Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Thursday, 1 April 2004

# 9:30 PM (GMT+1)

TJ and Jane were both busy today so I went into Edinburgh by myself and walked up into Edinburgh Castle. There's sign of human habitation here as far back as 950 BCE; the castle was the home of the Kings of Scotland from the time of the Romans. Now it's a museum, but I think some people still live within the walls, notably in the old castle governor's house, and the fortifications are kept up (more out of tradition than any expectation that the place will be attacked).

One of the things they exhibit here is the regalia: the crown and sceptre used by the kings of Scotland, and the "Stone of Destiny" on which they sat to be crowned. The Stone is still used in the coronation ceremony for the United Kingdom (they put it under the ceremonial throne at Westminster; for several hundred years it was kept there but now it's just flown down for the occasion ... that is, it will be, the next time; it was only returned to Scotland in 1996). The Act of Union (1707) stipulated that the crown and sceptre remain in the historical territory of Scotland, whence they were shut up in a chest in the castle and forgotten about until 1818, when Sir Walter Scott got permission to take them out and put them on display.

Curiously, they made a new sceptre for the reconvened Scottish Parliament which meets even today in Edinburgh. I went down and sat for a few minutes in the visitors' gallery and listened to Question Time. Topics ranged from technology for harnessing wave power for electrical generation, to programs to discourage youth from engaging in lives of petty crime, to budgets for the universities (this last is apparently an issue of nationwide controversy, Mr Blair attempting to put them on more of a user-fee model as is done in the US, but contrary to public sentiment; the Tories don't like it either but they don't seem to have a better idea).

Along the "Royal Mile" in the old part of Edinburgh there are a lot of quirky little mini-museums. They've got one for the making of tartans (chiefly interesting to see a Jacquard loom up close, which I have never before done) and one for the history of whisky production, and one devoted to memorabilia of Scots authors (notably Robert Stevenson, Walter Scott, and Robert Burns).

I'm writing this on the train back to London, where I must be to catch my plane back to the states tomorrow at noon. Alas, this train does not have the helpful power outlets at each seat like the last one did.