A work trip to Edinburgh

Tuesday 04 February 2020 – Edinburgh.

There is something magical about train journeys. I am not talking about those short and crowded bursts to or from the daily grind. Or, perish the thought, those that are primarily underground, like most everyone else, I hate those. I am talking about the out journey to ‘away’, or maybe even those back from ‘away’. Though those returns are sometimes less than magical, especially with the threat of having to get up the following morning for work.

Yesterday I made one of those magical out journeys, and while today’s back was not as good as most of it was in the darkness of evening, it was still better than being on the tube. This morning I had a meeting in Edinburgh with some open data people from the Scottish Government, and the train trip from London to Edinburgh is one of my favourite UK train journeys. I am the pedants can list dozens of far better UK rail routes; but I haven’t been on them, and I have done this one at least half a dozen times and loved every one.

I travelled up with one of my work colleagues, leaving London in the early afternoon. We tried to work on the way, but the wifi was not too reliable. This was my expectation (and to be honest, my hope) so I was less worried than my colleague. I had music and a book and was content to slump and stare out the window between chapters for most of the four half hour trip. It is a lovely journey, especially the coastal section north of Newcastle.

I had a few attempts to take photos out the window for my current, experimental ‘out the train window’ project. All were consigned to the virtual rubbish bin on my computer. I much prefer my photo taking to be made when I am not sitting next to anyone, particularly someone I work with. I need to relax, a glass of wine helps, but I was on water all the way to Edinburgh. I was not in any creative zone.

It was dark when we arrived in Edinburgh, and quite cold as we got off the train. I was surprised at the temperature drop. I know I shouldn’t have been, Edinburgh is much closer to the arctic than London and it is winter, but it did catch me by surprise. Our hotel was very close to the station, so we checked straight in and arranged to meet to go out for something to eat. I had a lie down, sitting down on the train is tiring.

I like Edinburgh, it is my sort of place, at least the part of it I am familiar with is; the nice and clean tourist bit. I have been here a few times, but I think this was my first Monday night. It was pretty quiet. We had pizza in a place just off Princes St and it was doing good trade, the pizza was really good, tasty and hot and a good sourdough base. We stayed and chatted over a drink for an hour after dinner, heading back to the hotel about 9. It was cold and damp, but not anything like cold and damp Newport, thankfully. I wasn’t ready for bed, so decided to go for a walk.

The hotel was sort of halfway between the station and the place we were going tomorrow; St Andrews House, opposite Calton Hill. I walked that way first, thinking I would go up the hill if it looked liked things were lit at that top. Though this did not seem to be the case.

The back of the hotel.

St Andrews House, where we meet tomorrow. In this civil service job I do get to visit some amazing buildings, and this a lovely looking building, though the photo does not show it.

The Balmoral Hotel.

I decided to walk up to the castle, with the thought that there maybe some life up at the castle end of the Royal Mile, it is a very touristy part of town. I was wrong, it was pretty dead everywhere, even the pubs were closing, and it was only just after 9. There were a few people about, it was cold but not freezing, there was a light drizzle falling at times, but nothing that suggested snow. I was a little surprised at how quiet it was, though glad as I was happy to not get lured into a happening bar.

The Witchery, one of El and my favourite restaurants is in Edinburgh, and one of the few places that was open, I imagine it is full most nights of the week. It is the sort of place that should never be empty, the food is very good.

I was pleased to see the castle was well lit, I wished I had brought up the lightweight tripod with me, the camera is good in low light, but not that good!

Walking back down to the Royal Mile towards the North Bridge I stopped to take photos down some of the ‘closes’, the small alley ways from the main road to the houses, squares and back alleys behind. I can imagine these were dark and dangerous places a hundred years back. Fleshmarket Close and St Marys Close both feature in the crime novels by Ian Rankin, an author I quite like.

I took the stairs down Fleshmarket Close, unfortunately just missing the opportunity to finally sample one of Scotland’s finest offerings to the culinary world as the cafe had just closed as I walked past.

I walked back to the hotel and had a pretty good night’s sleep, considering how close my room was to a main road. Looking out of the window of my room in the morning, I discovered I had one of Edinburgh’s least finest views.

The meeting that we went to Edinburgh for went well, using up all of the four hours we had allocated. I had an hour to kill before my train so stopped for a pint with a colleague who was up from Manchester, before heading off to the station and settling into my book and music for the five hours back to London.

I took some photos out of the window for my train window project, and was pretty happy with the result. It may not be the type of image that most people like, but the top one is approaching the type of thing I am trying to achieve.

I also drank a lot of red wine. Something I regretted the following morning…

Edinburgh

Sunday 24 September 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland.

In a rare show of organisation El and I planned to take my mum to Edinburgh for the weekend ages ago. Mum was going to spend a few days in Northumberland with her brother, so we thought we would tack Edinburgh on the start of that visit and drop mum in Alnwick on the way back to London. However, in my usual style I did not do anything about it until quite late, so we ended up paying too much for a pretty terrible hotel, though the train tickets did not seem to be any more outrageous than they normally are.

I started this post about three weeks ago, and the detailed memories of the trip are fading as fast as my brain is filling up with work projects, other activities and thinking about the pending festive season, and maybe a trip back to New Zealand next year. I feel a head cold coming on and I am really tired after a few sleep nights of disturbed sleep. This may well be a short post, and I am determined to finish today. I am glad I completed photo editing soon after the trip; at least there is a prompt for my ramblings.

As mum was not travelling back with us I had to buy her train ticket separately to us, though we did manage to sit together for a while. I took a few photos out of the window as usual, starting from Newcastle station, where the train journey gets more interesting.

We arrived in Edinburgh early on Friday afternoon, it was not a bad day, a bit windy and a bit cool. we were staying in the ‘new town’ and decided to check out that side of town first, saving the old town for a full day on Saturday. The ‘new town’ is hardly modern, mostly built in Georgian times. There are some lovely buildings.

We walked up Calton Hill, with its great views of Edinburgh and out over the Firth of Forth. The Nelson column, pierces the sky from the top of the hill and can be seen from all over Edinburgh.

The nearby National monument was started in 1825, and was to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, funds ran out in 1829 and building was stopped. Never to be restarted. It is a monument to Scottish soldiers killed in the Napoleonic Wars. It is quite popular.

Walking back down towards Princes St, we walked into the Calton Old Burial Ground, a place I thought about visiting last time we were here. The entrance is through a gate in a high wall, hiding a bigger space than I expected, full of old gravestones and monuments. It is a lovely place, and I quite enjoyed walking around. I will definitely go back next time we visit. Maybe even take the big camera and spend some proper time there.

We all went our separate ways after the graveyard, I went back to the hotel for a rest and mum and El went and did some shopping. Meeting up again late afternoon to walk, almost as far as the castle, to the famous Witchery Hotel for dinner. Walking anywhere in central Edinburgh is wonderful; as was the meal we had.

After dinner it was a slow stroll back down to the hotel, for a not particularly good night. I had to complain to reception at 4:00 am about the noisy neighbours.

Saturday morning we started our exploration of the old town. First walking down the Royal Mile; past a couple of interesting shops.

We did not pay for the tour of Holyrood, I took a photo through the gate and we stopped for coffee and cake.

There is a long day of walking ahead, something I kept forgetting, and that mum is a wee bit older than me. She is very fit, but she is not longer 75….

We then headed back up the long and reasonably gentle hill that is the Royal Mile.

At the top of the hill is Edinburgh Castle, we were thinking about visiting, but it was so crowded up there we did not go in, but we did admire some of the views from that side of town.

With lunch time approaching we walked down the side of the castle to Grassmarket and stopped for more coffee and a snack in a small cafe. Mainly because it had somewhere to sit down!

A rest and some food gave us a new burst of energy to head up the hill to the National Museum, there was a crowd gathered inside the entrance to Blackfriars cemetery so we decided to go in and have a look. A wise choice. Inside was a small display of owls who were either found injured on born in captivity. I love owls, though have never seen one in the wild in the UK. I must add that to my to do list! It was great to be able to get up close to these lovely birds.

It was also time to check the final result of the West Ham v Tottenham football match, the smile suggests who won. Tottenham, El is wearing her Poch coat, which almost guarantees a Tottenham win.

The statue of Blackfriars Bobby was on the way from the graveyard to the museum. I love how his nose is so shiny from the decades of hands touching and rubbing it.

We were knackered by the time we reached the museum, so only had a very cursory look around the ground floor, we will definitely come back here next time we are in the city, the building itself is worth a visit, and the museum does look interesting.

It was another early night, we were lucky to get an early table in a pizza restaurant quite close to the hotel. More sleep was had, though the same noisy neighbours came home late again, though this time there was no singing or loud voices till 4 am. Thankfully.

We checked out of the hotel after breakfast on Sunday morning, and took a slow stroll to the National Gallery, which I thoroughly enjoyed, along with a far better coffee than we had with breakfast. Thank goodness for gallery cafes I say.

After the gallery we took an even slower stroll to the station through the gardens.

We were quite early for our trains, though better to be late than never, and Edinburgh station is always busy.

Mum’s train left a few minutes before ours, so once we had mum safely on her train to Alnwick we were settled into our first class seats for the journey back to London.

It was not a bad trip either. I do love Edinburgh and if it was not so expensive, would consider it as a city to move to. London of the north when it comes to house prices.

Edinburgh

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Calton Hill

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The Edinburgh Tattoo had just finished at the castle so sadly the view was partially blocked by all the temporary seating.

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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.

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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…

Arthur’s Seat.

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More of the back of the Royal Mile.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There were lots of other alleys to explore off the side of the Royal Mile as well.

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The Edinburgh Festival is centred in this lovely old church, whose name I did not write down !

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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.

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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.

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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 !

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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.

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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…

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Even though it was a last resting place for plague victims.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In the evening we took a walk up Calton Hill and it’s famous Grecian style national monument.

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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!

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After the rain we wandered down from the hill, past the old parliament building.

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We were going to visit the Robert Burns memorial but it was closed so we turned round and headed back into town.

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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’).

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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 🙂

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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.

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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!