I was so excited to finally make it to Edinburgh after a long time of dilly dallying. The good– On getting into Edinburgh Waverley train station just after noon on the Saturday, my hotel, Motel one was less than 5 minutes walk from the station. Checking in was a breeze and my room was on the top floor with views onto Princes street. I had the same views as the guests staying at the exquisite Balmoral hotel, one of the most expensive hotels in Edinburgh at just a fraction of the price! What was not to love?
After a bit of rest and freshening up, I set out for a walk on the very lively Princes street, heading west. I saw the usual British High street shops, with what we know as ‘House of Fraser’ the department store in England being branded as ‘Jenners’. On the opposite side of the road was the Princes Street Gardens, which had the imposing, gothic ‘Scott monument’ dedicated to the Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. Walking further down Princes street, I came up to ‘Calton Hill’ after ascending some flights of stairs and walking up a steep gradient- I was gifted with yet more incredible monuments and stunning views of the city. Some meandering and photo taking later in spite of the rain, I got back onto Princes street and headed over Waverley Bridge which took me into old town.
On Day 2, after a quick breakfast of porridge and a coffee (when in Scotland and all that) I started my day back in old town and headed to Edinburgh Castle. This provided a great insight into British Scottish history and the sometimes fraught relationship between Scotland and England. After 2 hours of taking it all in, I left the castle and walked up the Royal mile, the road that connects Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood Palace, the British monarch’s residence in the summer. There were people milling about, bagpipers playing and other street performers. I made my way to the Monkey Barrel comedy club on Blair street where I met the irreverent Daniel, a comedian that gives walking tours (Mountebank) in Edinburgh. I along with a small group took a walking tour around the old town and let Daniel regale us with interesting tales about Edinburgh, all the while picking on and teasing every member of the group. We walked along the cobbled streets of old town, saw Victoria Street, St Giles Cathedral, Parliament Hall and several notable streets steeped in history. This was a fantastic, alternative way of seeing the city and we all had a great laugh.
My last evening involved a ‘Scottish dinner party’ in New town, in an area called Broughton, at the Steak Stack, an informal steak place, 15 minutes walk from old town. Booked through Airbnb experiences, it promised a 4 course dinner with wine, beer and….whisky tasting at the end! Now, I’m neither a beer drinker nor particularly a whisky drinker, but I thought I’d give it a go to augment my Scottish experience. We (about 12 of us) were welcomed with a glass of Prosecco and kicked off with a starter of smoked salmon tartare, followed by haggis, a steak main and cranachan for dessert. With each of the courses we had a wine and a beer option to pair with them and had to score which went better with each meal. I personally went with wine for all but one course, but beer won overall. Whisky tasting was interesting, we learnt about the different regions where whisky is produced in Scotland and I took a few sips. I am still not a whisky convert by any means, but was open to the experience. All in all it was a fabulous 3 hours spent meeting and chatting with new people and Richard the organiser was a passionate host who made the evening worthwhile. For the uninitiated, haggis is Scotland’s national dish and it can be quite divisive, given its source. My verdict on haggis after my first experience was that it was savoury, warming, peppery and full of flavour, just don’t think of what it’s made from, if squeamish. After this I went back to my hotel full to the brim with a great sense of accomplishment and an ever so slightly wobbly gait:). On my final day I saw some other parts of the city on my way to the airport – Westend, Haymarket and Murrayfield and all seemed to be thriving neighbourhoods.
So that was all great! The bad– It seems everyone and their mother had the same idea to travel by train from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh this past bank holiday weekend! shame on the train company, LNER for their complete and utter incompetence in managing train ticket bookings, as what had the potential of being a relaxing, scenic train journey into Edinburgh became an exercise in balancing my coffee cup in one hand, phone in the other with my luggage wedged between my legs in the middle of the train aisle in coach B! Overcrowded is an understatement. I had to stand for almost the entire duration of the 4 hour 26 minute journey, until a nice guy who himself had been standing as well and only got a seat from Newcastle, 2.5hrs into the journey let me sit for the last hour or so! Not a great start to the weekend.. but I wasn’t going to let that ruin my mood. Thankfully, I flew back to London and did not have to risk the same thing happening twice! Lesson here: Ensure you insist on a seat number when booking a train ticket anywhere in the UK, especially with long journeys. (Update: I am getting compensated)
Would I return to Edinburgh? Absolutely, without a doubt! For one, I didn’t see nearly as much as I would have liked to. I loved the fact that I could walk everywhere, it was charming, full of character and the old town is just stunning, there were so many hidden gems, lots of nooks and crannies where you’re almost being transported back in time. Bagpipers provided a fantastic soundtrack to proceedings, with gorgeous architecture serving as the backdrop. It rained quite a bit (I guess that might count as the ugly) however, I still had an unforgettable weekend and the memories will stay with me for a very long time.
Here’s an excerpt from the Haggis poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ by the Scottish poet Robert Burns to round things off:
You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!