One of the most liberating and rewarding activities in Stone Town is to do away with your map, get lost, and wander the labyrinth of cobbled courtyards and walkways. Be entranced by the heady aroma of strong Arabic coee, feel your way through a shop hung with colourful Kanga fabrics, turn a corner, look up, and marvel at a mosque’s dome punctuating the skyline, bringing lyrical verses of the Koran to mind. The beauty of Stone Town lies in its many surprises.
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The Hamilton Lands were restored by the National Trust for Scotland in 1958. Two have gables facing the street, with steep pantiles. Crowstep gables were designed to allow beams to be placed across a roof which was too steep for ordinary construction work. Behind one of the houses is an old outdoors baker’s oven, from the days when fire was a serious hazard, and on the wall at the back of a pend is an inscription ‘Ve Big Ye Se Varly 1527’. (‘We build you see warily’.) At one time the town house of the Cornwalls of Bonhard stood here. An Alexander Cornwall was said to have been one of six knights dressed as look-alikes of the king – all of them, including the real James IV, killed at Flodden. Along the road, the bulky Victoria Hall, completed in 1889, once had big Gothic towers and pepperpot turrets, but the building has failed steadily – the towers gone, turned into a cinema, then bingo hall, amusement arcade and now boarded up. On the south side still, above the sign of The Four Marys, is a tablet commemorating a Dr Waldie, who introduced chloroform to Sir James Simpson and the medical profession. At 79 High Street, between the first and second storey windows, is an early C19 ‘firemark’ which indicated to firemen that the building was covered by fire insurance with the Sun Fire Office! Continuing, the council building has a splendid example of a provost’s lamp.