A Short Break in Edinburgh (A Summertime Throwback)

We left York shortly before nine (0855 to be precise) and began the next part of our trip up country. The route took us via Darlington, Newcastle and Berwick on Tweed to Edinburgh and took two and a half hours. At 1122 we pulled into Edinburgh Waverley (the main station) and disembarked. The next job was to orientate ourselves and find the Princes Street exit. This task was soon accomplished and we found ourselves outside the impressive Balmoral Hotel, complete with doorman dressed in full Highland regalia.

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After depositing our bags in our hotel, we set off up Leith Street to Princes Street and from there along Waterloo Place with the intention of investigating the various buildings and monuments on Calton Hill. Standing 450ft above sea level this grassy mound requires a fair amount of stamina to reach the top but the reward is a collection of rather odd-looking structures – the National Monument, supposed to replicate the Parthenon in Athens, the Nelson Monument, shaped like an upturned telescope and the City Observatory.

There are also wonderful views across the city – Arthur’s Seat with the Crags behind, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament building, Princes Street in its New Town grid, the Royal Mile climbing up towards the Old Town and the castle and Leith and the Firth of Forth in the distance.

With plenty more to see and explore in the city we were soon back down on the level and once again heading towards Princes Street and Edinburgh Waverley. Having crossed the road we passed by the National Archives and turned into the side streets to see what they had to offer. Following W Register St around its course we emerged once more into open space and found ourselves facing St Andrew’s Square, a green oasis for the tired visitor. Coincidentally it was also lunch-time so we settled on an Italian, Amarone – the place was rather busy but the food quality very good so we congratulated ourselves on our find and enjoyed a pleasant hour or so resting up before the next stage of our exploration.

As we left the restaurant we could see the Scott Monument at the end of St David’s Street as it ran into Princes Street. This 200 ft high Victorian-Gothic monument which stands as a memorial to the author Sir Walter Scott, carries 64 pieces of sculpture depicting various characters from Scott’s novels and has been described by Bill Bryson as a ‘gothic rocket ship’.

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From the monument we turned right onto Princes Street and did the normal mix of shopping and sightseeing as we went. Across the street we could see the greenery of Princes Street Gardens and high above them Castle Rock, dominated by the walls and buildings of Edinburgh Castle. We entered the Gardens themselves opposite Castle Street and walked towards the Church of St Cuthbert at the far end.

Having reached this ‘far’ point we decided it was time to make for the Castle itself, fully aware that several stops (to admire the view, as my Gran might say) might be required as we climbed The Mound. To get to the start of the climb we needed to walk the entire length of the Gardens, exiting past the Floral Clock.

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We were getting tired and needed to mentally prepare ourselves for the climb ahead. The summit of Castle Rock is 430 ft above sea level so it was a case of slowly does it as we made our way up the slope, stopping from time to time to admire the buildings – Royal Scottish Academy and Scottish National Gallery – and the views back across the city. At the Black Watch Memorial we turned into Mound Place and then stopped again to admire the view. Behind us was New College on the Mound and in front Princes Street Gardens, the Scott Memorial and the skyline of New Town.

A short but steep climb up Ramsay Lane brought us onto the Royal Mile and the approach to the Castle itself. As expected the place was busy with tourists heading into and out of the castle and also exploring the shops and attractions along the way. Dotted about were those promoting the various acts taking part in The Fringe and handing out their associated flyers; quite a mixed bag!

We walked on up to the Esplanade and the entrance to the Castle itself but decided not to go inside, partly because of the cost per head but also because of the sheer number of tourists heading inside. Rather a shame, but with limited time available to us we chose to carry on exploring the city. Turning back we strolled down the Royal Mile, passing the Armouries and the Camera Obscura on our way. As we progressed, there were more and more acts performing and entertaining the crowds and consequently more spectators blocking the way. The going was therefore fairly slow but it did give us a chance to savour the atmosphere and also take in the various shops, restaurants and buildings lining this famous walkway, including the The Writer’s Museum, housed in Lady Stair’s House, the High Court and St Giles’ Cathedral.

By the time we reached North Bridge Street we were beginning to flag so took the decision to head back to the hotel and check in, get the room and rest up for an hour or so.

Trying to find something to do that evening, which did not require a lot of walking, we opted for a bus ride out to Leith – suggested by one or two brochures. So, just after six o’clock we hit the pavement once again, turned into Leith Walk and caught the bus full of expectation. Sad to say, this excursion proved a disappointment, with very little to see and even the ‘pretty waterside aspect’ of the Water of Leith was an exaggeration – half a dozen pubs facing a somewhat neglected water basin. The bus terminal was just outside the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, present-day mooring of the Royal Yacht Britannia, so we got out for a look around. Unfortunately the shops were closing and the place seemed semi-deserted so we did a quick ‘tour’ and took the opportunity to take in the view across the Firth of Forth. This too was underwhelming, and exuded a certain sadness when one reflected that this had once been a thriving port servicing Edinburgh and its surrounds.

We decided it was about time to head back to hotel and get ready for the next day ahead of us where we would be traveling west, cross country to Glasgow!