Monday 25 October 2010

A tale of two capitals

Having returned from London, Sean and Finn's holiday wasn't quite over. With Sharon working on the Friday, I had a few errands to run in town and the torrential rain did not bid well for much outdoor activity. However, the showers eased off near midday, by which time we were parked off the Royal Mile and walking up to Edinburgh Castle to make use of our Historic Scotland tickets.

Sean likes the castle, but I think this harks back to a P2 or P3 school trip when what he really enjoyed was the castle shop(s). I find Edinburgh Castle rather boring. And, to be honest, there isn't that much to amuse the boys either. It's usually too busy to feel as though you have the run of the place and can explore and exploit imaginative play, like Craigmillar Castle or Blackness or Linlithgow Palace. At every turn in Edinburgh Castle there seems to be shops or cafes rather than genuine artefacts that you have paid to see. Even Sean noted this clash of new with old, stating that he didn't like the way the toilet block had been built inside the castle wall. We lasted barely 30 minutes (the advantage of a membership card: you don't feel obliged to stay longer).

What was far more fun, was the Camera Obscura. Sean had received tickets in a draw from the library Space Hop summer read and we put them to good use. The Camera Obscura presentation is interesting enough, though obviously its impact in these days of all-pervasive TV and video images is much reduced from when it first opened in the 19th century. The view down the Royal Mile, up to the Castle and across the city from the open rooftop is splendid and, while it maybe can't compete with the sheer height and scale of the London Eye, it is our home city and a very beautiful and dramatic place when you really look at it.

Some interesting (number) facts I learned. In 1900, Castlehill School, opposite the Camera Obscura and now the Scottish Whisky Centre, had a school role of 927. It was one of six schools in the Old Town which had a population of 52,000 compared to around 4,000 today. As a consequence of this overcrowding, the Old Town had some of the worst slums in Europe and, in earlier times, the first "high rise" housing as people couldn't build out beyond the city walls so they built up, rebuilding on top of old buildings whenever they collapsed. The Nor' Loch, now the site of Princes St Gardens, was where a good proportion of Edinburgh's effluent ended up: not a place for taking a dip (unless you were dooking witches). It perhaps explains why the gardens are so fertile...

Descending from the top floor, the boys had a great time with optical illusions and exhibits such as the surface which left a temporary shadow following a camera flash; infinity mirrors; make your own kaleidoscope pictures; image manipulation (Finn as a grinning chimp with glasses was less disturbing than Finn as a be-toothed, bespectacled baby!); static electricty lights; and the favourite at the end, the mirror maze. This comprised equilateral triangular floor tiles and full length mirror walls and, even though it occupied a fairly small area, was difficult to navigate. On the third attempt, Sean and Finn briefly got lost! Sean couldn't manage the vortex, a catwalk through a dark, rotating tunnel embedded with small LED's. Finn and I got disorientated halfway across and suddenly felt we were tipping over. Not one for vertigo sufferers!

I'd highly recommend the Camera Obscura for anyone with children in the six upwards range (and big people who have always liked MC Escher drawings). Once back in the daylight, we had a late lunch in the Hub, the boys sharing a burger while I had a baked potato. All in all, a good Edinburgh day out to round off our "Twin Capitals" holiday.

No comments: