ABOARD THE VIKING SKY: His poor little nose is slowly being rubbed off. And her frozen face seems to have a permanent perplexed look.
Thinking back on my day in Edinburgh, those two images of famous animals are what keep coming to mind. Strange how those Scottish critters affected me so strongly in a city that is chock full of wonders.
After arriving in Edinburgh, we had a choice of interesting shore excursions. So much to see and do on our own or join local guides who were waiting for us. That is another advantage that makes Viking such an excellent company – they hire local tour guides at each stop for our shore excursions. These guides know what they are talking about because they live here. They are not just reciting something they have read about in books. Makes a big difference.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Passing a bright red door, I learned that this was where one of my favorite authors, Robert Louis Stevenson, grew up. A sickly child, Stevenson had a family nurse who would lull him to sleep with spooky stories. One of those tales involved a strange man who had constructed a cabinet located in the child’s room.
This weird Edinburgh man, William Brodie, had two lives. In one, he was a respectable craftsman and town council member. In another, he was a criminal – drunkard, gambler and thief. When his double life was discovered, Brodie was hanged on Oct. 1, 1788, in front of a huge crowd.
Robert Louis Stevenson was haunted by that story. His book about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is said to be based on that true story.
Along with “Treasure Island” and many other books, Stevenson also wrote one of my favorite quotes: “I travel not to go anywhere but to simply go.”
Edinburgh has kilt stores and tea shops galore, plus the funky Scottish Parliament Building (looked like factory ruins to me), 12th century Edinburgh Castle looming over the city like a guardian, medieval Old Town and 18th century New Town, dramatic Sir Walter Scott Monument (the world’s biggest monument dedicated to a writer), the Royal Mile and much more.
The eye-catching Our Dynamic Earth facility spotlights the work of Scottish geologists who pioneered the discipline. “You can learn about James Hutton and his belief that stones can talk,” my guide said. “He believed that history can be found in a bag of gravel and is known as the father of modern geology.”
Walking past a “close” (the Scottish name for a tiny alley, often with a gate which would be closed at night), I saw an image sculpted at the entrance to the close. It’s a young man’s bust with rocks and splintered wood behind it. It commemorates a young survivor of a tragic collapse of an adjacent 250-year-old tenement on Nov. 24, 1861.
Thirty-five people lost their lives and a boy named Joseph McIver almost did, too. Buried in the rubble, the boy heard firemen approaching to clear the debris thinking no survivors were left. The boy called out, ‘Heave awa’, chaps, I’m no’ dead yet.”
Firemen dug down and pulled the boy to safety. The bust and inscription recall that miraculous recovery. The tragedy and the overcrowding of the tenement which was prevalent in that era resulted in the creation for the first time of a Medical Officer of Health in Edinburgh.
An unusual pub named The World’s End was so-called because back in the 16th century, Edinburgh was a walled city. The walls of the city were located right outside this pub so to long-ago residents it must have felt as though the world ended once they passed through those gates.
The story behind the popular dog statue whose nose is slowly being rubbed away has been disputed over the years but it is still heartwarming, nonetheless. And it was made into a 1961 Disney movie, for goodness sakes. Would Walt Disney deceive us?
Greyfriars Bobby was the name of the Skye Terrier that supposedly spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner who had died of tuberculosis. That was back in the 1800s. Local townspeople were said to have fed the dog and even built him a shelter. When the 16-year-old dog died on Jan. 14, 1872, he was buried in Greyfriars cemetery near his master’s grave.
A red granite gravestone marks the dog’s burial place with the inscription “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”
Dolly the famous cloned sheep
At the National Museum of Scotland, I saw the other animal that captured my imagination. The museum itself – all Scottish museums have free admission – could well take a day to tour. It is huge and well organized but I barely had time to skim it.
Some of its treasures include a specimen of penicillin inscribed by Scotsman creator Alexander Fleming; the world’s oldest surviving color TV using a system invented in 1936 by Scottish engineer John Logie Baird; and a “humane” beheading machine named the Maiden. Between 1564 and 1710, when the Maiden was withdrawn from use, more than 150 people were executed with the device.
Ironically, the person believed to have introduced the idea to Scotland for a beheading machine was himself executed on June 2, 1581, by the Maiden. James Douglas, who ruled Scotland from 1572 to 1578, was implicated in the murder of Mary, Queen of Scots’ second husband, Lord Darnley. For that, he lost his head.
Among the many treasures at the museum, the one that seems to attract the most visitors is a stuffed sheep named Dolly, after Dolly Parton naturally. Permanently twirling in her glass case, Dolly is the world’s first mammal cloned by Scottish researchers from an adult cell.
Born July 5, 1996, Dolly died at age six on Valentine’s Day 2003 from a lung infection and severe arthritis. The legacy of the world’s most famous sheep has not been the cloning of animals but in advances into stem cell research that may be used in fighting cancer and other diseases.
Seeing Dolly brought back memories of discussions about human cloning when her birth was announced. I feel the same way now as I did back then. If offered the chance to have myself cloned, would I be interested? Nope.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch