Later this year, Scotswomen and men will be queuing up at polling stations to have their say about what’s probably the most important decision they’ll collectively make in their life time. Given the historic importance of such an event I decided to do something absolutely meaningless for the future of the country, i.e. gathering my memories around what lies north of the Hadrian’s wall in a couple of dispatches. Here’s the second.
I returned to Edinburgh a few months after that bitter winter weekend, on a bright August bank holiday weekend, and I enjoyed the city so much that I decided that, from now on, I will warmly recommend anyone visiting these windswept and hilly lands to stop and pay a visit to the Lothian before anywhere else.
This post is therefore dedicated to explaining why I think so and I hope you’ll appreciate that I haven’t gone down the “10 Reasons to visit…” route which seems to be so popular with travel bloggers these days. So, where to start?
It’s remarkably photogenic. I like photography, even though I suspect that, should he ever see me at it, Don McCullin would gouge his eyes out in horror. However, there’s no denying that I had more ideas for photos in three days in Edinburgh than in six months in London. It’s simply a more interesting a city, at least to my eyes.
People are actually talking to each other. The small-town feel might help, but the locals really are friendly, and not only those interested in parting you of your money (such as barmen and shop assistants). From random conversations with ladies in front of whose houses we had stopped to casual chit-chatting with people at the bus stop, it’s hard not to talk with the Edinburghians. Top tip: ask anyone of their opinion of the light rail system being built downtown; you’ll have enough material to talk for hours. If you can understand them, obviously.
It has character by the bucketful. One of my most recurring rants about London is that it feels like Anywhere, Corporateville. Edinburgh, despite efforts by Starbucks, McDonald’s, Costa and Rags Sellers United (H&M, Zara, etc) still really feels like a Scottish city, proud of its heritage. It’s a city made of beautiful, strong and well kept stone buildings, where churches and graveyards haven’t been yet turned into condos or training grounds for the rich and the posh.
You’re in good – and smart – company. Edinburgh has either hosted or gave birth to a staggering number of people who rose to fame not for being good looking or rich, but for being rather good at using their brains. Robert Louis Stevenson, John Napier, James Clerk Maxwell, Daniel Rutherford, Adam Smith, Irvine Welsh and the two guys forming Boards of Canada are all either from here or lived in town, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even Dolly the sheep is on display at the Museum of Science: little wonder that I seem to be feeling more intelligent when I’m there.
It’s incredibly lively. For a city of its size Edinburgh has really a lot to offer in terms of hanging out. It hosts one of Europe’s best arts festival, the Edinburgh Art Festival, and concerts happen pretty much regularly. It’s also Scotland’s version of LA or New York so all the local bands will sooner or later end up there en route to global success and, eventually, a contract with Virgin that’ll ruin them.
You are a few steps away from stunning nature. During my visit I had the distinct feeling of being in some Lord of the Ring film set: so neat were the mountains around us, so wild the moorlands that I was half expecting Hobbits and Orcs to pop out any minute. Edinburgh, seen from high up on Arthur’s Seat, looks like a remote outpost in an otherwise wild, untamed landacape which is only a few minutes’ away. Compared with London, where two hours of driving will land you in the Cotswolds, it’s a feeling that left me inebriated with freedom.
There’s great food. Come think of it, much of the premium products on display on the shelves of Britain’s shops – Angus beef, lamb, salmon, berries, cream, whisky – come indeed from the wilds of Scotland. And where else to taste these delicacies than in Edinburgh? Admittedly I’m not a big fan of red meat, so I wouldn’t have a clue on where to find good steaks, but I tried the fresh fruit at the Saturday’s Farmers Market taking place under the Castle and I found them delicious, plus I earned street creed for eating the berries unwashed as “I didn’t have time for washing it when stealing it from the trees when I was a kid”. As for salmon and other things fishy we had good salmon around Leith and great haggis in a pub on Rose Street.
So, if you’ve decided to visit Old Blighty this year do the sensible thing and start from Edinburgh. And then move on to the rest of Scotland.