Under the Skin

Surgeon's Hall Museum

Surgeon’s Hall Museum

There was one place in Edinburgh we’ve wanted to visit since last year, but it was closed for renovation. This September, it reopened: the Surgeon’s Hall museum. It had one item we were desperate to see – a pocketbook made from William Burke’s skin. William Burke, along with William Hare, murdered sixteen people between 1827-1828 in order to sell their bodies to Doctor Robert Knox for dissection. They’re known as the most infamous resurrection men, but they never actually dug anybody up. And after Burke was executed (Hare turned King’s evidence and got away with it despite being the more evil of the two) a pocket book and card case were made of his skin. The card case is in the witchery shop in Victoria Street. Now we got to see the pocket book. Yes, we get ridiculously excited about the strangest things. Our zumba teacher once said “you walk a mile to find a vegan cafe, but get excited to see an object made from human skin.” Yep. We’re paradoxes. The Surgeon’s Hall museum was the first place we were taking Tom and Amy to as an introduction to Edinburgh. This is what happens when you come on holiday with us. We make you look at dead things in jars.

Edinburgh castle

us at Edinburgh castle

The museum was fascinating. Level 3 was dedicated to the history of surgery from the 1500s to the 1900s, which was perfect as our new book is set in 1828 and features the body snatchers. Naturally they had a section on the resurrectionists. And they had the pocketbook made from Burke’s skin! As well as his death mask. So we’ve seen the card wallet and the pocketbook. The skeleton is the last piece of the macabre puzzle. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum 😦 There was also a mock up of an anatomy lecture theatre.

Surgeon's Hall museumLevel 2 was the pathology level and was divided into different body parts, all pickled in jars. So there was a section on knees, kidneys, eyes, heart, etc. And 2 display cases of skeletons with scoliosis. Lynx was made to stand between them, as she has mild scoliosis. We spent a long time finding a skeleton that matched hers. The display cases proudly showed off their specimens, each one clamouring for our attention. We didn’t know which side to start on! When confronted with rows and rows of dissected organs, how do you pick? It almost seemed wrong to get hungry in this section. Heat in Las Vegas killed our appetites. Staring at pickled organs in Edinburgh did not.

P1130558One area on anesthetics told of a story of a doctor using ether in a demonstration The patient woke during the operation and fled, locking himself in the toilet. The doctor, described as a determined man, chased him down, kicked open the door and carried the screaming patient back to the operating theatre to finish the procedure. That has to go in a story somewhere.

Frankenstein's pubTom and Amy went to the cafe so we headed down to the lower level and looked at more specimens that covered the two world wars and injuries sustained there. We didn’t want to leave but we were really hungry by this point and the lure of shortbread and Red Bull was too great to resist. As we were stuffing our faces outside, a woman commented on lovely our outfits were. We thanked her and tried not to spit crumbs out. We didn’t know there was a cafe and had no idea where it would be. Lynx spotted a black sign near the entrance, but we’d left our glasses at home as we didn’t have room for them. This was a mistake. Yes, we realise we could’ve worn them instead of carrying them, but vanity won’t allow this. We lived to regret this for the rest of the holiday.

Frankenstein's pub

us in Frankenstein’s

Normally we get away with it by having someone with us with perfect vision who can read things like signs and road names and because we don’t need glasses most of the time, we can pretend we see the world in 20/20 vision. Seriously, who needs to see details on trees? Or to see people’s faces from afar. So if you see us from a distance and we don’t appear to have seen you, we’re either not paying attention, or you’re a faceless blur. Like Slender Man. Most of the time people probably look better through our vision. But there were many times on this trip we were alone. Without perfect vision. Fortunately, we came up with a plan – we switched on the camcorder and zoomed in on the sign. It was pointing to the cafe. We then realised we’d missed out the dentistry section but met up with Tom and Amy instead. We could’ve easily spent half the day in the museum, but we had a list of other things we wanted to do and we didn’t want Tom and Amyy to get bored, so sadly decided to leave.

Gladstone's Land

Gladstone’s Land luckenbooth

We stopped at Tesco for soya milk and Red Bull then Sainsbury’s for crisps and chocolate. That was less exciting than the museum but it can’t be body parts and pickled organs all the time. Dropped our shopping at the apartment then went to Frankenstein’s for lunch. This is our most frequently visited place in Edinburgh. Tom and Amy tried haggis. We tried a new dish – fries. Shocked everyone with our bravery. We got to see Frankenstein come out of the generator on his stretcher! All our visits to Frankenstein’s and we’ve never seen this. So we’re still experiencing new things, despite Edinburgh being an annual destination.

Writers' museumOur next stop was Gladstone’s Land, which is a tenement made up in the 16th-18th century style. It has a Luckenbooth (a kiosk) so we wanted to visit it as Luckenbooths feature in our books. It was really cool – bigger than we thought it would be inside. People outside had a raven, Lenore and an owl so we took photos of them. The raven and her sister, Nevermore were going to lead a ghost tour.

Writers' Museum

Writers’ Museum

We wandered up to the castle to look for the armoury, but couldn’t find it, so headed back down to the Writers’ museum. No wonder we’ve never found it – it’s down Lady Stairs Close. The museum’s dedicated to Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott.

We’ve only read Jekyll and Hyde and other short stories in a collection by Stevenson, but it was still interesting. One day we’ll be in there. Even if we have to hide our books among the exhibits and invent Scottish ancestry. We headed back to the apartment then worked our way down Cockburn Street and went to the Dungeons! We visit here every time we come to Edinburgh. Had to queue for ages! The photographer, Stan, was hilarious. His phrase “terror in the eyes, jazz in the hands” has become a highlight of our trip. We asked if we could keep him, but he said he’s feral and can’t be tamed, so we offered to drag him out by his ankles. We have such a gift at talking to people.

Edinburgh Dungeons

the only guy willing to accept kisses

The Dungeons were brilliant as always. They had a new attraction with a green lady ghost and the Mary King close bit was different, with the buildings collapsing. The resurrectionist bit was different too, where instead of Burke and Hare choosing victims, we were part of the watch and a woman came out of a sarcophagus. We bought the cuddly judge this time (now named MacKenzie, after the famous Bluidy MacKenzie. We bought the executioner, Ketch, last time), as well as plague doctor keyrings, had a torture wheel keyring free (this may come in handy for…research), we also bought a little anatomy table and ‘cos we spent £20, we got a free Sweeney Todd clock! And Stan gave us a free photo.

Edinburgh Dungeons

Lynx with MacKenzie and a friend

We headed back to the apartment and decided to take a rare evening off. We packed our stuff for Falkirk then we all played Murder of Crows and 2 games of Gloom. Tom and Amy went to chill in their room so we set up our bed and got ready for the vaults tour, which was starting at 11, so we had couple of hours to kill and spent it reading.

Mercat tours

us and Nichol

We left at 10:35, thinking the mercat cross was ages away. It was practically outside. So we sat on a statue to wait for everyone else and got a lot of funny looks. One guy even commented something about Halloween. Think he was referring to our clothes. Hey, every day is Halloween! Our tour guide, Nichol was fantastic. He was creepy and funny. He tried to creepily outstare us. Some women shrieked and fled. We stared him down, being even creepier, and we weren’t wearing Halloween makeup like he was. We started at the mercat cross. Cat felt herself tip, as though she was standing on a wonky paving slab and someone had stood on the other end or pushed her. But her slab wasn’t wonky and nobody was behind her.Blair Street vaults

Nichol told a story about a traitor and demonstrated the torture on an unwilling victim, who took to playing a torture victim really well. Then we moved into Borthwick’s Close where Nichol told us about the infamous Major Weir. After that we went into the vaults. We will never get bored of the vaults. One girl was picked to stay at the back of the group to make sure everyone stayed together. She was terrified and wussed out. We heroically took over. Well, we always stay behind for photos and time alone in creepy places. That’s the same as being heroic, right?

Blair Street vaultsWhen we were in the safe vault, Nichol mentioned a pregnant tour guide being attacked by a female ghost. Lynx could’ve sworn a woman walked past her right side and stood behind us. She eventually turned to look. There was nobody there. So it might’ve been the shadows of the women in front of her on the wall and Lynx’s hair over her eye. The camera wasn’t on, so we can’t verify this. It was now midnight. It was now Halloween.

Blair Street vaultsWe were allowed to wander for 10 minutes so we instantly split from the group. They all stayed together in the safe vault for ages, too scared to venture off. We were off before he’d finished speaking. Time alone in the vaults? No way were we passing that up. We managed to lose everyone and do a bit of ghost hunting. But mostly we spent our time taking photos and talking about what we had experienced on camera. As everyone else stayed together, they were easily tracked for regrouping. Nichol had to come and find us. Why does everyone notice when we disappear? Damn it people, let us be alone in the dark vaults. We were rounded up and taken into Mr Boots’s vault. After the tour, we hung back, taking photos and trying to see if we could hear the footsteps that we’d heard the last time we were in these vaults. Sadly Mr Boots didn’t seem to want to visit us this time. We grabbed Nichol for a photo and begged to be able to stay the night.Blair Street vaults

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