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Saturday night and Sunday morning: a glimpse of Edinburgh

March 7, 2011

We country mice had the briefest return to city living over the weekend. The occasion was a charity ball, being held in Edinburgh by an organisation with which my husband is involved. So out came the taffeta gown  – gown, how often does one have the chance to use that splendid word? – bought in last January’s sales, and the beaded bag which predates my marriage and is, therefore, almost old enough to be called vintage. I felt a little Cinderella-ish, changing out of my doggy jeans for once. Almost every girl enjoys the chance to dress up in pretty things once in a while, don’t we?

'You SHALL go to the ball!' (I love the play of light on the fabric.)

It was a lovely evening. Walking back to our hotel in the early hours of the morning, however, the romance did evaporate slightly. Central Edinburgh at pub closing time is not a pretty sight. Scotland’s hard-drinking culture is notorious and was very much in evidence. We felt suddenly rather sheltered and middle-aged as we picked our way between the other occupants of the pavements; although at least, as my husband observed, Edinburgh is still perhaps the one city in the world where a man attracts not the slightest unwelcome attention for being out in a kilt.

We had thought we were being rather clever in booking a hotel, so that we wouldn’t have to drive home through the night. Once the night-club in the bottom of the hotel closed down at around 3 a.m., we expected that we might get some sleep. Fools. This is Edinburgh, city of long opening hours, city of stag nights, hen parties and every other excuse for a booze-up! A group of revellers were over from Ireland to celebrate a birthday, and they proceeded to celebrate it with great application in the corridor outside our hotel room until twenty past six in the morning. Twenty past six. We really are too old for this: or if we weren’t on Saturday morning, we surely were by the end of that endless Saturday night.

Sunday morning, by contrast, shows Edinburgh at her best. The revellers have lapsed into a stupor somewhere, and the birds have the green parks and squares to themselves. The bells of the city’s churches are tolling across the quiet streets, and the devout are on their way to worship.

We two, meanwhile, were on our way to breakfast. A stroll through the ordered, ne0-classical beauty of the New Town to a favourite cafe just what we needed to clear our sleep-deprived heads. Spring is further advanced in Edinburgh than at Castle Beastie: look at the green of that grass!

West Register House and Charlotte Square gardens

…and the masses of crocuses in bloom! (You can take the girl out of the country…)

On our way, we passed Bute House, the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister. It was built at the end of the 18th century to a design by Robert Adam, and is arguably the finest example of Georgian architecture in Edinburgh. Personally I can hardly look at this style of architecture without hearing the music of Handel in my head. (The shimmering triumph of ‘Zadok the Priest‘ suits it best, I think – although I’m sure that our Nationalist First Minister would choke on his whisky to hear that, as this royal anthem was written for the coronation of the Scotophobic George II.)

On a roof adjoining the official residence, I spied for the first time a golden weathervane and a sphinx. Funny what you notice when you are fuzzy with exhaustion and in no particular hurry.

The sphinx has her back turned on the First Minister’s residence and seems to be looking longingly towards the boutiques and cafes of George Street. We followed her gaze and soon found ourselves sitting down to a slap-up Sunday breakfast at Brown’s.

Is it too much to claim Sunday brunch as one of the great inventions of urban civilisation? On this particular morning, it felt right up there with neo-classical architecture and the Scottish Enlightenment. Here we have creamy scrambled eggs, smoked bacon and the crucial addition, a little pot of maple syrup. After this, a big glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and several cups of black coffee, I felt almost human again. Eggs Benedict and a pot of proper hot chocolate did the same for my beloved.

Thus it was, dear readers, that I was rendered alert enough to drive us safely home again after our brief urban escapade. I was even awake enough by now to notice a few other quirky details of the city en route from cafe to car. For example, slipping through to the back of Charlotte Square, we emerged from Georgian grandeur to the surprising contrast of a half-timbered Arts & Crafts era building, complete with quirky weathervane.

Behind us, the green copper dome of West Register House soared towards the clouds like the nose of a Georgian rocket ship,

while ahead of us the massive Gothic spires of St.Mary’s Cathedral seem to be making their own eternal bid for the heavens.

There’s no doubt, though, that it is Edinburgh’s famous Georgian architecture which is most reassuring and soothing after a disordered night.

Edinburgh, we decided, is a city for people who don’t like cities. It is on a manageable scale, with plenty of green spaces, and views of the hills or the sea from almost every vantage point. The city centre is full of museums, galleries and good eateries. It is also generally – despite our experiences of Saturday night – a friendly place, as well as being famously beautiful. Nevertheless, we breathed a sigh of relief to get back to the country again. Several of our neighbours had turned out to welcome us home:

Roe deer and cock pheasants

I’d be happy to settle for this sort of wild life almost any Saturday night.


See also: Pirates, pantomime horses and prep-school uniform: Edinburgh in August

25 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 4:44 pm

    Nothing like a change of scenery to fill up the creative well. Glad you survived the walk home! I didn’t realise how beautiful Edinburgh is, fun to see the different architecture.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 7, 2011 6:37 pm

      You are quite right about the change of scenery. The city is relatively friendly, even at that time of night; just not very attractive! But in the daytime, yes, it is astonishingly beautiful.

  2. March 7, 2011 5:39 pm

    Such a beautiful city, I visited it for a few days during the festival some years ago and loved it. But I really love the photo of your home patch with all the pheasants and deer, so welcoming, and that gown, wow! what a gorgeous colour!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 7, 2011 6:41 pm

      Edinburgh is great fun at Festival time, however crazy it might get.
      The ‘beasties’ certainly were a wonderfully welcoming sight. We see deer and pheasants almost every day, but they are not usually gathered together like that.
      And yes, that midnight blue is pretty fab, isn’t it! Glad you like it too! 🙂

  3. March 7, 2011 7:56 pm

    We left the mountains for a formal evening sampling single malts. Afterwards, walking the city streets well past midnight, we saw two people standing on the sidewalk. My husband wanted to walk between me and the couple, but I stopped to chat, commenting on the nice evening, etc. Later my husband pointed out that it was obviously a prostitute in the process of picking someone up. But for me, it was the first time in the whole evening that I had felt at home. The couple looked like residents of the tiny town I leave near. Obviously I don’t get to dress up or be around people enough. You’re right though, we should all have a chance at least once a year to be Cinderella.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 8, 2011 11:43 am

      Oops! Still, maybe it was a nice change for her to meet someone who wanted nothing from her but a friendly chat!

  4. March 7, 2011 9:13 pm

    Glad you enjoyed your city soujourn. I’m not a native of Edinburgh, but having lived there for 25 years I feel somewhat attached to it! Weekend nights can be scary, tho! When we drive home from a concert across town it’s like entering a parallel universe.

    I laughed at Lisa’s comment above. I was at a conference in Lyon recently, and a mixed European group of us found that we had wandered way off track into the red light district. I think the ladies of the night were as disconcerted as we were – or perhaps they thought their luck was in!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 8, 2011 11:46 am

      We lived in Edinburgh for several years and I think it has to be easily my favourite city. We didn’t meet any ladies of the night on Saturday – despite walking up the Lothian Road – just an awful lot of depressingly drunk girls shivering in their miniscule outfits. Other than the city centre nightlife, though, I do love the city.

  5. March 7, 2011 11:34 pm

    3 1/2 more months and I will be in Scotland for my first time, visiting Edinburgh and other parts. Your pictures make me anxious to get there. I can’t wait!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 8, 2011 11:46 am

      That’s great, Bonnie, I’m glad to hear your plans are coming together. Edinburgh is marvellous, honestly! 🙂

  6. March 8, 2011 6:44 am

    How nice to see Edinburgh and enjoyed Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’ clip with the crowning of Elizabeth.

    We like to visit Melbourne occasionally but always love turning that corner and seeing our beautiful valley before us.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 8, 2011 11:47 am

      Cities are wonderful, but home is better. 😉

  7. March 8, 2011 2:38 pm

    Hi Beastie: What’s not to like about this post?
    Firstly the simple stunning dress in midnight blue – glam!! And as for other cities that can take men in kilts with aplomb, Halifax Nova Scotia does and for the most part, the whole province does too.
    Your mini tour of Edinburgh was fab – such a wealth of georgian buildings and the crocuses (crocii?) are just wishful thinking here, where there is still a fairly deep cover of snow although it is gradually melting.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 8, 2011 3:10 pm

      Aw, thanks, Janet!
      Of course, I guess Nova Scotia would be chilled about kilts if anywhere is. You got your snow later than us, didn’t you, for once? We have sleet and snow forecast for the next couple of days but it’s nice to know, at this time of year, that it won’t last long. Hope yours goes soon too. Our crocuses (I always want to say crocii too, glad it’s not just me!) are not yet in bloom, so it was a huge treat to see them in Edinburgh.

  8. March 8, 2011 3:00 pm

    I almost couldn’t believe that last photo was real! How amazing! I can’t imagine choosing the late night drunken streets over that.
    But I do think you’re probably right about Edinburgh being the city for people who don’t like cities. From the couple of times I’ve been, I found it extremely charming and dramatic, and with all the towers and the gorgeous surrounding landscape it made me feel like it was grown rather than built.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 8, 2011 3:15 pm

      We often see deer but it’s rare that they stay still long enough for me to get a picture. And it was delightful to see this little congregation of wild neighbours on the front lawn. As a pony-mad little girl I was forever drawing horses, but now it’s deer whose anatomy is most familiar to me. (Explains why my hare drawings look a bit like roe deer!)
      Edinburgh’s Old Town does look grown not built, you are so right. The piled up architecture of the Mound always makes me stop and stare in wonder. It’s one of those places (Oxford is another) where I can never grow complacent about its beauty.

  9. Margaret Lambert permalink
    March 8, 2011 4:28 pm

    I love that instant of seeing something which must have always been there, but which went unnoticed.
    Still trying to figure out what the maple syrup was meant for, certainly nothing on that plate…were there pancakes somewhere? Though it is good on a slice of ham…
    And yes, the dress is a glorious, rich color. Just what’s needed when there are lots of colorful kilts around. Both of you must have looked very festive.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 8, 2011 6:55 pm

      Maple syrup for…bacon! Mmmm, heaven. Actually I could just eat maple syrup by the spoonful. But then I might have trouble fitting into the dress…

  10. Deb permalink
    March 9, 2011 8:43 pm

    So nice to see Edinburgh again – we were there in 2005 during the G8 Summit. Lots of rowdiness then too, but still a wonderful place to be. I totally agree about the maple syrup – I have it with my oatmeal every morning, not the Scottish thing to do, but living in New England makes it okay. ( And I have eaten it by the spoonful!)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 9, 2011 10:07 pm

      My dad used to make me eat porridge with salt: I loathed it, not surprisingly. Then a Canadian flatmate introduced me to the decadent deliciousness of porridge with maple syrup and/or fresh berries, and I’ve never looked back!

  11. March 19, 2011 7:12 pm

    I live rurally but within 15 miles of Edinburgh – at least I can get home to my own quiet bed at night. Your breakfast at Brown’s looks fab – we’ve only been there once before but it was GOOD 🙂 Edinburgh is great, so much history and plenty to see and do, but I like to come home too… Jo

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 20, 2011 5:39 pm

      Thanks for dropping in, Jo. We do adore those breakfasts, in fact we were looking forward to the breakfast almost as much as to the ball! (That’s a bit sad, isn’t it…)

  12. March 22, 2011 8:46 pm

    OOooh I just LOVED your gown (or “frock” as I tend to call them!). Can’t remember when I last got all dressed up! Smart Casual is as good as it gets these days…… Browns is a must for me when I visit Edinburgh – which sadly isn’t very often these days. But it IS one of my favourite cities – so thanks for sharing your lovely photos.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 23, 2011 10:02 am

      My pleasure. I can barely even manage smart casual these days – I have a cupboard full of jumpers and jeans but everything else seems to be at least ten years out of date and the wrong size! 🙂


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