Edinburgh
June 2021

Sunday 20th
Edinburgh and Glasgow have long been on my list, what with Robert Adam, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and them being major UK cities. And what with covid still keeping us in our own countries for now it seemed like a good time. I'd also never been to Scotland before, nor indeed further north than Newcastle, a city through which my train passed. This was also my first trip in ten months, since four days in Norwich last August.
I'd had a stressful few days of emails from LNER telling me the trains would be busy with Scottish football fans, and that some trains were being withdrawn due to technical safety concerns. And then they told me that my train had been cancelled and I'd been rebooked  - with a seat number - onto an earlier train. Lastly I was told that my original train had been reinstated but was a different type and so my seat booking didn't apply. So it was in a state of some trepidation that I got to King's Cross early, with my printed-out original ticket and the email giving my new train and seat. And had no trouble at all. I type this in seat A39 on the 10.00 train to Aberdeen, via Edinburgh, with only a small bunch of Scottish football fans with delightful accents, of whose speech I can understand narry a word.
The long journey (4 hours and a bit) was enlivened by a trip to the cafe car, where it was broken to me that today was the last day on which I'd be able to buy a slice of fruit cake on an LNER train. Another tradition falls by the wayside. By a weird cake-related coincidence my train was continuing after Edinburgh on to Dundee. I also had fun streaming a couple of lectures on 19th century European history and discovered the joy of following my journey on Google maps, just as we passed Holy Island and the sea came in sight.
No difficulty finding my hotel - the ibis Edinburgh Centre in Hunter Square - or checking in. My room is not large and the decor is a bit kindergarten, but it'll do. I was told that it wouldn't get serviced but that's fine as it means my afternoon siestas won't get disturbed and I won't feel compelled to leave my room tidy for the staff. My introductory stroll took in the Scott memorial, some Georgian terraces, some dark and pointy churches, large and small, and a sudden superb burial ground in the shadow of the castle, called St Cuthbert's, with an odd walled-in field where the walls are made of tombs (see photo right). I popped back to my room to tinker with some photos and then out to find the local Burger King as they have just started doing two new plant-based burgers, and I'm liking the faux-chicken one.

Monday 21st
A good night's sleep with only a few distant bumps from another room to disturb the peace. I'd been asked to book a time-slot for breakfast but the only couple in the breakfast room left soon and left me on my own. The selection was well laid out and presented, but very basic - a choice of six Kellog's cereals in boxes, but no muesli; only two pastries (plain croissants and pains au choc) and them prepacked and the bread just supermarket sliced out the the freezer. Like my room the selection was small but it'll do. (Although it got pretty tedious pretty fast.) Decent coffee, from a machine, and juice though, and a bottle of hand sanitiser on every table.
I had prebooked the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Queen's Gallery with a 10:15 entry time. I had a slow window-shop walk there, fruitlessly peering into souvenir shops looking for a tasteful mug (for use in my room which only has paper cups) which the ubiquitous one with the photo of the wind blowing up a chap's kilt and showing his bottom really isn't. Holyroodhouse was a treat. The house itself gives good variety of decoration and history, the ruined abbey is spiffy and the background landscape is spectacular. Drama was provided by the announcement that an alarm had been tripped and was being investigated and we had to wait closed into the last five rooms leading to the King's bedchamber. The exhibition in the gallery was devoted to Victoria and Albert's watercolour collection, mostly of places and events in their lives, and was surprisingly interesting, but given their travels, their gaffs, the times, and the Great Exhibition maybe that's not that surprising.
Coming out my attention was drawn uphill to the Calton New Burial Ground - another feast of ruined mausoleums and leaning stones, but this time up steep ground with more spectacular views. Notable burials include Robert Louis Stevenson's lighthouse-building family and a notable feature is the lookout tower, built when grave robbing was a problem, unusually also providing accommodation. That's two special cemeteries in two days, and I've not even been to the one I came for. On the way out I caught the eye of a woman carrying cut flowers, who had a Scandinavian accent, and we had a nice spontaneous conversation about how good it was to have spontaneous conversations with strangers.
I patronised a promising fudge shop on the way back, picking three small bars: marzipan & amaretto, coconut, and chai latte. (All three flavours turned out to be disappointingly mild.) Lunch was a posh cheddar baguette in Pret, where I lingered to type this. On my way back I went in to Blackwell's to see if there was a book on Edinburgh's cemeteries, and there it was, displayed on a table. Discussing my luck with the chap at the till he knew the ones I'd been to and recommended another one! It turned out to be called the Newington and to be a big Victorian out of town garden one like I'm used to. I then got myself a tasteful big Edinburgh mug in Starbucks, along with one of their cinnamon buns.
In the evening I hied me up Calton Hill for its promised spectacular views and to go see Edinburgh's Disgrace, an unfinished replica of the Parthenon. From up there I spotted yet another graveyard, which turned out to be Calton Old Burial Ground and another atmospheric treat. Some of this atmosphere was provided by a party of drinking youth in a discrete corner, and evidence of occupation by rough sleepers, but rough...smooth, etc. Also a treat was the Burger King halloumi burger. And a wandering walk back to the hotel through some rough...smooth Old Town streets.

Tuesday 22nd
Today I'd booked Edinburgh Castle for the 10.00-10.30 slot. The circular route inside goes anti-clockwise, taking in panoramic views from the walls, creeping through the prison cells, full of hammocks and lines of washing, and various courtyards, and a war memorial that's like a big church. A Great Hall too, in which I asked the attendant if it was worth queuing for the crown jewels and apartments if I wasn't keen on sparkle. He said that the downstairs rooms were interesting, but I could jump the jewels queue by slipping into a door labelled 1566. As the woman policing the jewels queue was watching me I sidled up and told her what her colleague had said, and she said 'of course!' and even moved the No Entry board out of the way for me. Result! Later in the circuit there's St Margaret's Chapel which is small and sweet and Romanesque, with some nice windows, including one of the woman herself  (see photo right). In the gift shop I bought a fridge magnet and a Luca's vanilla ice cream tub. The very helpful woman on the till was able to clue me up considerably on whether the colours of Edinburgh denote flavours (sometimes, but not in the boxes in the shop), why the Vanilla Macaroon bar I bought on Sunday was so yummy (coconut!) and what tablet tastes of (sugar).
I then made for St Mary's Cathedral, the huge church I'd admired the outside of on Sunday, to admire the inside. It was designed by George Gilbert Scott, built in the late 1870s, has three windows by Eduardo Paolozzi and quite a nice painting called The Presence by A. E. Borthwick. It also has loft, lots of stained glass and tiles, and generally impresses - worth a visit. Lunch in Pret again - the spicy sunshine wrap with chick peas this time.
After my siesta I made for today's cemetery, Greyfriars Kirkyard at last, which didn't disappoint. The huge memorials up against house walls with windows here and there were particularly striking. There are Harry Potter connections, so there was a twit in dark robes and a plastic visor giving a tour. Looping back I found myself back in St Cuthbert's burial ground from my first night, and found some corners I'd missed. Tonight's Burger King veggie option was the Plant-Based Whopper, with a tinge of a grilled-meat flavour, to which I didn't object, and the crunchy lettuce, onion, tomato and gherkin ditto.

Wednesday 23rd
Today's plan was to head south to the big Newington cemetery recommended by the man in Blackwell's. I had also read last night that the Museum of Scotland gives good medieval. It's on the way, but was fully booked in the morning, so I booked a post-snooze visit. The cemetery is a stout walk but there was another little one on the way, of course, called East Preston Street, in which the small crypt entrance see right was photographed. I got a bit lost and figuring it would be more organic to ask in a florist's shop than just get my phone out. They didn't know the cemetery, but one of them found it on her phone. Just before the gates of the big one a sudden second-hand bookshop attracted my attention with an 1853 book of lectures delivered in Edinburgh by John Ruskin, fairly foxed but only a tenner. I also bought an early 20th century illustrated hardback of Ivanhoe. And had a chat with the bookseller, of course. The cemetery was more the sprawling overgrown out-of-town oasis I'm used to, but still a good and photogenic one.
On my way back to the hotel I passed a little baker's with cinnamon and cardamom & pistachio buns in the window. Well passed is maybe the wrong word. Here we chatted about how empty Edinburgh is without tourists, but that's nice too. Ironically I then had lunch on the way back in Soderberg, a joint famous for their cinnamon buns. A seedy brie bap was teamed with sour cream and chive sourdough bites and spiced apple juice. The brie bap, called an Ost, was missing the promised pear, but the red onion marmalade helped.
Post-siesta I decided to explore the Water of Leith, a river walk that runs from Leith, as you might have guessed, through the new town, through a place called Dean Village, which my guidebook promised would be picturesque, and it was (see photo below). One also passes under Dean Bridge, a huge big viaduct, the work of Thomas Telford no less. But before all this I decided to try a local gelateria I'd passed previously. The flavours included some tempting sorbets and one called cinnamon biscuit. I nearly went for two scoops, until I noticed that this would have set me back £5.50. One was £3.50. Oh to be in Italy where two scoops of far superior stuff can be enjoyed for around €3!
 





St Cuthbert's Burial Ground





Calton Old Burial Ground





Greyfriar's Kirkyard




 


Thursday 24th
The breakfast remains depressing - all pre-packed and nothing fresh. But I was wondering if maybe it was covid thing. All in plastic so they can't be breathed on or touched. They only thing they got right was providing the gluten-free bread for a women in a group that sits near me, but not this morning as they'd run out. But I'm still going to complain in some format.
This morning I had a ticket booked for the National Gallery for 10.15 and then a trip up to Warriston Cemetery was planned. The National Gallery is undergoing rebuilding, and so has just one floor open. That the rooms go backwards in time from the 19th century back to the renaissance and gothic was a bit weird, but suited me as it thereby ended with the good stuff. Two out of three of the paintings I'd listed to check out because they'd been taken from churches on my sites were not on display, but lots of good stuff was, including a Vermeer, my favourite Gainsborough, several surprise Guercinos, and lovable works by Titian, Tiepolo, Tintoretto and even Hugo van der Goes. I'll just have to come back next year, when the work's due to be completed.
After buying the statutory catalogue, postcards and fridge magnet I took this booty back to the hotel and picked up my camera bag for the trek out to the Warriston Cemetery. I got some lunch on the way, a Greggs cheese salad baguette, and some time later was to be found stalking the perimeter of the damn place desperately searching for the entrance. Life can be so difficult sometimes. And when I finally got in there wasn't a single bench in the whole place. I found a log, and the cemetery to be a good garden-style one, overgrown and tumbledown, but I had a good sunny wander and snap. Following a signposted path back into the centre made for a much quicker walk back. I had planned to revisit Greyfriars Kirkyard this evening, but relentless showers set in, my first serious rain of the trip, so I dashed out for my last veggie burger and squelched back.
I'm currently reading a book called The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley , a time-jumping novel set at the ends of the 18th and 19th centuries, and reading it tonight the action sailed to Edinburgh. The castle features in precise detail and one of the characters spends time in the prison cells I strolled through on Tuesday. And later one the lighthouse-building Stevensons I mentioned on Monday with regard to the Calton New Burial Ground turns up as a central character. Spooky!

Friday 25th
Breakfast desperation this morning saw me trying All Bran. Not bad, if a bit too Wheatabixy to love. There was also another type of honey this morning - still in plastic pots (foldy, breaky, squeezy ones) but much nicer.
I figured that I'd have a comfortable hour before heading for my train, to visit St Giles’ Cathedral, which opens at 10 (and closes at an unuseful 2, with no afternoon or evening opening). I also had time to visit the nice big bookshop I spotted yesterday on my way through the New Town to Warriston and find out that the only book in print devoted to Edinburgh's churches now isn't. St Giles Cathedral is chunky and dark inside, medieval in the middle and a feast of Victorian, and later, stained glass.
Checking out was quick, as I'd already paid, but involved a lengthy discussion of the joy of, and need for, siestas, as I'd mentioned them in the miscellaneous needs section of my booking. Train boarding was smooth and, as the catering woman on my journey up had informed me that a cheese baguette was coming onto the menu, I went to get myself one for lunch. It was, in fact, a Yorkshire Cheddar and Branston Pickle Tiger Tin and while it was getting bagged up with a bag of salt and vinegar crisps and a bottle of orange juice I noticed that the fruit cake that said woman had told me was disappearing from LNER trains for eternity that day was still available. I never cease to be amazed by people's capacity for cruelty.




Newington Cemetery


Warriston Cemetery



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