Monday 09 September 2013 – Edinburgh.
One of my key regrets from when I lived in London in the mid 1980s was not seeing much of the greater UK, and this is something I really want to address now I am living here again. Scotland has always been on my must visit list and this weekend El and I took an introductory trip over the border and visited Edinburgh. I have to caveat this by mentioning that El has been here many times before, it is only me that has been slack.
We took the train from Kings Cross station on Saturday morning, the journey takes four and a bit hours and passes through a number of places I want to visit in England – York, Durham and Newcastle, before crossing the border at Berwick. It was a pretty cool journey, and so cool to be heading into the unknown and a new adventure.
We had a room in the Travel Lodge near the station and were very fortunate to be on the top floor, which was pretty much the only floor with a view…. And the view was over towards the castle and the Royal Mile – fabulous.
Fortunately the room was available though we were a couple of hours early for check in and we were able to drop our bags off before heading out for a first explore of the city – after a monstrous lunch in a small touristy noodle bar. My first impressions of a rainy downtown Edinburgh were WOW! The ‘old’ part of the city has been so well preserved, it is quite busy, with a lot of tourists and and I imagine a fair number of Edinburgh locals shopping in the posh shops in the area as well. I am a sucker for a town with steep cobbled streets, steps, small alley ways and hidden views that pop out at you if you keep your eyes open as you walk past. Sadly the weather didn’t really play ball and we had a few showers as we walked down past Cow Gate and along the Royal Mile to the centre of Scottish Government at Holyrood.
When the showers took a wee respite we decided to take a quick trip up the old volcanic mound of Arthur’s Seat, which was our planned objective for the afternoon. The views over Edinburgh were spectacular and when the sun was out it was quite warm up there.
The Edinburgh Tattoo had just finished at the castle so sadly the view was partially blocked by all the temporary seating.
It was looking like rain so we took a hurried trip back down and slipped the rough path and twisted a knee which ended up in a very sore back on the final day, thankfully not serious but it did mean for a slow day on the Monday.
It started raining quite heavily as we walked back up the Royal Mile so we ended up taking a break from the rain in a little pub and talking whisky with a couple of Danish men, one who comes to Scotland every year to sample and buy whisky. Surprisingly we only had one whisky each the entire weekend – actually that should probably read ‘shockingly we had only one whisky all weekend!’
Once the rain had stopped we walked back to the hotel and I shot a few photos out of the window before we went out that most traditional of Scottish meals – a curry…
More of the back of the Royal Mile.
Sunday was bright and sunny and we were out the door fairly promptly and on the hunt of coffee and food. We passed the Scot Monument before the climb to the top was open.
We walked back up towards the Royal Mile again anticipating that the heavily touristed areas would be the best location to find breakfast and we soon found a nice cafe (which we returned to on Monday) for breakfast.
After breakfast we walked up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle and I found the first of many “Rebus” locations. Fleshmarket Close. I am huge fan of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels, most of which are set in Edinburgh and it was interesting to see so many places from the novels.
There were lots of other alleys to explore off the side of the Royal Mile as well.
The Edinburgh Festival is centred in this lovely old church, whose name I did not write down !
Out first stop for the day was the Camera Obscura up near the castle (in the top of the white tower) the camera was installed in the building in the 1850’s . The view from the top was fantastic and the camera obscura was really cool.
We were going to visit the castle, thinking that mid-morning would still be too early for the bulk of the other tourists, but the queue for tickets was massive – and there was not one single person waiting for the pre-booked tickets so we decided to flag the castle today and book tickets for tomorrow. I think a wise decision.
We wandered down the side of the castle down towards the Grassmarket where I found the best record shop in the world. They had coffee and records and posters and places to sit and enjoy music. Fantastic, a pity the staff had no interest in us as customers – and we were the only ones. Coffee was good though !
Grassmarket is a very cool area of shops and cafes, sort of hip on the fringes, but open and tidy and nice old buildings. I liked it.
We wandered up a side street looking for Greyfriars Bobby. The story has it that Bobby spent 14 years guarding his late owner, the night watchman, John Gray’s grave in Greyfriars Church yard after he died in 1858. True or not it is a cool story and has made the church very popular with tourists…
Even though it was a last resting place for plague victims.
The highlight of a very packed and pleasure filled Saturday was lunch at The Witchery, one of Edinburgh’s top eateries and being very smart El had booked us a table when we first decided to visit the town. The lunch was hugely enjoyable, food was good, wine was great and the company perfect.
After lunch we wobbled – with full bellies, not drunken legs ! Back down the valley for a wee afternoon rest in the hotel. We passed by this trio outside the art gallery and for a change I actually did not hate the sound of the pipes, maybe my ears were a little drunk… anyway, these guys actually sounded pretty good.
I took a few more photos out of the window, though the massive blue skies we had in the morning had given way again to clouds.
In the evening we took a walk up Calton Hill and it’s famous Grecian style national monument.
We had a walk around all the weird and wonderful collection of monuments and were about to settle in to look at the view when the rain came down and we huddled under a tree while we waited for the shower to pass. El had of course wisely brought a rain coat while I had looked at the clouds, though they looked like rain and did nothing about it. Luckily she shared. Yes, there is a weird colour cast in these shots – and no I cannot be bothered editing them out – sorry!
After the rain we wandered down from the hill, past the old parliament building.
We were going to visit the Robert Burns memorial but it was closed so we turned round and headed back into town.
We found this cake, left by the rubbish bins behind a hotel – I guess it may have a sad story behind it (it says ‘well done Grant and Steff’).
We popped into a supermarket and bought some cheese and fruit to munch on for a light tea and went back to our room to watch bad telly. It was a good day !
On Monday morning El woke with a really sore back and by the time we packed and checked out was in a bit of pain. We decided to visit the castle anyway as we had purchased tickets, though we did go via the same cafe as yesterday and I lingered over a good sized breakfast 🙂
We walked up to the castle again and again there was a massive queue for tickets but no-one at the pre-purchased ticket machine, so we were inside pretty quickly. I did not really enjoy the castle, El was in pain and there were a lot of people about, it was very pretty and the views were great, but I just wasn’t feeling it. We saw most places but did not linger too long and after a hellish queue to see the Scottish crown jewels we wandered off again.
El had really seized up by now so we decided to see if we could find an early train back to London. We were booked on the overnight sleeper with El going straight to the office the next day, but that was not going to be a good option and thankfully we were able to get seats on an earlier train.
One of the main reasons we were going to Edinburgh was to meet my friend Alex and his partner who were here from NZ as part of a larger trip. We had arranged to meet them for dinner that night, but really sadly I had to cancel it and head home.
I (we) really enjoyed Edinburgh, it is a cool little city and one I am already looking forward to re-visiting!