A Tale of Two Cities
If you've ever lived in Scotland, you'll know about the not-too-friendly rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh. For Glaswegians, it's baffling that a weird, cramped, posh chocolate box of a city should have ended up as the capital just because it's got a castle and a big rock - for Edinburghers, it's equally bewildering that people from dirty, smoky, ugly Glasgow think their city could compare at all.  There's a remarkable contrast between the two, given that they're less than fifty miles apart, and though you can find common ground in the leafy suburbs of both, and their areas of deep deprivation, it's clear the the origins of the two cities have led to foundational difference between the two.  Glasgow was built on heavy industry, shipbuilding, trade and the success of the British Empire, and Edinburgh was built on... well, mainly Edinburgh. 

Why (except for a mysterious letter and a pushy maiden aunt, that is) would you want to journey to the perilous East? The weather's better, no doubt, with Glasgow's perpetual drizzle giving way to a soulless, bone-deep chill in the air as you pass the mid-point of the country. It's well worth a visit for the architecture and history alone - and it's obvious from the moment you step off the train that Edinburgh is built in more than the usual two dimensions. From your first sight of Castle Rock towering over Waverley Station, to the winding stairways that lead you up vennels in the cliff-face, Edinburgh is built on a haphazard series of levels, where the back doors of buildings are two streets below the front,  and houses you thought stood on solid ground turn out to have their foundations in bridges five stories high. You can end up lost in an Escher drawing of archways, platforms and staircases, able to see your destination but quite incapable of working out a way to reach it.

This geographic peculiarity can all be dated back to the Battle of Flodden, where the Scots suffered a defeat sufficiently crushing that building a massive wall around their capital seemed like the best plan to withstand an English invasion. That invasion never came, and rather than keeping enemies out, the sense of security the wall provided ended up keeping the rapidly expanding population in. Tall, cramped houses, streets built on top of other streets, and cellars built into the massive bridges that span the city became the norm, and it was only in the 1800s that the city's footprint expanded along with the population and the Georgian New Town was built.

Since then, like any city, it's expanded to engulf the outlying burghs - Portobello, Canongate, the shipyards of Leith - but that rocky extrusion at the heart of Edinburgh remains remarkably similar to the streets that the Aletheian Society knew. When we researched this series, the more we read into Edinburgh's dark secrets, the more awful horrors we uncovered - and it's quite possible that Auld Reekie's past might be even murkier than Glasgow's.  Only one thing is for certain - when you walk on Edinburgh's streets, you're literally walking on its history. 

But tread carefully. You wouldn't want to wake anything up...

The aletheian society released this post 3 days early for patrons.   Become a patron