Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Royal Highland Show

Heavy Horses at the Royal Highland Show

The annual Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland's annual farming and countryside showcase originally an event of interest only to farmers now offers four days of entertainment at the end of June and food and drink not always available locally. Apart from the £200 Million business generated by over a thousand exhibitors exhibitors compete for prizes and trophies totalling a million pounds. It is a fun day out for all the family with attractions including Heavy Horses, Archery, Chainsaw Carving and children's activities. 


The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society was founded in 1784 but waited till 1822 to put on the first show at the Queensberry Hotel in Edinburgh's Canongate: life moved at a slower pace then. To put this in perspective this was about ten years before  Burke and Hare showed the unacceptable face of capitalism and freeenterprise, the Napoleonic wars were fading into history and Edinburgh was still semi rural.

The first show exhibited 60 to 75 cattle eight sheep and two pigs. About a thousand people attended and the takings were enough to cover overheads so the show became an annual fixture in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In 1829 the show got wanderlust and for 130 years moved from city to city till it settled down in the permanent 300 acre site at Ingliston in 1960.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the show changed, becoming open to breeders from other parts of the UK, exhibitions of agricultural equipment and prizes for dairy produce.

Today it offers farmers an opportunity to network, expand their business and find what is going on in the industry, exhibitors a chance to sell their wares, many of which have nothing to do with farming, and the general public and their children to see farm animals. There is entertainment almost everywhere, A range of activities for children (those under 16 go free) that varies from year to year, shopping and fashion tents covering almost everything you might want to buy and food and drink sellers everywhere.

The Site

In 1958 the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society Scotland purchased the Ingliston Site and after two years of work the site was opened in 1960. More and more facilities were added till 2006 when a proposed extension of Edinburgh Airport threatened the site. Once the plans for the extension were killed off an upgrade of the site started, scheduled to finish in 2014.

In the 1990s the site hosted raves. Nowadays it is used throughout the year for various events, the largest being the Royal Highland Show and attracts over a million visitors a year. There are some apparently permanent features like an ecological garden but the majority of events at the show are ephemeral.

Doing Business
The show is also the UK's biggest agricultural show and real business happens here with an increasing emphasis on renewable energy in addition to the normal business of farming.

The show's trade directory  gives the information needed to make connections and there is a bookable business space with standard office facilities and private rooms.

Getting there and back
The show ground is some ten minutes walk from the Airport and about 20 minutes drive from the city centre. Exhibitors need to get there early to be able to set up before the roads get busy later in the day. Normally the local bus company, Lothian buses run a special service between the city centre and the show ground. Traffic clogs up the roads so expect a long ride. If you go by bus check the times of buses back to town, especially the last bus.

Accommodation generally becomes scarce around the time of the show ( and even scarcer during the Edinburgh Festival in August. Naturally the Badjao Bed and Breakfast has been and remains delighted to welcome exhibitors and visitors alike. We are about 20 minutes drive from the showground and parking is currently free nearby. If you do not want to take the dedicated service to the show you can take local bus 35 to the airport and walk about 10 minutes to the show ground.

Wrapping up
Our experience of the show was that it was a great day out. The scale of the agricultural equipment was amazing. Sore feet prevented us seeing some of the displays such as Chainsaw Carving, Archery and Farriery. The site was very muddy because of the rain that makes Scotland such a green and pleasant land: we recommend stout shoes and an umbrella. Signposting was good but while the maps round the area show where you are standing it can require some mental gymnastics to relate this to the road layout. The standard of food and drink was variable: the food from some places was frankly not worth the price, with decent looking tables all reserved and service that was a little slower that one would expect given the number of customers, while from others it was very good. It pays to look around before paying out.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Royal Yacht Britannia

Britannia Today

2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the Royal Yacht Britannia, the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II. The yacht is the 83rd British Royal Yacht since the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 ( the first yacht was a gift from the Dutch).


Britannia was built on the river Clyde near Glasgow, launched in 1953 and commissioned in 1954. She is a three masted vessel with the top 20 feet of the fore and main mast hinged to allow passage under bridges. She was designed to be used as a hospital ship in wartime and as the queens refuges from nuclear war. She was manned by volunteers from the Rayal Navy who could after a while be appointed to the Permanent Royal Yacht Service. When the royal family were abroad the ship also carried a platoon of royal marines.

In 1997 the decision was taken not to replace Britannia and after carrying the Prince of Wales and the Governor of Hong Kong away from the Island after the handover to the Chinese in 1997 she was decommissioned in December of that year.

Tourist Attraction

Britannia is now a Permanent Tourist Attraction in Leith, Edinburgh, and entry is via the Ocean Terminal shopping centre.

The official course of the tour is to proceed from the deck down through the five decks of the ship, with the uppermost level being the royal apartments and the lowest level the engine room and laundry, the latter being very busy as at times the marines on board had to change uniforms five times a day.

The Britannia was a very hierarchical community and as the visitor proceeds down through the decks they see the status of the occupants of each deck go down. The luxurious royal apartments give way to successively more crowded and functional accommodation till that used by ratings is reached where there seems barely room to swing the proverbial cat and privacy nonexistent.

Britannia is the second royal yacht of that name, the first being a racing cutter built for the then Prince of Wales in 1893. The Royal Family's love of yacht racing is shown by the fact that the 1936 racing yacht Bloodhound, one of the most successful racing yachts ever and previously owned by the Queen is berthed next to Britannia.

Highlights of the tour include the retired state car, a Rolls Royce Phantom V, The state dining room and the Tea Room on the upper deck which opened in 2009. Reserve at least three hours for the self guided tour.

The tour gives a  glimpse into the life of the royal family and the 21 officers and 250 yachtsmen who served on board as well as a feel  for a vanished era  that feels like another world. 

In April 2013 the Royal Mail issued a set of commemorative stamps to mark Britannia's 60th Anniversary. 

After the tour you may want to visit nearby Newhaven Quay with its excellent Sea food restaurant and view of the Forth Rail Bridge in the distance. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Eating out with Children in Edinburgh

Three Children, Three Buggies, Three Coffees, Three hours. Don't do that

Children are the centre of a parent's life, but no one would claim they make life easier. And eating out with children can become problematic, even if one manages to distract them while walking past McDonalds. It is easy to take the path of least resistance and end up at Lauriston Castle or the Balmwell if outside the centre, but fortunately Edinburgh is now more accepting of children. It is even possible to breastfeed in some places and sensible childrens food (sometimes smaller versions of adult food) are more and more on offer

Of course you still have to take normal precautions. Offering a toddler a slice of pizza with Jalepeno peppers could put the relationship at risk for a long time.

The Restaurant Scene in Edinburgh changes rapidly so rather then review individual places this post gives some guidelines for successful eating out in Edinburgh.

Be nice to the Restaurant or cafe

Very small children are more of a problem than older ones. Buggies take up a lot of room, so small establishments may not be happy if your pride and joy takes up half the space and all you buy is a coffee. A folding buggy folded is much better, especially if a high chair is available. Letting children run around yelling and irritating other diners is just bad manners whatever the owner and parent thinks. If you have problems with access, the door being narrower than the buggy remember it may not be feasible for the owner to widen the entrance. They may not have changing facilities, and if there are only half a dozen tables the toilets may not have room for a changing board. In the city parking may be impossible: with or without children.

If this means you can't sit in the smaller cafes with character that is something else you sacrifice for your children. Some places just cannot change to make it easier for parents with children and if they did their character might change. Understanding the owner's situation makes it easier to plan ahead.

Older children are less of a problem, but may only be allowed up to a certain time. This is because the establishment, if serving alcohol, needs a children's licence and this may restrict the times children are allowed. Remember they get bored easily and a play area for them is almost essential.

Plan Ahead
If you can, plan ahead before coming to Edinburgh. Google and Bing will help you find child friendly venues, and Google Maps will tell you where they are. In Summer be ready to eat outside - yes it can be warm enough. Your accommodation provider may be able to direct you to a nearby child friendly eatery.

Have a backup plan. Carrying snacks for all allow an impromptu picnic and allow you to explore more, for example Holyrood Park. It is also cheaper if you are on a budget. For older children toilets may not be easily available, or closed. You are less likely to find these via Google so keep your eyes open and work out how to track back to the last one seen: it can be annoying having to buy a drink just to use the toilet, as well as counterproductive.

Some places to try

Gorgie City FarmA miniature farm with goats, pigs, ponies and hens, play area and café. Entrance is free and the farm is open 9.30-4.30pm. Catch Gorgie Road buses (3, 4, 44 etc) from Haymarket and Princess Street. Tel: 0131 337 4202. It is easy to miss, though the entrace is just before a railway bridge crossing the road, so check the location with Google maps before setting out

Leos Beanery, Howe St ‎Set in a basement so watch the stairs

The Nile Cafe: opposite the University of Edinburgh and next to the Mosque. Some people have experienced bad service and unexpected extras on the bill. But others say the servoce is good and the food excellent.

The Wrap
Eating out with children in Edinburgh is far easier that it used to be. Be sure to plan ahead as far as possible and check online reviews. Remember even pubs with a child licence may only allow children for a limited periods and eateries may be in a basement or up stairs, with the toilets three or four flights of stairs away from the eating area. When out and about keep an eye on likely places and be ready to backtrack. Carry a snack and drinks for emergencies or in case you want to explore a bit off the beaten track (best done with older children). Be ready to eat outside if the weather is fine.  

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Newhaven Harbour, a place to relax

Sunset in the Harbour

Newhaven, formerly a harbour and village, is a conservation area about 2 miles North of Edinburgh city centre. It lies along the line of a prehistoric raised beach and was a thriving fishing village. In 1504 James IV created Newhaven Harbour with a view to building a warship for the Scottish Navy, the Port of Leith being unsuitable for large warships.

The Forth Rail bridge from Newhaven Harbour
The lighthouse at the harbour entrance, built in 1869 is a local landmark. Leith Harbour has expanded to dwarf Newhaven and the fishmarket, saved from demolition in 1990 by designation as a listed building, is now occupied by a seafood restaurant which is very good, and a fishmonger. There is also a smaller fishmarket in the building. The harbour is accessible by public transport and there is normally plenty of space in the free carpark behind the restaurant.

Newhaven is served by several buses: 7 and 11 going direct to the city centre, 16 linking to Leith and from there again to the city centre.

Newhaven was part of the early 20th century tram route until 1956. A new tramstop for the area, Newhaven tram stop, was proposed to serve the area as part of Edinburgh Trams. This section is no longer on the primary route for completion in the first phase.

A railway also served the area, the station still existing to some extent off Trinity Crescent. Stations also existed at the end of Annfield and on Craighall Road.

Away from the Harbour the Whalemaster's house in Park Road, dating from the time the village was prominent in the whaling industry had a clear view to the Harbour and was originally built in brick as an oddity later being rebuilt in stone.

A 16th century stone armorial panel on the south side of Main Street, known locally as the "Newhaven Stone", seems to have come from the long vanished Trinity Mains Farm, a farm estate linked to Trinity House in Leith whose crest appears on the tablet and which gave its name to the adjacent suburb of Trinity.

The upper section of the village contained larger villas, looking down over the more crowded village of fishing cottages so the well off could not only view the sea but also look happily at the fishing cottages inhabited by their inferiors.

The Harbour in the day

The Harbour offers good prospects for the keen amateur photographer, though best at sunset, the restaurant offers a range of meals for all pockets, and the fishmonger sometimes offers bargains. The Royal Yacht Britannia and the shopping centre in Ocean Terminal are in walking distance. A visit to the harbour can be a welcome relaxation after a busy day in town. If you are feeling energetic it is not too far to drive to the old fishing village of Cramond

This  post was sponsored by the Badjao B&B Edinburgh

The final photograph was converted to  Sepia using the Gimp