Archive for the ‘Edinburgh’ Category

Rabbies Tours bus

Actually, we’re already back. We went to Edinburgh on Sunday in late April for a first night, then joined the three-day, two-night Rabbies tour to Arran early the following morning. We finished the holiday off with another two nights in Edinburgh, returning home on Friday afternoon. Mostly the weather smiled on us (always a benefit in Scotland), the tour was great, and there’s always things to do in Edinburgh whatever the weather.

The tour was a three-day, two-night affair. Starting in Edinburgh early on Monday we drove over to Glasgow for another pickup then south to the Ayrshire coast. The target at the end of the day would be Brodick, the main ferry port on Arran, but we visited other places along the way.

Whitelee Wind Farm

First was the Whitelee Wind Farm…. an unusual attraction I’ll admit, but apparently it’s the second largest in Europe and has just over 250 turbines; it can generate a lot of electricity. Scotland is aiming to produce 100% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2022, and apparently they’re well on track to achieve that. (One of those small blobs at the bottom of the windmill is a person.)



Then we went to Culzean Castle, which is actually an 18th century stately home, where we spent several hours and had lunch; and finally we visited Alloway, the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. We saw the Auld Kirk of Alloway and the Brig o’Doon as well as the memorial gardens. Read Tam o’Shanter for more about the Kirk and the Brig. (Warning! it’s long, and in Scots…. but very evocative.)


After that we did the drive to Ardrossan where, at six o’clock, we boarded the CalMac ferry ‘Caledonian Isles’ for the 55 minute crossing to Brodick. We ate our evening meal on the ferry, as we had been advised that places to eat in Brodick might close pretty early in the evening.

Goat Fell, Arran, from our guest house window – first evening

We were booked into a guest house (Hunter’s) in Brodick which was delightful. We met the proprietor, Caroline, who was very friendly and chatty, and who showed us to our large, comfortable room at the front of the house overlooking Brodick Bay . The weather that first day was delightful – sunny with blue skies – but not that warm as there was a chill wind blowing. Still, the weather gave us excellent views of the Scottish landscape during the day, and the view from our room of the bay and Goat Fell, the highest mountain on Arran, was pretty special.


We went out for a drink later at the Douglas hotel, just over a quarter of a mile away, which we discovered a) served food and b) seemed to be still doing so at 8:30 or so. A quick look at the menu revealed things we would enjoy so we decided that would be our dinner location for the following evening. Then it was back to the guest house to bed, for a fairly early start the next day.

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Edinburgh – Calton Hill

Edin-Calton__MG_3251On my last morning I went up to Calton Hill and took the obligatory shots of the Old Town, the New Town, Arthur’s Seat and all the rest from this most extraordinary viewpoint. There’s not a lot to say, rally, except: enjoy the images. I enjoyed being there and taking them.

Later I did a bit of shopping. Here’s one last picture – the inside of the old part of Jenner’s department store. These days just a House of Fraser store, one of two along Princes Street. The answer to the old question “where’s the best place to go shopping in Edinburgh?” is still “Glasgow!”




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Edinburgh – Cramond

Causeway to Cramond island

Today I’ve been visiting Cramond. This is a well-known small village right at the western end of Edinburgh, on the coast of the Firth of Forth. I first remember it from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – one of her suitors (Gordon Lowther – the boring one) lived in Cramond, and sang in the choir in Cramond Kirk.

Cramond Kirkyard

Cramond Kirkyard

Apart from being a beautiful village with a historic Kirk, Cramond’s other well-known feature is that it has an occasional island. Cramond Island is joined to the mainland by a causeway which is passable for a couple of hours each side of low tide. At other times, the causeway is submerged and the island a genuine island. And of course sometimes people get stuck on it because they don’t leave enough time to get back acros the causeway before the tide rises and covers it. Following on from yesterday’s literary allusion, I’ll mention that just such an event features in “One Good Turn”, one of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels. (Not the best of them – that would be “When will there be good news?”, and of course that’s not as good as “A Life”. Or “A God in Ruins”; or even “Behind the scenes at the Museum”. Just saying.)

So I went out to Cramond island and it is indeed very pretty. There was also a strong wind coming in off the Firth so although it was sunny it was also quite cold. I walked out to the island, walked back, had some excellent lunch and then walked up the River Almond Walk – as far as I could, as it was actually closed due to land slippage.

Then back into the city, where after some drifting around I found myself in the Balmoral Bar sipping a Gin Martini. I’d like to report that it was great, but in fact it wasn’t – lots of gin, very little martini, and pretty tasteless. Should have stuck to single malt….

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Water of Leith near Dean Village

Leith Water is a small river than runs northwards from a range of hills to the south of Edinburgh and into the Firth of Forth at Leith, just to the north of Edinburgh city centre. You can walk along most of its length, and yesterday afternoon I walked the last section. This is three miles or so, from Dean Village to Leith harbour.

Dean village lies in a deep gorge to the west of central Edinburgh that the Water has cut. In the past I suppose it would have  been a completely separate settlement from Edinburgh, certainly until the New Town was built and extended. The heart of Dean Village is now a number of Victorian buildings for housing, but previously it was an industrial area – the Water drops quite steeply in this area, and a number of water mills were constructed.

After Dean Village it runs more placidly for another couple of miles or so until it reaches Leith, where it flows in the old Leith Docks. In the past this was one of Scotland’s major ports with quite a lot of berths and warehouses, but these days apart from a few quaysides on the Firth itself the harbour is not used. 

Leith or Amsterdam?

The old buildings have largely been replaced with new ones – there are new apartment blocks, and Leith is the site of the main offices of officials of the Scottish Government. You can imagine therefore that the area is now also home to a wide range of restaurants and bars, and indeed is very popular and, on a warm sunny afternoon, very attractive. This has only happened in the last 15 years or so – prior to the 1990s Leith was pretty much a no-go area (or so I gather – read Ian Rankin’s “Set in Darkness” for a good description of low life in the former Leith). Even when Val and I were last here in the early 00s it was still very raw – many new buildings had been erected but most were still empty, and it all looked pretty unfinished. Today, however, it seems lively and popular.

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Edinburgh! (again)

I’m back in Edinburgh. I was tempted by an offer from Premier Inn that I couldn’t refuse: it worked out at two nights, including continental breakfast, in a central Edinburgh Premier Inn for £104 in total, I think. Plus £50 for train fares (Advance 1st Class at that) and it was too god to miss.

The Premier Inn concerned is actually a new one – I don’t think it was open when I was last here in March. It’s just five minutes’ walk from the back of Waverley station, on East Market Street, and is very comfortable.

More later on what I’ve actually been doing.

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Edinburgh – last morning

So that was Edinburgh. On the last morning I just walked around, having once again spoken firmly to my blisters, and found one or two spots I have never visited before. I went all the way down Canongate to the Scottish Parliament – when I was living in Edinburgh it hadn’t yet been built. I’d followed all the stores about it (the costs, the delays, etc) with some interest and was looking forward to seeing it, but in practice it seems difficult to get a good impression of the building from the road. Also, security seems to be very tight – lots of fences around it, for example. I also had a peer through the gates of Holyroodhouse Palace, and that looked attractive. However I gather it’s not open to the public.

On the way back up into town I called in at the Museum of Edinburgh. This seems to be a bit of a mixture – displays of various articles and objects that had a link with Edinburgh, including glass, silverware and brewing! Actually, the brewing exhibits were the most interesting. Edinburgh was a great brewing town at one time, and it was interesting, and not a little scary, to see example of cans and bottles that I remember popping or opening years ago. For me the best exhibit was a display of the original plans for the proposed new Town by the architect, James Craig.

Then there was time for a final walk round the New Town. I had a coffee and a cake at Lowdown Coffee, George Street (they don’t seem to have a website) before calling into Jenners. That now seems to market itself much more as simply a House of Fraser store than I recall – in the past it was just Jenners, and gave the impression of being proudly independent (even if it wasn’t). Then onto a branch of Waterstones for this book about the New Town.

By this time it was getting late, so I bagged a taxi at the bottom of Hanover Street, went back to the hotel, picked up my bags, and continued in the taxi to Waverley. I was comfortably sat on the train and resting my blisters about 15 minutes before departure, reflecting on an excellent 48 hours and looking forward to being some First Class pampering from Virgin East Coast. They didn’t disappoint.

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The Kelpies

The Kelpies

Ever since reading about the Kelpies I’d wanted to visit them, and I was pleased when I realised that the Falkirk Wheel was just a few miles away. So yesterday’s trip was to Falkirk to see both of these attractions. They could be described as major engineering artefacts albeit with different functions – the Wheel’s is functional whereas the Kelpies’ is artistic and commemorative.

But on to practicalities. I travelled to Falkirk by train from Edinburgh Haymarket. (The same trains can be caught from Waverley.) It turns out there are two stations in Falkirk, High and Grahamston, and neither are especially convenient for onward travel to these attractions. Tickets from Edinburgh are to ‘Falkirk Stations’, i.e. whichever one you fancy, and it so happened that the first train that came along was to Falkirk High so that was where I went. A walk of a mile or so got me into Falkirk town where, annoyingly, there is no tourist information centre… But a friendly local directed me to the bus station where I quickly bus to the Wheel.

Here, unfortunately, more annoyances ensued. The visitor centre, cafe and toilets were all shut – it was a Tuesday in March so winter hours applied! Essentially, there are no facilities open at the Wheel on Mondays or Tuesdays during the winter. However the wheel was working and I was able to get a few pictures (quite a lot, actually) of the Wheel doing its thing. It’s certainly impressive, but as is often the way with big engineering installations – the Thames Barrier springs to mind – you quickly get used to the scale of the thing and it stops seeming quite so remarkable. Perhaps the fact that it “just works” is the best testament to the quality of the engineering.

Then I needed to get to the Kelpies at the Helix Park, and the easiest way to do this was to walk along the Forth and Clyde canal which links the two sites. The walk is about 3 1/2 miles or maybe a bit more, and it took me over an hour. When I did so the effort was rewarded. It’s difficult to overestimate how impressive the Kelpies are. More so than the Wheel, perhaps – there is a cognitive disconnect makes it all the more so – you never get used to it. After all, it’s a high-tech sculpture of a couple of horses’ heads – 100 feet high…… Every time you look at it the illogicality of it hits you, but so does the beauty of the thing.

Also – and after the walk I was ready for this – the visitor centre was open, with a cafė and toilets. No winter opening hours here! However, there was still one ‘winter hours’ factor to take account of – the dedicated bus from the Kelpies back into town wasn’t yet running – no service in winter. So I had to finish the visit with another walk of through Helix Park to Falkirk Stadium to the nearest regular bus stop, which was a mile’s walk I could have done without – blisters were rising by this time. After getting back to town I walked to Falkirk Grahamston station because it was the nearer of the two and happily discovered that a train to Edinburgh was due in just a few minutes.


So that was my day in Falkirk. I felt that the two attractions were wonderful, and Falkirk should promote them as hard as it can. But there seems to be a lack of joined-up thinking about doing so. There was no information about them at either of the stations, for example, and as I’ve already mentioned, no tourist information in Falkirk town centre (or none that I could see). And they have to make getting from one to the other easier than it is, all year round. I was able to do the walk but it was harder than I’d expected. For families or those who can’t walk the distance the only choices are cars, either their own or taxis. Although the Wheel feels more remote than the Kelpies (and is further out of town) there is a good regular bus service to it, whereas the Kelpies, which is closer to town and is part of a large park/leisure attraction, seems only to be served by the dedicated bus, and only in summer. Strange.

Yesterday evening I first rested up at the hotel and contemplated my blisters. Then I spoke sternly to myself, put my shoes on (ouch) and went out to eat and drink. I had a pleasant meal (onion rings to start, burger’n’fries for main – I needed comfort food) at The Huxley, and it all hit the spot. It was probably helped by the Edinburgh Fizz Special – Prosecco plus some Edinburgh gin liqueur, rhubarb in my case. Very dry and refreshing. A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon also helped. After the meal I walked to the Cafe Royal where I marvelled at the tiled murals and enjoyed a glass of Laphroig, and afterwards walked back to the hotel via the White Hart, where I confirmed that Lagavulin is slightly more to my taste than Laphroig (though both are excellent). Then to bed.

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A visit to Edinburgh

Edinburgh_Mar2016__MG_2693Time to crank up the Travel Blog after the winter layoff. This year’s trips start with 48 hours in Edinburgh.

I already know Edinburgh pretty well – I had the good fortune to spend 9 months working here in, I think, 2000 when I was a Lotus Notes contractor. Rather than stay in hotels I took a flat while I was here, very central, in Wardrop’s Court just off the Royal Mile, and I remember that period very fondly. But that was 15 years ago and since then I really haven’t visited very often, and generally only on quick business visits. This time I have 48 hours in the city.

The visit has been triggered by an “offers” email from Premier Inn, as a result of which I was able to bag a room + continental breakfasts for two nights for a total of £88. Bargain! I immediately blew some of my savings by buying first class tickets to Edinburgh, although they were Advance tickets with benefits and if you close your eyes you can argue that the value of the complimentary food and drink that you get in first class is about equal to the difference between the first class price and standard class.

Anyway I arrived at just after 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon and immediately made my way to the Premier Inn. It’s a Typical Premier Inn, since you ask, which means that it’s a several cuts above basic-grade hotels. Perfectly good value enter ally, even at regular price, let alone for £44 a night. It’s also reasonably central; for those of you who know Edinburgh, it’s on Lauriston Place.

So having checked in and dumped my bags, I was immediately off out into Edinburgh, where – I walked. Just walked, refamiliarising myself with the city centre (both Old and New Towns) and spotting the differences. The Tram is new, of course, although it seems to fit into the city pretty well. There’s lot of development around the old St. James’ shopping centre just to the west of Leith Street – it always was rather dowdy-looking despite having Edinburgh’s branch of John Lewis. The World’s End pub is still there, along Canongate, but the pub next door, The Waverley, seems to have closed. We went there a few times – it was such an odd pub.

So I wandered and took pictures in the extraordinary sunshine – bright sun and blue sky all day. At one point I was all the way near the castle and taking pictures of it from the New Town; an hour later I was on Calton Hill taking pictures (into the sun) of the city from the hill, and of the Douglas memorial ( one of Edinburgh’s most-photographed landmarks) with the city beyond.

Later I ate in Ecco Vino on Cockburn Street. Not bad Italian with good wine at a reasonable price – £20 for a starter (soup) and main course (cannelloni) and a glass of wine. Then I went on to one of my old haunts – The White Hart in the Grassmarket. This is allegedly Edinburgh’s oldest pub (it claims to be 500 years old). It certainly hadn’t changed much in the 15 years since I last visited – good beers, music, and lots of great whisky.

Tomorrow I’m going to visit Falkirk. I want to see Falkirk Wheel, and also look at The Kelpies.

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