The Royal Mile, one of the main streets in Old Town Edinburgh, leads from the Palace of Holyroodhouse all the way up Castle Hill to the famous Edinburgh Castle. The street is dominated by pedestrians perusing the multiple pubs, restaurants, and especially shops filled with all sorts of “authentic” Scottish bric-à-brac. I walked up from South Bridge Street this morning, surrounded by early morning tourists not unlike myself, various maintenance workers, people getting from point A to point B, and shopkeepers.
One of the first attractions is the Royal Mile Market, opening up in later January to be filled with vendors and shoppers. Housed in a gothic-ish solid, tall-towered building, it presents an interesting intersection of history – the importance of the Royal Mile and the various sites along it – and the modern tourism drive. To augment this, it sits right across the street from a Starbucks Coffee house, consistently filled with locals and tourists alike.
As you walk up the Royal Mile, especially in the section between South Bridge and the Edinburgh Castle, you come across over ten small stores selling cashmere in some form or another – everything from neck scarves and lap scarves to hats and doggy sweaters. Multiple storefronts boast iconic Scottish tartan, advertisements of men wearing a sort of suit-kilt complete with sporran and a set of pipes, yet another testimony to the overwhelming profitability of (merely one a piece of Highland) Scottish culture.
Slightly further up the street, you encounter an amusing-to-outsiders emblem of Scotland: the national animal, poised proudly atop a column in Parliament Square between a Cafe Nero and the St. Giles Cathedral. The national animal of Scotland is, naturally, the unicorn. An interesting tidbit about the unicorn is that, according to some folklore, the unicorn has always had rocky relations, to say the least, with the lion – the lion happens to be the national animal of England. Coincidence? Some would say not.
Continuing to trek up the hill, you make your way into what’s called Lawnmarket, the oldest part of Old Town Edinburgh, lined with shops, pubs, and the famous David Hume statue. Once a stoic and skeptical historian and philosopher (among other things), Hume’s statue is now one of the popular sites of superstition along the Royal Mile. While the rest of him remains coppery green, his large toe gleams golden as a result of passers-by, particularly students, rubbing it for luck. At the University of Edinburgh, philosophy students are especially encouraged to take part in this, as it will supposedly help you pass your philosophy exams. No doubt the no-nonsense Hume would find this hypocritical, if not somewhat amusing.
Slightly further up the street, the street changes from Lawnmarket to Castle Hill, marking the final stretch of the ascent to Edinburgh Castle (and also wonderfully punctuating Edinburgh’s habit of calling the same straight road by four different names
depending on which part of it you stand). The Hub, a tall spider-web-like cathedral, is Edinburgh’s striking festival centre. At night, bright neon purple or green under-lighting dances on its facade, bringing a taste of modernism into this historic area.
Once you’ve trekked past the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, a couple pubs, bars, and restaurants, and a particularly emphatic series of posters convincing every visiting family they must cosplay as highlanders in order to complete their time in Scotland and make it a true family memory (and for free! …Right?), you reach the pinnacle of the Royal Mile. Edinburgh Castle sits atop an extinct volcano and is an impressive structure of heavy, large brick and mortar, with walls and roofs and doors and windows, recesses and protrusions that love to play with the sunlight. From the Castle Esplanade, which includes the parking lot (largely empty early in the morning), visitors can look out over Edinburgh and get a picturesque view of Arthur’s Seat. In looking around, it would seem only an iPhone-afforded panorama or multiple shots with your epic Nikon will do the trick.
It feels like I just gave a tour or wrote this up for a tourism pamphlet – of course, that is exactly what riddles the Royal Mile and dominates the landscape. And, in all honesty, that’s what I am as I trek up the hill to gaze upon an antiquated building for which I hesitate to pay the entry fee. That’s why my Royal Mile story ends here, in the parking lot abutting Edinburgh Castle, overlooking a mid-morning, slightly overcast sky.
Or does it?