Haggis In A Can. II. Edinburgh. Take me to the water.

Edinburgh Travel Blog

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Scot's Monument
Enchanted by the view I'd gotten from Calton Hill, I got obsessed with the idea of going down to see "the sea" (Firth of Forth actually, but let's not spoil my excitement, shall we). After all - it seemed so near. So, with that in mind, I started off on a random route heading north from the New Town, being convinced that sooner or later I will come to the shore as the city has to end somewhere, submerging deeper and deeper into Edinburgh's suburbs. 
Streets were getting narrower and quieter and buildings were rapidly loosing their architectural appeal, as the involuntary thoughts of crime happening even in the safest cities started to rush through my head with alarming frequency. After all - I had no clue where I was going, guided by my rather poor sense of direction as the brightly colored tourist map I'd picked up a day earlier in the coach station covered only the city center.
Scot's Monument
One hour and quite a few crossings, dead ends and detours later, I seemed to had finally approached what distantly resembled a seaside. Clutching the juice and pancakes I'd gotten in the last Waitrose I passed by in anticipation of a late picnic on the beach, I finally reached it. The sea. Ok, the firth. Whatever. 
... A huge port building (/fish warehouse/whatever that was) was standing proudly 5 stories high at the brim of the sparkling water. And the fence. As far as the eye could sea (pardon the pun). "Damn capitalists!" I sighed. Too tired to look for a way around this industrial site, I settled for just having "the view" and sat myself down on a patch of grass between the fence and the road. The sun was hanging rather low in the sky and the sudden gusts of wind were persistently trying to snatch some of my lunch / supper. 

I made my way back just to note a sign that indicated that "Britania" (another famous tourist trap) was stationed just a mile away from where I was "picnicking". By the miracle of God the path I chose for my way back led me to Leith Walk, leading straight back to central Edinburgh, and I soon regained my confidence regarding my surroundings, though my hostel was still within an hours walk.

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New Town + Scot's Monument

If you're as tight on time, money and attention span as I am, be sure to at least pop into St Giles Cathedral (the Presbyterians sure know how to please the deity) and the Royal Museum of Scotland. Both venues are free of admission charge, though be aware of the opening hours.

There's much more to see in the Museum of Scotland than most would expect, so for a short visit I'd suggest you choose which era and aspect of life interests you the most and focus on exploring only this particular section and don't bother trying to take all the museum in in one go. It would simply be a waste of time. I made a crucial mistake starting "at the beginning", spending an hour on the ground floor, looking at endless displays of rocks, pottery and crude jewelery from the early years of civilization I couldn't care less about.

St Gile's
Yawn. The same things goes for the whole wing devoted to church reform in Scotland. Life simply is too short. So since then I've learned to cultivate selective ignorance and practical cynicism. And when it comes to museums - I say give me the eye-candy and legendary artifacts and leave out the rest. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The small local wildlife section of the museum proved to be rather fun though. The elaborately recreated scenes from Caledonian pine forests, a typical Scottish ecosystem with incredibly life-like stuffed animals such as wolves, beavers, wild boars and even a bare and an elk (moose). Upon further inspection of the interactive display nearby I discovered that all of the mentioned animals are now... extinct in Scotland, rendering the whole scene archaic and redundant, if not useless. This information served me well in the upcoming weeks in the mountain woods, having the peace of mind that every time I heard rustling in the bushes it was probably just another pheasant or hare, as nothing else inhabits these lands.

Royal Mile + St Gile's
Approaching the Edinburgh castle from the west, walking down Queensferry St and coming to a big crossing between Lothian Rd and Shadwick Pl, there's a very nice architectural ensemble formed by St John's kirk and St Cuthbert's church, backed up by the splendid greenery of Princess Street Gardens and solid structure of the Castle rock.  

I then headed down Kings Stables Rd to the Grassmarket and Cowgate, just a block away from Royal Mile. Oh, and regarding the Royal Mile - I do encourage to walk the whole thing from start to finish, from the castle at one end and Scottish Parliament and Hollyrood park way down at the other, or vice versa.
View down the Royal Mile
Most tourist attractions are located alongside this historic walk, as are the live bagpipe players (not to mention all the kilt shops playing the same bagpipe tune over and over again...), souvenir shops, traditional crafts shops (jewelery, knitwear, soap etc.), legendary (and just plain ordinary) pubs and also starting points for pub crawls and guided tours. These tours range from from purely historical to down right bloody and gruesome. Free guided walks are also mentioned in the guide, though I failed to find any.

To make your tour of Edinburgh more rewarding, I do advise you to spend some time online to fill in the gaps of knowledge with some basic information on such legendary Scots as A. Smith, R. Burns, W. Scott, J. Knox, queen Mary etc. Their names and presence are scattered across the city in the form of statues, commemorative planks, place names or simple descriptions and facts.

Castle rock (oh, and the Edinburgh castle of course)
Since my usual strategy of city tours is "maximum impact, minimum time" (i.e. I jam-pack all the sight-seeing into one massive non-stop walk lasting for hours on end, overstimulating all the senses, overloading the brain and pushing the body to it's natural limits of exhaustion), it is very hard for me to trace back my route to pin-point all the places I've visited and the sites that I've seen. Combining that with lack of time and motivation to keep records of my activities in any kind of log or diary, here's the rough digest of most memorable experiences from my weekend in Edinburgh, in no particular order.

A very short walk from Belford hostel lies the Edinburgh Modern Art museum and Dean gallery.
St Mary's Cathedral. My vote for the No 1 building in Edinburgh (screw the castle! :P)
I could never call myself a lover of the modern art, always having more of a little flirt rather than a true passionate relationship with the contemporary movement. So, in a vain attempt to broaden my horizons, I decided to give it a try, since the information board featured world-renown names, some of which even I had heard of. That, and the fact that the entrance was free, of course.

Slowly pacing through the white halls, exhibiting works, among others, of D. Hirst, A. Warhol and V. Celmins, both my arms crossed and my face twisted by the tense contemplation of the art, I had concluded what most ignoramuses would in my position ("My three-year-old son could do this") and headed down to the museum's cafe for some grossly overpriced tea, which I enjoyed by justifying the cost as my generous contribution to the art world.

There's a footpath in the backyard of the museum leading to a scenic natural pathway - Water of Leith walkway. I do encourage anyone visiting Edinburgh to take this path, providing the weather's benevolent. Residing in the West End of the city, you are exposed to some really nice views (like the one from the Queensferry st bridge) and some amazing architectural masterpieces, most of which surprisingly turned out to be schools or colleges. And definitely not the last reason to take a walk through West End and the suburbs is to get the feel of the proper everyday Edinburgh, away from the tourist traps and tartan-selling souvenir shops on every corner.

Scots Monument
Scot's Monument
Scots Monument
Scot's Monument
New Town + Scots Monument
New Town + Scot's Monument
St Giles
St Gile's
Royal Mile + St Giles
Royal Mile + St Gile's
View down the Royal Mile
View down the Royal Mile
Castle rock (oh, and the Edinburgh…
Castle rock (oh, and the Edinburg…
St Marys Cathedral. My vote for t…
St Mary's Cathedral. My vote for …
St Marys Cathedral. My vote for t…
St Mary's Cathedral. My vote for …
St Marys Cathedral. My vote for t…
St Mary's Cathedral. My vote for …
Edinburgh
photo by: vances