Friday, 18 July 2008

Up and down in Edinburgh

It's ages since I went to Edinburgh. I first went there on day trips from Somerset (yes, you read that right: day trips) in the 1970s when I was a teenager, with friends. These were in the days when British Rail organised Excursion Trains, for £4.95 return. Even then, that was a bargain. You had to get to Weston-super-Mare for something like 4.30am, and passed through Birmingham New Street around breakfast time.

Arrival into Edinburgh was at noon, and we left again around 17:00, getting home sometime in the early hours. Travelling like that now would probably cripple me, but then it all seemed like one great adventure. I didn't really appreciate architecture much then, but I still recall being impressed with Waverley Station's great ticket hall with its circular glass dome.

Some years later, I spent a few weeks every Summer in the mid 1980s at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Inverleith Row, undertaking research for my doctorate. It was a wonderful place to work, and I used it as a springboard to travel further north to the Highlands, Orkneys and Hebrides. I recall them as very happy times, although I suspect that that also has something to do with the passage of time lending a rosy tint, and having no mortgage!

So, it was with a bit of nostalgia that I returned earlier this week for another trip - business this time. OK, I know Edinburgh is famously beautiful, but I had forgotten just how distinctive is its architecture, and the layout lent to it by the topography of the city, with the great backbone of the Royal Mile looming over the New Town's neat (and now very clean) Georgian architecture.

Waverley station is still an impressive gateway, and has been tidied up, although the spaciousness and impact of the great ticket hall is somewhat impaired by having stuck a large Costa Coffee pagoda in the middle of it. Why this insatiable desire to ruin public spaces by filling every last inch with commercial outlets? The effect on me is not to want to eat or drink there at all.

Still, that's a minor quibble in the great scheme of things. One thing that really has changed since 1986 is the availability of good restaurants, in which aspect things really have come a long way, with a wide range of cuisines - although sadly, prices seem to have edged up to London levels too.

But the biggest contrast of all was the hotel I stayed in - the very nice Ten Hill Place. I realise that I was an impoverished student at the time, but the last place I stayed was an old-fashioned guest house in the New Town, where you were woken up for breakfast by a very insistent landlady knocking on the door and calling out a ripe, 'Good Morrrning!', for breakfast at 7:30 on the dot - or else. My room had orange wallpaper with purple curtains and a green lampshade, and the bed had lilac bri-nylon sheets. I can almost feel the scratchy clamminess of them as I write!

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