Just outside St. Giles Cathedral, near the building's west door, on the Royal Mile is a heart-shaped mosaic sent into the cobbles. It marks the site of the old Tollbooth (15th century prison) where criminals were occasionally executed, hence it was a place Edinburgh's criminals would regularly spit upon. Although now sometimes said to be for good luck, this was originally simply a sign of historic disdain for the former prison and "the establishment."
The crest of the Edinburgh football team "Hearts" is based upon this Heart. "The Heart of Midlothian" is also the name of the 7th of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley Novels.
So, when walking along the Royal Mile keep your eyes focused on the road ahead of you... unless you want to accidentally step into the saliva of hundreds of tourists... Ewww.
--> FOLLOW THIS LINK for my tip about St Giles Cathedral: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/212098/
The statue of Charles II astride a horse that stands in between St. Giles and Parliament Hall (now the law courts) appears to be of a Roman Emperor, if you've ever seen a portrait of Charles II with his long flowing hair, you'll know that this is hardly an accurate representation of the fellow. That's because the statue was originally supposed to be of Oliver Cromwell (don't think he looked much like a Roman emperor either), as these things sometimes go, the Restoration came and Cromwell was out of power by the time the statue was finished so it became Charles II.
I didn't witness this but our guide assured us it was true, a hole in the horse gives the appearance of the horse peeing when it rains.
The heart-shaped design of the cobble stones near St Giles Cathedral marks where the entrance to the Tolbooth used to be located. The Tolbooth was originally set up in 1561, as the name implies, to collect tolls but also became used as a prison after 1640. There was also a scaffold for hanging criminals (and others) and the heads of the more famous victims would be displayed on spikes in the face of the building. The Tolbooth was demolished in 1817.
Perhaps as a sign of disrespect to the town council, it became common for passsers-by to spit on the cobble stone design. While this is not encouraged these days, it is wise to give the emblem a wide berth when walking past - just in case!
There is another kegend that has been told to me..if a pair kiss each other on this point it will mean that they will break up....so mind where you walk!!
It's not strictly off the beaten path because the building known as Gladstone's Land is a National Trust house on the Royal Mile, just a skip from the Castle. It's a 16th to 18th century tenement house with a half a dozen furnished rooms with aguide in each room to tell you what all the antiques are and how the merchant who owned the house would have lived there. It was very interesting and well worth a look. There is an entrance fee and a small gift shop as well.
While there we also found out about a traditional Edinburgh "symbol". There was a double heart design inlaid into one of the cabinets and we asked the guide about it. It's a "Luckenbooth" she said, a double (sometimes you see a triple) heart with a crown on top. These designs were sold mainly as pins out of booths in the market, locked up at night so that they could be left on the market area. Locked booths. . . Luckenbooth. The pins were sometimes attached to babies' blankets for luck and they also symbolize love and friendship, basically the Scottish equivalent of the Claddagh
In the square behind St. Giles is Parliament House, home of the Scottish Parliament until the Acts of the Union in 1707 which dissolved the Parliaments in both England and Scotland and created a unified Parliament of Great Britian situated in London. The building is now home to the law courts. I wouldn't have realized this was open to the public had I not been on a guided tour, Frommer's doesn't even list this in their guidebook.
You are not allowed to take photos inside this building, our guide told us not to even take them of the outside of the building. Inside you will find Parliament Hall with it's impressive oak hammerbeam roof, the best preserved part of the building.
It's amazing that the public has such easy access, only a cursory search of our bags by a guard was performed and you have to walk through a metal detector (in the US your bags would also be xrayed). Attorneys (barristers, solicitors or whatever they are called here) can be seen walking the length of Parliament Hall, in full attire with their robes and curly wigs. In a separate room, boxes for attorney correspondence are largely unattended, although locked, many were overflowing with casework.
It's possible that you can see more, perhaps even sit on a case, but I'm not sure.
This wonderful museum is located right on the Royal Mile at 42 High Street, pop in for a look should you find yourself with a spare hour or two. I have to say this was my favorite museum in Edinburgh, maybe because I never grew up ;-)
There are several floors of displays organized by various categories, I only had about 45 minutes to look around but I could have stayed in here at least twice as long.
A couple of my favorites were the Snakes & Ladders game, perhaps a scarier percursor to the dull Chutes & Ladders we have here in the US, and the Struwwelpeter doll from the horribly gruesome book by Heinrich Hoffmann (the play Shockheaded Peter was based on this book)
The old town of Edinburgh seems to have a great many side streets, closes and alleyways. They lead to streets and squares which many residents and visitors do not encounter.
The picture shows Advocates Close which leads to a stairway which takes you down from the Royal Mile through the Old Town without the hassle of traffic and roads.
The one point to note is that they are sometimes secluded, and may not always lead to where you want to reach!
At the other end of the Royal Mile from the castle, you will find Hollyrood house, where the members of Scottish Parliament frequent. I was there just after Donald Dewar came into office, and was fortunate enough to meet him. Not only is this place of political interest, it is a great building, a huge-looking mansion, and the 'changing of the guard' is a particularly interesting ritual to watch. Also, just off the Royal Mile, down the hill a bit is what they call 'greyfriars bobby' which is actually the name of a little black Scottie terrier, who was faithful to his master, and visited his grave daily. You can visit the actual cemetary, and near by, there is a little statue of the dog. It is in a quaint part of town, so worth a visit.
No matter where you go in the older quarters of Edinburgh, you are bound to stumble across yet another structure to take you back to another time!