Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day 22: Edinburgh

The day started slowly and we left the hotel late in the morning, each of us heading to Debenham’s. My journey took me past The Hub where I picked up our Beltane Fire Festival tickets while Cazy went to figure out where the hire car needed to be dropped off. He hit queues; I didn’t. He made me wait.

Anyway, we bought a teal suitcase and dropped it off at the hotel. Thereon we had separate journeys! I trawled through three second-hand bookshops and only came away with one purchase - published in 1805. It appeared to be an etiquette book aimed at princesses. There were many older books but they did not catch my interest like this one.

I made my way to the Royal Mile and browsed the cashmere stores, set to the soundtrack of buskers playing bagpipes and even a didgeridoo. I would return to give money to the latter because he reminded me of home.

A lot of the Royal Mile shops are tourist traps - either the items only have a tiny percent of cashmere or they are 100% cashmere but do not originate from Scotland. Very glad I look for these things. My scarf from Edinburgh Castle is the real deal!

Admiral Ackbar's opinion on the Royal Mile: "It's a trap!"

I eventually sat in Cockburn Cafe which was empty (unlike the Royal Mile cafes) but for a stressed manager on the phone and his meek cashier (wife?). She was very pleasant. Food was nice. Why is this place empty?

I intended to sit in another cafe so returned to the Grassmarket area where I accidentally walked into a high end cashmere store - genuine and pricey! I recovered in a fudge shop where I received a distressing phone call - the Scrabster ferry is kaput so we need to take a different ferry to Orkney!

Argh. New accommodation booked. Rang brother to discover he was on the Edinburgh vault tour.

Later, we left the apartment at 8:30 for Carlton Hill where the festival was. The gates opened at 8pm which we should have observed. The queue to get in was not bad (they were checking bags for glass and then decanting alcohol from glass bottles into plastic cups) and we passed several torches that flamed beneath mocked up cattle skulls. 

A sign of things to come...

The sky was not yet black though it was 9pm. Disappointingly, there was already a huge crowd gathered near the Parthenon monument and the runway leading to it. We had to stand on a hill further away to see anything. People smoked near us which was unpleasant - over the night, three scents were pervasive: tobacco, weed and charcoal (the latter from the torches).

The show began with drumming that never became annoying, rather it was a beat echoed in our chests and it carried the performances through lulls (during which portaloos, drink stalls and a fish and chip shop grew tails of thirsty and starving Gen Xs and Gen Ys).

Poor lighting, great distance, fire dancers = strangely intriguing photo.

The main performance moved onto a patch of ground between us and the Parthenon and they passed by us. We had a very good view and I nearly clobbered a drummer with my telescopic lens. I very shortly afterward gave up on the camera altogether because I was relying on poor lighting from the flames of Beltane and scattered street lamps. We followed the procession to a wide celtic-designed arch that was lit by flames.

The May Queen

We were stopped short and told we could not pass through the arch. The crush of trying to move back frightened me so I escaped into nearby shadows. Cazy followed. Before that, two girls had climbed a tree to get a better view and a security guard shouted them down.

Instead of worrying for their safety, he stressed, “It’s an endangered ash!”

I sympathised with the tree, although it had jabbed me with a leafless branch.

We passed a bonfire, stumbling over grass and path in our attempt to follow the goddess. Instead, we mostly watched the red-painted performers who wore only loincloths (including the women).

After this, we gave up on following with poor vantage points our only reward for our efforts. We returned to the main area. Cazy bought a drink for himself and a Tunnock’s Tea Cake for me. We descended a nearby slope and watched the red-painted dancers. One woman with short hair and four thin dreadlocks at the back of her head straddled a canon (a replica, I think) and swigged from a large container of red liquid (mock blood was Cazy’s guess). We then walked to the Parthenon and had to climb the hill again to see.

We moved across to the other side of the Parthenon and we squinted as the May Queen danced - very hard to see more than that. Finally, fed up and teetering on sore feet, we made our way down to Waterloo Place in the dark, though we did pass the lit skulls again. A 20-30 minute walk later (we ignored the long queue of taxis outside the event) we were back at the hotel before midnight.

Sleep came and it was wonderful. Obviously I’m writing this a day later!

Quote of the night which came from someone standing near us 10-20 minutes before we left the festival: “Fuck off, Brian!”

I guess you had to be there to find that funny!

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