North of the Border

Oh, Edinburgh. You are something special. I’ve spent this whole week thinking about how I could live there. This is no small consideration. There are only four places in the entire world that I’ve felt that way about: New York City (expensive and a little scary with guns and the like), Oxford (also expensive, less guns though I think), Manchester (already live there, so there’s that) and now Edinburgh.

If you’re wondering what makes Edinburgh so special, then I have to assume that you’ve never been there. It is something about the way that the city feels. It has the sense of a city of great age and importance but with a very young spirit. The buildings all over are centuries old but nothing feels rundown or shabby (I’ve got issues with London for this very reason; the sense of decay). You can look out through a window in one direction and see a castle (I’ll get on to the castle properly in a minute) and the other direction there will be rolling green hills and steep climbs (I’ll cover that in a minute too). It’s a beautiful place with something for everyone (that’s a tired old cliché, but I really believe it).

Let’s talk about the castle for a second. It’s incredible. I mean it. I could throw out adjectives like awe-inspiring, breathtaking, majestic, extraordinary and downright epic and they would all be true and would barely scratch the surface of what I could say about it. It’s a glorious fusion of engineering wizardry and raw incredibleness. Actually, though, the word ‘castle’ doesn’t really do the place justice either. It is far more of a fortress, really. It has layers of walls, numerous interior gates with lanes running between them all and the whole place is sitting proudly on a massive dormant volcano. It’s imposing and it is totally meant to be just that. But there is something beautiful buried within the seriousness of it all (many people have lived and died there over the centuries, let us not forget). One assembly of cannons is arranged in a crescent shape and is called (rather fittingly) the Half Moon Battery. From below it looks to be an amazing turret-like structure, desperately clinging to the rock. When you are standing up there, you realize that it houses several large guns that were designed with only the the most terrible of purposes in mind. Weapons of death and destruction housed in such a way as to take away the fear and replace it with beauty. You stop thinking of it as just a fortification and you start viewing it in the same way one would view a stately home; grand and beautiful, whilst remaining deeply intimidating. Such is the power of Edinburgh Castle.

The man-made side of the city is striking, but the natural side is just as spectacular. Right on the edge of the city, there there is an area of incredible beauty called Holyrood Park (more about it can be found here). Arthur’s Seat and The Salisbury Crags are the main points of interest within it. I set out to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat thinking that it would be a standard hill climb, probably with steps, a bannister and maybe a sherpa to carry your things for you (maybe). This was incorrect. My error was compounded when I realized that one had a choice in which way to begin the ascent and I chose poorly. This meant starting off by climbing what felt like nearly vertical steps up the Crags, only to then discover that Arthur’s Seat was further up than I had expected (this is an understatement). Many rocky steps and lots of puffing and panting later, I reached the top. Only then did it hit me why so many people were up there with me; the view was absolutely amazing. That, coupled with the definite sense of achievement for making it to the top (I thought I was going to die halfway up, as I am so out of shape), gave me a positive spring in my step the whole way back down the (far more forgiving) downhill slope to street level. All of this right on the edge of town. No journeying to the middle of nowhere. Just a simple walk to the town limits. Wonderfully energizing and a perfect way to recharge and unwind (although my poor legs might disagree with me there).

Any discussion of the place would be incomplete without mentioning the people. I’ve met (and had the pleasure of working with) some genuinely awesome people this week. A lot of it seems to come from the people having a deep affection for their city (whether they are from Edinburgh or not) and the urge to share it with others. This may be due to the practice they’ve had because of the sheer quantity of tourists in town, but I don’t know that for sure. Either way, I haven’t met an Edinburger I didn’t like (and yes, they are called Edinburgers).

I suppose all that’s left to say is that I think everyone should visit Edinburgh. The only worry there is that if everyone feels like I do about the city, they all may never leave. But I think that’s what makes Edinburgh great. The place is fiercely Scottish (the sheer number of tourist shops and kilted bagpipists that I saw can attest to that) but it welcomes all who would wish to add something to it. The city adopts the best parts of those people, growing and evolving. People have been adding to it for centuries. I see no sign of that changing and I hope that it never does.

Thank you for this last week, Edinburgh. I will return (and next time I will definitely wear appropriate footwear when I decide to challenge the rocks and ridges).


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