Wednesday, October 10, 2018

...And Barts and Trains and Edinburgh

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is here. Part 2 of Day 1 is here. This is Day 2.

Day 2 of my trip (that is, September 4) dawned bright and cool, but with the definite promise of another mild, sunny day. I had a lot to accomplish that day: I had to visit Barts (that is, St. Bartholomew's Hospital) to see their museum, then take the 1:00 train to Edinburgh, where I would arrive around 5:00 and had several sites to see.

Henry VIII gate at St.
Bartholomew's Hospital.
So, task one was checking out of my AirBNB, which really just consisted of leaving my keys and going. Then I had to leave my bag at a left-luggage place across from King's Cross (not at the station, since that would've been significantly more expensive). From there, I hopped a bus (sadly, not a double-decker) to Barts.

A little bit about Barts: It's the oldest hospital in Great Britain (founded by Rahere in 1123) and one of the best-known (it is, for instance, where Sherlock Holmes does some of his work). It began as the old sort of "hospital", that is a place that was, generally, charitable and that took in people who were ill and was attached to a church. There was treatment, but it was more of a place to either die or recuperate as God ordains.

(People these days wax lyrical about separation of church and state--and they should be separate entities, obviously--but for centuries, it was the Church that provided the crucial social services that the lay government provides now, and it was the center of most communities, offering education and structure and charity.)

Of course, Henry VIII and his Reformation intervened, and the hospital was given over to the city of London. The hospital and one of its churches survived (St. Bartholomew's the Lesser), but it became secularized. Over the years, it gained a reputation as a prestigious place to study medicine, and it opened as a medical school in 1843.

Elizabeth Blackwell and Florence Nightingale's signatures.
One of the most striking stories I came away with as I puttered through the museum was that of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman get a medical degree in the United States. After getting her medical degree from Geneva Medical College, she studied at Barts, and apparently encountered overall positive attitudes from fellow students and teachers. However, the next woman to attempt to study at Barts, Ellen Colborne, encountered such hostility that she withdrew, and women were not admitted to study at Barts again until 1947.

Other highlights: the grand staircase, which you can see as you go through the museum, has murals by Hogarth, and is an impressive room architecturally.

The Hogarth Stair.
Ceiling detail, Hogarth Stair.

Rahere's Charter, c. 1137 (!).

William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of blood.

Glass drug bottles, 16th-18th centuries.

Medical Instruments.

Nurse's uniform, early 20th c.

Detail of the cuff of the nurse's uniform, early 20th c. 

But let me back up a little bit. The museum there at the hospital is fairly small, but has a high concentration of great objects from the 12th century onward. To an American, it's kind of amazing for a place to just casually have documents dating back nearly a thousand years. There were four or five rooms, but it took a lot of time to go through it all. I definitely recommend a visit if you're interested in medical history in any way.

And I am interested in medical history. I've done some research on Civil War medicine, which shouldn't be any surprise to anyone who reads this blog or knows me, but I've also done quite a bit of research on early 20th-century medical history. It's fascinating because it's the beginning of modern medicine. Germ theory was fully accepted by this time (though there were no antibiotics), and there was a range of anesthesia options available. There were x-rays and sophisticated surgeries and, in the middle of the Great War, reliably successful blood transfusions. It was a time of massive growth in the medical field. It also is the time period of one of my manuscripts, which includes a young doctor. A young doctor who attends Oxford and does a stint at Barts. So . . . that was my main reason for going to Barts.

I kind of wish I'd poked around a bit, just to see what's what. But it is a working hospital, of course, and there's only so much poking one can do in that scenario.

St. Bartholomew's the Lesser, right beside the museum.


I won't bore you too much with the details of my lunch and of getting back to King's Cross. Suffice it to say that I was on the train at 1:00, on my way to Edinburgh. I was not, unfortunately, in a window seat. I wanted to watch the English countryside go by--wanted to see as we crossed into Scotland. I craned my neck as much as I could without encroaching on the space of the person beside me. There were cozy cottages amongst fields; many, many sheep; a rocky seashore that seemed to sweep towards the train, though of course it was the train that was nearing the coast; sheep upon cliffs overlooking the sea; a great castle rising on a crag out of a mist that was in danger of being burned away by the sun. I gaped and goggled and knew that I would never get a good picture of this castle, so I watched, etching the image on my mind. And as soon as I could, I whipped out my trusty smartphone, that noble little answer-er of my idle curiosity. According to the wisdom of Google Maps, I had just seen Lindisfarne pass by. THE Lindisfarne, as in the Lindisfarne Gospel. I suppose not everyone would get such a kick out of that, but then not everyone is as big a nerd as I am. I'm constantly thinking or saying don't you know who/what that is? Usually, the answer is no.


By the time we reached Scotland (the border marked by a blue sign with a thistle), the sun had come out in earnest. It was a beautiful afternoon. I got off the train and exited the train station via the Waverley Steps (a reference, by the way to a Sir Walter Scott novel--there is a memorial to Scott just beside the station, which is also named Waverley Station). I walked over to the tram and took it a few stops, past a triumphal column with a statue at its top, and past a vista that stretched down to a firth. The tram then hung a right, down York Place. I got off and checked into my hotel.
Waverely Station, the Scott Memorial.

I was given my key and went on the minor adventure that was the journey to my room. British hotels can be strange places, jerryrigged as they often are out of other buildings. In this case, to get to my room, I passed through the hotel dining room, went through a door, hung a right, turned and went down a long flight of stairs that stretched back the way I'd come and down--down--down into the bowels of the earth. Or down the side of the hill, because it did seem the hotel was perched on the top of a ridge. Through a fire door I went, down more stairs, though another door, down more stairs, through another door, and there on the left was my room. I felt like I'd been relegated to a dungeon and was a bit trepidatious about what was on the other side of the door--Snape's dungeon?--but when I went in, it was a lovely little room with a skylight (huh--not so far underground as I'd thought). Not to jump ahead, but it was probably my favorite room of all the ones I stayed in in the UK because it was dark and quiet, and hallelujah for dark and quiet. I should mention that, of course, there was no lift. There were no lifts pretty much anywhere in Great Britain. Very aggravating when you're lugging around a bag, but not unexpected (hence I took a lightweight, easy-to-lug bag).

But I didn't stay in the room long. I headed right back out, taking the tram back towards the train station but continuing on to the Princes Street stop. The sun was beginning to set in a clear blue sky, and the colors were tremendous. It made everything very dramatic and fairy-tail-like. Turning up The Mound, you cross above a great ravine, with railroad tracks and parkland below and statues lining the edges. To the west, perched on a high crag, is Edinburgh Castle. It was a heck of a sight set against the oranges and pinks of the setting sun. I took pictures, enjoyed the sight, and kept moving.

Edinburgh Castle.

I paused a moment as I crossed the Royal Mile, and listened to a bagpiper. My next stop was dinner, because it was getting quite late and I was hungry. I got pizza because, dammit, sometimes you just want pizza. It was delicious, and I had some leftovers so--none too wisely, really--I took a box of pizza with me on my adventures.

And what were those adventures? They were once again Harry Potter-related. The first was directly around the corner from the pizza place: The Grassmarket. It was the inspiration for Diagon Alley (J.K. Rowling was living in Edinburgh when she started writing Harry Potter). It's a cobbled street that curves and slopes downwards, with a range of shops above and a range below. Most of them are brightly-painted and quaint. Most were closed, so I just strolled though at a leisurely pace, taking in the charm of the old city. I was surprised by the crags of the city, by it's literal ups and downs, and by the little touches of medieval this-and-that everywhere. Here an old stone bridge where one street passes over another. There an ancient street of old stone buildings.


My second destination was the Grayfriars Kirkyard. It was the source of several names in Harry Potter. That was actually all I knew when I found the place (after having some difficulty locating the entrance). I stood there a moment in the gathering gloom of the graveyard, a bit nonplussed. I decided to poke around a bit, looking for "Thomas Riddell's" grave. I poked and poked, but dark was falling pretty fast now, and I didn't want to be out too late in the dark by myself. I whipped out my trusty phone and googled it. I still had a bit of trouble following the directions that I found. I crossed the path of a father and daughter who were looking for the same thing as me. They asked if I knew where Tom Riddell (aka Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort) was, and I said I was looking for it, too.

[Keep in mind, I had a camera, my phone, my big old purse, and a box of leftover pizza with me, so picture me doing all this while almost literally juggling all this stuff.]

I finally did find it (behind the back of the church, through an archway, off to the right, near the bottom of the hill, against a wall):

Thomas Riddell, aka Tom Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort.

Here is a link to some directions.

I knew there was at least one other name in that graveyard, but I was contented with finding Tom Riddle, and it really was getting late (by my lights). I wanted to go to Spoons, previously Nicholson Cafe, where JK Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter. But, again, it was time to get back to the hotel and call it a day. So I walked back the way I came. The light was, if anything, even more dramatic behind Edinburgh Castle. The pictures simply don't do it justice, but I did try to capture it.

I took the tram back to York Place, walked back to my room, and turned in.

P.S. I crammed the rest of that pizza into my face after I got back to the hotel because all that walking had made me very hungry.

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