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OFF PEAK EDINBURGH

Throughout the summer, Edinburgh beats to the sound of a seemingly endless stream of festivals and events. The Science Festival, Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and the Edinburgh International Festival all fill the ancient city to bursting point. Many visitors come as much for the colourful atmosphere, as for the events themselves.


We, on the other hand, were approaching the city as it loomed out of the fog, on a wet weekend in October. As we neared the centre, the lines of tall stone fronted buildings cast even darker shadows on the glistening streets, whilst at the same time creating an impression that this was a place of power. First sight of the castle, proudly dominating the rocky high ground, further underlined the feeling it was not a city to be messed with.


Having accommodation right in the heart of Edinburgh is wonderful, except when you are trying to park. We were fortunate to stumble across a space just being vacated, not too far from our destination. The silver lining, under some very dark clouds, was a first walk along the famous Royal Mile.


It was just getting dark, there was a chilly breeze and an annoying drizzle. Anywhere else these would have dampened spirits and offered a depressing start to your visit, and yet somehow here it didn’t matter. The place was alive, vibrant, and buzzing to the sound of street entertainers, tour guides, and people who seemed quite content to stand chatting completely oblivious to the rain, but soaking up the magnificence of their surroundings.


We’d been here less than half an hour, and yet we felt at home, welcome, and completely at ease. There are not many capital cities that can say that.


Passing lines of shops selling whisky, kilts, and just about anything you can be emblazoned with tartan or the ‘Scotland’ logo, we arrived at the welcoming grand entrance to our accommodation. We were almost downhearted that our first perambulation had ended, and were keen to abandon our baggage, change into some drier clothes, and get back out – almost as if we were scared it would all be gone if we didn’t hurry.


The Fraser Suites are an impressive selection of apartments, housed in a majestic period building just off the Royal Mile close to St Giles Cathedral.


As we headed back to the streets, amid the ever increasing crowds, there seemed to be an invisible force that drew you towards the castle. The Royal Mile changes from the High Street to Lawnmarket, and then finally into Castle Hill. It narrows, and begins to steepen, as small alleyways head off in various directions - some enticing, and some very much not. As we pass the Scottish Whisky Experience the castle edges into view, like a giant barrier across the top of the hill. The road opens to the broad Castle Esplanade, full of revelers and visitors just milling about for no apparent reason other than to just be there. A sense of expectation fills the air, a feeling that you’re about to experience something epic. But despite lingering for quite a while, enjoying the panoramic views over the rest of the city, nothing actually happened.


Eventually we had to resign ourselves to simply being pleased that we reached such a momentous summit, and the three of us started slowly back down the hill. There were countless groups of people, each with their own agenda’s. Ghoulishly costumed guides led an eager throng on a ghost tour, party-goers were following a torchlight procession (although none of them seemed to have any knowledge as to exactly what it was for), and all the while locals and excited tourists buzzed about looking for a good night’s partying.


After such an intense introduction to the city, I wondered if the next morning would prove to be an anti-climax. I needn’t have worried. After a very pleasant breakfast at the Rucola Restaurant, just next to the Fraser Suites, we headed out onto freshly cleaned streets just as the cathedral bells struck 9am.


We knew that a prompt start and a well planned timetable would be essential if we were to make the most of our limited time. You’d be hard pressed to see all that Edinburgh has to offer in 48 days… but we had just 48 hours. As we strolled down the Royal Mile, it was interesting how different it looked by day. Fine architectural details were notably more prominent, for example, and the individuality of each building became more apparent.


We were thankful of the break in the inclement weather, as our first destination was the magnificent baroque Palace of Holyroodhouse, which lies at the far end of the Royal Mile. The Royal Apartments have borne witness to many chapters of Scotland’s history, most notably some associated with Mary Queen of Scots. Later is was associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie, serving as his headquarters for a while during the 1745 uprising, and it’s now the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.


As you would expect, a tour will offer you glimpses into the lives and treasures of many of Scotland’s monarchs, and the famed Great Gallery even houses portraits of the nation’s legendary kings alongside those who did exist. In the summer months the gardens can also be visited, but for us that was a pleasure we had to forego.


Our walk back up the hill was broken by a brief stop at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the John Knox House. This picturesque half-timbered building offers an insight into the association between John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots, whilst also featuring live story telling for children, literature, and theatre events. It makes a useful stop if, like us, you have youngsters who love to hear a well-told tale.


We, however, were heading to the area they call the Grassmarket. Set in the heart of the Old Town, the Grassmarket has been one of the most eclectic, compelling, and lively areas of the city. In the past, it’s been home to merchants, body snatchers, and Edinburgh’s gallows. Thankfully, things have picked up a little, and now it’s a thriving community of appealing small shops, restaurants, galleries, and historic buildings. The colourful, curving slope of Victoria Street is oft photographed, and a hotch-potch of independent shops that demand exploration. With so many pleasant cafes, and a great choice of live music venues, it’s a cultural heaven that can quickly soak up your day.


It seemed we had only recently heard the bells at 9 that morning, and yet was already dark. Edinburgh still saps your time amazingly quickly. Certainly one of the principal advantages of staying in the city centre, is that there is so much to see within walking distance, you have no need to waste valuable minutes on travelling.


The next morning was devoted to what must surely be the highlight for every visitor here. As you enter the main gate of Edinburgh’s mighty castle, you’re confronted by a massive rock outcrop, on which the castle itself is perched. Walking up the steep incline, through the second gate, you quickly realise what a truly dominant position it occupies.


The walls curve around in front of you, marking the edge of the high ground. The views across the city, and on to the estuary, would have given it’s defenders a tremendous advantage, and trying to attack it would have been foolhardy in the extreme.


The castle’s most important buildings are higher still, up more steep slopes, or a perilous stairway. Climbing it will reward you handsomely, however, as it’s here that you can bear witness to Scotland’s most prized possessions. The Scottish Crown Jewels are amongst the oldest in Europe, and known correctly as ‘The Honours of Scotland’. Intricate workmanship combined with the exquisite design, and shimmering gold and jewels, make them a truly breathtaking sight. You can also see the ancient coronation seat known as the Stone of Destiny, which only returned to Scotland in 1996, after being taken to London 700 years earlier by the invading English Army.


And if you’re thinking there is nothing here for the English, then you can see the place where the future King James I of England (and King James VI of Scotland, of course) was born.


We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh Castle, and were sad that our short break to this awe-inspiring city had come to an end. The castle certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the most impressive in Europe, although perhaps that’s no surprise when you realise that Edinburgh itself has to be one of the most impressive capitals.

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The Fraser Suites

In contrast to the impressive period frontage, the suites are very modern, extremely stylish, and ooze quality. They’re spacious, well equipped, and in our case offered a view of the castle from the bedroom window.


The bathroom has a designer feel, with hidden lighting creating a luxurious ambience to match the L’Occitane toiletries.

When you check it against the prices of quality hotels in the district, Edinburgh’s Fraser Suites offer excellent value for such a high level of accommodation, and in the perfect central location.


www.frasershospitality.com

Visit Scotland

The best place for information on any trip to Scotland...       

www.visitscotland.com


Edinburgh Pass

One, two, or three day passes that allows entry to over 30 top attractions, plus free airport and city centre transport.

www.edinburghpass.com


Edinburgh Castle

Probably Scotland’s best known castle, and home to the Scottish Crown Jewels.   

www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk


Edinburgh Tour Guides

Walking and Step-On tours of the city.

0131 443 0548

www.edinburgtourguides.com

TREVOR CLARINGBOLD

The multi-award winning editor of Pro Traveller, Trevor Claringbold is a journalist, broadcaster, and TV  producer.

His passion for travel has seen him travel extensively, and he has over 30 years experience in the media, including 15 years as a presenter and producer with the BBC.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre in the John Knox House on the Royal Mile offers live storytelling for children, literature, and even theatre events. It’s a useful stop in the city centre. Elsewhere, children will also enjoy the Museum of Childhood, which is a real treasure house of objects from childhoods past and present, and the world renowned Edinburgh Zoo – which is home to more than 1000 rare and beautiful animals.



    POLINA’S VIEW…    

 

    The impression

    of an 8-year old:


“I really liked the apartment (Fraser Suites), especially the big screen TV’s in each room and the pretty bathroom. The Storytelling Centre was nice, and I’d have liked to have stayed for longer. And I liked the castle, and the Crown Jewels, although not the steep steps, or looking over the walls as it was so high. I was a bit scared. I also got told off by the guard for taking a photo of the jewels, but they shouldn’t have put the sign where children can’t see it!”

For the Children