If Not Peace, Then War!

Trip Start Jul 15, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Thursday, July 21, 2011

A free day in Edinburgh! Beth and I joined forces – she wanted to go to New Town and I had picked out a short "walking tour" from my guide book that would head us off in that direction.

Old Town vs New Town

It's hard to imagine a city so old that construction began on its “New Town” around 1752.  Indeed, Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since 1437, and of course was already a significant population center prior to that time.  Parts of Edinburgh Castle date back to the 1100s.

So “Old Town” is the Medieval part of Edinburgh, which grew up around the castle and the long, winding road, The Royal Mile, that stretches from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.  The streets are narrow and winding and the buildings have tiny footprints, but are several stories tall, and seem to have sprouted up like weeds all along the roads and eventually grown together.  Besides roads, there are tiny passage ways, some like tunnels as buildings were expanded over these footpaths at the second floor level.

Old Town housed a social hierarchy that was really a higherarchy!  The ground floor of the buildings held shops and perhaps shop keepers homes.  As you went up the building several floors, the very wealthiest people lived on the highest floors.  And the truly destitute and criminals existed in the basements below the city, a windowless rat’s maze of caverns.

It all looks charming now, but back in the day, it was a disgusting mess of smell and filth as all waste, human and otherwise, was pitched out of windows onto the streets below, and woe to he who might be walking by at the wrong time.  Cholera, typhus and smallpox were common and one section of basements was simply sealed off after all the inhabitants died of Plague in 1645.

Time for the wealthy to hot-foot it out …to New Town.  Where Old Town sprouted up at random, New Town was a planned city right from the beginning.  Streets are wide and aligned in square grids.  Square blocks of buildings were built all at once and feature private gardens at their center.  Open park space is scattered throughout.  New Town was an architectural marvel when it was built and influenced architecture across Europe.

Today, Old Town is the touristy center with the sites a tourist wants to see and the t-shirt shops to support it.  New Town has a more sophisticated feel with trendy name-brand shops, department stores…and a cupcake store!!!  Luckily I had a roommate who found the cupcake store as interesting as I did and we got one each and sat in a park to enjoy!

Passage Walk

The passage walk wends its way through the smaller streets and passages of Old Town.  Notable stops along the way were New College, with its courtyard featuring a statue of John Knox (more on John below…).  New College houses the University of Edinburgh’s Divinity School.  And check out Milne Passage – a student residential area.

Question:  Why is New College in Old Town?

John Knox

In the afternoon I hit a couple of spots on The Royal Mile I hadn’t had a good look at yet – like John Knox House.  John Knox was the Scottish version of Martin Luther and a leader of the Scottish Protestant Reformation.  From a religious standpoint, this was a rejection of Catholic rites and practices on grounds that they are not described in the Bible; so a more Bible-centric trend.  From a political standpoint, the battle between Catholics and Protestants was a running theme throughout the entirety of the history of Scotland and entwined in the religious bent of the reigning monarch at any particular time.  So a full discussion of this topic would involve reading a history of Scotland.  I won’t provide that here, but allow me to recommend this book: Tranter, Nigel. 1987. The Story of Scotland. Glasgow: Neil Wilson Publishing.  It’s about 250 pages and is a good read!

Clan Gunn

Right next to Knox House is a tiny passage and down that passage is a little shop – and I don’t know how it stays in business because it’s hard to notice it.  But it looks interesting enough that, because it was closed when I swung by the first time, I went back today.  The store is full of tartans, Nigel Tranter novels, Scottish folk music…but tasteful and not touristy.

When I entered, the proprietor came up and said “Do you have Scottish ancestors?”  “Oh brother,” I thought to myself, “a hard sell to get me to buy something tartan.”

“I do have a Scottish ancestor, but I think she was a lowlander.”  (Lowlanders don’t have clans and tartans)

“What’s the name?”

“Euphemia Main (Quickenden); she was my great-grandmother.”

“Oh, the Mains are Clan Gunn.”

“Oh, c’mon.”

“No really; I’ll show you.”  And he promptly produced three different tomes on the Clans of Scotland and indeed, each one supported his contention that the Main family was a part of Clan Gunn.

And all of this fell in with what I had learned of Scottish history – great-grandmother Euphemia Main emigrated to Canada, right around the time of the Highland Clearances – when the clans were brutally removed from their homelands to clear the land for sheep-herding and a great many of them fled to Canada.  (http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/kec100/3/1320002559/tpod.html)  And Clan Gunn was a coastal clan – related to the Vikings.  They may have been right in the path of the exodus.

I bought some tartan.


The Clan Gunn motto is: If Not Peace, Then War!

If you think about it…this pretty much covers all contingencies.  And when I explained our new-found heritage to my brother, we spent the rest of the day announcing “If not wet, then dry!” and “If not cold, then hot!”…

In fairness to Clan Gunn, other sources site the motto as “In Peace and War” or “Either Peace or War.”
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