Chapter 6: North of the Wall.

It was probably a good thing that I jetted off over to the UK one day earlier that I was supposed to. One of my big treats to myself while I was on my little sojourn around the world was five days in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where I would watch five Shakespeare productions in five days. The Royal Shakespeare Company did a year where they put on every single Shakespeare play ever written, and as I had just completed my honours thesis on adapting Shakespeare into film, I thought this was something I could get behind.

(If you’re wondering, yes. Having an honours degree in English Literature, and a thesis on adapting Shakespeare into film does wonders for your employment prospects. Which is why I currently work in a call centre).

So I was kind of on a deadline when I landed at Heathrow and staggered through a surprisingly strict customs check. I can only assume that border control sees an Australian coming and just sighs. After navigating that (which was frankly as hard as getting out of Mexico hungover as hell), I somehow found my way into the centre of London and got on a bus for York. I’m a bit sorry I didn’t spend any time catching trains while I was in the UK but trains were EXPENSIVE and buses were much cheaper, at least when you’re 22 and trying to backpack for nine months.

Once I found my hostel in York I passed out for awhile, and when I woke a girl in the next bunk told me she was worried I’d died, as there’d been lots of noise and people coming and going and I didn’t move a muscle.

I’m not sure that York would have necessarily been on my itinerary for England except my friends Krystle and Hayley went through there two years prior and told me about a free walking tour, and the pubs were great. Also (if my memory is correct, which it rarely is) I’d not long finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell so I did spent not an inconsiderable amount of time wandering the streets of York pretending I was a Victorian magician. I have a funny feeling this was the place I arrived to discover 37 bucks weekends were happening but that could have been my next stop.

This is Yorkminster Abbey, built in 1472

York is genuinely lovely. Yorkminster was the first of roughly 11,000 churches I came across in my travels, but it was one of the loveliest. Another big thing in York is to take a stroll down The Shambles, a medieval street once lined with butchers but now filled with cafes and boutiques. There’s a definite Diagon Alley vibe to it which I appreciated.

2006 Briony was all about taking photos, well done her.

After a long weekend in York, I jumped on another bus and made my way up to Edinburgh. According to my old archived travel blog I did from 2006, I spent a lot of time trying to find an ATM to give me money, but there are two distinct things I remember from my time in Edinburgh. No wait, three things:

  1. The first hostel I went to put me in a room with a bunch of dudes who didn’t speak English, and I noped out of that situation rather quickly because
  2. At the second hotel, I lay on my bunk writing a postcard to someone (remember postcards? I know right!) and got rather startled when the entire bunk started shaking – turned out two people in the bunk below mine were getting jiggy with it, if you know what I mean

There is a street beneath the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, called Mary King’s Close, named after a businesswoman who lived there in the 17th century. It was partially demolished in the 18th century and was closed to the public for many years but you can now do a guided tour. It’s been haunted since the 1700s, and when you go down there it’s GENUINELY CREEPY. It really does give you an idea what life was like during the black plague.

But let me tell you about Edinburgh Castle.

So here’s the thing. First of all, Edinburgh Castle is huge, and completely dominates the skyline.

Not kidding, it’s pretty beautiful

As you can see it was a pretty dreary weekday when I hauled myself up the hill for a poke around the castle. Castle Rock has been inhabited since the Iron Age, and has been used as a royal residence, a military garrison, a prison and a fortress. I believe it still serves some military functions even to this day.

Being a weekday the crowds were pretty low so it was fantastic to be able to wander around the castle and grounds and soak up the history. Until I got to the military hospital.

Look. I might have been hungover. In fact, I’m sure I probably was. But as I went through the exhibit recreating how the hospital was used, I would see movement out of the corner of my eye – but when I turned, there would only be an appropriately dressed mannequin. Each room I went into, the same thing would happen. A hint of movement, a turn of the head, and a mannequin.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only tourist wandering the military hospital. But was the other person a man, or a ghost? We’ll never know. All I can say is I left Edinburgh feeling more than a little bit creeped out and I still think mannequins are nothing but bad news. There, I said it.

Next time, we’ll find out whether I saw the Loch Ness Monster, or if it was a subaquatic mannequin bent on my doom. Or a branch, if you’re interested in facts.

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