Another blog post, another trip north of the Border. We are lucky in the North East that not only do we have so many amazing places to explore in our own region, but we are also within easy reach of one of the world’s most extraordinary capital cities. Now I’m not going to claim that it’s possible to do all of Edinburgh in a day. I lived there for four years as a student and have made numerous visits before and since and there are still parts of it that I have yet to discover. (The Wild West in Morningside, anyone? No, me neither, but it’s on the list). But you can certainly do some of it in a day. From Newcastle you can get there in around 90 minutes, by a pleasant train journey, part of which has been voted the most scenic in the UK. Travelling by car takes a little longer. If you go via the A68 be sure to visit the Mainstreet Trading Company in St Boswells, or if you choose the A1, the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick is definitely worth the detour, if puffins, gannets and guillemots are your thing.
Our most recent visit was the first since our son was born. Visiting the city with a child alerted me to the things I took for granted when I lived there, like the fact that I did my shopping in the shadow of a 3000 year old castle perched on top of an extinct volcano. This seemed all the more extraordinary when I pointed it out to my one year old. He does, however, have a similarly enthusiastic reaction to buses. And balloons. And pigeons. But seriously, showing him my old stomping ground made me see the city afresh, with new, albeit still sleep deprived, eyes. Arthur’s Seat looked even more imposing, the Meadows were even greener and vaster and Greyfriar’s churchyard was even more tranquil than I remembered.
The city’s two most famous streets, Princes Street and the Royal Mile, are, ironically, the ones I would advise visitors to steer most clear of. The former is still caught up in a nightmarish tramline inertia whilst the latter has more tartan tat and tam o shanters for sale than you would get if the Broons opened a Loch Ness theme park. So where to go instead? Well, if it is cold, or raining, or windy (which it probably will be) then the recently redeveloped Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is a must. The building, a striking juxtaposition of modern and traditional architecture, has almost as many nooks and crannies as that other great Edinburgh institution, Jenners, for which the phrase “nooks and crannies” was probably invented. We were there for at least three hours and still didn’t see all the exhibitions on offer. Most of that time was spent holding our son aloft as he pointed, awestruck, to the various occupants of the amazing menagerie in the Animal Room, The rest of the time was spent on the roof terrace on the seventh floor, nostalgically gazing across towards Portobello to the east, New Town to the north and George Square to the south.
Given my son’s (already documented) animal obsession, a trip to the zoo was inevitable. From George Street we caught the number 26 bus to call in on two of the city’s newest arrivals, a couple whose efforts to conceive an heir have been subject to more media scrutiny recently than those of Will and Kate. Luckily for us, giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang were in fine form, as were the sea eagles, chimpanzees, penguins, meerkats, sea lions and flamingos. Our son toddled up and down the Costorphine hillside, ducking in and out of patchy hailstorms and giddily gesticulating at each new animal that he saw.
That night, exhausted by the day’s activities, our inconsistent sleeper and consistent early waker managed twelve uninterrupted hours. Unprecedented! This, combined with the many, many, other things this city has to offer, means that it probably won’t be too long until we are back again.