At one point in time, the journey down the Royal Mile was part of my daily routine. I’ll be honest and say that whilst I’ve always appreciated that the feeling of history, I didn’t actually know much about it. With Katie learning about the history of Old Town at school, it seemed like the perfect timing when Mercat Tours invited us to come join one of their family-friendly tours.
Whilst the Ghost Tours were undoubtedly tempting, the ‘Secrets of the Royal Mile’ tour sounded the perfect addition to Katie’s classroom learning. Joined by one of Katie’s best friends (and her Mum) – we had the best time learning more about our home city!
We met our tour guide 10 minutes before the tour was due to start at the Mercat Cross – just outside the back of St Giles cathedral. A tour rep checked our booking (we had given our details given for track and trace), and handed us each a small radio. They had ‘in-ear’ headphones for adults that we could keep but we had been advised in advance to bring a more comfortable version for the kids. This allowed us to hear the guide really clearly and to keep a good distance at all times. Our guide wore a visor and reminded us about distancing – whilst ensuring we were also safe at various road crossing points!
The tour began at the Mercat Cross, with an explanation of where Edinburgh originated from – there was actually various settlements with different names before it became Edinburgh. We learned a bit about the geography that formed the city, and how it came to be. Charles (our guide) used pictures in a folder to help illustrate everything he described but he really did an excellent job of bringing everything to life.
Exploring the Wynds and Closes
We soon set off down the mile, ducking into one of the many closes off its side. It’s always amazing what a maze lies just behind the Main Street, and although I would’ve liked to think I found most of them – I was evidentially wrong. Charles was able to point out little features that I would’ve just skipped past as faded – or perhaps thought them to be later additions.
He explained the meaning of individual stones and carving, along with vivid descriptions of how things would’ve looked at different points in time.
Bringing people alive
It also struck me that Charles really brought the people from the Mile’s past alive. Did you know Edinburgh had it’s very own 17th Century version of the Kardashians?
It also struck me that Charles really brought the people from the Mile’s past alive. Did you know Edinburgh had it’s very own 17th Century version of the Kardashians? I didn’t – but I do now! I also know more about John Knox and Adam Smith. The owners of various buildings dotted around… and some of the crimes committed behind the walls!
I also feel like I can appreciate how hard life must’ve been within the city walls. Aside from the threat of violence, sanitation before plumbing was a huge problem for the occupants of the city. Imagining the shouts of Gardylook (and even having a need for the ‘nastiness act’) seems many miles away from the life of today.
I also hadn’t ever considered how much of the mile as I know it today is in fact ‘new’. At first glance it feels like such an old place with a rich history, when in fact it’s a city that has seen many changes. I really appreciated all the tips to spot the genuine from the ‘Disney’ and to think about how the city has continued to adapt through time.
As I mentioned before, the Royal Mile was once part of my daily routine. I knew to leave plenty of time for any journey as I knew it would be busy – packed with entertainers, visitors, and those just bustling about their daily lives. In all its history, it’s probably the quietest it’s ever been. But I’m confident that it will adapt to this change. With October break almost here, and with the many restrictions in place, I’m glad that we have opportunities like this one on our doorstep. Mercat offer a whole range of tours – above and below ground – and both Katie and her friend (both aged 8) were keen to go on another immediately!
Disclosure: I was invited to join a tour complimentary but was not obliged to post a review – I wanted to after really enjoying my day! All thoughts/opinions are my own!