When I travel away from Edinburgh, my aim is clear: either to walk Pilgrimage (taking the paths people have trodden before me, where their steps have created tangible layers of spiritual tradition); or to explore a given area, what to me is virgin territory.
But when I am home, my walks are more prosaic – to and from work and the shops for my messages (used in Scotland, meaning errands) – placing my feet on known land, pavements I have walked so many times. Then my focus is on forging new connections between familiar places, seeing the same views from alternative perspectives and finding something new in them.
On Jan 11, I joined in the Snapshot Synchronised Walk (Women Who Walk Network) taking a route from Causewayside in a near-straight line to York Place.
After a day of teaching, a good tramp is therapeutic. Via ghostly vennels, northwards along narrow-walled passageways, up slopes, down flights of steep steps, I discovered a gothic-glowing steeple, a jaundiced arch lit by 19th century streetlamps, and scary blue eyes in a repurposed church. The extra-mundane exuded from the normal.
I walked Causewayside from Sainsburys, past Summerhall with its ghoulish green up-lighting,
I meandered along the edge of the Meadows, and the South Loch Gin Distillery (which I hadn’t seen before),
I kept the University on my left,
Until I glimpsed the rear of the National Museum.
I picked my way over the cobbles of West College Street,
Across Chambers Street,
Down steps to meet Guthrie Street half way,
Crossed the Cowgate and took a mini-right to find Stevenlaw’s Close (which I didn’t know was there). Looking right I paused to snap the Stramash Live Music Bar.
On the opposite side of the High Street was Fleshmarket Close,
On the opposite side of Cockburn Street was the downhill flight past the Halfway House:
Through Waverley Station and up the other side, I crossed Princes Street and took South St Andrew’s Street where I popped my head into the old Bank of Scotland which has become a mighty fine looking hotel.
I posted a thank you letter in a pastel pink envelope I had been carrying in my bag for a few days, to my sister in London.
The rain came on.
The wind blew me through the bus station (where a small bag of mini-cheddars were outrageously priced) and out onto York Place, carefully avoiding trapping my toes in the tram lines.
Rounding the corner to Broughton Street I found that the bus stop was closed – again.
All the way down that road I tripped, head down because of the driving wind,
…where I waited 7 minutes, as my coat became increasingly sodden, before taking the bus to my home by the sea.
Granton Harbour (built in the 1830s and historical site of the first electric car factory) to South Queensferry – an easy and utterly heavenly walk which takes you along the shore, through woodland and between agricultural pastures.
This blog contains directions for the walk, together with a collection of observations.
Today was everything that is quintessentially reminiscent of my childhood in British springtime: bluebell woods and wild flowers by the path side.
I left at 11.20 and arrived at 4.20, but as my friend Ann said when she told me about this walk on Friday, it depends how many times you stop! I think I probably had half an hour at the cafe and half on the beach so I would allow 4 hours.
“The natural world is where we evolved. It’s where our minds evolved. It’s where we became who we truly are, and it’s where we are most at home.” – Michael McCarthy –
It starts among wasteland and industrial plots – either side of West Harbour Road.
Once away from the traffic, I saw a circle of gulls mimicking a mothers group, just out at sea; a pair of multi-coloured sparrow-small birds (red, black, brown and white) which played by the water line; eider ducks swam by – she brown and he black and white.
The little girl who held her mother’s hand was leaping for joy over the waves.
The tarmac way stretching from Granton through Silverknowes (1 mile) to Cramond is perfect for wheels of all sorts – scooters, roller skates and blades, prams, wheelchairs and bikes. Dad said, ‘look no hands’, and wobbled dangerously. As he passed me he muttered, ‘harder on this bike’!
It can be crowded at weekends at this stage, but at other times so very peaceful. As I passed, I caught the fragrance of elderflower and meadowsweet. The Edinburgh airport flight path is parallel to this trek so planes roared periodically overhead.
Past Gypsy Brae, I spied Almond House Lodge. At the corner you can cross to Cramond Island at low tide but beware! people often get stranded.
On the left are public toilets and then a steep slope up to the village. By now you will have passed two ice-cream vans. There are two cafes: the Cramond Gallery Bistro near where the Roman statue of a lionness was dredged up in 1977, and further on past the marina, the Cramond Falls cafe. There I stopped for a delicious green tea and what was not really a scone but nice cherry cake just out of the oven. I sat in the ‘walled garden’ listening to a woman read out a most distressing text from her son.
A duckling was nudged by its mother; a tan-headed crested grebe ducked and reappeared, its tuft upright though wet. Thin, shiny-green beech leaves seemed almost plasticy, matching the weed drifted in the river. The sound of bubbling water and the ‘creep creep’ of birds surrounded me.
One of a pair of women in serious sun hats were the first to say ‘good morning’, an hour and a half into my walk. She was American. ‘Oh’, she said as I went past, ‘I’ve been saying good morning all this time and it’s the afternoon!’ and laughed. Later there were many friendly families of cyclists cheerfully greeting me.
The path is generally very easy to follow, but do keep taking the right hand fork if you have a choice.
Take a right at Dowies Mill Lane where there is a playpark and Shetland ponies. I realised I was already at the field I was told about and, yes, there was an immediately newborn foal in a woman’s arms. Last week’s littl’un was being trotted round the field by mum. The two other adult horses were curious, and crowded round the shed door.
Then right again at Cramond Brig (bridge). (You could go left for the cycle path back to Edinburgh, or straight on for the continuation of the Almond Walkway).
After Bridge Cottage (above), go up the lane by the Cramond Brig Inn and keep right until there are signs to South Queensferry. The road travels through the Dalmeny Estate by a bank of comfrey, white dead nettle, dandelions, pink campion and buttercups. Flies looped the loop after each other in front of my nose. A cuckoo called; a bee buzzed by my ear; white cherry-blossom petals wafted.
Keep straight on.
Look to the right to see Granton’s very own disused gas building frame thing.
When when you get close to the sea take the left fork signed John Muir Way (JM Way).
A group of women came up behind me with their Glasgow accents. Actually, all day I heard almost as many foreign languages as I hear when walking in mainland Europe.
Turn left again at the beach. Here one can take a tiny right hand détour to lie on warm sand and sit on the promontory of Eagle Rock with its chocolate seams, in a beige cove. I looked back to my right at Cramond Harbour with a beautiful view of the island.
I meditated on the sound of the waves and tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore the fly crawling up my arm. I smelled the beautiful briney sea (sing-along-a Bedknobs and Broomsticks fans).
Oyster catchers, and curlews with long sabre-curved beaks perched on the starboard side.
At the cottages, stay right on the JM Way.
There was a coconut scent of warm gorse here. The ash trees had young leaves, no black nibs to decorate them now as it is April. I stopped and hung over the dinky wooden bridge and heard a bumble bee and the trickling brook.
Two geese flew over and honked. It is definitely spring – everything and everyone is in pairs. I will be honest, I want the whole world to be in love.
First I walked past the impressive Dalmeny House and very shortly afterwards, the grey stone Barnbougle Castle owned by the Earl of Rosebery and extremely private. This is where I saw my first magenta rhododendron buds. I was on cycle route 76 as well as the JM Way.
A great arc of precisely patterned oyster catchers alighted in front of the couple who sat quietly side-by-side at the shoreline. Later I spot them (the birds!) lined up neatly, a flock on a rock, like white cake icing.
I past a mum taking a snap of dad up a tree, son in his bike helmet looking up into the branches nervously. As I waded through springy undergrowth to get a shot, I disturbed spider filaments which clung to me and tickled as I got back to the path. There were cerise stalks and seed cases of the sycamore and pollen yellow clutch of unfurled ferns.
To my mind it was a shame about the yapping dogs on the beach and the droning of the water motorbikes; but a kid hurling stones, boys paddling and little girls rock pooling all seemed somewhat idyllic.
‘Do you trust me’ asked a lady’, shrilly? And then she laughed with a wicked stepmother sort of laugh. A black lab with a ruby, lolling tongue implied, ‘you might want to lie down but I want you to throw the stick’.
I passed out of the Dalmeny Estate through the Longcraig Gate at South Queensferry. If you do not want to walk the way I did, you can park at the foot of the rail bridge there and walk part of the way in the other direction. You could also take the train from Edinburgh to Dalmeny Town and cycle (£4.70 return with Scotrail).
A lad said, ‘Don’t you hate it when you get a speck of sand between your toes and then there’s a blister?’
Under the famous rail bridge I found myself on New Halls Road where perhaps 50 bikers with their beards and bald heads brummed their engines. I had a half of Holyrood pale ale in The Hawes Inn.
There are many steep steps to the station and tiny little signs. When you find yourself in the middle of a housing estate, go straight on (not right) and it is on the left. (I am not quite sure why I got a return except that my head is always ‘mince’ after a walk. The guard said if he had sold it to me on the train he could have refunded it!)
Scotland has a bit of reputation when it comes to the weather! If you live here, you know that there can be gloriously sunny, crisp days when it is a pleasure to be alive. However, it does rain sometimes, even in the summer, so here are some of my favourite places to go on those wet days!
This magnificent building is on Chambers Street, just 15 minutes’ walk from Princes Street in the city centre. Free entry.
There are interactive things for kids (and big kids!) including machines and massive stuffed animals; fascinating Scottish historical artefacts displayed in creative ways; original temporary exhibitions; plus it is warm; there is a decent cafe; free wifi ….
…. jewellery, spacecraft, dinosaurs, Buddhas, death masks and the bizarre and wonderful Millennium Clock made by Tim Stead and others, which clatters and whirrs every hour, plays Bach and is just a must-see.
Whilst being equally grand and beautiful, in contrast the inside of this building is made of darker wood with a silent sweep of staircase. Look up in awe at the iconic painted panels of Scottish queens and kings all around its walls.
Do not miss the shrunken heads in the bijou library; the originally flavoured scones in the cafe; or the modern portraits such as the brooding Naomi Mitchison (novelist), sexy Michael Clark (dancer) and David Mach’s collage of Gavin Hastings (Rugby player). Free entry.
Home of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, you can view the best of independent cinema here on Lothian Road.
With 3 screens showing work from around the world, and a lively cafe where there is often a very interesting art exhibition, you can also browse and buy from the idiosyncratic film shelves, and the tickets are affordable.
The Dovecot is a weaving gallery where tapestries are being woven while you walk around it!
Found in the old Infirmary Street swimming baths (where there is also a small gift shop with original ware), the highlight is the amazing viewing gallery where you can watch the Master Weavers at work. This cafe, brought to you by Leos Beanery which has its own outlet at 23A Howe Street, EH3 6TF, serves delicious cakes, yummy savouries and good coffee. Free entry.
These restored Victorian baths have a modern sauna and gym with Pilates and yoga classes.
Located in the crook of the Water of Leith, among the attractive colonies housing area which is very near the trendy Stockbridge part of Edinburgh, you can exercise and relax, with or without children, calming your nervous system as you float, and emerging clean and sparkling afterwards.
Waterstone’s is part of a national chain of bookshops and is quite grand in its own way, the initial flight of stairs splitting to take you right and left to the different departments and the mezzanine floor to the cafe which has a great view of Edinburgh Castle. You can cosy down in a warm carpeted corner and transport yourself into the world of Trainspotting (Irvine Walsh’s gritty novel set in Edinburgh’s Leith) or Hogwarts of course (the Harry Potter books written in part at the Elephant House cafe by J.K. Rowling).
Get away from the noise and crowds for some quiet contemplation in St Mary’s Episcopalian Cathedral. See the contemporary and colourful stained glass, especially the Paolozzi window; and the radiant glow of ‘The Presence’, a painting by the Edinburgh artist A.E. Borthwick from 1910.
7. Central Library
Funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, look out for the stunning ceiling of the George Washington Browne room, the hidden Fine Art library (wooden tables and chairs as you would imagine from your childhood), and a substantial local history / Scottish section.
Downside: the toilets are in the basement, but, upside, you get to see some lesser known art as you wind your way down there.
And, finally, I know when I am travelling I need to keep in contact with friends and family and if I am having trouble with my phone I need wifi: Try the Fruitmarket Gallery cafe where you can also see contemporary art exhibitions of the highest calibre.
It takes about an hour if you do not take photos, have a coffee, or stop to smell the flowers.
Then turn your back on the Firth of Forth (and the Kingdom of Fife across the water – see blog here) and take the road to your left, Granton Place for the first stage:
This short part of the walk will give you a glimpse of the Granton and Boswall residential areas and I am sure you will appreciate the number of green spaces and trees. At the end of Granton Place turn left. At the T junction turn right (small park ahead where people are sure to be playing with their dogs), and cross over so that you are next to its railings. Go round and up Boswall Drive on the right and past a small shop / post office on your left. (There are not many of these left in local places in the UK, so we are all very grateful to the family who keep it alive.) You will walk along this avenue of trees and houses, past another community pasture on your right, and Wardie Bowling Club, founded in 1930, opposite (Bowls: a peculiarly British pastime). Keep going up. If you are on a bicycle, you can go right at Boswall Avenue and join the cycle track at the end of the road on the left.
Otherwise, continue walking until you get to another T junction, this time with the busy main Ferry Road and turn left. Immediately think about crossing over because you will want to take Arboretum Road which is on the other side. However there is likely to be a lot of traffic and so you might prefer to walk along to the left until you get to the crossing at the top of Granton Road facing the church, and then walk back a little way.
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens and Inverleith Park
Now you will have the sports playing fields on your right (they might be playing cricket if it is a weekend) and you will start to head downhill, keeping straight, crossing a mini roundabout where you have a lovely choice: either walk through the hedge and into Inverleith Park:
Or on the left is the world famous Edinburgh Botanic Gardens where my kids and I spent many a happy day amongst the flowers, trees and sculptures come rain (there are extensive tropical glass houses) or shine.
This is a long road (it becomes Arboretum Place) but you can buy yourself a ice cream opposite the West Gate to the Gardens half way down to boost your energy levels.
Water of Leith
When you get to Inverleith Terrace on your left, cross over, and instead take Arboretum Avenue which is even more downhill because you are about to come to the Water of Leith, our city river (seen below, winter and Spring).
Quite soon take a hidden left turn (which if you carried on would take you past the lovely Glenogle Colonies (houses) to Cannonmills and Leith along the Water of Leith walkway). However, if you are carrying on into town to the Castle, take this opening but immediately afterwards open the gate on the right and go through to a tiny wooded path with the river on your left. At the end of the path is another gate (opposite the tennis courts) and you turn left out of there, walking on down to the end of that road where it joins Bridge Place (go left to the Colonies and the charming Glenogle swimming baths) veering right to come to the rather active Raeburn Place and Stockbridge.
Stockbridge is a lively part of Edinburgh: full of tasty cafe food (Patisserie Florentin, The Pantry, Soderberg); Saturday brunch (Hector’s); pubs (The Stockbridge Tap); excellent charity shops (Mary’s Living and Giving, the Oxfam book); and artisan gifts (Caoba, Sheila Fleet). Not to mention the famous Sunday Farmers Market. So here is a good location to stop, browse or sit and have a coffee.
So, you have now entered Raeburn Place between the two pubs mentioned above, and turned left past Sainsburys. Just over the bridge (past Pizza Express) on the left there are free public toilets (also not many of these now!) on Hamilton Place. At this junction / traffic lights on the right is an entrance onto the Water of Leith walkway which will take you to The Gallery of Modern Art (approximately 1 mile, 25 minutes) if you are so inclined.
But we are going uphill steeply now to the Edinburgh New Town, so walk through the shaded, sandy market place (to your left is NW Circus Place) and turn right onto Gloucester Lane into the…
Edinburgh New Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
This famous area of elegant Georgian houses stretches east-west on this north side of Princes Street and encompasses many delights.
Walk up Gloucester Lane and take the second on the right which is Doune Terrace. Faced with the garden, turn right onto Moray Place (below).
The road curves round and right onto Great Stuart Street, then left onto Ainslie Place (sounds complicated but it is not!). Now it is left again as you head up through a slightly busy traffic intersection between St Colme St and Glenfinlas Street. Go up Glenfinlas Street on the right there, and carry straight on by the side of Charlotte Square where there is a memorial of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, in the middle. Charlotte Square is the home of the annual Edinburgh Book Festival (11 – 27 August 2018) and the Georgian House owned by the National Trust for Scotland). If you are lost, ask for Charlotte Square as everyone knows where that is.
Keep straight, along Hope Street (Whighams Wine Cellar is on your left – you might need a glass of grape after all that climbing!), to the department store – House of Fraser and Cafe Nero – on the corner of:
Prince (not Princess) Street
where you will see – look upwards, slightly to the left and ahead of you –
Princes Street is our main shopping street with clothes, mobile phone, book and divers other shops on one side and, delightfully, Princes Street Gardens (I did tell you there were lots of ‘green spaces’ in this city!) on the right. It stretches all the way along and includes the National Gallery and the Scott Monument.
Do not go along to the right if you are still wanting the Castle. Rather, find your way right across this busy thoroughfare and go up Lothian Road (another landmark which everyone will know). Look right because you might just see a filmstar coming out of the Waldorf Astoria hotel! The Edinburgh International Film Festival is 20 June – 1 July 2018. On the left is the grand St John’s Episcopal church with St Cuthbert’s Church of Scotland behind it.
Going up Lothian Road, the first left comprises two streets: first, Kings Stables Road which takes you to the Grassmarket (a venue for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (13 – 22 July 2018) with cafes, pubs, and designer clothes shops as well as a backpackers hostel and urban garden); and immediately afterwards, Castle Terrace which takes you where you want to go, ie the Castle.
As you walk all the way up Castle Terrace, you will get magnificent sights of the Castle. Take the steps (if you are still fit) on the left when you are almost there, and you will come out onto the Castle Esplanade with amazing views of Edinburgh, beyond and all around. It costs £18.50 (£17 in advance if you book online) and is full of jewels and weapons. You can walk around for free. Enjoy!
If you want to return by bus, walk back down Castle Terrace, turn right onto Lothian Road, back to the House of Fraser department store which is at the top of Queensferry Street and on the left (beside the delicious pastries of Patisserie Maxime) you can take the #19 bus (£1.70 exact money) and get off at Granton Square where it is a short walk up Granton View on the right.
This blog has been written for my air bnb guests. If you have a smartphone, download the Granton View – Edinburgh Castle map before you start. Just in case you need extra directions.
More about the Grassmarket – the page takes a long time to load because of the many adverts, but there are also entertaining facts.
The church-like building on the right of the skyline is now the Edinburgh Festival ‘Hub’. Built between 1842 and 1845, as the Victoria Hall, to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the building was created by architects: James Gillespie Graham and Augustus Welby Pugin. Curiously the building was never consecrated as a Church. In 1929 the Church of Scotland ceased to use the building and it became a temporary home for a variety of congregations. It was named the Highland Tolbooth St John’s Church in 1956, before falling into disuse in the 1980s. (http://www.thehub-edinburgh.com/about-us/history/).
The snow on the hills of Fife, over the Firth of Forth, was visible to the naked eye in the far distance.
The impressive, neoclassical buildings of the National Galleries, built by William Henry Playfair in 1859 at the foot of the Mound.
Would you ever know that this gorgeous place is a mere 20 minutes bus ride (2 miles, 3 kms) from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh city centre? Found on the south side of the Firth of Forth, between Granton and Leith Harbours, it was James IV who created it in 1504 to build the warship ‘Michael’.
Once a thriving fishing village, today’s piscary community is tiny compared with the fleets of the past. Well known for its oysters (until 1890), and once involved in whaling, it was Scottish folk songs about the herring business which first bought it to my attention.
The hard working women and girls who gutted and sold the fish from door to door in creels (baskets), are immortalised in songs such as Caller Herring (1798, words by Caroline Nairne and music by Nathaniel Gow) and Song of the Fishgutters.
Newhaven fishergirls pose with a creel. Photo by Hill and Adamson. 1840s
There is one boat I see regularly unloading it’s crab cargo, and the articulated trucks which carry the iced fish up and down the country are parked by the fish market in the eye catching red Victorian buildings where the museum used to be. There is a retail fishmonger there nowadays, Welchs, with its astonishing array of fresh and frozen sea food and associated goods.
This conservation area somehow manages to sit cheek by jowel with the imposing Chancelot Mill, the happily situated Holiday Inn, and ecologically designed supermarket, none of which contribute in any way to the architectural beauty of the area.
as you can see!
But you can find a very friendly welcome, comfy surroundings, and the best raspberry scones, freshly made cakes and affordable all-day breakfasts (sitting-in or to take-away) at The Haven cafe on Lindsay Road.
There are other sights to see in the area: a beautiful, wee community garden by the wall plaque.
You can also find the upmarket Loch Fyne Oyster Bar; and the David Lloyd health club where you can swim outside in a heated pool right beside the seaside. There’s lots of accommodation, particularly air bnb (see below).
The famously expensive Edinburgh trams do not come here, though there was a time when they were planned to. Now, however, there is an airport bus (number 200) which takes you to your flight in just over an hour.
The old church is now the very popular Alien Rock, climbing wall.
This area was part of a massive re-development reputed to be the size of Edinburgh all over again, going to be built on the docks and reclaimed land between Leith and Granton. The economic situation put paid to that, but there are some impressive tower blocks (Western Harbour for example) around which you can wander in the wind and some rocks where people picnic and fish with their hoods up.
Western Harbour flats.
There is plenty to see whatever the weather: the water itself and the seasonal bird population; Inchkeith Island housing left-over battlements and a still operational lighthouse; and the view of Fife and its hills across the estuary. In the summer the massive liners disgorge their tourists who are ferried into the harbour to be whisked away by coach to see the castle. The coastguard from Granton Harbour (half an hour’s promenade to the west) are always buzzing in and out accompanying the visiting shipping from Denmark (oil tankers), Malta, the UK and further afield.
Inchkeith Island, Firth of Forth.
Fishmarket Square is just opposite the Oyster Bar, a quaint place where a (sadly) one-off Apple Festival was held a few years ago.
The recommended pub in the area is the Dreadnought, 72 North Fort Street (the bottom end!) with open jam sessions, the ubiquitous pub quiz, and appreciated pizzas. It stocks local beers from the Leith brewery (eg Pilot), a permanent gluten-free lager from Brass Castle (the owner Toby’s brother’s brewery), plus guest and vegan ones.
The Dreadnought independent pub stocking craft beer.
Walk 1: Gare de Lyon to Villa Sainte Croix. 7kms 27.4.17
I arrived in Paris in the late afternoon after a soothing flight direct from Edinburgh. The security there was very trying: I rarely fly and so every time I do the rules have changed. It became apparent that you now have to fit all your fluids into one tiny plastic bag which has to be sealed. This meant I had to ditch several newly-purchased items, and if I ever have to hear that woman calling out to us ‘guys’ about these frustrating rules again, I think I might scream!
At Charles de Gaules, I was reminded how silly it is to change money at the airport because of the dreadful exchange rate, but I liked the clean, pink toilets – much better than any public ones in the UK.
After much deliberation, and a pleasantly warm sunbathe (yes, I am sorry reader, I rolled up my trousers although I drew the line at stripping down to my bra), I took the bus to Gare de Lyon (€18), and started my first walk across the city to the north.
There is a gorgeously lush clock tower at Gare de Lyon (67m high) with its pale blue clock face, smooth, grey-domed top part, and decorated within an inch of its life (no photo).
I love the Paris architecture in the evening sunshine. Colonne de Juillet, Place de la Bastille
Remember to look left before I step out onto the cycle paths, I told myself, as I automatically looked right and only narrowly avoided a fleet of commuter bikes.
There are massive statues standing at the junction between each step of this walk: Places des République and Bastille, for example.
Place de la République
The corner cafés, familiar from so many movies, were filling up with after-work drinkers. It was becoming a fine evening – large groups of men were playing boules; fashionable guys riding mopeds were zooming in and out of the traffic and sliding to conspicuous halts in front of giggly groups of girls; stylish kids were streaming out of school in the weak sunshine; and of course there were traffic hold-ups contributing to the poor city air condition.
I particularly enjoyed walking along Avenue Deaumesnil, with its charming under-arches embroidery and fabric boutiques, art school, and book shops.
Walking on, I was surprised that I was not struggling at all with my large back pack after 5 months break from carrying it.
I came to the Place de la République with open-air table tennis and gangs of scateboarders extraordinaire. They performed their tricks with a nonchalant air, as soon as they knew I was watching, eager for an audience.
My tummy was rumbling as I approached Gare de L’est, so I tried out my French by buying that lovely sort of bread which is cool in your mouth and has air holes. I had to open the cheese packet with my teeth because of course you can not bring a knife to France on the plane.
At Barbés there were peanuts for sale, fresh garlic, and limes. The people sharing the pavements with me looked as if they might well have been doing dodgy deals. There were potentially dangerous disputes erupting at every turn.
A wonderful array of restaurants from around the world lined the streets, and I could have very easily exchanged all sorts of things or bought a cheap phone or a yam, or got hair extensions.
And then, a few paces on, I segue into a new area and I am amongst a different type of pedestrian. It is now quiet, no excitable voices, the women wear red lipstick, and their heels clack on the tarmac.
Great art deco-type decoration on this Louxor Palais du Cinéma, Boulevard de Magenta.
At Monmartre there’s a man living in a tent on a roundabout. The sweet odours of May 1st holiday posies, lillies of the valley, are everywhere, as are the police and their guns – presumably as a result of all the recent terrorist troubles.
Time is passing and it was starting to get dark. My frequent photo stops, memo writing, and Google map consulting has somehow extended the predicted 1.5 hours to 5, and I am grateful that my hosts are understanding when I roll up really late. There’s a meal waiting, wine on the table, and much kindness directed my way.
Most people in Edinburgh live pretty close to some green space* – a patch of grass for dog walking, a play-park for children (and teenage smokers), or the grander Holyrood Park with its famous Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags.
Underneath, well, at a lower level than the roads, is where the network of railways used to run, and much of that is now an intricate, and, let’s face it, often very confusing, myriad of cycle paths. But, we are lucky to have them.
On a very chilly morning, when my phone said it was -2 degrees at 8.30am, I set off through Trinity for a meeting with wise Jenny. There’s a new Sculpture Workshop cafe, Milk, at the Newhaven end, offering welcome hot drinks and scones, and they have blankets for the very cold weather, which is a nice touch.
Three hours later, when the edges of the leaves still had white around them, I spontaneously chose not to return home on the pavements, but to take the path less travelled (do you know that poem by Robert Frost? see below for link), and I discovered that nature is at it again, preparing for spring.
Walking engenders trust, because every step I take is a reassurance that the earth is steady underneath me, and when I walk in nature I notice that it changes, and that those changes are cyclical, reliably so. If I keep on doing that walking I become reassured without even knowing it. Today is a reminder because all around me is shiny and green. I look carefully and the bluebells and snowdrops are poking their heads through! Whatever I do, good or bad, the seasons shift regularly, and the ground is still there when I put my weight down onto it.
Walking is quiet, so the wildlife doesn’t know I am coming, and I am startled by a bird flashing out of the undergrowth; a squirrel makes a courageous leap across the path and lands on the thinnest of branches above my head, sweeping and dipping backwards and forwards and up and down, as it tries to regain its footing and scamper towards the trunk. It manages to save itself from plunging onto the tarmac in front of me….just.
Traffic noise is there in the background and thank goodness that means I can hear noises closer to hand. I take an involuntary deep breath, and there is melodic birdsong and a repeated shussh rustly sound, as if something is falling through the bushes beside me. It’s a mystery what’s caused it.
I saw a wren, yes, an actual wren – so unusual that it must be a blessing. It was fluttering in the fetid-looking, standing-water in the sunshine. Except it can’t be stagnant because then I see a lady blackbird and a sparrow, and they are doing the same thing so they must know better and be on to a good thing.
A lot of the cycle path is in the shade in winter, but there are patches of sunlight, and that reveals badger setts. The black ice sometimes stays on the path all day long and my bike has skidded in the past, tipping me unceremoniously and painfully over. It can be dangerous in other ways: two of my daughter’s friends were mugged a few years ago on another section, and so I am repeatedly warned against walking on these ways at dusk though friends I know do it confidently.
Like the Camino, there’s a sense of a community along this network, with political or family-day-out posters on the lamp poles. There is evidence of little kindnesses along the way too: a rubbish bag that someone has put out to limit the mess, which is regularly emptied; a baby hat picked up and hung on a railing just in case someone comes back to look for it.
There are runners, buggies, and sometimes both – mums and dads running with the push-chair; there are bikes, some side-by-side with their encumbents chatting as they ride; there are single and nowadays multiple dogs (there’s a rise in people who go house-to-house collecting the canines for walkies while their owners are out at work); there are young and old enjoying the fresh air; commuters, and sightseers with sunglasses and binoculars. The other day I was overtaken by a ‘proper’ walker with a backpack, striding purposefully with poles; and there are folk on the way back from Morrisons with their shopping.
I walk on the tiny strip of grass by the side of the tarmac and feel/hear a familiar, hollow sound underfoot – not the clatter of my shoe on the hard surface, or the thud I get when I walk on the grass under the trees on Boswell Drive, but a sound as if there’s space underneath the icy ground. And it’s springy.
For an hour I walk, and I am unaware of the news or my day-to-day worries. In fact, when I walk I have noticed that the news becomes surprisingly unimportant. Walking and feeling the ground nice and solid underneath me seems to help me write about what is real, not imagined.
‘Soon’ writes Frédéric Gros, ‘you have lost all knowledge of the world and its gymnastics’. p.81/82 in A Philosophy of Walking.
*Study by Catharine Ward Thompson et al 2013: ‘Contact with green space in the environment has been associated with mental health benefits, but the mechanism underpinning this association is not clear. This study extends an earlier exploratory study showing that more green space in deprived urban neighbourhoods in Scotland is linked to lower levels of perceived stress and improved physiological stress as measured by diurnal patterns of cortisol secretion.’ http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/10/9/4086/htm
Today’s walks – Aberdour: Silver Sands, tiny part of the Fife Coastal Path; Edinburgh: Lothian Road to Granton
The journey from Edinburgh to Aberdour takes 31 minutes and it cost me £5.35 return (I have a Scotrail Over 50s card). What a bargain!
There was the new Forth Road bridge in all its glory! A yellow crane stood beside each of the uprights, and it was teeming with vehicles, and people in high-vis jackets!
It’s a bonny sight, and takes the number of crossings to three: the red rail bridge, buxom and with a reputation for needing a new coat every year; the old road bridge, swanky but showing signs of age; and now the elegant, silver-white virgin, as yet untouched. They all, more or less, connect South Queensferry to North Queensferry, and the views are impressive.
There used to be a train which trundled along where Lower Granton Road is now, taking passengers and goods to Fife, Dundee and beyond. It rolled onto a large piece of wood with rails, floating in Granton Harbour, and was sailed across to Fife, before it drove off and up north without anyone having to get out. How clever is that?!
Aberdour is an historic village in Fife – pretty, well-off, and you can see my flat from its sands. After work, I walked down to the beach and wandered east amongst the seaweed and rock pools (approx. 5 mins) smiling at dog walkers as I went; and then west to where the boats are moored, across the wonderfully named ‘Dour Burn’ (‘dour’ means ‘relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance’, and a ‘burn’ is a small river or stream) on the wee brown bridge. From there I joined the Fife Coastal Path onto the headland and around to the next bay. I am definitely coming back to walk that Path when I have time.
There’s a municipal tourist board to help you identify the islands and hills you can see across the water, including Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags, the islands of Inchcolm (the one with the Abbey), Cramond (the one you can get stranded on if the sea covers the crossing before you get back), and Inchmickery. Apparently it is the latter which was said to resemble a battleship to scare off invaders during the war, although I thought it was Inchkieth (the one I can see from my yoga class and front room).
This is the first walk I have had outside Edinburgh city since I returned from Yalding (Kent) where I spent New Year. First I got the scent of the sea, the sea plants, and the sand in my sinuses, and they cleared (fantastic after my cold); then, as I walked slightly inland, the whiff of the newly disturbed earth and the wet bracken. My respiratory system sighed with joyful relief!
Everyone was very friendly. There were helpful directions, and a Scottish version of ‘Buen Camino’. ‘Enjoy your walk, she said, smiling. I have a fear of going the wrong way. I think it is because I never have enough time and so do not want to waste what I do have. As it was I ended up at the ‘Silver Sands’ car park twice.
I spotted a bird of prey I could not identify. I kept seeing an unusually long body part as it turned around on the air current (neck? legs?) and hovvered in the sky above. I asked a man with binoculars and he kindly told me the difference between a sparrow hawk (red tummy), buzzard (‘very large’), and kestrel (pointed wings). I am still not sure what I saw, but it was the size of a large gull. He drew out his camera and sifted through several 100 photos before showing me a gorgeous picture of a robin silhouetted against a dramatic sky whilst perching on his hand (which, he explained, was poking outside the car window) .
I enjoyed a green tea and scone at the McTaggarts Cafe (was that where I lost my keys?). Good service, delicious cakes, WiFi – recommended.
Here’s another shot or two of the station. Only I can wax lyrical about a station, but it is so pretty. And it’s got a blue and white pot on a barrel (almost like a museum-exhibit, it could have come from friend Lesley’s kitchen), a most interesting clock, and a greenhouse. I have never seen a station with a greenhouse before. The man in red (can you spot him?) was potting up the containers while I waited for the 3.15.
There is more to Aberdour than I that. There is a castle, at least one church, an obelisk, and a shinty club, so I recommend you stay there for a couple of nights.
I gave a very enjoyable Shiatsu to a client after my return (or did the keys drop out of my pocket on the train?), and then I had my second walk of the day.
It was raining heavily all through the 50 minutes it takes to get home, indeed my shoes and coat are steaming on the radiator as I write. My toes got wet as I traipsed the first few streets, and the pools of water in my trainers had spread to my insteps by Stockbridge. Eventually my heels were soaking too – that was when I was passing the Botanics – but inexplicably they were still warm. And what a lovely walk it was. I had loads of creative ideas (eg I decided what my book is going to be about, and I came up with an alternative topic for the Eastwood House residential), and even if I do not get my keys back I will manage somehow.
There are no photos of this walk as it was dark, but I will take the opportunity to moan about the lack of street lighting, especially on Doune Terrace and Gloucester Street. And I will leave you with the last, lovely photo of the beautiful, blue, Firth of Forth. Sweet dreams!
The Fife Coastal Path http://www.fifecoastalpath.co.uk/