I’d heard many things about Edinburgh as a city, some complimentary, some not. I think the main discerning factor was what the weather was doing when the people in question visited. (I have a similar thing going on with Oxford and Cambridge – the two times I’ve visited Oxford it’s been gloriously sunny, the two times I’ve visited Cambridge it’s been throwing it down with rain. Hence, shallow though it may be, I have a much better opinion of Oxford than of Cambridge.)
As it was, for my brief wander round I was blessed with clear blue skies and a crisp, but not cold, morning. The city certainly has an impact on you. The numerous historic buildings, monuments and vistas are coupled with a ‘buzz’ that few cities in the UK have. It also feels immediately welcoming and friendly – this might have something to do with the Christmas markets on every corner but I don’t think so.
Edinburgh Waverley station itself sits proudly in the middle of the city, with a design and platform layout that gives the impression that it has been organically grown rather than planned. The trains seem to enter the station from all angles, and some platforms sit completely out of sequence with the rest of them. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing, it just adds a bit of spice to he usual, ordered, convention for platform numbering that seems to have been adopted by the rest of the country (exceptions welcome).
When you exit the station you are immediately struck by two things: 1. The various awe-inspiring gothic (?) buildings and castles that dot the cityscape and 2. One heck of a cross-wind. Immediately after arriving I tried to head straight for my hotel, on Cowgate, to rid myself of the large rucksack that I’d been wearing any time I walked anywhere for the past two days. (An example of how much this had been weighing on my mind as well as my body was that I’d come up with an entirely new set of lyrics for the Frozen song ‘for the first time in forever’ on the way down from Inverness – all relating to getting shot of the rucksack.)
I was slightly caught out by the ‘google maps’ representation of the city, which doesn’t, unless you really squint at it, let on that some roads are a good ten metres higher than others. According to google, I just had to turn left at a crossroads to get onto the road where my hotel was. Unfortunately the crossroads was a bridge, and, although I could see the hotel, I couldn’t get there without a parachute. Luckily there was a secret staircase that craftily cut down between the stone buildings and deposited me opposite to the hotel entrance.
I say ‘secret’ but, in fact, these staircases are everywhere in Edinburgh. As I walked round the city it rapidly became apparent that the entire place was set up as a giant game of snakes-and-ladders. I’d walk for five minutes up a long, zig-zaggy road, only to get to the top and stumble upon a staircase that led directly back to where I started from, cutting a straight line down the hillside with a steep staircase. I think this is great! For people who know the city well it must be possible to get from A to B in a matter of seconds, while your tourist friend will spend thirty minutes doing the same thing. (Similar to the Charing Cross to Covent Garden tube ‘trick’ in London.) These staircases and passageways also gave the city a hint of mystery and old-worldliness. It felt a bit like a giant labyrinth – I was half-expecting David Bowie to be waiting for me with a collection of goblins every time I turned a corner.
Edinburgh is certainly a city that I’ll visit again, and soon. It has a character and charm that is lacking, in my opinion, in many of the cities in the midlands that are slowly turning into clones of each other. I think I could quite easily spend a week exploring all the twists and turns of the Edinburgh streets, and it looked like there were a couple of good hills to climb too…
Bidding farewell to Edinburgh I boarded an East Coast train, to continue my journey south.