Tuesday, May 19, 2009


We arrived in Edinburgh on Thursday afternoon, settled into our bed and breakfast, 23 Mayfield, which was one of the two nicest we have stayed in while in the UK. Our host Ross not only offered me use of his weight training room (I had not worked out in almost two weeks), but suggested The New Bell where we had the first of several excellent meals, for me a woodpigeon starter, followed by some of the best venison I’ve had since Quebec in 2004. Later that evening, I managed to connect with penfriend Azad Sadollah who graciously offered to tour us through the city on Saturday.

After a good night’s sleep first thing Friday we jumped onto a hop-on hop-off tour through the central city. Our host suggested the green buses, as they had live narration. The only drawback here is when, as happened to us in Oxford, you get an underprepared narrator. The guide for Edinburgh was just fine and gave us a nice overview of the central old and new cities. After touring and identifying points of interest, we departed the tour and spent most of the rest of the day exploring the Royal Mile. One of the tips we picked up on the bus tour is to explore the closes or wynds, those little alleyways off the main streets.

Up ay the top of the street, near the castle, the street was very touristy, lined with souvenir shops offering merchandise of dubious quality and cashmeres and woolens (some of them Scottish) of varying quality. On the second day of our visit to Cumbria with Jim and Jane Marshall, Jane took us to the Woolen Mill, a women’s cooperative that sold both exquisite yarns and finished products. There, among other things Sharon bought a hand knit sweater, but they had none in my size. Having left our heavy woolens in London under the mistaken assumption that spring meant warmer temperatures, Sharon let herself be talked into the purchase. I was jealous. Cold weather in St. Andrews led me to purchase a Johnston’s lambswool jumper, not a hand knit, but it kept me warm, but, thinking Friday would be warm (stupid or what?) I left it home. After some searching we found a shop offering cashmere Pringles’ seconds at attractive prices. Each of us scored.

But shopping was not the main focus, just down from the castle was Gladstone’s Land, a Scottish Trust property. Our National Trust tickets got us into a museum that depicted the growth of one of Europe’s most densely populated cities in the 16th and 17th centuries, during which time tenements built of stone and timber and supported by the hillsides, rose to as many as 12 stories. Home to both the wealthy and the poor and built cheek-by-jowl, the conditions, even for the well-to-do who occupied the middle stories, must have been appalling.

We wandered on, had a lovely Italian lunch, spaghetti carbonara for me and for Sharon a fruitti di mare calzone the size of Edinburgh, and made our way down the Royal Mile toward the Holy Rood. On the way we stopped at another museum (if I am powerless over ruins, Sharon is powerless over museums), one dealing with Edinburgh life. Between that and the Land, we got a nice vignette of the life of the city in the past and more recently.

Then came Canongate crafts. As we passed the shop, my comment was that this was the place we should have gone to start with. It was a bright blue storefront run by a woman who both knit and commissioned and sold knits and yarns from friends. After chatting with the owner, who had been there for twenty five years, and trying on several possible purchases I found the perfect hand knit and Sharon managed to get our last family gift, a necklace for our niece.

A combined bus ride and walk got us back to our B&B despite a pretty heavy downpour which left all our outer clothing pretty drenched. Still, a good day, but with more to come.

Saturday dawned with better looking weather than anticipated. So around 10:00 we left to go downtown to meet Azad. We were early and so walked over the South Bridge across to Princes Street and the Scott Monument and then met up with him for a seven hour stroll across the side streets, by-ways and museums of the city, finishing with a walk along the Leith River and past Deans Mill. On the way we stopped back at Azad’s flat for tea and some pen show-and-tell. Azad’s collection is quite formidable for both quality and breadth, and a curious little Pelikan, built like a post World War II Ibis but marked Pelikan Junior, came into my hands. Dinner was at the Red Fort and unfortunately by then it was past 9:00 and Sharon had faded, so we had to pass on an evening of Iraqi music. It was a lovely day and a short cab ride brought us back to our B&B.

Our first view of the old city and the south bridge.

The approach to the castle at the head of the Royal MileHere, tucked between two of the typical (and often hideous) tourist shops along the mile, was one of the most fascinating house museums we have seen, the Gladstone Land. Sadly we could not photograph inside.Scenes along the mile
Like most cities, to fully appreciate Edinburgh you must look up.

Canongate Crafts, the cooperative where I got my very own hand knit sweater. Apart from the desire for a hand knit, it was most a most comfy find in the rather challenging weather Edinburgh had on offer that weekend.
Part of the joy of the mile were the closes, or wynds, that led off the street
Nineteenth and early twentieth century working men's banners fighting for the vote and other basic rights on display in the museum at Canonsgate that presented life and work in Edinburgh
Couldn't resist shooting these advertising plaques

Sheltering from the blustery weather.
The city's most prominent monument, to Walter Scott.

David Livingstone, (think H.M. Stanley and "Livingstone, I presume") who the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson regards as "the Victorian Superman," a leader in the effort to bring morality to the British Empire and Christinity to Africa.
After a bit of a wander and a gaze at Scott and Livingstone, we met up with Azad for a wonderful walking tour that would take us to places we'd not otherwise have seen.

Azad and me at the entry gate of Edinburgh University, where he studied Law and then did articles in private practice to become a solicitor (Americans, think lawyer).
At the museum of Scottish technology.
We had to visit Greyfriars, of course,
the cemetery also offers some grand views of the city above

A particularly gruesome memento mori

The foot of the Royal Mile.

Monument in the park below the castle.
A crescent very different from those we were used to in Bath.
The Presbyterian hand
The side wall of one of the mills in the Dean's Mill area, Leithside. This is now an area of gentrified housing. From here we took a lovely walk along the river back toward the main city.

Until recently a school for disabled youth, this impressive building now houses Edinburgh's modern art museum. Sadly we spent too much time walking and on pens to see the collection.
From here, a short walk took us back to the city, to dinner at The Red Fort where we had a fine Indian meal. By this time, Sharon and I, tired from a day of sightseeing, took a cab back to our B&B and Azad went on to a concert. Thanks, Azad, for taking the time and being a fine host in your city.

Sunday morning, we headed south.

1 comment:

Gilly said...

Don't you just love seeing those spring leaves on the oaks? Such a vivid, spectacular green.