Take a look at a map of Edinburgh and you will see that it is conveniently divided into three separate areas. To the south is the old town, to the west is West End and to the north is the New Town. Our hotel was on Princess Street so we started with the neoclassical New Town where the roads are broad and grand and symmetrical and we looked for somewhere for lunch.
Edinburgh can be expensive which is explained by the fact that it enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the UK, after Bristol it is voted the happiest city in the country, unemployment is low and it often appears in lists of the best places to live. Earlier this year, it was said to be the happiest city in the UK in a survey by the Office for National Statistics. These facts seem to have conspired to drive up prices in this, the commercial centre of the city so we looked for a Weatherspoons* pub where we could be certain of prices more consistent with our holiday budget.
After a quick lunch we made our way out of the New Town to the Old and made towards the castle by what looked to be the most direct route along a path up Castle Rock, ignoring signs along the way that there was no access along this route on account of preparations for the Edinburgh Tattoo in a few days time.
This was a foolish thing to do because after an energy sapping climb there was indeed no access on this route and we had to turn around and go back to the road. The most annoying thing about this was that lots of people had made the same mistake and not one of these tipped us off as they walked back down the hill as we were going up.
Anyway, we eventually made it to the road and entered the sinuous labyrinth of the Old Town which in layout is in total contrast to the orderly New Town with a general appearance and character that remains firmly medieval. Here are tortuous alleys, twisting steps that knock the breath out of the unfit and tightly packed streets. We climbed a particularly steep set of steps through a narrow alley with overhanging buildings so tight we had to breath in to pass through and finally emerged at the Castle Esplanade.
Now we had a decision to make – to visit the castle or not? Kim wasn’t keen, she has been before quite recently, it was rather expensive (£16.50), there was an almighty long line of people queuing for tickets and it was starting to rain.
So Kim won this particular debate and we made our way out of the castle and back to the top of the Royal Mile, a tourist trap street with whisky stores, wailing bagpipes and street entertainers on every street corner and a succession of shops selling everything tartan.
Well, everything tartan is not strictly true. Later this year I am going back to Scotland to play golf with a group of pals and I had set my heart on a loud tartan polo shirt for making a fashion statement on the links. Do you think I could find one? Absolutely not! There was tartan everything from baggy underpants to kinky suspender belts, from socks to bobble hats, from sporrans to contraceptives but never a polo shirt so I had to make do with a golf cap and a nylon kagool that I spotted on a sale rack at the back of a shop. Now I hope that it rains so that I can wear it.
My shopping over and done with and Kim in a state of shock we continued to walk down the Royal Mile but the rain suddenly got heavier so we dashed for cover and a visit to St Giles’ Cathedral which is called a cathedral but really isn’t because Edinburgh falls within the Diocese of St Andrew’s a few miles away. The interior is quite interesting with some stained glass windows and memorials but once again photography was forbidden and so our visit only lasted as long as the rain shower outside.
And so we left the old town and back on Princess Street the lure of the department stores was too much for Kim to resist so while she went off to the shops I walked east to Calton Hill.
There is a lot to see at Calton Hill because based at St Andrew’s House it is the headquarters of the Scottish Government with the Scottish Parliament and other notable buildings including Holyrood Palace near the foot of the hill. The hill is also the location of several iconic monuments and buildings – the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument (which is almost always used in photographs and postcards of the city), the old Royal High School, the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs’ Monument and the City Observatory. That is a lot of sightseeing!
On the way back down I visited the graveyard to see the tomb of the philosopher David Hume and a memorial to American Scottish soldiers and then returned to the hotel where we just sat in the window of our hotel room and enjoyed the views along Princess Street and across the road all the way along to the castle.
Well, believe it or believe it not, Kim had spotted a small restaurant that she thought looked promising for evening meal and so, not being inclined to argue with her on the matter of restaurant selection we later made our way back into the New Town and enjoyed wonderful food and a great bistro atmosphere at the Café Marlayne that was good enough to make us make the instant decision that we would be returning there for our second meal tomorrow.
*Weatherspoons is a UK chain of pub/restaurants which champions cask ale, low prices, long opening hours, and no music. It has become famous for converting large, unconventional premises into pubs. This one used to be a bank.