short breaks edinburgh
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"The Royal Mile" is the road that runs from the Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. One of the oldest streets in the city, it grew up as a vital thoroughfare between two of the most important buildings in the early City, the Castle and Holyrood Abbey. It is actually just over a mile long and is made up of four distinct sections: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate. Today the street is heavily commercial with tartan and shortbread shops and plenty to waylay the tourist, but it is still a fascinating road with plenty of attractions along the way so it should be high up on any visitor's agenda.
Branching off from the it are numerous alleys known as either "closes" or "wynds". A wynd is an alleyway that is open at both ends, whilst a close is one that is only open at one end (closed). They are remnants from Medieval Times when the whole city was a mass of confusing alleyways and they are still a central feature of the Old Town part of the city. As you wander along the Royal Mile you will also notice that the entrances to many closes and wynds have arches. These are known as "pends" and also add to the character of the road.
Starting from the Castle, the Royal Mile is reached by passing through the Esplanade. As you walk along it look out for the Witches Well drinking fountain which commemorates the 300 or so women who were found guilty of witchcraft and subsequently executed on this spot between 1479 and 1722. The Esplanade then merges into Castlehill, with Ramsay Gardens bordering it. Also at the beginning of Castlehill is Cannonball House, so named after the ball that is wedged into one of its walls. Legend has it that this is a cannonball that was fired during an attack on the Castle in 1745! Tourist attractions on this stretch of the Royal Mile include the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, the Weaving Centre, the Camera Obscura, and Tolbooth St John's Kirk.
The Castlehill section of the road then merges into the Lawnmarket. The name is derived from "Laon" which is where the city's linen used to be produced, for the Lawnmarket is where the citys linen market used to be held. The Lawnmarket part of the Royal Mile now contains some of the best preserved buildings in the Old Town, including the six-storey Gladstone's Land and Lady Stair's House.
However this section of the Royal Mile is probably best known for Parliament Square, which marks the junction between Lawnmarket and the High Street. This square is where several of the landmark buildings are located, for example Parliament House and the famous High Kirk of St Giles. On the corner between Parliament Square and the High Street is the City Chambers, beneath which lies the curious tourist attraction Mary Kings Close. This is one of the citys most famous closes, notable for a gruesome event which occurred here in the 17th century. In 1645 the closes' residents fell victim to the plague and so, in an effort to contain the disease, city officials bricked up the entranceway to the alley leaving the residents inside to slowly perish.
The close wasn't re-opened and was eventually built over. However it is now accessible again and has become a surprisingly popular tourist attraction with guided tours to take you round.
After the Lawnmarket the road then becomes the High Street. On this part of the Royal Mile you can visit the Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust to find out more about the Old Town, and there is a popular Brass Rubbing Centre nearby. Other tourist attractions on this section of the Royal Mile include Tron Kirk, the Museum of Childhood and John Knox's House.