Yay! Visitors! Parents! Yay!
My parents spent two weeks in the UK, and I got to spend some of it with them. We had more adventures than are chronicled here, but this is all you get. :)
Dad, Mom, and my shadow outside Linlithgow palace
How buildings say "Don't sit on me!" (Linlithgow church)
Linlithgow palace was pretty neat. Lots of it is explorable, from the lowest wine cellar to the highest tower. I couldn't figure out how to get to the highest tower, but I saw some people on top of it, and I'm guessing they haven't lived their entire lives up there. I didn't take that many pictures for some reason, so anyone who wants to see where the original entrance and drawbridge used to be, and the strange half-towers and dirt mounds will have to drag themselves out to Linlithgow, or borrow the fascinating guide book I absconded with.
I'm proud to be able to make my parents feel at home during their visit.
On Friday, after my lectures, I grabbed some things and hopped on a train to St. Andrews. Actually, I hopped into the station just as the train hopped away, so I juggled there until the next train. It's handy to have a train to wait for, so when people ask me why I'm juggling, I can tell them I'm waiting for a train.
Traveling by train in Scotland has one thing in common with traveling by train in countries where they speak a foreign language, and that's that they speak a foreign language. Since there were no printed schedules, and I couldn't bear to ask another person to repeat the information in Scinglesh yet another time, the trip took longer than I expected. And actually, there is no train to St. Andrews, there's only a train to nearby Leuchars. So when we got to Cupar, I nearly got off the train.
The very next stop was Leuchars though, and the trip was over too soon. Just before I clambered out of my seat, a beautiful woman about my age sat down at my table with a library book titled Sociolinguistics: Gender and Discourse. I was tempted to miss my stop after all. My parents, waiting at the station, appreciated my sacrifice, but were glad I pulled myself off the train. We went out for a yummy dinner, and then headed back to their lovely cottage in Kilconquhar.
I don't know how she managed, but my mom let me sleep until 9:00. Her life, which starts around 5:00am every day, must seem a bit surreal. But when we were finally all up, we headed up to St. Andrews.
These three photos are arranged geographically, not chronologically.
Is that art?
I'm officially a bonehead, because while I remembered take a couple pictures for Ian of what's left of the privy, I have no photos of the bottle dungeon. If you wanted to put someone in a dungeon and you didn't want them to get out until you let them out (the usual dungeon protocol), where would you put the door? Most dungeon builders are lazy and put the door in a usual sort of place, and figure you'll remember to lock it. The folks who built this castle were not lazy. They built the dungeon underground, in the shape of a bottle, with a hole in the ceiling. It's really just a hole in the ground, but sometimes simple is best. The only way in or out is the little hole. If you were fat, they couldn't throw you in the dungeon. Once you were in, you probably had no way of getting fat, so getting out was just a matter of waiting for a ladder to appear. Digging in the ground and waiting for ladders to appear is a theme at St. Andrews Castle.
While walking around the castle grounds, someone tore a hole in the sky. At least, that's what it sounded like. Four jet fighters took off from an RAF base across the bay, and they made enough noise for the dead not only to wake up, but to call the police, report a disturbance, and grumble about how the neighborhood used to be quieter.
But even when it was quieter, it wasn't that quiet. Once upon a time, someone laid siege to St. Andrews castle. They were unhappy with some of the folks inside, but there was one guy they didn't want to kill, so they opted not to just blow the place up, but to wait them out. Being more clever than patient, they started to dig a tunnel under the fortifications.
The folks inside figured out what was going on, and decided they'd rather meet the attackers on their own terms, so dug their own tunnel to intercept them. Of course, they didn't know exactly where the attackers' tunnel was; they had to put their ears to the ground and listen for where the worms were missing (or perhaps for the sounds of people digging a big tunnel through rock) and dig there. There are three surviving false starts, each of which looks like more trouble than I'd want to go to, but I guess that's what people do when they're being tunneled at.
Somehow, it worked, and most of the now-unified tunnel is open to the public. The entrance, shown in the photograph on the right, is the beginning of the defenders' side, inside the castle wall. The official literature calls this the counter-mine. (I'll let you figure out what they call the attackers' tunnel.) I was particularly impressed by the channel in the middle. This is where your feet (and the feet of the defenders) go. They were industrious (they built a proper dungeon, remember), but they were in quite a hurry, so they gave your feet foot room, and gave your shoulders shoulder room, and not vice-versa. Giving you exactly the space you needed inside some rock is another theme at St. Andrews.
The tunnel twists around a bit and then comes to an iron ladder leading down into the attackers' tunnel. The defenders must have been overjoyed to find this ladder. Although the attackers were clever enough to dig a big hole, they weren't clever enough to distinguish between feet and shoulders, so their hole was big and spacious instead of narrow and long enough to reach the castle. It was a good day to be a defender, though such days were numbered, as a French warship was on its way to help end the siege for all involved.
The mine was rediscovered fairly recently when someone was renovating a basement in a house across the street. How cool would it be to start putting in some extra plumbing and find a secret tunnel into a castle? The way from the tunnel into the basement is walled off though, and this grate is directly above the end of the tunnel as it exists today. You can see the grate clearly from in the tunnel, and if you put your eye down to one of the holes from the top, you can see a dim tunnel underneath. I'd like a door from my basement, but I'd settle for a grate with a view.
Having seen all there was to see at the castle, we walked along the coast to the cathedral. The views back at the castle were pretty good. Much of the castle succumbed not to invaders, but to erosion, mostly on the side shown in these photos. Their swimming pool remains though.
Clueless lout that I am, I was expecting to visit a cathedral, but we were several hundred years too late for anything but ruins. Bonus!
What are these dead people afraid of? This is the most heavily fortified cemetery I've ever seen. Notice the gun nook in the wall. (You can tell it's a gun nook and not an arrow slit by the round wide part at the bottom that makes the whole thing thermometer-shaped.)
These coffins with molded head spaces show the local penchant for the just-enough-room style of masonry.
This is the south wall of St. Andrew's Cathedral. Through a window, you can see the remaining tower of the north wall. The cathedral was huge. I thought that distant tower belonged to another building.
St. Rule's Tower was doing fine before the cathedral came along, and now it stands and overlooks the ruins of its newer neighbor. After wrestling with the token-eating turnstile, we climbed the 158 steps to the top. The view was spectacular.
The photo on the right would have been composed entirely of the cathedral had it still been intact. You'd think a massive stone building couldn't just fade away like that; you'd think there would have to be huge stones laying around. You'd think that until you wanted to build a new house, and then you might take a few of those stones. Most of the things in the nearby museum were discovered as parts of other buildings around the city. I wonder how many are still out there, being hoarded by scoundrels who think it'd be cool to have secret tunnels or ancient cathedrals as part of their basement.
Eventually, hunger called, and we answered with a wonderful meal of bean soup and 3-fish pizza.
Back in Kilconquhar we played snooker. I'd watched a bit of the championships on TV, and it looked like a neat game, but there's no way to tell how hard something is by watching people who are really good at it. It turns out to be really hard. The table is vast and the pockets are small and mock your attempts to put things in them.
Back at the ranch, my dad and I stayed up late chatting over some cider, until I decided to investigate a rustling noise I'd been hearing but hadn't taken much notice of. Was it the wind? I said, "No, it's probably a mouse in the trash." I nonchalantly opened the cabinet under the sink and revealed a mouse in the trash. My father and I both jumped a meter, and I closed the cabinet door.
Wow, a mouse in the trash! Alas, it opted not to stick around for a photo. We opted not to take the trash out, figuring that if we left it there, the mouse might return to the trash when we went to bed, and we were happier thinking it wouldn't feel a need to wander around the house. We sealed up all the food, left a note for my mom, advising her of a cute mouse in the trash, and went to bed.
The next day was cold. Or more to the point, I was cold. I don't know if it was any colder than it had been the day before, but my body decided it was cold and it wasn't going to let me be anything but cold. That turned out not to be such a bad thing, because it meant that we spent a couple hours sitting in a cafe, drinking hot drinks and chatting, rather than walking around not-quite-interesting villages and probably not chatting as much.
I didn't get much out of the villages, but it was a nice day, and we did find some excellent things on our way back. We had a distant and misty view of Bass Rock and Tantallon Castle, we found a public play park (playground) with a very Scottish crazy golf (miniature golf) course, and we spent a few hours at The Ship Inn, home of good drink (including super-smooth Bunnahabhain wisky), atmosphere, dinner, mind-bendingly scrumptious hot apple & pear pie with custard, a cute and excited black labrador, and nifty salt and pepper shakers/pourers.
Eventually we went back to Kilconquhar, where I let my parents completely trounce me at Scrabble. ;-) I was deposited back in Edinburgh in the morning.