Archive for the ‘Edinburgh Arts’ Category

I enjoyed this article from the Guardian in December, researched by Claire Lloyd. Have added the images to help inspire…

Get your bearings

The heart of Edinburgh is split between the Old Town and the (actually quite old) New Town, with Princes Street Gardens and the National Gallery taking up the space left between the two.

The Old Town is dominated by the Royal Mile, which runs from the castle down to the new Scottish parliament building and Holyrood Palace.

Sightseeing apart, much of the city’s real action goes on elsewhere – in the shops and bars of the New Town, in the city’s tightest constellation of Michelin-starred restaurants in Leith, Edinburgh’s regenerated docklands area, and in the chichi, but also rather studenty, “south side”. The main tourist information office is at 3 Princes Street (0845 2255 121)

Take a view

It doesn’t take long to clamber up Calton Hill, on the eastern edge of the city centre, and you’ll be rewarded with almost 360-degree views of the city, the sea, and across to Fife. It’s a great place to take in the lie of the land before you start exploring the rest of the city.

For an even better view, pay £3 to climb the 143 steps to the top of the Nelson Monument, built, of course, to commemorate Nelson’s victory, and death, at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It’s open from 10am to 3pm, daily except Sunday (and between April and September 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday, 1-6pm Monday; www.cac.org.uk).

Take a hike

The Water of Leith Walkway (0131 455 7367; www.waterofleith.org.uk) is much-loved among Edinburgh’s residents, but relatively few tourists find their way here. This 12-mile, wildlife-rich riverside path slips quietly around the western edge of the city centre. The prettiest section runs from Stockbridge, south through fairy dell-like Dean Village where, from the 12th to the 19th centuries, water mills ground grain for the area.

The stretch ends at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. This elegant collection (0131 624 6200; www.nationalgalleries.org) is well worth discovering; it opens 10am-4pm daily, admission free.

Lunch on the run

For healthy, tasty food in a cosy neighbourhood setting, look no further than Café Renroc, at 91 Montgomery Street (0131 556 0432; www.renroc.co.uk). A café and alternative-therapy centre during the day and a bistro in the evening, it’s actually more glamorous than it sounds, and the menu is very good value, with soups from £2.50 and sandwiches from £2.95.

Window shopping

These days, Princes Street has lost its crown as Edinburgh’s prime shopping street, with everything from Harvey Nichols to Space NK setting up shop on George Street and Multrees Walk. For quirkier bargain-hunting grounds and one-off boutiques, try Victoria Street, William Street and Broughton Street; at Concrete Wardrobe, 50a Broughton Street (0131 558 7130), you can find contemporary Scottish crafts and fashion. Alternatively, head straight to MoletaMunro, at 4 Jeffrey Street (0131 557 4800; www.moletamunro.com) for interior decorations and gifts.
Cultural afternoon

The must-see in Edinburgh in January is the display of Turner watercolours at the National Gallery, on The Mound (0131 624 6200; www.nationalgalleries.org). This extraordinary collection spans the artist’s career. It was bequeathed on the condition that the paintings would be shown only in January, when the daylight is weak. The gallery opens 10am-5pm daily, until 7pm Thursday; admission is free.

An aperitif

George Street is the place for serious bar-hopping, with an endless choice of stylish bars to stagger your way along. For something a little more “shabby chic”, head down the hill to Joseph Pearce’s, at 23 Elm Row (0131 556 4140).

This is the latest opening from the Swedish team behind the cult Edinburgh favourites Bar Boda, Sofi’s and Victoria’s. Decked out in “Swedish Granny” style (with upholstered armchairs, flickering candles and proper dining-room tables for bar food), this pub serves an unusually good range of drinks, as well as coffees and a small Swedish-influenced menu. Between 11am and 5pm, there’s also a children’s corner set up, complete with wooden toys.
Dining with the locals

The Kitchin, at 78 Commercial Quay in Leith (0131 555 1755; www.thekitchin.com) is the star of the show in Edinburgh. Housed in a converted warehouse, this Michelin-starred restaurant serves up local, seasonal produce and big flavours. Count on paying around £45 per head for dinner, without wine.

Also inventive but much less pricey is Roseleaf, a new Australian-owned café-pub just around the corner at 23-24 Sandport Place (0131 476 5268; www.roseleaf.co.uk). Freshly made burgers (£6.50) and pastas are dished out on pretty china plates. Fruit juices, leaf teas and homemade ginger beer are served alongside the stronger stuff. It’s also great for breakfasts.

Sunday morning: go to church

Greyfriars Kirk was the first to be built in Edinburgh after the Reformation; its minister organised the National Covenant in 1638, sparking violent conflict.

Another of the kirk’s claims to fame is its connection with Greyfriars Bobby, a legendary Skye terrier who, in 1858, followed the remains of his master to the church graveyard and then stayed loyally there for the next 14 years. A plaque also marks the burial site of William McGonagall, who was given the dubious honour of being dubbed the world’s worst poet.

Morning service is at 11am on Sundays (0131 226 5429; www.greyfriarskirk.com). At other times, the church can be visited on Thursdays from 1.30-3.30pm. From April to October, it is open on Saturdays 10.30am-2.30pm, and on weekdays 10.30am-4.30pm.

A walk in the park

No visit to Edinburgh would be complete without a bracing walk around Holyrood Park and a wind-blown clamber up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano to the south-east of the city centre. From St Margaret’s Well, the climb to the top is less arduous than it initially looks, taking around 40 minutes. Once at the top, you will be rewarded with some jaw-dropping views across the whole of the Scottish capital.

Out to brunch

For a real blowout, head to Channings, at 12-16 South Learmonth Gardens (0131 315 2225; ). Every Saturday and Sunday, the restaurant at this luxurious hotel offers a “Boozy Snoozy” lunch deal, whereby £65 buys you a three-course meal for four, with two bottles of wine. It is served from 12.30pm-3pm on Sundays (midday-2.30pm on Saturdays).

For brunch on the go, fuel up for the day the Scottish way with a fresh fruit juice (£2.10) and a bowl of delicious Stoats Cranachan porridge (raspberries, toasted oats and cream, £1.95) at Juice Almighty (24), which is at 7a Castle Street (0131 220 6879; www.juicealmighty.co.uk). It is open from 10am on Sundays.

Take a ride

For a different take on Edinburgh, try a trip on a recumbent bike. A company called Laid Back Bikes (07981 430159; www.laid-back-bikes.co.uk) offers tours for £22 per person, including bike hire, guide and coffee. One of its most scenic tours is an 18-mile (three-hour) ride out past the Gallery of Modern Art to the pretty coastal village of Cramond, north-west of the city.

Icing on the cake

Two of the best hunting grounds for patisserie are Falko Konditorei, at 7 Bruntsfield Place (0131 656 0763; www.falko.co.uk), which whips up the best cakes in town, German-style; and The Manna House, an elegant patisserie and café at 22-24 Easter Road (0131 652 2349; www.manna-house-edinburgh.co.uk).


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I find the history of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh a fascinating one. 

Holyrood Abbey was founded on the site in 1128 by David I, King of Scotland, and the palace was built in various stages right beside. 

Holyrood is now an imposing ruin next to the palace which is the official royal residence in Edinburgh.

Standing at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace was built with an inner quadrangle, in the French style, and contains a chapel, gallery, royal apartments and a great hall.

Its history is wonderfully rich, one of its most notable residents being Mary Queen of Scots.  Married at just 15 and widowed at 19, Mary returned to Scotland and was crowned at Holyrood Palace. 

Among the many interesting things to see are the wooden ceilings in Mary’s quarters which date back to when she lived there.  The walls on this, the northern side, were initially built with a view to defense and are very thick, while on the opposite side, despite the external symmetry and similarity, they are much thinner and were built at a later stage.

Members of the public can  visit the infamous north turret, where on 9 March 1565, Mary’s Italian secretary David Rizzio was murdered by her jealous second husband Lord Darnley. 

It was reported at the time that the poor Rizzio was stabbed an astounding 57 times, in Mary’s presence….a tragic and gruesome tale.  Visitors to the palace since that time have claimed to see blood stains on the floor where it happened.

Another interesting occupant was Bonnie Prince Charlie – the palace served as his Head Quarters during the 1745 uprising.

The palace is open for most of the year, but is closed when the Queen and members of the Royal family are visiting. 

If you are planning a stay in Edinburgh it is well worth a visit.  For accommodation in Edinburgh visit www.edinburghselfcatering.org.

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Beautiful city of Edinburgh!
Where the tourist can drown his sorrow
By viewing your monuments and statues fine
During the lovely summer-time.


I’m sure it will his spirits cheer
As Sir Walter Scott’s monument he draws near,
That stands in East Prince’s Street
Amongst flowery gardens, fine and neat.

And Edinburgh Castle is magnificent to be seen
With its beautiful walks and trees so green,
Which seems like a fairy dell;
And near by its rocky basement is St Margaret’s Well,
Where the tourist can drink at when he feels dry,
And view the castle from beneath so very high,
Which seems almost towering to the sky.

Then as for Nelson’s monument that stands on Calton Hill,
As the tourist gazes thereon, with wonder his heart does fill
As he thinks on Admiral Nelson who did the Frenchmen kill,


Then, as for Salisbury Crags, they are most beautiful to be seen,
Especially in the month of June, when the grass is green;
There numerous mole-hills can be seen,
And the busy little creatures howking away,
Searching for worms among the clay;
And as the tourist’s eye does wander to and fro
From the south side of Salisbury Crags below,


His bosom with admiration feels all aglow
As he views the beautiful scenery in the valley below;
And if, with an observant eye, the little loch beneath he scans,
He can see the wild ducks about and beautiful white swans.

Then, as for Arthur’s Seat, I’m sure it is a treat
Most worthy to be seen, with its rugged rocks and pastures green,
And the sheep browsing on its sides
To and fro, with slow-paced strides,
And the little lambkins at play
During the livelong summer day,


Beautiful city of Edinburgh! the truth to express,
Your beauties are matchless I must confess,
And which no one dare gainsay,
But that you are the grandest city in Scotland at the present day!


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Any holiday  spent in Edinburgh deserves to include a visit to the delightful Royal Botanic Gardens.

Although not on the same scale as Kew (a mere 70 acres), these gardens have just as much charm and a wonderful amount of variety. Like Kew there are some huge glass houses within the gardens.  Ten separate rooms in these glasshouses are designed to create as many different climates and habitats so it is, of course, like rapidly passing from one part of the world to another.

There are huge palms, giant waterlilies, and the largest collection of wild Chinese plants outside China.

Outside highlights include the Arboretum, the Scottish Heath garden, the renowned Alpine Rock Garden, the glorious 165 foot herbaceous border and the Woodland Garden.

As a family outing this is an ideal environment. Children can roam freely – ambushing parents, or just be pushed around in buggies –  whilst discovering a wide variety of birds and remarkably bold squirrels.

Picnicking is an excellent option – but there are very good eating options in the grounds also for meals or just coffee.

If you fancy a guided walk, the garden rangers offer a free service most days of the week at particular times of the day. You can find details through the Edinburgh Activities page on the apartment website.

The gardens also contain a building, Inverleith House that hosts  exhibitions throughout the year. Currently there is a sculpture exhibition by Karla Black along with paintings by Bet Low. Past exhibitions include a favorite of mine – Andy Goldsworthy. He used the space as the starting point for his inspiration, dividing one room entirely with a delicate lattice work of chestnut leaf stalks.

Elsewhere in the garden there is a craft project called “The Wych Elm Project”, running until 21st March 2010. This was inspired by the felling of a huge Elm in 2003. The wood is now being used to create a wide variety of works by craftsmen such as wood carvers and wood turners.

I hope this gives you the inspiration to visit the gardens – they are certainly worthwhile – and if you’ve anything to add let me know!

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Sandy Bells Pub and Folk Music venue

A quick visit to the apartment enabled me last night to visit Sandy Bell’s. This small bar amazingly hosts Folk music every night. The musicians are just a part of the ambience – not expecting or seeking huge applause – but dedicated to what they are doing. Each night there is a different band. I heard a line up of Fiddle, Flute, Box accordeon, Uillean pipes, and bouzouki.

The musicians were  very approachable – I asked Cathy, the fiddler for advice about sources of music for my own playing. She was very keen to suggest players that I might listen to in order to pick up repertoire and the style of playing which can’t really be effectively shown in notes on a page of music.

Some suggestions she  made were Scottish Fiddler Alisdair Fraser who plays with Cellist Natalie Haas, Shetland fiddlers Aly Bain and Chris Stout, Irish fiddler Martin Hayes with Guitarist Dennis Cahill,  Accordionist Andy Cutting, and Guitarist Martin Simpson.

Music at Sandy Bells starts from about 9pm every night.

Why not make this a part of your stay in Edinburgh!

Sandy Bells is in situated in the University area of  Edinburgh Old Town, very near to the Museum of Scotland. 

Thanks to all at Sandy Bells for a great evening!

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From breathtaking and thought provoking culture to stunning skylines, sandy beaches, festivals and fireworks – the city of Edinburgh has it all.  For a holiday in Edinburgh visit www.edinburghselfcatering.org.

Valerie Gillies is an internationally known poet of much acclaim. She lives in the beautiful Scottish capital.

She was the Edinburgh Maker, poet laureate to the city, 2005 – 2008, and for those unfamiliar with her work, you may enjoy her poem dedicated to this special city.

To Edinburgh

Stone above storms, you rear upon the ridge:
we live on your back, its crag-and-tail,

spires and tenements stacked on your spine,
the castle and the palace linked by one rope.

A spatchcocked town,
the ribcage split open like a skellie, a kipper, a guttit haddie.

We wander through your windy mazes,
all our voices are flags on the high street.

From the sky’s edge to the grey firth
we are the city, you are within us.

Each crooked close and wynd is a busy cut
on the crowded mile that takes us home

in eden Edinburgh, centred on the rock,
our city with your seven hills and heavens.

For beautifully stylish, modern accomodation in Central Edinburgh visit http://www.edinburghselfcatering.org

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