Some attractions and pubs in Edinburgh and shopping nearby
by proxam2 on January 8, 2013
McArthurGlen is Europe's leading designer outlet operator with many centres across the UK, France, Austria, Holland and Italy. This review concerns the Livingston branch.When I first moved to Livingston it was a very young new town. The Almondvale centre had just opened with a grand total of 2 supermarkets, a few shoe shops, a bakers and a few various other establishments. Bleak is the word that springs to mind. Changed days now. These days, only Edinburgh surpasses Livi in the Lothians for shopping facilities, and I think East Kildride is the only place in Scotland which has a bigger covered mall.Opened in 2000, the most recent addition (as far as indoor shopping goes) is the McARTHUR GLEN Outlet Mall. This is Scotland's largest designer outlet with over 100 shops, a cinema, restaurants and bars all under one glass roof.You can't miss MacGlen. It's a question of turning off at the Centre Interchange on the main spinal road (A899) and driving straight along. You can actually see MacGlen from the spinal road anyway, its big glass dome is visible from a good distance away. Parking's not a problem either, with plenty of ground level parking all around and a massive multi-storey at the far end.MacGlen is an outlet mall and therefore isn't home to things like supermarkets etc. What it does have, is a multitude of designer-name stores such as...och, I'd be here all day if I listed the stores. Take it from me, lots of big name stores are there, and all of them offering big discounts on their merchandise. Of course, that doesn't always mean cheap. Armani manage to still have rip-off prices on some really minging gear (but then what does a style-challenged bumpkin like me know about that sort of thing?).Fashion's probably the main attraction for people coming to MacGlen. As I said, many big names are represented here, from Aquascutum to Windmoor. But there are other goodies on offer too. There's Revlon for your cosmetic needs, or if you've overdone it with the slap, how about a power-sander from the Black & Decker shop? Or if make-up just won't solve your appearance problems, Antler and Samsonite do a natty line in bags...and suitcases.What's that? You say that's like the kettle calling the pot black? No problem. All your pot and kettle needs can be satisfied in the home furnishing area - an open-plan space which houses a collection of retailers pandering to the home decor enthusiast. Edinburgh Crystal, Denby, various furniture suppliers and obviously, or my weak link would've been even weaker, kitchen goods.There are plenty of sports and outdoor shops too, if that's your bag. Regatta, Reebok and Tog 24 to name but three - there are probably a half-dozen more.There are also toy shops in the form of an ELC and a Toyworld but only one book shop - Banana books; a Virgin music store: candle shops; paper shops; chocolatiers; a fitness centre; and with various Costa Coffees (or whatever) dotted around, the list is endless. Actually, it's not, because I'm ending it here. If you want to know what's there and what's not, you can have a peek at the website: http://www.mcarthurglen.com/centres/home.cfm centre=livingstonOf course, it's not up-to-date and some of the shops listed aren't there anymore, while other ones that aren't listed are. Confused? You will be.For me though, the best part about MacGlen isn't being able to buy overpriced clothes at an almost reasonable price. While I have been known to nip up (I live just a five minute walk away) and purchase the odd t-shirt (and sometimes one that's not odd), I like the entertainment side of it.The mall consists of two thoroughfares, with the open-plan home furnishing area at one end, and another thoroughfare at right angles at the opposite end. It's this opposite thoroughfare, under the big glass dome, which is home to a number of bars, restaurants and the cinema.The cinema is a multi-plex and in total seats around 1800 hardy souls. It's sited on the upper level, and this is where you'll also find a vast array of fast-food outlets. All the big names are there, except KFC, but they've opened a new place around 200m away in a retail park.Downstairs there are restaurants which are arranged around a central water feature and sculpture underneath the dome. A little further along the thoroughfare is where you're most likely to find me, propping up the bar in Wetherspoons - enjoying a foaming pint of ale and discussing the burning issues of the day. Or just getting quietly sloshed. Where you won't find me is across the road in The Chicago Rock Bar - pure numptyville.MacGlen is open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Saturday (8pm Thursday), and 11am to 6pm Sunday. The entertainment area is open till midnight.There's an information kiosk close to the dome where you have handy little maps of the mall, as well as tourist information for the surrounding area. There are also a row of cash machines here should you need some of the folding stuff.In conclusion, MacGlen is an attractive proposition for a day out - it must be, because it's always busy. I suppose though, the added attraction of this outlet centre over so many others, is that it's not in the middle of nowhere. However, although it's in a town centre, it's under 2 miles along a dual carriageway from junction 3 of the M8, so access is really easy.The fact that it's in the town centre means that you've also got a more regular mall of around 150 shops alongside, not to mention a couple of retail parks, hotels, nightclubs, parks and even a premier league football stadium in the immediate surroundings.The only downside is that, unless you're not very careful, going there can involve shopping...
by proxam2 on July 25, 2012
THE ROYAL MILE runs through the historic centre of Edinburgh's Old Town from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is actually longer than a mile at just under 2000 yards, and has one of the greatest concentration of historic buildings anywhere in Britain. Consequently, it is one of the busiest tourist thoroughfares in the world.The Royal Mile is made up of four streets running downhill from the castle; CASTLEHILL, LAWNMARKET, HIGH STREETand the CANONGATE. Leading off from these streets are the wynds - which are the alleyways leading to the closes, the entrances to the tenements.The street was first developed in the 12th century when strips of land, near to the castle, were built upon by wealthy merchants. The geographic layout of the city (on a volcanic ridge with deep valleys and marshes on both sides) and the defensive walls, meant that as the city prospered, the only way to expand was up, or underground. Until the end of the 18th century the Old Town was home to all levels of society, from the very rich, to the very poor, all living in overcrowded tenements up to 12 floors high. All classes of people lived in the same buildings with the rich in the lower floors and the riff-raff at the top.In the late 18th, early 19th century, the upper classes moved en-masse to the New Town and it left the Old Town as one of the worst slums in Europe. It is only in recent years that the area has been cleaned up.The best way to explore the Royal Mile is from the Castle to the Palace as it is downhill all the way and you get a view of Arthur's Seat and the Firth of Forth almost all of the way.CASTLEHILL We begin at the castle, then walk through the esplanade to Castlehill. This is the narrow street leading from the Castle Esplanade. The first site we come across is a little water fountain which marks the spot where more than 300 women were burned as witches between 1497 and 1722. This is where you will find the Witchery restaurant. Take a wild guess at how they got the name for that eatery!On the left side of the street is Ramsay Gardens which are very medieval looking buildings but in fact are late 19th century.Next to the Witchery is the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, I think you can imagine what goes on there.Just a little further down is the Camera Obscura. This has been a popular attraction in the city since 1854. I haven't been for a long time but I do remember enjoying it a great deal. It is a giant camera which sweeps around the city and conveys the image onto a large table top screen. Old fashioned webcam.A little way down is the Tolbooth Kirk, a Victorian Gothic church which is now called The Hub and stages exhibitions and musical events. LAWNMARKET Gladstones Land is the most important existing example of a 17th century tenement. The 6 storey building was built in 1620 and has beautiful painted ceilings. On the ground floor is a reconstructed shop and the first floor has been refurbished as a typical house of the period.Next we turn into Lady Stairs Close where we find Lady Stairs House which is home to the Writer's Museum. Here you will find items relating to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.A short way down the street is Deacon Brodie's Tavern named after a character who was a respected city official by day and a robber by night. He was the basis for R.L. Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. HIGH STREET Across George IV Bridge is the High Kirk (Cathedral) Of St. Giles. This is open all year and admission is free.St Giles stands in Parliament Square, the site of the Mercat cross, this is traditionally where public proclamations are read. This was also the site of the city tolbooth which was demolished in 1817. The entrance is marked by a heart shaped pattern in the cobbles called The Heart of Midlothian. Don't be alarmed if you are walking by this and someone spits on it, it is supposed to bring good luck!The remainder of the square is occupied with the Law Courts, the Signet Library and Parliament House. This is where the Scottish Parliament sat from 1639 until the "Act of Union" in 1707.On the opposite side of the street is the City Chambers, built in 1761 the is the headquarters of the city council. A friend of mine was married in these buildings and the reception was in one of the large halls and I can tell you it is magnificent inside.It is a very impressive building, about 6 floors high on the High Street facade but around 14 floors at the back, on Cockburn Street. This will tell you how steep some of the closes are .Underneath the City Chambers is Mary King's Close which was sealed off after a plague epidemic in 1645. You can visit this by guided tours.At the junction of High Street and South Bridge is the Tron Kirk built in 1637 and so named because this was where a public weighing beam, called a tron, once stood.This church is the traditional meeting point for "Hogmanay" revellers in the capital.The church is no longer used as a place of worship but instead now houses the Old Town tourist information centre.At this point the High Street crosses the road known as "The Bridges", North Bridge crossing over Waverley Railway Station and on to Princes Street, and South Bridge crossing over the Cowgate and into the Southside. The next site, on the left is John Knox's House dating from the 15th century. It is one of the most distinctive buildings in Edinburgh with overhanging wooden galleries and outside staircases leading to different floors. No-one knows if the preacher ever lived here but nevertheless it is now a museum dedicated to him.Unless you are particularly interested in the subject, it is a rather boring affair.Opposite, in Hyndland's Close, is the Museum of Childhood, an amazing place to see. The first thing you will notice is the noise, with squeals of delight and excitement ringing around the galleries. The children can be noisy as well!They have a massive collection of toys, games and dolls and it really is fun to come across some of the things you had forgotten from your own childhood.It is a hugely enjoyable day out for kids of all ages and I highly recommend it.This brings us to the junction with Jeffrey Street and St. Mary's Street at what used to be the Netherbow Port, the city's Eastern gate, and the aptly named pub, the "World's End". CANONGATE The remainder of the Royal mile, the Canongate, was a separate burgh for 700 years until the early 19th century.There are many fine buildings in this area, among them; Moray House(1628) which is now a teacher-training college, Morrocco Land, named after a 17th century pirate who retired here, and Chessel's Court, where Deacon Brodie's last robbery took place.A little further on is the 16th century Huntly House which is the city's official local history museum. This is quite a good museum with exhibits including the original plans for the New Town, and Greyfriars Bobby's collar.Opposite Huntly House is the Canongate Tolbooth - the original site of the burgh's council, the old courthouse and prison. It is now home to The People's Story Museum which gives a remarkable insight into how the ordinary people of the city have lived from the 18th century till the present day. Here you will experience the sights, sounds and smells of the past with reconstructions of homes, workshops and pubs. It should give you some idea of the appalling squalor that many of the citizens of this fine city have had to endure. Highly recommended.Further East is Queensberry House (1681) where the first Duke of Queensberry's son lived. He was the chief architect in the signing of the Act of Union, after accepting a bribe of 12,000 pounds. How ironic then that the house is now incorporated into the new Scottish Parliament building.What goes round comes round.At the foot of the Canongate is the magnificently restored White Horse Close, the stables for the palace and later, the departure point for stagecoaches to London.This brings us to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but that is another story.The Royal Mile is teeming with shopping of all description, from downright tacky souvenirs to designer shops. There are many places to eat at all price ranges and some of the best pubs in the world.
by proxam2 on August 4, 2012
Edinburgh city skyline is dominated by the castle which is Scotland's top tourist attraction and the most visited site in Britain, outside of London. It sits atop a volcanic plug with steep cliffs on three sides.This site has been constantly fought over because of it's strategic position. It's closeness to England has meant that it was always under threat of attack. It was occupied by the English in 1174 for 12 years and again by Edward 1 in 1296 until it was liberated by the Earl of Moray in 1314. the castle has withstood many sieges since then and occupied in 1650 by Cromwell.These days it is regularly 'invaded' by hordes of tourists.You really can't miss it, it sits in the centre of the city at the top of the Royal Mile.Entrance is through the esplanade, a large parade ground where the Military Tattoo is held annually, and across the drawbridge. The drawbridge is flanked by statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and the path climbs steeply to the battery where the one o'clock gun is fired. This has occurred everyday for 150 years.There are marvelous views from here across the New Town to the Firth of Forth and over to Fife.The path climbs on to the New Barracks which date from the 1700's as do a lot of the buildings within the castle walls. The path then continues on to the summit of the rock and St. Margaret's chapel, the oldest surviving building in the castle. In front of the tiny chapel is the Half Moon Battery which affords the best views of the city from the castle.South of the chapel is the Palace where in 1566 Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James V1 who was later to unite the Scottish and English crowns. This building also houses the Honours of Scotland - that is to say, the royal crown, sceptre and sword of state.Also in the crown room is the recently returned Stone of Destiny on which the Kings of Scotland were crowned. The stone was stolen by Edward 1 and only returned a few years ago although some would say that Edward stole a fake.Nearby is the Great Hall with a display of arms and armour and the Scottish National Monument, dedicated to the many tens of thousands of Scottish soldiers killed in the First world war. As a percentage of her population, Scotland lost more soldiers than any other country in the Great War.From there you can descend to the vaults, once used as a prison for French soldiers during the Napoleonic wars.From here it is literally all downhill.
by proxam2 on August 8, 2012
Directly behind, and far, far below Edinburgh Castle, lies the Grassmarket - a small open space that has played an important role in Edinburgh's history.As the name implies, the Grassmarket used to be where local farmers brought their hay and other produce for sale. But in times past it was also the location of one of the main gallows in the city and crowds would flock in huge numbers to see the public executions.Pubs in the Grassmarket are not an uncommon sight, they literally line the streets, jostling for position, side-by-side, one after another.Two pubs that are not only next door to each other, but share a common theme, are MAGGIE DICKSON'S and THE LAST DROP TAVERN. Immediately outside their doors was the scene of public hangings back in the 18th century.Maggie Dickson was one of the victims of the gallows, but when tossed on the burial cart after her 'execution', she could be heard still moaning. After some attention, she survived and lived out her remaining days down in Portobello where she was known as 'Hauf Hingit Maggie!'Nowadays, on summer afternoons the scene here resembles the very best of French cafe life (as opposed to life during the French Revolution!), with almost as many customers outside as when executions were public entertainment. (Conversely, in winter it is more reminiscent of Siberian cafe life!)THE LAST DROP is the older of the two pubs and is so named in commemoration of the last ever hanging in the Grassmarket. It is only a few steps from the very spot on which the original gallows stood - although you're not very likely to witness a public hanging these days. There's speculation at the origins of the name with some suggesting that the condemned were given their last drop to drink before getting their neck stretched, but it's more likely that the name derives from the fact that so many people literally took their last drop there.The pub is housed in one of the few buildings in the Grassmarket to have retained its original form and design from that time. You can't miss it, the exterior of the pub is painted bright red. The interior is relatively large for a pub in the Old Town - some of them can be crowded when the number of patrons goes into double figures.There's lots of hidden little corners and the low ceiling - supported by pillars, intimate tables and low-level lighting, make for a cosy and welcoming atmosphere. It's decorated with many interesting and some quite unusual pictures of the Grassmarket - as well as curiosities from the local area - with a large array of banknotes from around the world adorning the wooden, ceiling beams.There is a decent, if less than inspired, selection of draught beer - the usual suspects are represented - such as: Tennents, Carlsberg, Calders, Tetleys, Guinness and there are guest ales; there's also the usual range of wines and spirits, with a good selection of malt whiskies. Prices are average for central Edinburgh - extortionate.This wouldn't be my first choice of pub in the area, there are better alternatives as regards choices of ale, but when shopping with the wife, the thought of taking a lunch-break in ANY pub is a welcome diversion. They serve food until 7.30pm, mostly traditional Scottish pub fare but with a few offerings from further afield.The menu is good with quite a large choice of meals, or for anyone just looking for a snack, more simple options like baked potatoes and sandwiches etc. Meals range from steak pie to bangers 'n' mash; pizza to moussaka; chicken tikka to burgers; various salads, and a wide choice of starters and desserts. They even do a vegetarian (and regular) haggis with neeps and tatties.I was tempted to have the cured ham salad but as they didn't state what it had been cured of, I thought better of it and decided instead on the lasagne, which was very good. It was a large portion - stuffed with mince and lots of creamy cheese sauce - with a lovely, fresh and crisp, side salad and garlic bread.The wife opted for an impressive bowl of steaming pea & ham soup with crusty bread. The soup was a meal in itself and was so thick you could stand your spoon in it. Outside of summer, it isn't too busy at lunchtime and you can usually always get a table. When it comes round to the height of the tourist season though...forget it.I can't really say what it's like of an evening as I haven't been there at night for years but it's generally a very busy area, especially at the weekend, so I wouldn't expect this pub to be any different.
Far below Edinburgh Castle, down in the deep, dark canyons of the 'Auld Toon', lies THE GRASSMARKET. Now, I have no doubt that it's possible to buy some pretty good Northern Lights around here, but the grass referred to has more to do with feeding livestock than getting off your face. Still, had you going there for a bit, eh?The Grassmarket was the site of an open air market for at least 500 years, right up until 1911. In recent years, this tradition has been restored, with a fair taking place on the first three Saturdays in August around the time of the Edinburgh Festival. Even today, The Grassmarket has the unmistakable appearance of a medieval market-place (well, it would if you demolished a couple of the more modern buildings, did away with cars, removed electric lighting and...you get the picture). Tall, crow-stepped tenements rise up on all four sides, enclosing a large open area which is shaded by poplar trees, and all of it overshadowed by the dark, brooding castle towering solemnly above.It's not so much a square, as a long and broad cobbled area which is accessed by five streets at the four corners, as well as various wynds and steps which are only suitable for pedestrians - and fit ones at that, due to the steep surroundings.One of these stepped wynds is called The Vennel, and a quick investigation will reveal a stretch of one of the old town walls (several were built as the city expanded), the Flodden Wall (1513)The GRASSMARKET has always been a less than salubrious area, but a couple of the more infamous inhabitants were Burke and Hare. Today, a pub at the top of the West Port is named for these two 'characters', although if seedy lap-dancing bars aren't your idea of entertainment, it's probably best avoided.Speaking of pubs, while not the den of iniquity of earlier years, this area is packed with drinking establishments of all kinds and while it's very safe and almost sedate during daylight hours, it can become somewhat noisy and lively come the night. There are far too many pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes to list here, but suffice to say that pretty much all tastes are catered for.These days, The Grassmarket is taken over by pavement cafe-style culture where it's sometimes easier to get a double latte than a pint of heavy. Changed days indeed. I still remember the days when the area was home to a number of places like the Castle Trades Hotel, a grotty doss-house. In those days the air was rank with the 'heady' mix of urine, meths and bel-air. a carelessly tossed match and the whole shebang would have went bang. Happily, it's not like that anymore and instead of being mugged for cash by some half-jaked dosser, you're more likely to be relieved of your cash for some half-filled mug of coffee.As for shopping, a trip to Victoria Street, the West Bow, Candlemaker Row, Grassmarket and the West Port is definitely worth the effort of trudging those steep, cobbled streets. This characterful and colourful area sometimes goes unnoticed by those who stick rigidly to the touristy Royal Mile, or the High St names and department stores of Princes St. But that's their loss. This collection of historic streets radiating from the Grassmarket are home to some of the best quirky, and eclectic shopping anywhere in the city. And apart from during the height of the tourist season, where everywhere in Edinburgh is jam-packed, it can be relatively free from crowds .In conclusion, this is a fascinating area of Edinburgh's Auld Toon. Steeped in history and almost buried in stunning architecture, these days it's shaken off it's dowdy, slum-infested past somewhat and has a quite Bohemian feel. There are endless shopping and dining opportunities,and more atmospheric pubs than you could spill a pint over. If there's a downside, it's that it's probably a little on the boisterous side at night, but having said that, it's still a lot safer that most inner cities.
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