Motorhome travel: A city break in Edinburgh
We head to Edinburgh, the destination my wife, Jane, has chosen for our first motorhome city break. After arrival at the welcoming Edinburgh Caravan and Motorhome Club site and dinner of traditional Scotch pies (when in Rome!), we take a walk along the popular Cramond Foreshore with the aim of crossing the causeway to Cramond Island, reachable except at high tide. Nestled among the delightful whitewashed buildings is The Cramond Inn and we use the excuse of not being marooned to enjoy the real fire and real ale served up inside the welcoming hostelry.
Morning brings high cloud and sunny intervals, ideal for a stroll around the city to get our bearings. A 10-minute walk brings us to the bus stop at the slightly ominous Muirhouse flats but the only difficulty we had was the bus drivers not giving change. Alighting on Hanover Street in the ‘New Town’, surrounded by wonderful Georgian buildings built on wide, terraced streets, we aim for the highest point hereabouts for a view of the surroundings.
We’re standing atop Calton Hill 10 minutes later, with its Nelson monument and Greek-style folly. The hill provides a fantastic panorama over the city and surrounds. We glimpse the Forth Rail Bridge to the west and look north over the Firth of Forth to the Kingdom of Fife. The distant North Berwick Law hill lies to the east and we swing round to Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags and, ultimately, up the roofline of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle perched atop its volcanic plug. It’s all mightily impressive.
Princes Street, the New Town’s main thoroughfare, is home to several iconic shops: Jenners department store has a fantastic inner atrium and Romanes & Paterson is a 200-year-old speciality Scottish shop for tartans and woollens, foodstuffs and malt whiskies. Across the street there is a piper playing beneath the monument to Sir Walter Scott and, we pass by, he opens up with Scotland the Brave, thus giving Edinburgh its signature aural backdrop. “Tarry awhile and enjoy the grand view,” says the dedication on our chosen wooden bench in the wonderful Princes Street Gardens. The lovely gardens lead downhill to the lower slopes of the Castle Rock, covered at this time of year in daffodils. The hubbub of Princes Street is just yards away, but here it is tranquil and we enjoy our picnic and a Tunnock’s chocolate teacake.
Crossing into the ‘Old Town’ via the railway bridge at the western end of Princes Street Gardens, we make our way to Castle Esplanade. The castle will keep for another day as we’re off for a stroll down the streets that make up The Royal Mile, a wonderful potpourri of old buildings including the wonderful St Giles’ Cathedral. The Tartan Weaving Mill, with its working looms and The Scotch Whisky Experience opposite set the tartan, whisky and bagpipes scene for the top half of The Mile. In the Scotch Whisky Experience I spot a 50-year-old Balvenie and start counting my pennies, but am stopped in my tracks by the £27,500 price tag. Punctuating the buildings down The Mile are closes, narrow alleyways that are home to restaurants and gift shops housed in the most ancient of the city’s buildings.
A fairly early arrival next day at the castle – what Burns called a “rough, rude fortress” – helps us to beat the queues. We cross The Esplanade to the Castle Gate, head under the portcullis and up all 70 of the Lang (long) stairs to the Upper Ward. Mons Meg, the colossal bombard cannon, draws tourists like a magnet. Forged in Mons (Belgium) in 1449, she is able to fire a 150kg (331lb) gunstone up to two miles. Never before has the phrase “looking down the barrel” been more apt as I fit the upper half of my body into the cannon. The highlights of the castle, though, are the Scottish Crown Jewels, housed in a glass case in a room with a Fort Knox-thickness door.
A train journey takes us to the pleasant seaside town of North Berwick, about 30 minutes away. A stroll along the main street brings us to the road running from the seafront to the distinctive conical hill, the North Berwick Law. It’s not really a day for beach activities or walking up the Law, so it shouldn’t be a day for ice cream, either. But we find Alandas and its wonderful display of classic Italian gelato and ice cream.
Lunch of haggis, neeps and tatties is enjoyed in a pub on Waverley Bridge before we take a bus down to Port of Leith. Leith’s impressive buildings are testament to its seafaring heritage and many now house restaurants. We’re here to visit The Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently berthed here since 1997. Incongruously, the entry to the decks is via a bridge leading from the Ocean Terminal retail centre.
An impressive array of brass and wood greets us and we are struck by how ‘workmanlike’ the royal yacht’s bridge looks. Britannia’s wooden decks are redolent of the great liners of the past and each corridor is lined with pictures of many of the old girl’s ports of call. The captain’s and officers’ quarters are very plush in a 1950s style, but cramped. They need to be, as the kitchens and sculleries need to be squeezed in, too. The Royals’ private quarters, including a lounge and bar and their sleeping quarters themselves are wonderfully compact and not overly luxurious. Ostentation is reserved for the amazing centrepiece of the formal banqueting hall and adjacent lounge. The long dining table is set ready for its next banquet, all crystal and polished silver. Britannia’s a fitting finale to our fabulous stay and, yes, this cynical old west of Scotland man will definitely be returning.