Thursday, 29 August 2013

Some mysteries in and around Edinburgh.

According to Andrew Hennessy [1] Edinburgh has the historic provenance to be a place where magical ideas and strange beings create strange works. Apart from the famous hauntings on the Edinburgh Tourist Trail: The Mackenzie Poltergeist, the ghosts ofthe Vaults and Mary Kings Close Edinburgh and the Lothians have an undercurrent of the strange including a history of strange beings from the Sidhe to ET. While some of the sightings of UFOs, and other creatures, may have been due to Marsh Gas or industrial air pollution alcohol is not a likely cause, for not only are Scots hardy drinkers, but when drunk you happily spend hours talking to a pink elephant or a walking skeleton and notice nothing amiss, though having said that I recall an English friend long ago who, after 17 vodkas, insisted a tree branch waving in the wind was a horse.

The strangeness in and around Edinburgh may be a result of its location or the caverns that lie under much of the Lothians. Either way it is there if you look.

A Female Scottish Rip Van Winkel
Sometime in the 18th century two lovers once went into the hills at Innerleithen, south of Edinburgh, to paly hide and seek. The girl hid in a case were she found a door that led into a strange land fill of people who drove around in horseless carriages and had cities with domes and spires. She had a great time there and then remembered her lover and returned to our world. But in our world 50 years had passed. Her lover had given up waiting and returned without her: he had been accused of her murder and hanged.

This story could perhaps have been inspired by the Dutch tale of Rip Van Winkel but has the element common to tales of encounters with fairies that a short time there is a long time here, and, without the time dilation element, is reminiscent of the tale of the Fairy Boy of Leith, from around the same period.

The notion of underground civilisations is widespread, to the extent of being an archetypal image, perhaps most famously in Bulwer-Lytton's book The Coming Race and Shavers tales of Deros and Teros. Jung records visions of descending into the basement of his house and finding a trapdoor in the basement that led to deeper levels.

The Fairy Boy of Leith
Calton Hill is a strange place, the highest points having an air of isolation from the world. I recall reading it was used for the Lord of Misrule ceremonies in Edinburgh and it is now the site of the annual Beltane Festival.

Around 1648 a captain Burton, met an unusually intelligent ten year old boy who claimed that every Thursday night he would go to a hill, presumed to be Calton Hill, and, enter underground rooms through a pair of gates invisible to all without fairy sight where he would play the drum for a large assembly of people. His account is more like the accounts of a medieval Witches Sabbat without the diabolic element: and lacks the time lapse element of Faerie encounters, where a night in Faerie can be decades in this world. However it is possible there are caverns under the hill, for there are caverns, now sealed off, under Arthur's seat, and an entire Lothian cavern system. I recall reading that the last sighting of the fairies in Edinburgh was on Calton Hill in 1930, the year the Calton Jail, formerly on the hill, was demolished. Perhaps they did not like the noise.

Crichton Castle
At the head of the River Tyne near the village of the same name and two mile east of Gorebridge, which is accessible by bus from the centre of Edinburgh, stands the ruined Crichton Castle, parts of which date from the 15th century. In 1568 the castle was given to the Earl of Bothwell who was later accused of witchcraft and fled the country. Crichton Castle stands on the edge of a vast cavern system that stretches as far as the Pentland Hills. Around the Lothian cavern system edges are place names and villages such as 'Elvingstone' and 'Elphinstone' and 'Goblin Halls' in an area about 1000 square miles.

To the south of the castle is a building said to be haunted by the ghost of William Crichton, who died in 1453.

One midsummer's night around 1970, two people from Gorebridge decided to carry out a Wiccan ritual in the Churchyard next to Crichton Castle, daring the wrath of the Blue Lady, allegedly the ghost of a distressed Nun.

Under a full moon on the stroke of midnight they looked up from what they were doing towards the path that led all the way down to Crichton Castle.

They saw a silent procession of fine ladies and gentlemen all in black evening gowns and dinner suits filing past the Churchyard gate on its way down the castle road. The two sat there totally struck dumb. When the parade reached the castle, they started quickly walking away back to the road, noticing with increasing alarm that there were no cars or coaches parked by the roadside.

There is a tradition in Scotland of the midsummer 'Faerie parade' usually told in terms of medieval symbols, such as Knights and Dames e.g. as in 'the Ballad of Tam Linn.' and this seems to have been a version in more modern clothing.

In the 19th century theosophist CW Leadbeater wrote in his book 'The Hidden Side of Things' of Faerie tribes in the Pentland Hills to the west of Edinburgh at Flotterstone. It is hard to believe a large tribe of any sort of being could hide in these caverns, but the existence of an entire subterranean city in Edinurgh's Niddrie Street Vaults for decades means the possibility cannot be ruled out.

The Wrap
Edinburgh is a bustling city built on seven hills and a cavern system that holds many mysteries. The tales here only scratch the surface and there is much more to tell. The Lothian Cavern system may or may not hold a community of strange beings but, as I hope to show later, they hold interest for the student of anomalies, whether Ufologist, psychic researcher, conspiracy buff, sociologist or anthropologist.

This post was sponsored by the Badjao Bed and Breakfast, who now have an online booking system accessible from their website using the Book Now button which also allows guests to check for availability.

[1] Andrew Hennessy on Haunted Edinburgh and the Lothians

Saturday, 17 August 2013

More about Edinburgh's Giant Pandas

I saw someone looked like him
eating a baguette in a pub
Humans seem to find pandas attractive because of their habit of sitting upright, with their hind legs in front of them, eating bamboo which they hold in their paws with the help of a modified bone that acts like a thumb. The round face and warm fur coat also help raise their attractiveness.

The news that one of the Giant Pandas rented to Edinburgh Zoo might be pregnant raised a flurry of interest recently. They are big, cute and endangered. Unfortunately for the romantics who assign human motives to animals, if Tian Tian is pregnant it will be the result of artificial insemination (the pandas have separate bedrooms... err enclosures and Tian Tian “showed signs that were not conducive to mating- yes they get headaches too!).

The zoo already strictly regulates panda viewing while trying to avoid the Kit-Kat panda syndrome. If a cub arrives the resulting boost in visitors might make it necessary to register your child at conception to ensure they can see a giant panda. However September when the Festival is over and visitor numbers drop would be a good time to visit.

Where did the panda get its name?

Nobody is sure why they are called Pandas, though in the UK they gave their name to a type of pedestrian crossing and the old fashioned black and white police car. One possibility is the Nepalese word Ponya which may refer to their “thumb”. Chinese records generally refer to the panda as a some form of bear.

Panda Facts

The Giant Panda is sometimes considered to be a living Fossil, like the Coelocanth and its status as an endangered species reliant on conservation to survive strengthens that impression. The panda is a bear and its nearest relative is the South American spectacles bear. The commonest species of Giant Panda is black and white (ebony and ivory) though on subspecies is brown and white, which may be good camouflage in its native environment, which consists of snow and rocks.

The panda largely eats bamboo which it holds using is “thumb” and since each species of bamboo dies off for the winter at different times it needs to be able to access at least two of the 25 species it eats. It eats 20-30 pounds of bamboo a day, needing to eat this much because it still has the digestive system of a carnivore and gets little value from the bamboo it eats. As result it produces vast amounts of fertiliser ( allowing more bamboo to grow), though it seems Edinburgh Zoo does not yet bag and sell it to souvenir hunters or gardeners. Since its food does not give it a lot of energy the panda avoids unenecessary activity and tends to be a solitary animal. It also avoids areas with steep slopes. It is large because a large body means a low surface area to volume ratio and that in turn allows it to have a less active metabolism that allows it to survive on bamboo, and its round face is the result of its powerful jaws needed to crush the bamboo. It will also eat meat, fish and eggs when these are available.

Pandas are solitary and adults have their own terittory while females, like human females, do not tolerate other females on their territory. After mating the male leaves the female to raise the cubs alone. This is another trait shared with humans. Although generally docile the panda has been known to attack humans though this may be a result of irritation not aggression.

Pandas and humans.

They are slimmer in the wild
Pandas used to be considered rare and noble creatures but were rarely considered to have medical uses (unlike the rhinoceros) though its urine was recommended for dissolving accidentally swallowed needles and tea fertilised by panda dung, as well as being the most expensive in the West has been touted as healthy, if only by those selling it. There are tantalising accounts in Chinese records of animals that might be pandas but no pictures of pandas before the 20th century.

The first live Panda was seen in the West in 1916 and Theodore Roosevelt Jr was the first Westerner to shoot one in the 1920s with the first live Panda reaching London in 1938.

The Wrap

The Panda is an interesting animal and its thumb and habit of sitting upright while eating endear it to humans. Its range has shrunk from a large part of SE Asia to a few mountain regions in China, a lot of this being the result of human destruction of its hbitat for farming, forestry and other purposes. As would humans they lose a lot of interest in mating once in captivity, though they seem to breed well in the wild. Estimates of the wild panda population have risen recently and it seems that while still endangered they are less in danger than before.

Edinburgh Zoo is celebrating its centenary year in 2013 and a Panda cub would be a nice addition to the year. It is only a short drive from the Bed and Breakfast, and as I said above, it is perhaps best visited in the off-season. Remember there are more than Pandas there and try to stay for the Penguin Parade.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Golf: from China to Edinburgh via Amsterdam

Golf is fascinating even for non players like myself, and the history of Golf in Edinburgh is linked to royalty and the professions but was originally played by rich and poor alike. Despite its long history in Scotland, the game only started evolving towards its modern form in the middle of the 18th century, the development of golf being driven partly by its increasing popularity and increasing expense.

If you come to Edinburgh to play golf (September onward, after the distractions of the Edinburgh festival are over and visitor fees may be cheaper and accommodation is definitely cheaper) you will find a range of courses to suit all levels of interest and ability. Knowing something of the history of the sport, if not the actual course you are playing should lend a bit of spice to your game. And if you come from Japan you may find a week's golf in Edinburgh costs less than a day on your local course.

Golf Came from China

There seems to be a consensus that Golf developed in Scotland in the Middle Ages, but mentions of the game, some apocryphal, record a golf like game played in the Netherlands around 1261. Golf dies not seem to have been popular with the authorities in the low countries, and in 1360 the council of Brussels banned Golf imposing a fine on anyone who played the game. However in 1387 Golf, played outside the city walls, was the only game exempt from a ban on playing games for money and in 1389 the residents of Haarlem, now a suburb of Amsterdam, were given a field to play games, especially “colf” because these games were too dangerous if played in the city.

Diving into history tends to prove no one really invented anything and in 2005 evidence emerged that a game very like Golf was played in China by rich people around 943AD and it may have been exported to Europe then Scotland by Mongolian travellers in the late Middle Ages: Presumably along with the Black Death. Golf came free. The Giant Pandas in Edinburgh Zoo are rented. It is not clear if the rent is subsidised by Kit.Kat. 

The Development of Golf In Edinburgh

In 1457 King James II banned Golf and Football since these distracted people from practicing Archery and a bit later in 1471 and 1491 similar acts described Golf as an “unprofitable sport”. Parliament banned it in the reign of James IV but Golf clubs and balls were purchased for him on at least two occasions. This is a bit ironic since Archery has since invented Archery Golf, and a bit if ingenuity and lateral thinking might have avoided a ban.

In 1522 there was a dispute between the cobblers of Canongate and the golf ball makers of North Leith while in 1575 some golfers in Leith were attacked and successfully fought back.

There is a tale that Mary Queen of Scots played Golf on Musselburgh links in 1567 but the earliest definite mention of Golf in Musselburgh is dated to 2nd March 1672, supporting a claim that Musselburgh Golf Course is the oldest course in the world though the same person also recorded playing at Leith Links in 1672. Golfers regarded Leith Links much more highly than the more accessible Bruntsfield Links (where Golf is still played today on a 9 hole course). Incidentally the Golf Tavern on Bruntsfield Links claims to have been founded in 1456 and so to be the oldest golf pub in the world.

Leith Links and Bruntsfield Links eventually became so crowded that the clubs founded there moved to Musselburgh, to the golf course inside the race track, and eventually that got so crowded the clubs moved further out and the original Bruntsfield Club ended in Barnton.

The first “official” Golf rules and competitions were created in 1744, at a time when it was becoming a rich man's game (even now some clubs do not allow women players ) and the responsibility for developing the rules eventually went to St Andrews. 

Golf became very popular in the 19th Century and eventually developed into the multimillion pound sport it is today

Playing Today

A lot of detail, which would have doubled the length of this note has been left out but it would be incomplete without notes on some of the better known courses in Edinburgh

Muirfield claims to be the oldest and seems to be one of the most expensive, at least for visitors. It has two concentric rings of nine holes one of which is covered clockwise and the other anticlockwise so whatever the day is like some shots get played into the wind. You can find a technical description of the course here 

The Braids course is considered challenging and the gorse lined fairways are an incentive to shoot straight. You have a great view of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's Seat

Mussleburgh Links is considered to be the oldest known golf course and is surrounded by a racetrack. Visitors can hire hickory clubs to experience the game as it used to be played.

Where to stay

There are over twenty courses within the city limits and 100 courses within easy reach, so Edinburgh is an obvious place  for a golfing holiday in Scotland.
If you want to experience the true Scottish welcome, then you should stay in our Bed & Breakfast, less than ten minutes from the city centre with free on street parking and a direct bus to Musselburgh with its golf course inside a race track. There are no records of a ball hitting a horse and changing the outcome of a race.

Golf Course Websites
Some clubs  strictly
enforce  rules :)
These sites may save you research time when planning your golfing holiday in Edinburgh.

Musselburgh Old course. Golf World said "Musselburgh is to golf what Mecca is to religion - the very roots of the game are founded on this hallowed turf. As the oldest playing links course in the world it captures a wonderful sense of nostalgia." People who played it say it is a must for any golfer visiting Edinburgh.

Mortonhall is  four miles south of the castle. With mature trees and whin-covered outcrops, the course is an excellent championship test of 6,530 yards, and beautiful views across Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and the Pentland hills.  The Balm Well is a family pub in the area with an ancient Balm Well in its grounds, that  brings natural oil to the surface which helps with skin problems

Turnhouse Dates from the 19th century. It’s a par 69 for gents (71 for ladies), measuring 6,060 yards from the medal tees with splendid views (on a clear day) of the mountains of the Highlands to the north, the River Forth to the east, the Pentlands to the south and the old coal bings of Broxburn to the west.