I had been vaguely aware that this trip was going to happen and even bought Mum the Scotland Lonely Planet for Xmas because I knew how keen she was to go back. It still managed to creep up on me and before I’d even caught my breath from the previous week’s work I found myself packing and becoming quite excited by the thought of returning to Scotland. Mum decided originally that we would all go to visit with relatives and maybe take a trip out to North Uist on the North West Coast to visit the place where her mother was born and that she hadn’t been to since the mid sixties. More important than this though was that we all able to have a family holiday and so when we found that Rae couldn’t take enough time off work we re-imagined something based around Edinburgh and Glasgow and a short hop westward to Ayrshire to see Grandma’s only 2 surviving siblings, my great aunt and great uncle, in Largs. I hadn’t been to Scotland or seen the family since 1997 so was looking forward to a visit. Scotland is a fantastic place and I knew that there would be plenty to do and see but I couldn’t remember what Edinburgh or Glasgow were really like (although I’d seen my relatives ten years previous I hadn’t been to either city since I was four or five so I wasn’t sure what to expect). So after a few drunken nights saying my farewells to folk at Sanctuary I got as prepared as one can be to spend six hours locked in a confined space with your immediate family and clambered into the car for the epic journey. This was less painful than I’d expected and I managed to pass myself off as dead by plugging myself into the iPod and dozing.
We made for Edinburgh first and arrived about four-ish on the Friday. The parents were duly deposited in a cosy B and B and Rae and I opted for the centre of town backpacker experience. Our place boasted the requisite amount of Aussies, assorted strange folk and loud colours to be called a proper traveller’s hostel and was comfy and well appointed except that it did smell like something has died in the washrooms. Being situated in the Cowgate (pronounced ‘Koo-gitt’) area of the city a few levels beneath the main high roads there were a few clubs nearby and it was quite a lively area which suited us and we weren’t far from the Royal Mile where a lot of the older and more atmospheric pubs were to be found. We were greeted by intermittent rain and cold winds but we pretty well expected that. The first day we did the castle and got lost in the bowels of this huge and imposing building that seemed to be at one with the rock it was manacled to. The castle was preoccupied with ancient heraldry and coronations and chronicling the various military regiments that it has spawned and we shuffled though trying to take it all in before being spat back out into the driving wind and rain and taking a direct route down from the hill through a series of winding and steep ginnels that Edinburgh is riddled with and making for a lunch venue. The night before we’d picked out a restaurant and were seated in a basement seemingly away from the other customers and this day the same thing happened – we were starting to think we needed to be segregated for some reason. This didn’t stop the food being really good and escaping the wind and rain for an hour to consume ridiculously good French food was a tough job but someone had to do it! We spent the afternoon wending our way down the Royal Mile to The Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of the hill and attempting to ascend the crag of Arthur’s Seat that lay just beyond it. We never did learn exactly where we were supposed to go but felt as if we’d had some exercise and glimpsed some alternative views of the city before we repaired to a series of cosy pubs and a friendly little Italian restaurant for supper. Sunday was more successful and we found the camera obscurer just next to the castle. I’d wanted to see this ever since discovering the one in Bristol. This superb piece of Victorian invention allows you to use light and mirrors to spy on the city below you and get glimpses of the unsuspecting bustle nearby. The camera obscurer here was slightly superior to the one in Bristol in that its controls were more flexible and it was in better keep. It cost more to go in but then on the way up to the top floor the visitors were treated to chambers full of optical illusion games, puzzles, displays and holograms which were even more fun (if you do go, spare yourself the horror of morphing into your relatives – it was more than I could take!). We then grabbed a bit of lunch from a very trendy café that supplied you with colourful reception-class furniture and delicious shakes and wraps that Dad was highly suspicious of. We had a good look round the National Gallery and then discovered a place that offered tours of the abandoned closes under contemporary street level. Since Edinburgh’s rapid development and lack of space had forced it to grow upwards and laws were in place preventing people dwelling underground after it was paved over these endless passages and catacombs were deeply atmospheric and eerie, preserved pretty much the way they would have been, albeit without the sprawl and jostle of huge families packed into single rooms, stores and workshops, the endless flow of raw sewage along the main thoroughfares and the caverns stuffed full of cattle. The rooms were haunting with some apparently haunted aswell. The ghost stories were a bit hammy but some of the historical accounts were slightly chilling especially the plague element. We took ourselves off for a swift pint after that and found a superb seafood restaurant.
Next day we made for Glasgow and spent the afternoon doing a walking tour that our Lonely Planet suggested and finished up with a meal of haggis and veg and a nip of whiskey. Rae and I had a hostel in the west end by the university where most of the more stylish and friendly bars and shops were to be found. I knew that Glasgow would be much bigger but the more I looked round it I saw how much it had to offer and how much more of a functioning and kinetic city it was. The older parts boasted just as much compelling and complex architecture as it’s older neighbour yet felt as if they had made more of an effort to move with the times. The metro was also fun (and so ickle!). I just wish that we’d had longer to look round. Although both cities are less than an hour’s drive apart it still took the whole of Monday morning to sort ourselves out and get out of one hostel and into another and we only really had the Monday afternoon there. The Tuesday was reserved for seeing relatives and we had a good few hours catching up and reminiscing. The Tuesday was the only really decent day in terms of the weather which was helpful because we were by the sea so this made things that much more pleasurable, and gave us the chance to have fish and chips on the sea front. The whole break felt far too short but we packed a lot in as we usually manage to. I just hope it’s not another ten years before I can make it back.