Sunday, 25 November 2012

What to do when you come back to Edinburgh

Of course you will come back. Everyone does, but maybe you need an excuse or you have seen all you want of the tourist trail and love nature. If you enjoy walking and exploring and your schedule allows this  Edinburgh is for you. Here are a couple of places to visit

Holyrood Park

Sunset in HolyRood Park
Holyrood Park, dominated by the dead volcano called Arthur's seat (not that Arthur) is a must. The fit and healthy will want to climb to the top for the spectacular view of the city. It is an interesting walk, at about 30 degrees from horizontal for around 20 minutes and becomes a scramble if you are not careful. Go early: in the off season darkness falls as early as 3pm and you do NOT want to try finding your way down in the dark, with or without a torch.

A car or bicycle and quite a bit of time helps when exploring this vast park's 650 acres with a limited time available. Walking round the edge takes at least 90 minutes but gives you some spectacular views and, if you time it right some great sunsets. The small lake at the bottom is populated by opportunist swans and other lochs further up have geese, and a car park. Look out for the ruined Chapel and, further up the view of Duddingstone Village and its church with the scold's chair. If you are in a car the park can be a scenic short cut from the South of Edinburgh to the Beach at Portobello.

Calton Hill

At the East End of Princes St is Calton Hill, a volcanic rock base with a gorse-strewn hillface and windswept ruggedness, making it a rough gem where families fly kites, foxes roam and tourists flock. At one time there was a prison here.

From Calton Hill you get a different view of the city out as far as the river Forth and the sea. You can drive up but the stairs from Princes St will challenge anyone who cannot walk far. On top there is the telescope shaped Nelson's Tower where a ball falls from a mast at 1pm every day matching the one o'clock gun fired from the castle -It seems this was intended to help deaf people set their watches - and the National Monument, a replica of the Parthenon intended to commemorate the Napoleonic wars but never completed because donations dried up.

For me Calton Hill is a strange place, almost not in this world. The last sighting of the little people was here in 1930. Calton Hill is the site of the annual Beltane Festival on the last day of April, where good fun is had by all for most of the night and was where the medieval lord of Misrule would command ceremonies, and it may be inadvisable to linger there after dark if you are on foot, but if you sit in your car after dark ( lock the doors) a fox is likely to appear. Before driving up check what time they close the gates to the road up which cars travel to the top.

In August, Calton Hill hosts festival shows, it offers excellent views of fireworks displays from the castle during Hogmanay and the grand finale of the Edinburgh Festival, the Festival Fireworks.

The Hermitage of Braid

Moving out of the city centre to Morningside Edinburgh's very own glen, the Hermitage of Braid offers a choice of the low road, through the centre, and the high road on the paths that lead along the top of the outcrops that border it. Best visited in late spring when the flowers are out

A local nature reserve since 1993, the Hermitage is a 130 acre haven for wildlife, much of it shy. The Hermitage includes woodland, grassland, scrub, freshwater and marsh and if you are lucky you will see a heron. It is a good place for nature walks, or to sit and relax in a hidden corner in the wild shrubs, study the displays at the visitor centre, see the ice-house, doo’cot (dovecote) and water pump, or simply walk in beautiful surroundings.

You can reach it from Morningside clock tower by walking up Braid Road past the stones set in the road to mark the last public hanging in Edinburgh. Once there turn left into the park and enjoy.

North Edinburgh: The Forth Rail Bridge and Cramond Village

The Forth Rail Bridge at South Queensferry is impressive in the day time but more so at night when it is illuminated. The statistics are impressive, but you have to be close to appreciate the scale of the bridge. It is 1.5 miles long and even today an engineering marvel. It can be seen from almost any high ground in Edinburgh, but not from space.

Once you have finished looking at the bridge turn left into South Queensferry and walk along the shore for a while. If the time of year is right you can take a boat trip to Inchcolm Island. Or you can just have a drink in one of the local pubs.

Cramond Village is situated at the Mouth of the River Almond. There is a beach of sand, stones and dunes. In the village itself there is the oldest church in Scotland and next to it the remains of a Roman fort. The walk up the River takes you past the yachts of local residents. The weir is the boundary of a mirror like pool and there are ofen many keen fishermen there.

If you feel adventurous cross the causeway to the bird sanctuary of Cramond Island at low tide, but be sure to check when high tide will cover the causeway. You may have to allow yourself more time to get back if you are especially short. In good weather you may want to get stranded with a generous supply of alcohol.

If you turn your back on the River Almond you can stroll along the shore to Muirhouse which has a more traditional beach then take a bus back to town.

Portobello Beach

On the other side of Edinburgh is Portobello, a sandy beach with all the trappings you would expect. If you don't like children head for a bar or go on to Musselburgh, a village on the River Esk. Here you can walk to the mouth of the Esk where river turns into sea and see the mountains in Fife where they meet the sky and watch the waves rolling in to the shore. If you are very heavy be careful: there is a notice saying horseboxes should not be parked on the grass by the river because the ground is unstable. After you have watched the sea enough you walk back down the river, using the many bridges that cross the river, and finally walk back and get the bus to town.

The Water of Leith

Ladies  on their Sunday walks used to rest in these shelters
If you do not want to pay city centre prices the Badjao Bed and Breakfast is ten minutes from the city centre and in walking distance of the Water of Leith, a 12 mile waterside walk from the City Centre to Balerno which, like Corstorphine Hill has a pleasant Walled Garden. Twenty minutes walk from the B&B takes you to the Water of Leith visitor centre where you can walk 7 miles into town or five miles to Balerno or change to a walk along the Union canal. Or stop at one of the local pubs and forget the whole idea. In the Balerno direction you pass through Colinton Dell with its wildlife and small stone shelters where ladies used to rest on their Sunday walks. Popular with joggers, dog walkers and cyclists it is reasonably well signposted and hard to get lost. Again keep an eye on the time if you are coming in the off season.

There is no room to include all the many parks and green areas and beaches in and around Edinburgh such as the Hillend Country Park and Winter Sports Centre, Trinity, Newhaven and Musselburgh could only be mentioned in passing.

There are many other places to visit. The one that intrigues me most is Gilmerton Cove, a system of tunnels rooms and even furniture carved out of the local sandstone and tunnels that seem to lead to Rosslyn chapel and Craigmillar Castle. No one knows who made it or why

We want our guests to enjoy their stay so here is a bit of advice (which most people will never need). Edinburgh is cooler than London in Summer and warmer in Winter. Wherever you go, especially the hilltops dress warmly, or at least pack extra clothes, because the weather can change rapidly. Make sure your phone is fully charged and, if you are going off the beaten track, let someone know where you are going.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Things you want to see in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a lovely city with so much to offer it can be hard to know where to begin. The Festivals in August offer so many choices you may never get out of the city centre. In the off season you will get better service and find it easier to get around. While Edinburgh can be expensive, a little preparation will go a long way to ensuring you make best use of your money.

Basics: Accommodation and Transport

Calton Hill Edinburgh from Holyrood Park at dusk
There are loads of Bed and Breakfast places and Guest Houses. If you really want to keep the cost down there are a number of hostels. And of course this is an excuse to plug the Badjao Bed and Breakfast.

The bus is the cheapest form of public transport and the service is good except late evenings and weekends and some services do not run on Sundays.

The main bus company in Edinburgh is Lothian Buses. The Lothian bus day ticket costs about 25% more than two single tickets and lets you tour the entire city by bus where you may encounter some colourful local characters. Note that Lothian Buses do not give change. While all Lothian buses have video cameras it is not a good idea to do a song and dance number on the bus. The driver will not be impressed.

From Edinburgh Airport the cheapest route into town, at the time of writing is Lothian bus 35 which runs till about 11pm. The journey takes about an hour. Coincidentally it stops very close to Badjao Bed and Breakfast.

Cycling in Edinburgh is not a brilliant idea. The roads are narrow, there is a lot of traffic and it moves fast and there are a number of big roundabouts that can be confusing and dangerous to cyclists. On the other hand you can cycle along the canal or the water of Leith without problems, ( practice first if you want to ride a monocycle) there are quite a few cycle paths in the centre and a bike does make exploring outdoor Edinburgh more fun, at least in summer.

Eating and Drinking

Edinburgh's own Brewery. 
Edinburgh is full of places to eat. Cheap cafes on George IV bridge, some eateries on George St, mid price but pleasant. There are a lot of Thai, Italian and Chinese restaurants, and some do very good buffets. Near Ocean Terminal (also on the 35 bus route) and the Royal Yacht Britannia you will find the Loch Fyne Seafood restaurant. On the way there you will pass through the former fishing village of Leith which has a number of good restaurants including a floating one.

Rose St, between Princes St and George St is virtually lined with pubs. Most pubs do meals and many are child friendly: children are generally allowed in the pub but not in a room that has a bar. At peak times you will have to wait for a table. Unfortunately many of the most child friendly places are chains and seem to lack character. There are some good beers on North Bridge and further to the south, and in Frankenstein on George IV bridge the monster wakes at midnight. There are of course Irish pubs and Finnegan's Wake in Victoria St has live music most nights. The Canny Man in Morningside has a unique (choosing the words carefully) collection of found objects on the walls. If you like real ale the best place seems to be the Caley Sample Room which has beers from all over the world and a reasonably good restaurant menu but beware: some are almost as strong as wine. If you like Whiskey go to the Whiskey Heritage Centre near the castle. The tours are good and include at least one free drink.

Night Life

Early in the night you can find places that offer live music, a pleasant atmosphere and a good range of beers and wines. The old Scottish pubs in the Grassmarket, once the place for executions, and boasting the Last Drop Tavern, don't offer meals or music. The Rutland at the West End of Princes St is well established, and nearby the Ghillie Dhu has live singers with a disco upstairs most weekends.

There are discos for all ages and wallets. Pubs generally empty around 1am and close around 1:30, the last time for entry to a disco and anyone who gets to the end of the long queues too late will be disappointed. Regular buses finish around midnight and it is a good idea to order a taxi a bit before the end of the night at around 3am. Some restaurants stay open to cater for those leaving the disco.

If you want something a little more risqué the area around Westport, where Burke and Hare carried out their murders, is walking distance from the Grassmarket has lap dancing bars and there are possibilities in Lothian Road.

Museums, the Culture and tours
You have children, you want to keep them amused. Try the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers St. ( once again on the 35 Bus route, like the castle nearby) or walk down the Royal Mile and stop at the Museum of Childhood and think “I used to have one of those”.

If you don't have children you can visitsome of the other museums in the Royal Mile as you walk down from the Castle towards Holyrood Palace and Arthur's seat, passing John Knox's house on the way. This is the old town and people still live here. You may want to visit the Cathedral in the High Street and consider coming back for some of the Ghost and Cultural tours advertised there.

In Princes St on the Mound lovers of paintings can visit the National Gallery. Further out is Ocean Terminal and the Royal Yacht Britannia, with Dobbie's Butterfly house to the south and the Zoo to the west. Nearby is the Museum on the Mound which opened in 2006 and has exhibits and talks on Money, technology, crime security and lots more.

If you don't want to walk far take a hop on hop off bus tour. It goes most of the places you want to go and you get a guide. If you really want a cheaper alternative read up on Edinburgh and buy a one day bus pass. The only problem with the bus is that sometimes things you want to see flash past too quickly.

A little research will help you make best use of your time in Edinburgh. If you like Museums or need to keep the children amused there is plenty of choice. If you want to take a walking tour with a guide there are plenty of options. There are some good real ale pubs around and if your flight is early you may want to consider going straight from a disco to the airport.