SCOTLAND: 48 Hours in EdinburghFriday night in Edinburgh is an eye opener for an Aucklander who thinks we have great nightlife in the City of Sails. Americans, French, Polish, Italians, Spanish, Germans, Dutch and even groups of Irish seemed to outnumber the Scots as accents in every bar attested to.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2010
It was a brisk sort of half-moon night that in places left dancing shadows on the wet, worn down cobblestones. It was the sort of night to keep away from the beguiling maze of narrow alleyways, steep dim-lit back streets in the shady parts of old town. Yet here I was wandering just such places with 24 other people on a Witchery Murder and Mystery tour! It was an auspicious start to my weekend in Edinburgh.
For a city of this size the old and new part of the town centre is quite compact and easy to get around on foot, or if you prefer, three-wheeled pedicabs that seem to be cycled just about everywhere. I was told it is a living city and not a museum and one that is easy to embrace, a place worthy of exploration.
Friday night in Edinburgh is an eye opener for an Aucklander who thinks we have great nightlife in the City of Sails. Americans, French, Polish, Italians, Spanish, Germans, Dutch and even groups of Irish seemed to outnumber the Scots as accents in every bar attested to. This is a city blessed with a huge diverse assortment of drinking establishments; bars that offer 200 malt whiskeys and twenty bottled beers are not uncommon.
The night time mystery tour had given me a short history and geographic lesson which had set me up perfectly for a free Saturday to explore on my own, as it had passed through some of the best parts of old town where drinkers including hen and stag night partiers mixed with university revellers in full swing and middle-aged people on holiday, enjoying both music and nightlife.
The Royal Mile that leads out of the main gates of Edinburgh Castle is cobblestoned and a good example of what could be done with Auckland’s Queen Street if any new super city council had guts enough to do it. Tourists thronged the pavements, bagpipe buskers worked the crowds, foreign tour guides corralled visitors explaining their knowledge of the city. Suddenly I realised city had character. Edinburgh is also a city that is re-introducing trams – sound familiar?
The next day I gave Edinburgh Castle a miss having done it 30 years ago – but it’s still the number one tourist attraction on most peoples’ hit list. If there is a complaint, it’s the sheer number of people that visit the place. However the views from the ramparts on a clear day are amazing. This is a great castle to spend half a day in if you have the time. There is a history lesson at every turn, not just about the castle but about Edinburgh as well as all the Scottish Crown jewels that are kept there.
I had other things on my mind wandering into the Saturday farmers market in Castle Terrace, under the imposing backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. This is a great place to order fresh bagels or croissants, or French baguettes filled with pork sliced off a whole pig, water buffalo or wild boar. For desserts try some sweet strawberries or a European-styled rich coffee. There are over 60 specialist producers with the majority of stallholders primary producers, growing what they sell. Other guest producers sell specialities including organic beer, liqueurs, bread, chocolates and chutneys. This is the way knowing Edinburghians start their weekend!
Another great place to visit is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Founded as a monastery in 1128, the palace is the Queen's official residence in Scotland. Situated at the end of the Royal Mile, it is closely associated with Scotland's turbulent past, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived here between 1561 and 1567. Successive kings and queens have made the Palace of Holyroodhouse the premier royal residence in Scotland. A day before I arrived here, the Pope had stayed there overnight on his first-ever brief visit to the city.
Don’t miss visiting the Old Town for its fascinating history, architecture and tightly packed buildings which now house an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and bars. Next wander through the Grassmarket section, once a medieval market place and site for public executions. The area is now known for eating and drinking with a range of independent shops all in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
Out at the port of Leith (Edinburgh’s historic port) is another trendy place for eating, drinking and shopping. The Shore at Leith offers a lively area with cool bars, a variety of restaurants and traditional pubs which date as far back as the port itself. It is also home to The Royal Yacht Britannica one of Scotland’s best attractions. The tour includes a visitor centre experience and then a self-led audio tour which takes you around five decks explaining what life was like for the Royal Family, officers and yachtsmen.
That night as I was making my way into the city, I chatted to a young Scotsman dressed in fully kilted outfit and asked him if it was a bit chilly on what was a windy, cold evening. “Nah it gives me a pleasant draft and keeps me from overheating,” was his reply as he gave me a wee wink.
My next sojourn was a literary pub crawl. A chance to wet my whistle on a Saturday night started at 7.30pm with Allan Foster, a well known author himself having penned, The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh and 'The Literary Traveller In Scotland'. Allan offers guided walking tours around Edinburgh’s literary and traditional music pubs via the sites and haunts of a host of literary heavyweights including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stephenson, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, JM Barrie and many others. Included in the tour is a visit to the Royal Oak, a closet-sized pub where Ian Rankin set his fictional character Inspector Rebus, a place the author still drinks in so we were told.
After 48 hours re-acquainting myself with this historic city, I felt I could have easily stayed for a few more days. Edinburgh is a remarkably vibrant city with an overabundance of historical, cultural and tourist attractions to keep any family amused and happy. Walking home after a social history lesson on the Witchery Murder and Mystery Tour, the magical spell of Edinburgh was everywhere to behold.
Remember to buy the Great British Heritage Pass before you leave home as it is available through www.visitbritainshop.com/newzealand. With the Great British Heritage Pass you can visit them all – just buy an affordable one-off pass for either, 4, 7, 15 or 30 days and you will be granted entry to over 580 UK heritage properties. This is the turn-key to unlocking Britain’s best kept secrets.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Lost World Literary Pub Crawl
The Witchery Murder & Mystery Tour
The Bow Bar
Famers Market Saturday 9am to 2pm, Castle Terrace, Edinburgh
The Point Hotel
The Royal Yacht Britannia
Shane Boocock would like to thank Visit Britain, www.visitbritain and Visit Scotland, www.visitscotland.com for the ground arrangements and Etihad Airways for their wonderful Pearl Business Class flat bed service from Sydney to Manchester via Abu Dhabi. Go to: www.etihadairways.com
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