It is strange looking back to admit that we never intended on staying in Edinburgh. I honestly do not remember the reason; perhaps we had our sights set on the more rugged, outdoorsy side of Scotland—nothing says “rugged” like St. Andrews, home of the rich white man’s favorite sport— or we didn’t want to follow the mainstream, or we were just two bumbling fools (oh, found the reason). But as fate would have it, it was our journey to St. Andrews that led us to Edinburgh, as if Scotland knew these two bumbling fools were about to miss something wondrous and wouldn’t have any of it.
In order to get to St. Andrews from our previous destination in England, we had to stop in Edinburgh. When we hopped off the bus at the bus station, we then had to walk from there, down the street to the train station, where we would catch a train and then another short bus ride to our final destination. (side note: we even ended up missing the train by just a few minutes and had to wait for the next, hence why we arrived in St. Andrews so late at night and got locked out of the hostel.)
Thanks be to William Wallace’s ghost that we had to make the switch between stations, because we would have missed out on the view that changed our path. As soon as we exited from the bus station, we found ourselves on a hill that gave us a perfect view of the city before us. There we were, mouths agape, unexpectedly enthralled. Old Town sits there atop what first appears to be a river bank, but upon further inspection turns out to be train tracks and a nice-looking park-like space. Lucky for us, we were headed to those train tracks, so we had the view ahead of us for the 5 minute walk. I remember turning to my travel buddy saying, “OK, we’re coming here.”
The Great Wild Camping Excursion of 2014 / Us Being Idiots, Part 1!
After our stay in St. Andrews, we made good on our word and headed back to Edinburgh, where we immediately bought a tent and started for a campsite outside the city. I made that sound somewhat pleasant. It was anti-pleasant. In good old Scottish fashion, it was pouring rain. We were also trying to camp for free, so we were looking for a place to wild camp whilst heading in the direction of the campsite. Given the treacherous downpour, however, we ended up looking for accommodation, but everything was booked due to the epic Fringe Festival that takes place every year. So, there we were, 3 hours of walking later, soaked to the bone, blistered feet, putting up our tent at the campsite we had fought so hard to not camp in. In fact, it was then, as we hobbled feebly into the campsite, that the sun finally made an appearance. Now, I’m as grateful as the next person when the sun starts shining just in time for some manual labor (i.e. pitching a tent), but that sun did it on purpose. “Oh look, you’re at a place with a roof to stand under…Here I am!” said the sun. To this day, when I am stuck in the rain, I think of us traipsing around, two girls who were clearly not from there, and I think, “At least it’s not that day in Edinburgh.”
I should also point out that the reason we walked was to save money on public transportation. Naturally, we learned later that the buses in Edinburgh were the cheapest we had come across yet. Of course they were. Bumbling fools, indeed.
We camped at Mortonhall Caravan and Camping Park, which ended up being lovely and full of intoxicated Scotswomen and men in town for the festival (perhaps they weren’t intoxicated; it’s sometimes hard to tell). We took the bus into town everyday; the bus tickets also had McDonald’s coupons, and we were on the backpackers budget, so to my utter dismay, haggis was off the menu. Can’t say I expected to eat my first Big Mac in Scotland, or ever, but Edinburgh is just full of possibilities.
As I mentioned above, and to add to the serendipitous nature of it all, there was a massive arts festival happening, called the Fringe, which takes place every summer. That meant that the streets were packed with performers, musicians, artists of every type, and usually where I would feel claustrophobic and irritated by all the people walking every which way, it was somehow enjoyable. The atmosphere was electric and there was always something to see. There were a bounty of shows to attend each day as well, and we attended a one-man comedy act that was seriously genius. This is the time to visit Edinburgh if you have the chance.
Walk the Walk
Walking tours continue to be one of my favorite ways to explore a new city, and “free” is one of my favorite words. Put them together and I’m almost as jolly as I am eating pie! Almost. Sandeman’s is an awesome company, at least by all outward appearances, and the tour guides have all been phenomenal (except in Amsterdam. We got it, dude, you wanted tips. Say it 5,000 more times so we remember.) Do these tours—not only do you learn loads about the city, from geology to, in Edinburgh’s case, learning the unfortunate reason why the term “piss drunk” may have originated, and all things in between, but the guides know the city well and can point you in the direction of fun activities, nightlife, restaurants, you name it. It is the first thing I typically do after settling in.
As we were only in Edinburgh for a couple of days and we had to catch the last bus back to the campsite every evening, we didn’t do much in the way of typical tourist stops or get to experience much nightlife, which must be a roaring good time. After an attempt to visit Edinburgh Castle and finding the expense a little over budget (if I had to do this again, I would’ve just paid the money), we were resigned to admire the structure from outside, which isn’t hard to do considering it towers over the city. More on this to come, though, in my 2017 Edinburgh trip. In order to not bore you with basic info that you can find by googling “things to do in Edinburgh” I will just say that we truly enjoyed roaming the streets, hearing various musicians do their thing, all the while admiring the architecture that defines the city. The area around the botanical gardens is like a park, complete with a ferris wheel and museums for those interested in the everyday ferris wheel/museum combo, and we had the pleasure of watching a choir full of kids from Zimbabwe light up the place. Like I said, Edinburgh is full of surprises.
Calling All Muggles
This city is a must for any and all fans of Harry Potter. It is the place JK Rowling did a lot of her writing, and thus found much of her influence in these surroundings. We wandered around Greyfriar’s Kirkyard during our walking tour and returned again later to take our time reading the centuries old gravestones and find the names Rowling used in her novels (McGonagall, Moodie/Moody, Thomas Riddell/Tom Riddle). It was also cool it to take a gander around The Elephant House, where Rowling sat near the back window, gazing out at the Kirkyard, and George Heriot’s School, which used to be a school for “fatherless bairns”, or orphans (this connection may be only a coincidence). My friend and I both had to use the bathroom at the cafe, where we discovered writing all over the walls—quotes from the books, messages of gratitude to Rowling herself— and added our own message to the mix: “Mischief Managed”.
I am not a city person and yet I would live in Edinburgh. Beautiful, brimming with history, £1 Big Mac coupons on bus tickets, this place has it all. Go here, and don’t walk in the rain for 3 hours on the way to campsite or you’ll have a blister for a toe. This bumbling fool said so.
Next stop: An afternoon in Leith!