A June 2003 trip
to Edinburgh by milliebell
Quote: I want to share the best and worst of Edinburgh, that wonderful city.
Edinburgh can be costly, but as the saying goes, some of the best things are free, or cheap.
On a warm day, relax in Princes Street gardens and enjoy some lovely views of the old town skyline, people watching and chilling out. A cheap picnic lunch can be had from local grocers.
Walking is fun in Edinburgh and walks up Carlton Hill of good views. Strolling around the New Town and exploring the wynds and closes off the Royal Mile is also fun. There are some great free museums. My favourites out of the ones I visited were the Peoples Musuem and the Writers museum. If you have a day to kill, visit the National Musuem of Edinburgh. Of course, not free, but a must, is sampling some Scottish whiskys in a bar.
For a cheap and sustantrial take out meal, try the baked potato shop on Cockburn Street. The range of fillings goes beyond boring. If fast food is more your scene, there are numerous cheap places by the Cowgate, with lots of bars, etc.
I liked lots of things about this place. The facilities are good - internet access, games room, lounge - this tends to be busy and lively, 'posh' lounge' which is mainly very quiet and where people go to read, and guest kitchen. Breakfast is optional - £1.90 gets you juice, cereal and a croissant or scone or roll, or you can purchase the items seperately. The reception sells soft drinks, sweets, tioletries etc. You can join the Macbackpackers tours from here, and the hostel runs day tours. There are are also evening activities- a video is shown every evening at 9pm and there are other social events arranged as and when. The hostel is clean and well decorated. Reception is open 24 hours and there is no curfew or lockout.
The dorms are single sex. Each room has a name, and each bed is named according to that theme. There are paintings on the walls. The dorms are clean, spacious and the bunks are solid. However, they are not comfortable, with lumpy foam mattresses that are too thin to provide much cushioning fromthe wooden base. The bathrooms are clean and mixed sex, though there are not that many of them and I had to queue for ages for showers. However, the water is always hot.
The staff are a mixed bag of international people. Some are really friendly - I was reallly impressed that one guy remembered my name, though the hostel was really busy. Another girl however was like she just didn't have time for hostel guests at reception.
On the downside, the hostel can be quite noisy, though I guess this can only be expected when it is just of the Royal Mile on a main street and near the Cowgate with all its bars and clubs. Sleeping was not easy on weekend nights. However, I cannot blame hostel management for the behaviour of the local and visiting drunks outside.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 29, 2003
15 Johnson Terrace
+44 0131 225 9666
I initially started off on the second floor, in a big spacious 6-bed dorm with a BIG shower room next door. Because of a few big groups, I was moved downstairs to another dorm halfway through. This was also a 6-bed dorm, but the room was a lot smaller, so it seemed more cramped. There were no luggage storage areas in there, and the showers were quite a walk away, and they were tiny with no areas for clothes, towels etc. I guess its just luck as to which room you get allocated.
There is a very comfortable lounge with Internet access (£1 for 20 minutes), and the reception area is comfortable. In front of the hostel is parkland, so there are plenty of places to chill out in warm weather. It is not recommended to walk through the park at night if you’re alone. There is a well equipped kitchen and dining area, but its in the basement and dingy, not somewhere pleasant to hang out. Security is good. The door code to get past the reception area changes daily and you get a key for your dorm room, and there are additional lockers if you need them.
I liked Bruntsfield a lot and I would go back. I found the staff to be the friendliest of almost any hostel I have stayed in (and I have stayed in several). The other guests were friendly and easily conversive, there were loads of people there on their own, and I enjoyed meeting lots of really cool people. Unfortunately, the hostel’s large size means it gets a lot of school and college groups. Most of these were fine, but one group was very noisy and misbehaved constantly.
The location is a bit out of the city centre, but it’s not too bad. The bus stops on the main road, Bruntsfield Place, are only a few minutes walk from the hostel. Buses 10, 11, 15, 15a, 16, 17 and 23 run direct to Princes Street and St. Andrews square, and they run very frequently. The single fare was 80p when I was there (May 2004). From Bruntsfield place, it’s an easy walk into the city centre, as the road pretty much is the same one. In addition, there are several shops and restaurants on Bruntsfield place, including a continental bakery with chocolate croissants to die for, a fantastic deli called Peckhams, and Parrots restaurant there is fantastic for people on their own, with very friendly staff, great food, and an excellent drinks list, and there were several people there eating on their own when I went.
I stayed there for seven nights and I really didn't want to leave. It was £13 a night then. The hostel’s website can be found at http://www.syha.org.uk.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 22, 2004
Bruntsfield Youth Hostel
7 Bruntsfield Crescent,
Attraction | "City of the Dead"
At the Kirkyard, the guide explained how the yard was in three sections. At the martyrs memorial, the guide explained about the Edinburgh martrys. When we stopped at the headstone for John Gray, of Greyfriars bobby fame, the guide told us of a different and far less romantic reason why Bobby was so devoted to the grave. I won't spoil it for anyone planning on taking the tour.
In the criminals section, the guide captivated us with stories of the bodysnatchers and some other notorious criminal elements of old Edinburgh.
Then, it was to the haunted burial vault. According to the material in the Tron church, there have been hundreds of people on guided tours affected by the Mackenzie poltergeist. Records, newspaper clippings and witness accounts are available to read at the Tron church - preferably after the tour. However, that night, McKenzie was being well behaved. Nothing at all happened. The only spooks were living ones, in forms of other tour guides. The guide told us stories of times he had witnessed events happening.
After that, the walk was over. I would not advise this for children, but the teenagers on the walk enjoyed it. I would happily go again and I would cal lit a great introduction to Edinburgh and its history. It was not frightening that night, just so funny you had to be there to apreciate it.
City of the Dead Tours
Departs from St. Giles Cathedral
On the way to the vaults, the guide stopped the group and told stories of the darker side of old Edinburgh. We stopped in closes to find out more about life in them in the earlier days and about more that happened.
That was just a warm up. The real fun started when we reached the South Bridge vaults. These were built in when the South Bridge was built. The bridge is packed with buildings on each side, so it is actually hard to tell that there is a bridge there. They were used as workshops and storage vaults. The guide pointed out that regardless of the weather outside, the temparature is always constant and the air is always still. On reflection, she was right -- it was cool in the vaults, colder outside. Just the right temparature for storing bodies, she pointed out. She took us into the haunted chamber. The chamber is haunted by a ghost known as Mr. Boots, well known for being territorial in his time both before AND after death. She told us of a time when she was leading a tour group around and Mr. Boots ordered a tourist out. On the night I was there, Mr. Boots must have been haunting another vault, as nothing happened to anoyone in the group, to both my disappointment and relief.
We went into another vault, where it was said to be hanuted by a friendly ghost of a Cobbler. A friendly ghost makes a refreshing change in Edinburgh's haunted tales. However, the cobbler must have been off duty as he didn't put in an appearance. The chamber is also haunted by a women who attacks female tourists only, who never recovered from being betrayed by her lover. On this night the female tourists remained unattacked.
As we prepared to leave, the group heard a scraping sound from further down the passageway, followed by a deep moaning noise. I giggled, thinking it was a plot to scare us.
After the walk, we went to a pub on the Royal Mile, where you could have a dram of whisky, a glass of white wine or lemonade or Cola. The guide told us more stories. She insisted that there was no one following behind up in the vaults, so I am not sure what it was we heard after all. It was actually a lovely relaxing evening. I would recommend this to gain a sense of Edinburgh's folklore, which to me is a real part of the city and its culture.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 6, 2003
Ghost Hunters walk
Meet at Mercat Cross on the High Street
Attraction | "Mary Kings Close"
The tours are led by guides who take on characters of the people who once lived there. I was led around by Jonet Nimmo, 'Mary Kings Daughter' in period dress.
However, the effects were too overdone. In attempting to give an example of how it would have looked, it really just killed the experience. With electric lighting, wooden floors, light projections of figures on the walls, taped sounds, etc. it seemed to lose its historical significance. I felt like a guided tour was not needed -- there is no complex of chambers, so once you reach the end of the close you cannot go anywhere else, and it meant I didn't have time to look at things in more detail. The buildings are apparently original, and I would have liked time to look at those in more detail and how the close was laid out. However, you could only go into the reconstructed rooms. These were a cattle pen, wealthy person's living room, plague victim's bedroom, etc. At one point, the tour group sat on wooden boxes to listen to a tape recording of life during the plague. In addition, the rooms in those days were very small, and still far too small to fit a large group of people in comfortably. In some rooms, I didn't even get to enter.
It had some redeming points. The last part of the tour took us into a room that has been left alone -- to me this gave far more information than the reconstructed ones. In the corner, there was a large pile of toys, left for the ghost of a little girl who is said to be said. I didn't leave a toy, but I have heard that they are given to a local childrens charity on a regular basis. I also learnt some other interesting titbits -- like whatever the popular history books and guides on other tours tell you, the citizens were NOT bricked up alive during the times of the great plague. Finally, about 45 minutes after leaving the gift shop, I emerged back there. I would recommend this tour -- if you want to see Mary Kings Close you can only see it on a guided tour, and it's interesting enough and entertaining, but if you haven't the time/money to do all of the guided tours, I would recommend the ghosthunters walks or City of the dead tour instead.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 6, 2003
Mary King's Close
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1PG
Attraction | "The Sctoch Whisky Heritage Centre"
The group was herded into a room, where we watched a video on the popularity of whisky in Scotland. Then, we were herded into another room to watch a video on locations of distilling in Scotland. Then, in another room there was a large model of a distillery. The guide explained the distilling process, and pressed a button whilst the front cover rose of the model to show us the various stages. Before we had time to glance at the different rooms, the front cover returned to its position and we were then herded to watch the ghost of the master blender. This is an electric light display accommpanied by a tape recording and whisky bottled backdrop. Finally, four people at a time were put onto a large moving plastic barrel that went along a track at a very slow speed past reconstructed displays showing the history of whisky.
I was not overly impressed by the method. I didn't feel the guided tour was needed -- anyone could have made their own way around, watching the videos as they went like in other musuems, and walking around the displays and taking things in in their own time. It was only a short walk.
That said, I did learn something of whisky in Scotland -- the difference between malt and grain whiskys, the aging process, the Scotch whisky export industry, etc.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on July 6, 2003
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2NE
+44 131 220 0441
Attraction | "The Peoples Story"
A cell is still set up and posters about escaped prisoners. The cell was probably made for tourists though, as it is described as a very unpleasant and dirty place when it was a jail. The cell was clean and comfortable.
The other galleries reflected life in Edinburgh. My favourite was the working gallery. Here was information and displays on working conditions, pay etc. for dockers, domestic servants, fishing, hotel staff, barrel makers, bookbinders etc. There was some typical reconstructions which were probably off the mark, but there was also lots of old photos, written testimonies of people who remember those years, tools, and information like old posters.
The gallery exploring housing in Edinburgh was also informative, again with photos, written testimonies, newspaper reports, etc. It covered everything form slum clearance to the development of the big council estates, high rise blocks, etc. and it touched on homelessness.
Other similar galleries focused on leisure, law and order etc.
On the top floor, a video constantly plays where old people of Edinburgh talk about their work, leisure, housing, and family life earlier in the century, and about major hostorical issues. This is what I loved about the musuem. It really was the people's story.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 6, 2003
Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8BN
+44 131 529 4057
Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom