the Museum of Scotland, what do you make of this weird wooden board?  The woman is beating a trussed man, do you think?  S & M?  Or, revenge on behalf of those women who were killed for casting spells?

Ah, Auld Reekie.

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