Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Introducing "Getting to know Edinburgh"

Nipping off to the shops as early spring sun made Edinburgh magical. I thought “I must write about this”. So I did, and a guide book gradually took shape. The publication date kept being postponed. It involved a lot of research, and a lot of walking, and a traffic accident. But it is finished at last. It has been fascinating to do.

My method has been to do the walks and then write about them, always from memory, resorting to research only to plug the gaps. This may have led to some errors in the history, but at least it is original, not copied. I have, of course, left out as much as I have included, but there is more than enough here for a week’s holiday, or entertainment on a train journey. The last task was to take a photo for the cover.

In case any one is interested in buying the book here is the link to it.
 I have added the introduction and the contents page to this post. I hope you think it looks more, not less attractive. One of the first people to read it said he liked it because it was “witty”. What a nice comment.

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To the Reader

In 2014 I began my forty-first year as a resident of Edinburgh (always the South Side). We arrived in an old black Riley, up the A7, so that I could take up a post teaching history. Edward Heath was Prime Minister, and was in big trouble with the Trades Unions. No schools owned computers – they were far too big and expensive (the computers, not the schools) – and some of the city’s milk was delivered by horse and cart. It was professionally necessary, as well as a pleasure, to learn more and more about the history of the city, the character of the city, the buildings of the city, the ways through and round the city.

I imagine you, with your e-reader, staying for a few days and wanting them to be as fulfilling and purposeful as possible. Hence this book. It is the book I would like if I were here on holiday for a week: not too long; not infused with cynical nostalgia about how good it used to be before vulgar trippers like you came along; and not packed with information I shall never want about shopping, restaurants, times of trains and so on. (I can find shops for myself, thanks, and train times change.) It only has stuff that interests me, but I am sure our interests overlap. There is a lot of history, a lot of museums, a lot of art galleries, and a lot of tramping the streets.

Edinburgh is fairly well provided with information boards, wall plaques and so on. I have referred to a few of them, but on the whole I assume that if you can read this, you can read them too, and have avoided duplication. Since this is an e-book I have also included links to the official web-sites of the main sites. These are informative and will be kept up to date.

I have been here forty years. I am going to indulge in some total immersion in all the best this great city has to offer, and I am going to share it with you in a series of tours. Friends and critics who know Edinburgh will no doubt point out important sites and sights that I have left out. To them I say “Write your own book!” To visitors I will say without apology that this is not, and is not meant to be, a work of reference. Do not be disappointed that this is not what it does not pretend to be. Do get yourself a work-of-reference guide as well and visit the Tourist Information Centre above Waverley Station.. This book of mine makes much of my particular interests – history, fine art, literature, and town and country walks.

You do not, of course, have to follow my routes in order, or even follow them at all (though if you do you will end the week with a mind enlarged and calf muscles in trim from much walking). I like to think of you reading this on the train as you journey here, and then picking out bits day by day. But perhaps you will follow it from beginning to end; if so, you deserve a medal. One word of warning. Publication of this book was delayed when I walked in front of a moving car and was lucky to escape permanent injury. Do take care on road crossings.

There is no end to the other books you could buy; there are plenty of book shops in Edinburgh, not to mention the various museum and gallery shops. You can enjoy browsing, and spending money. I am just going to mention five, which you may not find on the shelves, but are worth looking for.

One is “Edinburgh” by David Daiches. I see that at this moment I could buy a used copy on-line for £3.49. It is written in a pleasant style and is particularly strong on literary associations.

The second is “Memorials of His Time” by Henry Cockburn. It seems to be available at a range of prices, depending on edition. It is one of the best history books ever written, and describes the city from the 1780s to the 1820s. This covers one of the most intensely exciting times in Edinburgh’s history, though on the night when there was supposed to be a riot of Paisley weavers and Cockburn rather sheepishly enrolled as a special constable, “the whole city was a silent as the grave, or even as Peebles.”. Expect to find some quotations appearing here and there in this guide.

The third is “Edinburgh: An Illustrated Architectural Guide” by Charles McKean, which not only contains more factual information per ounce than any other pocket-sized book I can think of, it also has hundreds of photos. It is not, at the moment, cheaply available, but it is worth the money.

The fourth is “The Capital of the |Mind: How Edinburgh changed the World” by James Buchan. This comprehensive and fascinating look at the eighteenth century, the phenomenon known as the Scottish Enlightenment, is fairly recently published, and readily available.

Finally there is “Layers of Edinburgh” by Eleanor Harris. This is an illustrated historical map of the Old Town. The author is a serious artist and a serious historian and the result is everything you want to know on one sheet of A3 paper. The drawings and colour make it a perfect souvenir. You will find it here:

I will also mention a Facebook page: Lost Edinburgh. The huge and growing collection of old photographs is fascinating.

For getting around I recommend the Lothian bus service. If you expect to make more than two journeys in a day, ask for a day ticket. Because I am very old I have a free bus pass – one of my best perks. By the time this book is finished the trams will be running, but I do not think their route will help you much.

In this guide I use the points of the compass very frequently. If you remember that the Royal Mile and Princes Street run East – West, that the Firth of Forth is to the North and that the Pentland Hills are to the South you are unlikely to go far wrong.

Getting to know Edinburgh: Contents

Introduction: To the Reader

Note that there are descriptions of many things to see as you walk between each of the main sites that do not have a separate sub-heading. These come after a sub-heading and before you arrive at the main site listed.

Note also that I have included links to web-sites for many of the main attractions.

1. Route One:
  • Calton Hill
  • The National Gallery
  • The Writers’ Museum
  • Lawnmarket

2. Route Two: 
  • Greyfriars
  • The National Museum
  • The High Street
  • The High Kirk of Saint Giles

 3. Route Three:
  • Holyrood Palace
  • Canongate Kirk
  • The Museum of Edinburgh
  • The People’s Story Museum
  • Canongate – Netherbow – High Street

4. Route Four:
  • Ramsay Garden
  • Princes Street Gardens
  • The Castle

5. Route Five:
  • The First New Town,
  • The Second New Town
  • The Portrait Gallery

6. Route Six:
  • Lothian Road,
  • The Canal
  • Toll Cross and Portsburgh
  • The Grassmarket
  • The Cowgate and the Flodden Wall

7. Route Seven:
  • Morningside
  • Bruntsfield
  • The Meadows

8. Route Eight:
  • Canonmills
  • The Water of Leith
  • The Botanical Gardens
  • The Gallery of Modern Art

9. Route Nine:
  • Salisbury Crags
  • Dynamic Earth 
  • The Scottish Parliament

10. A few suggestions for other things to do
  • A seaside resort
  • An open-top bus trip
  • A mountain walk
  • Edinburgh Zoo
  • The Royal Yacht
  • A boat trip
  • An urban farm
  • Saughton Rose Garden
  • The Sea-life Centre
  • A day in Glasgow
  • Blackford Hill

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