Saturday night and Sunday morning: a glimpse of Edinburgh
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?
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!
…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:
I’d be happy to settle for this sort of wild life almost any Saturday night.