It’s early Sunday afternoon, and I’m recovering from probably the single longest day of walking I’ve ever done, and that’s saying a lot for this avid hiker and walking enthusiast. My hip joints ache, my feet ache, my calves ache, my shins ache. But I don’t care, each of these aches are little tokens of a beautiful day. But let me back up a bit…
I started my exploration of the Old City from the other end, where the Castle of Edinburgh overlooks all from its high perch on a craggy rock, along the Royal Mile, which heads east from the castle to Calton Hill and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The first half of my day is spent getting my bearings, creating a mental map of how the city center (the Old City) hangs together, while spontaneously popping into any historic place that looked interesting. (That can get expensive, paying entrance fees, but what the hell, it was my first day. Anyway, that’s what keeps these wonderful old places from falling into ruin or turning into tacky gift shops, so it’s worth every penny.) I have my little camera out to keep my hands free, and snap a gazillion photos along the way. I don’t have a way to upload those photos and share them with you now, but I will when I get back home in a couple of weeks. The photos you see here are taken on my tablet.
So here I am, overlooking Edinburgh from Calton Hill.
It’s on Calton Hill that my David Hume pilgrimage really begins, though I had looked into some sites associated with his life on the way, that I’ll return to later. It’s here on Calton Hill that he’s buried, and it’s here, I discover, that he caused the first path in Edinburgh to be built dedicated solely to the improvement of mind and body. Here, people would be encouraged to take their exercise by having a lovely place to walk, on this hillside with it’s spectacular views of the city, the surrounding countryside, and the Firth (estuary), away from the hustle and bustle, the crowds, the dirt, the unhealthy air, and the smells of the city. The first path to be built is named Hume Path in his honor, so of course, that’s the path I choose.
I head back downhill a little from the park at the top of the hill, and Calton Hill Cemetery is on my left. I go through the gate and up the short flight of steps, and a bit ahead to my right, I find Hume’s elegant and rather simple monument and gravesite. I spend a good bit of time here musing: the power of physical objects to really bring things into focus still never fails to surprise me, and my sense of purpose in this journey to Edinburgh is strengthened.
I’ll soon write a reflection on his good and noble death…
I’m also moved to discover that a monument to Scottish-American soldiers was erected, featuring a statue of Abraham Lincoln. It seems to me so fitting that these two great heroes of freedom are honored here side by side, one of freedom of person, the other of thought.
I return to the Royal Mile and this time head west, passing by a grand statue of David Hume, across from St. Giles’ Cathedral. I’m not sure it looks anything like him based on all of his portraits I’ve seen, but it’s a handsome statue, very classical. This bronze Hume probably looks much better with his shirt off than the real man ever did; he was a portly and not terribly good-looking fellow, as much as I admire and respect him. But who knows? Perhaps the younger Hume was a little more fit, before the years of poring over books left him out of shape. The statue’s right toe is polished and very shiny, looks like it’s a tradition to rub his toe for luck.
I return to James’s Court, where he lived for awhile in a tenement (apartment) with his sister. The original buildings are mostly gone, lost in a fire ages ago. I visited Gladstone’s Land and the John Knox house earlier in the day, two restored tenements from the era, and the Writer’s Museum, the restored home of Lady Stairs, built in 1622 and purchased and decorated by her in the 1700’s, all of which gives me a good idea of what Hume’s place would have looked like generally. James’s Court is a lovely little courtyard reached through a couple of little narrow closes (alleyways).
The old city is full of such little closes leading to pretty little courtyards or providing access to who knows where, all nearly irresistible to an American like me, where ancient cities are rare. Each time I see one of those closes, it looks like a little magic portal to some other place and time, and I just have to go through it. I spent much of my day stumbling on interesting corners of the city this way.