350: Edinburgh

OS Explorer map 350, Edinburgh: Musselburgh & Queensferry – I own this map, and had visited it before starting this blog. Visited again for this post 28th May 2019.

Like my previous post, I visited this map area as part of the Chase Game, when Climbing Programmer and I, over three days, played a game whereby I had a GPS tracker on me, to which he had access. We had an equal budget to spend on transport, I had a 4-hour headstart, and he had to catch me, while I tried to avoid being caught!

A photo I took on this trip as I was admiring one of the Edinburgh Trams go past! Despite my enthusiasm for public transport, I’ve never been on a tram in the UK, and I’d really like to.

Now, I did a full writeup of this game in the one-off post Special: Chase Game 2019, so like the previous post, the main section of this post is just a lightly edited version of the (very short) section of the longer writeup that relates to this map area. I’d therefore highly recommend that, for entertainment value, you’re probably much better off reading the full post. However, unlike the previous post, I have been to this map area before, so there is new content in the Previous Visits section!

Passing through (Sunday morning)

I arrived in Edinburgh early on the second day of the Chase Game, having taken an overnight coach from Birmingham, which was not the most glorious night of my life. The bus stopped every hour or two – at Birmingham Airport, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle as well as a couple of service stations – at which point the lights would come on, speakers blare, and people would get on and off. I was lucky enough to have a double seat to myself for most of the trip, but from Newcastle onwards the bus was full, so my luck expired. Nevertheless I arrived in Edinburgh on time at 0805, in one piece if a little sleep-deprived. I have clearly become a little less resilient in my old age than when I used to sit through 23-hour coach journeys to Italy on school trips perfectly happily… [1]

Me posing as the bus I had just got off passed by!

This was rather a flying visit, as I proceeded straight from the bus station to Waverley rail station, where I waited for a while, paying £5 for the use of a shower room and buying some breakfast and lunch, before getting a ticket for the 09:20 train that I subsequently got on, straight to Inverness.

Having some milk at breakfast time on my train out of Edinburgh!

In fact, since I only transferred between two public transport stations, this doesn’t count for visiting this map area at all according to The Rules. I did, however, visit Edinburgh “properly” on this trip away from home, namely on my way home again the next evening.

The way back (Monday night and Tuesday morning)

It was about a day and sixteen hours later that I arrived back in Edinburgh, with Climbing Programmer in tow. As you can read about in the main Chase Game post, I’d travelled from Inverness on up to the Crask Inn north of Lairg, where I’d stayed the night before walking off eastwards into the wilderness. Climbing Programmer caught up with me a little after midday, and we spent the rest of the day gradually travelling back down to Edinburgh.

It was slightly after midnight when we finally arrived, and walked straight to the hostel that we’d booked up in the Old Town to get a little sleep. Climbing Programmer left very early the next morning, in order to be able to get back to Oxford for some afternoon social event, but I had a slightly more leisurely morning – I walked down to the New Town to get some breakfast and a phone charger (mine having broken the day before) before getting on a train back to England at around 10.

An, uh, picturesque alleyway in Edinburgh that I photographed the next morning

Again, not a particularly exciting visit for me to write about, despite the fact that this one counts for visiting this map – especially since Edinburgh is one of my very favourite cities! Fortunately, I’ve been to Edinburgh plenty of times before, so I have no lack of occasions to write about below!

Previous Visits

I think that the first time I visited Edinburgh was was in December 2012, at the end of my first ever term at university, on a trip I made to visit my school friend Geochunderer in Aberdeen, where he had moved for university. It was a single-day visit – I got the sleeper train up from London, for some reason getting the Edinburgh sleeper and changing for an Aberdeen train in the morning, rather than using the direct Aberdeen sleeper. [2] I turned up in Aberdeen in the late morning and the two of us had a great day – it snowed while I was there and we walked along the snowy beach, which was a fun experience.

Geochunderer on a snowy beach in Aberdeen

On the way back that evening, though, I made a somewhat longer stop in Edinburgh, for about two hours, having arranged to meet someone. This someone was Whovian Physicist, a friend whom I’d met in person just once previously, around a year earlier, at university interviews in Oxford. In Oxford’s system, interviewees are invited up to the College to stay for a few days – unlike in Cambridge, where your interviews are all during one day and most don’t stay the night. The two of us were both interviewing for physics, and managed to bond sufficiently in those few days (partly over physics, but I think mainly over a shared love of Doctor Who) that we’d stayed in touch by message ever since, which was very nice.

Whovian Physicist was now at university in Edinburgh, so when I knew I’d have some time there on the Aberdeen trip, we agreed to meet. In the end we didn’t go anywhere, and instead just had a very nice time sitting in the station chatting for a couple of hours before I got on the sleeper back home! As I write, I hadn’t spoken to Whovian Physicist in about four years, but putting this post together caused me to get in touch (as I had to ask what they wanted their nickname to be), and I found out they’re now in Cambridge – a nice side effect of blogging!

Looking across Edinburgh to the Scott Monument on the right, Edinburgh Castle and a bit of the Old Town on the left, on my summer 2013 trip

It’s debatable whether that trip would count as a proper map visit under my rules, since I didn’t leave the railway station, but did do something that was specifically to do with Edinburgh; however my next visit is less controversial. This was when on the summer 2013 trip I did, driving around Scotland with my parents, and with my cousin who was visiting us from Malaysia. After visiting the Lake District, Fort William, Lewis and the Uists, Edinburgh was our final stop.

We arrived in Edinburgh in the evening, having driven over from Skye where the Uist ferry had dropped us at around lunchtime. The day of travelling was followed by a reasonably eventful evening as we checked into our hotel, went to dinner with a different cousin who was a student in Edinburgh at the time, [3] and ended up sitting in the hotel bar afterwards. We had great amusement there when the cousin in question, intending to introuce Father Dearest to the delights of her student lifestyle, managed to offend the waiters by trying to order a “jäger bomb”, to which the response was “we don’t do shots here” (and a disapproving face).

A view of some of Edinburgh’s Old Town, I think taken from up the Scott Monument, with bits of Waverley station at the front, and the hill Arthur’s Seat in the background

The next day, we spent the day generally wandering about the city and exploring, before heading home to England in the late afternoon. I really like Edinburgh; it’s a really interesting and pretty city. I love how three-dimensional the Old Town is, being sat on a big rocky crag – there are weird stairways everywhere, streets that go over other streets, buildings whose ground floor looks out onto one street while the fourth floor looks out onto another. I also enjoy how the city is basically built around a park and a railway in Princes Street Gardens and Waverley station. As a quick Wikipedia-browse tells me, this is the result of the historical accident that the Old Town sat beside a low-lying loch (itself previously a marshy area) – when the time came for the loch to be drained and the New Town to be built on what was its northern banks, there was a nice wide empty area that could be used as gardens (even though they weren’t open to the public for a long while), also forming an obvious corridor to use when the railways came. How nice!

I came back to Edinburgh a year later 2014 road trip around Scotland with my school friends Climbing Programmer, Cabbage and Joystick. This was a much less rushed trip than the 2013 one, with us having two weeks rather than 5 days – and a good thing too, since we were camping, and I’m glad we had the time to stay several days at each campsite rather than have to pitch up and down every day!

For the first two nights of our trip, we stayed at a campsite in Peebles, around 20 miles south of Edinburgh, but drove into Edinburgh on the full day that we were there to enjoy the sights, spending the walking around the city and exploring the National Museum of Scotland, before watching some short comedy shows in the afternoon, that were part of the Edinburgh Festival, which was on at the time. I don’t particularly remember the details of the shows, but we had a good time – one of the things I do remember is a comedian who did the first half of his stand-up routine in a Scottish accent, before starting a coughing fit, then switching to an English accent after that.

The National Museum of Scotland is great; it justs has really impressive selections, and also in a wide variety of areas, such that you’d have to go to three or four different museums in London to see. On this occasion we stuck mainly to the natural history sections, but on my next trip to Edinburgh, in the company of my friends Millicent and Vesper in summer 2016, we had a good dig through the medieval and Scottish history bits. Along with the British Museum and Lews Castle Museum in Stornoway, the National Museum of Scotland is one of three places to have some of the Lewis chessmen, which are permanently cool and it’s quite fun to have seen in all three places; and there’s just generally loads of great historical stuff – I particularly remember some medieval carved gravestones that were similar to what I later saw in Argyll, and a medieval textile hood in astonishingly good condition, having been recovered from a bog.

The National Museum of Scotland’s selection of the Lewis chessmen

This summer 2016 trip was of course the Holy Island Trek, which regular blog readers are probably familiar with by now – this was when Millicent, Vesper and I, initially accompanied by Erithacus and Queenie, attempted to walk across Scotland, camping and carrying our lives on our backs, from Lindisfarne to Iona, in five weeks or so. In the end though, this exact plan didn’t last too long. At the end of the rest day that we took after our first two days of walking from Lindisfarne to Kirk Yetholm along St Cuthbert’s Way, when Erithacus and Queenie would soon be returning home, the remaining three of us changed our plans: I’d go back to Berwick-upon-Tweed to collect my car from where I’d left it, and we’d do the rest of the trip as a series of day walks along and around bits of our planned route that seemed particularly interesting, this having the significant benefit that we didn’t have to carry giant rucksacks for a hundred miles.

It was as a result of this decision that we came to Edinburgh the next day. The campsite where we were staying in Jedburgh was booked up the next two nights, but we wanted to remain in the area for another couple of days in order to walk the rest of St Cuthbert’s Way, and so had a bit of a problem. Now that we’d soon have the car though, Millicent came up with a solution: he secured us permission to stay in his grandmother’s flat in Edinburgh for a couple of nights (she at the time being in a nursing home for a while).

A Pictish Stone in the National Museum of Scotland

We therefore arrived in Edinburgh after a busy day: after all five of us visited Jedburgh Abbey, I’d bussed back to Berwick with Queenie and Erithacus, those two to get on the train homewards, and I to collect the car. I then returned to Jedburgh to collect Vesper and Millicent before driving us all up to Edinburgh. As the Annal, our collaborative diary for the trip records, we were very tired, and grateful after three nights of camping for the amenities walls and a roof could provide:

Made it to Granny’s flat and collapsed on to sofas. Put washing on, went down to Tesco at Holy Corner to buy supper, had a well-deserved cup of tea, then had supper of pizza and garlic bread and a dessert of cheesecake and raspberries.

We stayed in Edinburgh for two nights, taking a full day in the city to have a rest before we continued on our walk. On that day, we had a leisurely start before epxloring the National Museum of Scotland together, then:

After parting ways – [Millicent] in order to visit his grandmother, Amrit and [Vesper in pursuit of food] – Amrit and [Vesper] made a detour into an impressive maze of a second-hand bookshop, home to delights such as a Star Trek section located between Politics and Medicine.

It really was a fun bookshop! I also made use of the amenities of a city to restock on gas bottles for our little camp stove, before we departed the next morning to carry on with our walk.

As I said above, Edinburgh really is one of my favourite cities. Despite that, though, I’ve barely explored it – I’d love to take a walk up Arthur’s Seat, for example, and ride the trams. my friend Climbing Programmer has recently moved to Leith, to the north of central Edinburgh, so I’ll have to accept his hospitality some time for a visit!

[1] I always really liked the long coach journeys on school trips, just in that it was always nice being together with friends for a long time; people would start singing and falling asleep in odd places scattered around the coach and well, yes, I liked it, though few enough others did. A National Express coach, by comparison, had none of these charms, and I’m not sure I’d want to sleep in a footwell next to the feet of a stranger…

[2] Now, this was before the Caledonian Sleeper fleet was replaced in 2016–18. The older sleeper had three classes of accommodation, namely seated, standard 2-berth cabins, and fancy 1st-class single cabins – the new ones have the same, except that the first-class cabins have their own toilet/tiny shower, and there are even fancier double-bed rooms. Now, while the new trains are lovely (I’ve been on them once), they predictably were used as an excuse for a price hike, of around 20%. However, this price hike actually disguised a much more serious increase for solo travellers: on the old sleepers, you could book just one of the two bunks in a standard cabin, and you’d end up sharing with a same-gendered stranger. However, with the new trains, that option was got rid of, meaning that single travellers now have to either go first class, book both berths in a standard cabin, or go seated – which means that the cheapest bed for a solo traveller more than doubled in price. Grrr.

On this trip, I shared a cabin at least in the up direction (I don’t recall about the down), which was a notable experience because I was in with a man whose daughter was interviewing at Oxford in the next couple of weeks, and upon learning that I was in my first year there, proceeded to quiz me about it (and for interview advice), for a long while when I really wanted to be getting to sleep! (And the daughter in question was applying for French, which I’m not sure I had all that much useful knowledge for anyway.) The other notable fact about the trip was that, changing in my bunk, I left the bottoms of one of my favourite pairs of pyjamas at the time in the bed. Oops.

(Since around age 10, “granddad pyjamas”, i.e. stripey or checked sets with a matching shirt and trousers have been my go-to sleepwear – I just really like them. I also feel incomplete and oddly naked wearing pyjamas without a dressing gown, so I often end up taking my dressing gown everywhere with me too, which I’ve known others to find a little silly from time to time!)

[3] Well, neither of these are first cousins, and one arguably not a cousin at all. The cousin visiting from Malaysia is, I think, my third cousin (his grandfather and mine being first cousins), but the one at university in Edinburgh is the sister of the wife of one of my first cousins. Now, given that I have sixteen first cousins, I must have well over a hundred third cousins – naturally I’ve met barely any of these. I wonder to what extent it makes sense to think of my relationship to people like the cousins on this trip as family: on the one hand, they are related to me, and I know them because of that relationship. But on the other, it’s distant enough that most people I’m related to in that way, I’ve never met at all, so I only know them because my parents happened to keep in touch with these parts of their families in particular – which could be said just as well for something like a parent’s old school friend.

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