Joe Hendren

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Travels: Edinburgh

Carlton Hill and Edinburgh Castle

Saturday December 28, 2002

Today I climbed to the top of Carlton Hill, a park near the centre of Edinburgh. The strangest sight here is a monument like a Greek Parthenon; unfinished because a town council many moons ago refused to fund the project. On the hill there is also a monument to the victory of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar built in 1816. For the privilege of climbing the internal stairway one must part a steep 2, but the top of the tower does uncover great 360 degree views of the entire Edinburgh area. I did my usual 'happy snapper' trick and took photos in such a way they can be lined up into a panorama. The view looking directly down Princes Street is interesting, especially when you can fit Edinburgh castle and the rock into the same photographic shot.

On Tuesday I visited Edinburgh Castle. The Castle sits on a large piece of volcanic rock that overlooks the city - it is easy to imagine a Maori Pa being built on the same site, but for the tyranny of distance. A friend had told me that the castle was good but not as impressive if one had seen the Tower of London. Her assessment was correct (that said the Tower of London is the best heritage attraction in London by absolutely miles).

I was most impressed by the display of the Crown Jewels of the Stewart Monarchs. The display takes you around a maze of indoor rooms that explain the history of Scottish rulers from Robert the Bruce (who forced Edward II to noddy off when he tried to invade Scotland). I liked the way the walls had also been painted with medieval style scenes, far too many museums have exhibits and blank walls. At the end you can see the artifacts themselves, as well as the 'Stone of Destiny' - the rock on which all monarchs since Robert the Bruce have been crowned. Next door you could visit a few rooms of the royal palace that still remain, including the 'Mary Queen of Scots' room where James VI was born (later also James I of England).

I also noted that the Stewart name originated from the house originally being refered to as the 'High Stewards' - I wonder if Tolkein gained any inspiration from this? I wonder if this question was ever put to Tolkein.

I also had a look through the Imperial War Museum of Scotland, which is situated inside an old hospital building inside the castle. This museum was disappointing, largely because I left it with an impression that it took an overly prescriptive view of Scots/English history. There was nothing prior to 1600, despite the long history of the Scots fighting the English. The military response to the Jacobite rebellions of the following two centuries were described in terms of 'defence'. The union between England and Scotland in 1707 was described as 'peaceful'. This may have well been the case but the wording I found overly prescriptive. It was not the case that I went to the museum expecting coverage of 'Braveheart', its just that I thought the selection of what the museum did cover was shall we say, highly selective.

In the museum was a flag with a Scottish Emblem carried by Otago soliders during the battle of Crete, as a way of recognising their Scottish ancestry.

Perhaps it was due to my (Bertrund) Russellian Pacifist leanings but I was disappointed to find that many of the displays and accompanying text had, shall we say 'tweaks' of old style millitary propaganda. A 10min film explained how the Scottish army had been incorporated into the army of the empire and how Scottish men and women had contributed to the British forces from the 16th century to the Cold War. This contribution should not be underestimated, especially as there were many more Scots killed in WWI and WWII than English or Irish. This fact made me immediately think of Galipoli. The film also explained how cuts in the millitary had lead to many Scots being out of work. It was not as strong as to have a 'join up now' presentation at the end, but it certainly reminded you that the museum was situated on an active military base.

I guess my principle disappointment was that the material in the Scottish Imperial War Museum did not appear to present a Scottish point of view - all of it could have been written in London.