Tag Archives: Scottish Bagpipes

Scotland – Edinburgh, Old and New

Edinburgh Castle

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 Wetherspoons* pub where we could be certain of prices more consistent with our holiday budget.

Edinburgh Map

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.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

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.

Edinburgh from Calton Hill

*Wetherspoons 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.

Scotland – Edinburgh, First Impressions

Edinburgh Scotland

We caught the train to Edinburgh from Newcastle Central and I just knew that there was going to be a problem when a group of misbehaving middle aged women joined us in our carriage with tee shirts announcing that they were celebrating ‘Marie’s 50th Birthday’.

There were signs in the carriage saying keep the noise down but I don’t think any of them could read so they cracked the cans and topped the bottles and made an almighty racket all the way to Edinburgh. I actually prayed to God that they weren’t staying in our hotel.

We found a seat at the other end of the carriage and ignored them as best we could and enjoyed the ride. Trains used to chatter but now they hum and the journey took us along the Northumbrian coast past Alnwick and Lindisfarne, Holy Island and Berwick and then followed the Firth of Forth towards our destination.  It was like a vivid reminder of our two day mini bus excursion in Turkey  with the Dagenham Womens’ Darts Team.

There is surely no finer city to arrive by train than Edinburgh! If there is, then please let me know?

In most cities the railway terminus is out of town, somewhere in the scruffy district with the graffiti and the dirt, somewhere well past its best but not so in Edinburgh because Waverley Station (the only station in the world named after a novel) is right in the beating heart of the city and once ascended from the subterranean platforms a visitor is deposited immediately into Edinburgh’s principal thoroughfare – Princess Street. The A1, the road that links Edinburgh to London, four hundred miles away and a road on which Scottish Nationalists would construct a border crossing at Berwick upon Tweed if they had their way.

And so it was that we emerged from the underground chambers of the railway station and arrived blinking and unsure into the centre of the capital city of Scotland, the seventh largest city in the UK, but only the second in Scotland after Glasgow. The largest UK city is of course London with a population over seven million and the smallest is St David’s in Wales with a tiny population of only two thousand.

Immediately we were met by the unpleasant reception of dozens of beggars hanging around the station concourse and we picked our careful way though the dirty sleeping bags and on to the wailing siren of bagpipes on every street corner. There was no mistaking that we were in Scotland!

Adjacent to the station there are a number of fine old hotels, The Caledonian, The Scotsman, The Royal British and the Old Waverley where we were staying. It was only a five minute walk from the station and we presented ourselves at reception and were booked in and handed our key and we made our way to the fifth floor. Edinburgh hotels are expensive and I was not expecting anything special but when we opened the door we were delighted to have a suite at the front of the hotel directly opposite the Scott monument and with a fine view of the castle.

From the tall windows there was a grandstand view of the city. There were soaring towers of granite with green copper domes standing straight backed and proud like soldiers of a Highland regiment, high pitched roofs to deal with winter snow, salt and pepper coloured buildings with symmetrical windows that would please a mathematician, terracotta chimney pots in orderly rows and flagpoles with waving Saltires but also quite surprisingly an equal number of Union flags. The 2015 vote on independence split the country down the middle and the evidence was here to see.

The buildings here rise imperiously above a narrow gorge where railway lines squeeze themselves into the city in between gardens of rain soaked velvet green and above it all stands the castle, a magnificent structure rising from the ground as though announcing the beginning of a volcanic eruption.

And opposite, almost within touching distance was the soaring Gothic memorial to the novelist and poet Walter Scott. Some people don’t like the memorial but I think it looks just fine.

On account of the view I could have stayed in the room all afternoon but that wouldn’t have got a lot of sightseeing done so as soon as we had unpacked and could tear ourselves away we went back to Princess Street with a plan to see the city.

Scott Monument Edinburgh

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…