We reached Edinburgh just after noon for the last leg of our holiday, after spending a week in London and a few days in Lake District, England. Over the first evening, the Scottish capital revealed why it is different.
The Vertical Scale:
Just the fifteen minute walk to our hotel (which should have been only five minutes) was a preview: We followed the map precisely, we reached our destination Cowgate street, but… it is below us!
Edinburgh is a city built, or rather evolved, over multiple levels, and their maps do take this into account, showing a different colour for streets at various levels (not all maps, certainly not Google’s which we had). And it is not uncommon to find alleys reached by climbing 20 steps up or down either side of the same street.
It could not have been otherwise for two reasons: 1. The city has been there for thousand years or so and 2. People in Edinburgh never brought down their old houses / shops when building new ones, or they seldom built new ones. The famous Princes Gardens is at so many levels, we soon started believing that every garden in the city is part of Princes Gardens!
Which brings us to the Time Scale:
Edinburgh basically has two parts – the Old Town and the New Town. The difference? New Town is all that was built after 1765! Yes you read it right! This is how the city measures time. The New Town was built between 1765 and 1850. So what was built after 1850? We could not find many ‘proper’ buildings like we see in cities, may be the Holiday Inn hotel where we stayed, probably the reason why it was not that pricey! And if you are not convinced that Edinburgh still lives in the eighteenth century, there is a daily one o’clock gunshot fired from the Castle, that triggers the dropping of a white ball on top of a tall monument (most of their buildings are monuments, anyway) on the hill opposite, to serve as a signal for ships to sync their clocks. After all, those days, without precise time measurement, there was no distance measurement or navigation. And there is the Balmoral hotel, whose clock is always 2 minutes fast, to save passengers from missing their train (or stage coach?!) The clock is set to correct time for the New Year Eve, and then wound forward as soon as the year has begun.
The Distance Scale
The most famous part of Edinburgh, the one which you would not miss if you had just half a day in Edinburgh, is the Royal Mile. True to its name, it is almost precisely one mile long, the stretch of streets from the Castle to the Holyrood Hill. When we were preparing for the trip, we had read all about this. But surprise! The rest of Edinburgh is only a mile around the Royal Mile! We realized this, when we went up the Castle and saw very little on 270 degrees around, except towards the east and the north. And this was confirmed when we travelled to the airport (by tram!) and on the journey lasting 35 minutes and some 10 stations, after the third station it was all fields and sheep. My initial happiness at finding a bargain price for a hotel on the Royal Mile dissipated! The whole city is on the Royal Mile!
What is there to see or do in Ed-din-brah (as our guide on the Loch Ness tour calls it)?
For me at least, this was the highlight of the entire Britain trip. It is huge and ancient, and had so much to see inside, such as the royal rooms, great hall, prisons, battery of guns,… The meeting with Her Grace Mary, Queen of the Scots, was thrilling (The queen lived in the sixteenth century and was the most beloved Scottish character next to William ‘braveheart’ Wallace. The role was enacted by a superb actress taking many of us by surprise. She taught us the correct way of addressing a queen and also taught some dance steps.
The Scott Monument.
Waverly train station. The only station in the world named after a novel. Scots are at least as romantic as the Irish, if not worse! The station (no, actually the novel; the station is only 169 years old 😉 recently celebrated its 200th anniversary and is now decked up with quotes from Waverly novels – these are by Sir Walter Scott, please Google him – a sample:
“In literature, as in love, courage is half the battle”
“Scarce one person out of twenty marries his first love, and scarce one out of twenty of the remainder has cause to rejoice at having done so”
The National Museum of Scotland. Beautifully presented and not as imoosing as the British one in London.
Holyrood Hill, and the various monuments and strange structures there.
St Giles Cathedral, not big enough to merit the name but beautiful nevertheless.
Princes Gardens. Superbly manicured lush grass and flowers.
The Scott Monument. Imposing structure near Princes Gardens.
PS: we asked the hotel staff for a weighing scale for our bags, they charge £1 per bag 😉