Edinburgh: Inside and out

The story so far: Inspired by the success of my trip to York in March, at the beginning of June I was off to Edinburgh for another mid-week staycation. I had heard many good things so I was looking forward to discovering what all the fuss was about. So on a busy Monday morning, I got myself to London’s King’s Cross station and settled in for the four and a half hour train journey to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station.

This post is the last of three and captures three of my favourite Edinburgh moments.

I checked into my guesthouse and decided to walk back into town (about 35 minutes) to stretch my legs after the long train journey. The sun shone warmly overhead as I headed out and I was thoroughly enjoying the chance to get my bearings for the next three days. However it wasn’t long before a fierce deluge appeared out of nowhere. I tried to ‘walk it out’ for about ten minutes but it was a two steps forward three steps back situation – my natural pragmatism took hold and I took shelter in a bus stop until the rain lessened about 20 minutes later.

I found my way up to Calton Hill – a stream of rainwater gushing down the steps leading off the Princes Street entrance – and as I reached the top, the rain finally stopped and I was rewarded with some fabulous views.

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It was fantastic to walk around and I gulped deep breaths of rain-fresh air as I soaked up (pardon the pun) the spectacular scenery. I stood quietly for a few moments as I reached the top and as I looked out across Edinburgh to its Castle in the distance, I decided that this was the perfect way to begin my stay.

The next morning I woke to rain – lots of it – and with the weather forecast suggesting that it wouldn’t let up anytime soon, I caught the bus into town and headed for the Royal Mile. Having walked the Canongate section the day prior, I headed up in the direction of the castle determined not to let the dismal weather stymie my meandering plans. But the tower of St Giles’ Cathedral beckoned and it seemed the perfect opportunity to have a peek and dry off a little.

As I walked in, I shook the beads of rain from my jacket and sighed with relief at the respite from the deluge outside. Then I looked up and gasped…

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The space was calm and filled with permutations of light and shade, bold arches and exquisite stained glass. I paid £2 for a photo permit and strolled for over an hour, taking it all in before taking a pew and taking a few moments for some quiet reflection. St Giles’ Cathedral was both a surprise and a joy to discover – a beautiful space for the eyes and a beautiful place for the soul.

My final highlight took me underneath the city to Mary King’s Close. The hour-long tour travelled down below the Royal Exchange and through a warren of old lanes and rooms that were originally narrow streets (known as closes) lined with storied tenement houses. Simon the Bailiff’s story-telling painted some pretty vivid pictures of life in the 17th century and his tales – which included a ghost or two – made each stop along the tour dramatic and engaging.

The tour ended on a 17th century street – the real Mary King’s Close of the attraction name. It’s a steep, cobbled alley with old buildings stretching up overhead and no natural light. Photographs were not permitted on the tour for security reasons – Scotland’s Royal Exchange complex is located directly above – but in all honesty, I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice.

The Real Mary King’s Close experience allows you to stand in the old and, in most cases, dimly-lit rooms and closes while your guide weaves stories of 17th century life around you. Here’s a tip: If you are keen to do this, book a few days in advance – I had to book on Tuesday morning in order to snaffle this slot on the Thursday morning tour (before I left that same afternoon). I was so pleased not to have missed out on this fascinating hour beneath the cobblestones.

And with that, this Gidday from the UK armchair tour comes to a close.

Edinburgh is a wonderful city – friendly and welcoming, and filled with such a diverse range of things to do (as diverse as the weather) that it was easy to fill my three days there. People – whether servers, tour guides or attraction staff – chatted amiably, nothing was ever too much trouble and right down to the taxi-driver who took me to the guesthouse on arrival, they were all filled with hints and tips about getting the most out of my stay. And I was never rushed – I lingered over meals / coffee and cake regularly, working out what to do next or just reading on my kindle, and I never felt pressured to leave the moment I’d finished eating.

So if you are looking for an eclectic and easy-going city break, I’d thoroughly recommend Edinburgh. Just be sure to pack your wet weather gear and keep a sense of adventure and humour handy – come rain or shine!


If you missed the first two and are interesting in reading about my entire visit, here are the other posts in my armchair tour of Edinburgh:

Edinburgh: A royal trifecta (the first one)

Edinburgh: Literary liaisons (the second one)

Edinburgh: Literary liaisons

The story so far: Inspired by the success of my trip to York in March, at the beginning of June I was off for another mid-week staycation, this time to Edinburgh. I had heard many good things about visiting the city and was looking forward to a few days exploring. After boarding at London’s King’s Cross station on a busy Monday morning, my seamless and comfortable train journey to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station took just under four and a half hours.

This post is the second of three and is designed to be an armchair tour of my brush with Edinburgh’s literary fraternity. Those of you that know me even a little will know that I love to read and there are a host of literary links in Edinburgh from Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Arthur Conan-Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Robert Burns (he of Burns night) – right through to modern masters like Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus), Alexander McCall Smith (the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter).

Sir Walter Scott is a big deal here – he wrote Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, neither of which I have read, but there were quotes everywhere in the train station and when I emerged onto Princes Street, there was a stonking great monument to the bloke just down the road.

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You’ll also find Scott at The Writers’ Museum – along with two other Scottish wordsmiths – Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson – and on my last day I spent about an hour here admiring the personal effects, checking out the photos and reading about the lives of these famous men.

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After three days in Edinburgh, I hadn’t found very much that paid tribute to another well-known literary Scot – Arthur Conan-Doyle who invented one of the world’s most famous detectives, Sherlock Holmes. Luckily Allan Foster’s Book Lovers’ Walking Tour plugged that gap and at one o’clock we met outside the museum and ventured off into yet another downpour.

Heading to the south side of the city, we entered Conan-Doyle territory with a couple of stops at the College of Surgeons – where as a student, he found the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes in Joseph Bell – and his local drinking hole, Rutherford’s Bar. The bar was also a favourite of Robert Louis Stevenson and the restaurant that occupies the building now is called The Hispaniola in a nod to Stevenson’s most famous novel, Treasure Island.

Conan Doyle

Photograph of Conan-Doyle at The Hispaniola Restaurant in Drummond Street

It was an interesting, behind-the-scenes sort of 90 minutes and pretty easy walking in spite of the weather. Allan’s knowledge covered so much more than I would have discovered on my own so I’d recommend this walk if you are even remotely bookish.

There are also quite a few eateries with literary links in Edinburgh and I particularly enjoyed The Queens Arms in Frederick Street (New Town) and the Deacon’s House Cafe off the Royal Mile in the Old Town. I also visited The Elephant House whose claim to fame was as the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’, it being claimed that J.K. Rowling used to frequent the cafe when she was writing the books. It was well-appointed and spacious but I was underwhelmed by the service and food.

So that was the extent of my literary goings on in Scotland’s capital. My next, and final, Edinburgh post will shine a light on three of my favourite staycation moments. But if you’re coming along, you’d best bring your brolly


If you are interesting in reading about my entire visit, here are the other posts in my armchair tour of Edinburgh:

Edinburgh: Inside and out (the next – and last – one)

Edinburgh: A royal trifecta (the first one)

 

Edinburgh: A royal trifecta

After the success of my trip to York in March, I indulged in another mid-week staycation at the beginning of June, this time to Edinburgh. I had been twice before – an airport-customer meeting-back to the airport affair on both occasions – and had heard many good things about visiting the city itself. It was definitely time to explore further afield so I got onto a train at King Cross station in London for the four and a half hour journey north to Edinburgh.

This post is the first of three and is designed to be an armchair tour of my foray into Edinburgh’s royal associations. The city has a lot of royal connections – think Mary Queen of Scots, James VI of Scotland/I of England and Robert the Bruce – and aside from meandering up and down the Royal Mile, there are essentially three ways to doff your cap to royal Edinburgh.

Day one of my staycation dawned and after a damp morning wandering along the Royal Mile, I was off to Edinburgh Castle. The previous evening I’d had the brilliant idea of booking a skip-the-line ticket with a castle walking tour to avoid waiting around. Well as I mentioned earlier it was raining – I mean REALLY raining with fat wet drops that teemed down relentlessly – and this had clearly put a dampener on people’s plans. It turned out there was no line to skip.

However the walking tour was worth it, chock full of lively tales about Edinburgh, the castle itself and some of its key protagonists. Our guide also took some time to explain to us why Braveheart (the Mel Gibson movie) and the stereotype of the kilt-wearing, haggis-eating Scot were both wildly inaccurate – obviously a sore point. In any case on such a wet day, having someone knowledgeable to shepherd you around and tell you stories about the various points of interest was far more efficient than trying to stay dry whilst reading about them at each of their locations around the castle. And there were plenty of stories and things to see…

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I particularly liked going through the Prison of War and loved the views from around the castle which, despite the weather, were spectacular. The formal tour part went for just under two hours and I spent another hour looking around so you’d probably need to allow half a day for this visit. And don’t be put off by the rain – this is Scotland and it’s not green for nothing so a) it would be silly (and potentially pointless) to wait for better weather and b) a smart staycationer always packs enough layers to accommodate all weathers.

Speaking of weather, it was significantly improved the following day with bright blue sky and pleasant sunshine (who knew!) so I spent the morning down in Leith on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. The entrance was inside a large shopping centre and it felt a bit odd to be looking for a rather big boat by walking through the shops. But the signage was easy to follow and once there, I had a really enjoyable couple of hours.

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Whether you’re a royalist or not, this was a fantastic opportunity to see how everyone lived on board – including the crew – as well as the huge number of people and jobs involved in the smooth running of the ship. It took me just over 90 minutes to wander around and look at everything before deciding to head up to the restaurant  where I enjoyed a bowl of cullen skink and a fresh fruit scone with jam and cream.

The sun continued to beam brightly overhead so I decided to get on a bus, head back to Edinburgh’s Old Town and spend the afternoon at Holyrood Palace. It’s the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland as well as the old home of Mary Queen of Scots so there’s a lot of history here. There were also some awesome abbey ruins and a sprawl of beautiful gardens around the palace with views of Arthur’s Seat. I settled for a while on a sun-drenched bench to enjoy the peace and quiet, admire the views and ‘take the air’.

I couldn’t taken photos inside the Palace (for preservation reasons) but I took loads of snaps in the gardens and abbey ruins…

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This visit wasn’t part of my original to-do list but I’m so glad that I went. I took a great deal of pleasure in the range of things available – beautiful gardens, awesome architecture and shed-loads of history. I also upgraded my ticket to see the exhibition in The Queens Gallery – at first glance, Maria Merian’s Butterflies may not have seemed my thing but the more I wandered, the more fascinating and exquisitely drawn I found it.

So this brings us to the end of royal Edinburgh gidday-style. Next up I’ll be indulging my bookish inclinations with trawl through literary Edinburgh – feel free to tag along if you fancy.


If you are interesting in reading about my entire visit, here are the other posts in my armchair tour of Edinburgh:

Edinburgh: Literary liaisons (the next one)

Edinburgh: Inside and out (the last one)