Edinburgh History Holiday 2011
Day I Outward Train journey and visit to Camera Obscura
After a long, somewhat cramped and occasionally tedious train journey in which the main entertainment boiled down to spotting the trolley (and was it going to be a trolley man or a trolley lady - neither, as it happened, as the trolley never materialized), we arrived in very sunny Edinburgh all intact. No lost ipods, children or luggage, and Mr Dely overcome with emotion that the sun had chosen to celebrate his return to his homeland with such warmth.
A short walk to the Hotel and then another to the Camera Obscura, where the children had a fantastic time, mostly trying to outdo each other as to how sick they could feel in 'The Vortex' - it's all done with lights and mirrors, and makes you feel that you're in Star Trek... Mr Brown refused to go in but wouldn't let the children out - including any of the other tourists' children. The Mirror Maze captured the imagination of the Year 8s, who quickly frightened off any other unsuspecting tourists by having a game of Mirror Maze It. Several bumps and crashes later, Mrs E decided that this game probably wasn't on the risk assessment, and it was time to move on.
Back at the hotel, time for supper (not good, not bad but NO PUDDING) and then off to Holyrood Park where the children played a version of cricket or simply sat around and had a chat. Mission: time them out so that they go to sleep within half an hour of lights out. Mission Accomplished!
Day 2 National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle and St Giles Cathedral
A slightly cloudy and cooler morning, although by the afternoon the sky was once more a glorious blue and the temperature good enough for walking...and walking...and walking.
Breakfast started the day very well - if you ever stay at this hotel, do not ask for porridge under any circumstances, but do go for the Scottish fry up or pancakes and maple syrup. Then the first of our hikes to the National Museum of Scotland. Tour guides used to our age groups chose the exhibits most likely to catch the imagination, whilst at the same time managing to slip in some political and social history.
From there to Greyfriars and the sad story of Bobby the dog, who sat on his owner's grave for 14 years before dying himself; did this catch the children's imagination more than the signing of the covenant by the Scottish Presbyterians - surely not?! After convincing the Year 8s to walk around the kirk 'the wrong way' we progressed to our next site, Edinburgh Castle, where Mary, Queen of Scots was waiting for us. Impressed by the room in which James 1 was born, and the Great Hall, with enough weapons to keep all the boys very happy, we then ventured into dungeons and prisons before heading for the serene and beautiful chapel of St Margaret - oh yes, visiting the massive canon Mons Meg on the way.
Reluctantly leaving the castle behind us, we set off down the Royal Mile to St Giles Cathedral, learning about John Knox on the way. For a few, this was one visit too many, and the greatest attraction was - yes, the gift shop - but others enjoyed the peace and the very beautiful stained glass windows.
A long, long walk now followed, as Hendy did his very best to tire out the children - and the staff - as much as possible before we reached the hotel. Passing a beautiful field full of clover, the Year 8s tried to mount a protest by lying down and refusing to go on, but Hendy is a hard man and kept the pace going relentlessly.
Strange to tell, the children were quiet during our hour and a half at the hotel. Curry followed for tea - mopped up greedily by all - this time followed by ice cream - and then we were off again for the Ghost Walk - yes, note the 'walk' bit. Our tour guide was even speedier than Hendy, but her history was a little less reliable, regaling the children with tales of ears being nailed to doors that didn't actually exist in the middle ages - but, whatever....
Going into the vaults, the party began to dwindle, and dwindle, and dwindle...until there was only one member of staff left and around 15 children...was it scary? Depends on who you ask - Year 7 boys, not a bit of it; Year 7 girls, well, the few that were left...yes; staff, those that saw it - plotting to buy a few cheap underground rooms in Cambridge and start up a similar money making racket...maybe.
And so ended Day 2. Everyone exhausted, so no rooms trying to stay up, and definitely no ghost stories.
Day 3 Bannockburn Visitor Centre, Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle
We’re soon on the coach heading for Central Scotland, and the sites of two major defeats inflicted on the English by the Scots. First up is Bannockburn, and the rather uninspiring architecture of the Visitor Centre. However, do not be deceived by appearances, as the children were enthralled by their visit here - first, a short but bloody film of the battle, with enough gore to keep all the boys happy, followed by dressing up - something which you might imagine that the older children (and Madame Grimal) might think beneath them, but don't you believe it - some got so excited that we had to put them in the stocks...
However, something even more exciting was about to happen - and no, not the gift shop - we happened to be lucky enough to be at Bannockburn at the same time as a visiting Scottish laird, who was taking some time off from killing the English to showing them the weapons with which he would kill them later - as well as the weapons which the English used. His expertise was awe-inspiring, and held the children's attention for at least an hour - answering question after question from the floor.
Then to lunch, before back onto the coach to the Wallace Memorial, an imposing tower standing on a crag overlooking the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. There were predictably a few moans about the uphill walk, but interestingly enough the moans subsided at the thought of climbing 246 steps to the top of the tower. The Year 8s counted each and every step - both up and down - but then so did Hendy, although somehow he made it 266 - stick to History teaching, Hendy...Half way up we saw the immensely big sword wielded by Robert the Bruce, from which the experts have deduced that he was 6'6" in height. At the top, the views were magnificent, and Madame Grimal, who got there only with the support and encouragement of her group (she's not a top of the Eiffel Tower girl, don't you know!) was delighted with her achievement.
We were now 2 hours behind schedule, but 'flexible' is Hendy's middle name, and with a bit of a devil may care attitude we set off for Stirling Castle. The Scots 'do' museums rather well, and here we found lords and ladies of the court, ready and waiting to answer questions and discuss 'real life' in the Middle Ages. Our favourite was the jester, but we also enjoyed eavesdropping on the Lady of the Washing (or some such title - I'm really quite envious) discussing in Italian how they kept the linen white using a little known bleach called 'urino', just like the Romans. Perhaps it might catch on in the 21st Century.
Day 4 Dynamic Earth and the Surgeon’s Museum
6am, and the sun is shining once again - and this time it is particularly satisfying as we learn that 'down south' it is autumnal. Well there you go.
All is well amongst our group, and after another satisfying breakfast we collect our bags and set off down the road to our first stop - Our Dynamic Earth. This is another excellent find by Hendy, as we enter a time machine - not unlike the vortex in Camera Obscura - and go back in time to experience the Big Bang. The tour then takes us through various rooms, where we both see and feel the early beginnings of our planet, before reaching an interactive room where we learn about early life - both plant and animal. Moving on, we find ourselves in a slightly cooler room containing, believe it or not, a giant block of ice - a wonderful attraction as the children see who can get the coldest hands.
From here, we enter an aeroplane and go on a flight (with a newly qualified pilot) across the various habitats of the world. Ok, not really, but the 3D film is very realistic, and the dialogue keeps us all entertained, especially when the plane crash lands and gets taken by a male rhino for a female rhino...Leaving the imagination to wander, the plane takes off once more, and we move onto another impressive interactive room where we can see, hear and feel the various habitats which we have just flown over before the finale to our visit - a 'full dome experience' where we lie back in our seats and learn about the life of an astronaut, from the rigours of the training to the ways in which dangers to long term health have been addressed.
Back to reality (ie the gift shop) and we reluctantly leave the museum, heading for Calton Hill, which is dramatically positioned in the centre of Edinburgh, and we have beautiful views over the Forth Estuary in one direction, and Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's Seat in the other. The sun is beating down on us, and the children have a very happy half hour playing on and around 'Edinburgh's Disgrace' - the unfinished copy of Athens' Parthenon. We call the children together, and somewhat reluctantly depart down the hill to our next stop - The Surgeon's Hall Museum.
Now this is an interesting choice of museum by Hendy. Edinburgh is of course known for its contribution to surgery, and this museum houses one of the largest collections of surgical pathology in the UK. It also has interesting histories of Sir Joseph Lister, who first performed sterile surgery, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, it also includes some rather gruesome displays of preserved human organs (not in tip-top condition) and somewhat voyeuristic exhibits such as a pocket book made from the skin of William Burke - yes, really. Hendy's notes say 'not for the faint-hearted' and indeed there were several children who found this one step too far. On the other hand, we entered the museum through a private entrance which led via the library, and a young man gave us a very interesting talk about early surgical methods, and for some of our children this museum was fascinating and possibly the beginning of a lifelong interest in medicine - who knows?
Our final evening was spent once more back at Holyrood Park. Fuelled by chicken curry, Nan bread and ice-cream (although strangely enough the Year 7 boys didn't eat much of it) we split into three groups. The most intrepid made their way as far up Arthur’s Seat as could be managed in the time led by Mr Dely; the others had a choice of football or a rather brutal game of ultimate Frisbee. Once more, the key objective was to wear the children out as much as possible so that they went to sleep. No comment.
Day 5 Scottish Parliament Building and return train journey
We can hardly believe our luck as the sun floods the room once again. Packing beckons, but first there is the phone call that every member of staff on a school trip dreads - one child is sick...luckily, it's the designated matron's own daughter, which makes life a little easier. The last cooked breakfast, suitcases despatched to a central room, final room checks and then we're off on our last adventure - to tour the Scottish Parliament. This is a controversial building, but in fact rather beautiful inside with impressive attention to detail, and the children have differing levels of interest - for some it is spotting the many saltire crosses hidden all over, for others it is the architecture, for others the art work. The many cameras and lights in the debating chamber spark a debate in itself, and it is satisfying to see so many children quite taken with modern history and architecture.
And so our trip comes to an end. The train journey held its own challenges for the staff, especially the speedy changes at York and Stevenage, but we would like to think that the children were largely oblivious to these, and everyone got home back safe and sound. A hugely successful trip, and many thanks to Hendy for all his hard work and dedication to the children's enjoyment and education.