Reading: Edinburgh Days by Sam Pickering

Edinburgh Days - On doing what I want to Do

Edinburgh Days - Sam Pickering


A recent visit to the Edinburgh Room in the Central Library on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh led to a chance discovery of “Edinburgh Days – or Doing What I want to Do” by Sam Pickering.  I’m often on the look-out for books which can be read in preparation for a visit to Edinburgh, or as a companion while staying in the city.  Many visitors come here to visit as part of their studies – either for short courses, or like Mr Pickering, on a longer sabbatical to carry out research at the University of Edinburgh.

I’ve read this book over a couple of extended ‘sittings’ – or rather ‘lyings’ as I do like to read in bed.

Mr Pickering comes to Edinburgh alone, and at the beginning of a year, arriving in winter 2004 and staying until spring on a 4 1/2 month visit.  His prose can seem melancholy, lonely and sad to start with, but warms considerably with the arrival of his daughter on a visit, and the coming of spring.  He documents his stay with investigations of his own state of mind, and his writings made me think very much of the many visitors I’ve welcomed over the years whose travels are so wrapped up in their own attitude to travel and their willingness to adapt to local conditions and make the most of their time in a different city.  A positive frame of mind would seem a necessity when embarking on a holiday, or one would at least expect to find that frame of mind while travelling and relaxing.  Mr Pickering’s journey certainly tends to finding peace and contentment as his stay extends.

There were several quirks of his experiences which I really enjoyed.  I liked the fact that he visited antique shops and poked around, getting to know the owners and selecting a single item from each which he chooses to covet – although it appears that he never really gets round to buying anything.  I also liked the fact that, despite an extended stay, he chooses not to venture outside Edinburgh – and indeed rarely goes anywhere he cannot reach on foot.  So, the extent of his wanderings is usually confined very much to the city centre, and a walk out to Balerno via the Water of Leith Walkway is his longest journey from the centre.

I wasn’t so sure about the stories of characters from his home town in Tennessee, or the snippets of information which he puts into the book about letters received from friends.  The places where he mentions interaction with others in the faculty which he is visiting, or discussions with people he meets on his wanderings seemed much more vital and relevant.

However, my perception changed when I got to the end of the book and turned to the narrative on the dust-jacket tucked inside the cover.  For there I discovered that Sam Pickering was the inspiration for Robin Williams’ character in the film Dead Poet’s Society , and suddenly I had found a reason to read this all over again.  I hope that you will too, and find pleasure in accompanying Mr Pickering as he wanders the streets of Edinburgh, visiting mainstream and more obscure tourist attractions and bringing his literary knowledge to entertain.

A quiet place near the Royal Mile

Wandering around Edinburgh this morning reminded me of city walking in Rome – the sort where you move from shady spot to shady spot with frequent stops for coffees and ices.

As I’d arranged to visit a friend with an apartment near Nether Craigwell, I was strolling up the Canongate section of the Royal Mile when I spotted the sign for Dunbar’s Close and thought it would be a good time to go in and explore the shady spaces there. What a treat!

Several others had chosen to take a picnic lunch there, and I was wishing I’d done the same as it’s a real haven of peace among the city streets.




You can find Dunbar’s Close Garden by following the close off the Royal Mile next to the Christmas Shop and opposite the Canongate branch of Starbuck’s.

My Edinburgh Apps – iPhone apps for visitors to Edinburgh

If you’re staying at Craigwell Cottage, you’ll have access to free wi-fi and many of our guests find it helpful for keeping up to date with their emails or booking tickets for events while they’re here.

Edinburgh Apps

Apps for Edinburgh

If you’re an iPhone user, then there are some Edinburgh Apps which you might like to download ready for your visit.

Edinburgh Spotlight’s iEdinburgh app gives you an insider’s view on places to eat, current events and perennial favourites around Scotland’s capital city – you’ll even find a review of Craigwell Cottage in there.

The EdinBus app provides up to the minute information about bus timetables.

Getting last minute tickets at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and Fringe was made more exciting by the Theatre Ninjas app – great if you’re in town and want to take in a show.

And if you’re an Ian Rankin fan and would like to take narrated walks round the Edinburgh featured in his novels, then the Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh app is the one for you.

The Walking Through Time app developed as a joint project between Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, and the National Library of Scotland overlays historic maps on present day ones so that you can see historic changes as you walk round the centre of Edinburgh.

Do you have a favourite app for your mobile phone which you’ve used when visiting Edinburgh?  Leave me a comment and I’ll check it out.

Granturismo Project visiting Edinburgh in January 2011

I’m excited to see that the Granturismo Project being undertaken by Lara Dunston and Terry Carter will culminate in the two globe-trotting travel writers spending two weeks in Edinburgh in January 2011. They’ve chosen a great property in Edinburgh’s historic New Town to base their stay.

Over the course of the last year, it’s been entertaining to dip in and out of their posts to see what their latest adventure or discovery has been as they make their way slowly around the Globe, staying in vacation rental homes in each of their destinations. Self-catering holiday property stays are favoured by more and more travellers who like the options to eat out or eat in, get up late, or get up early – in short to enjoy freedom to relax and enjoy slowing down and remembering to savour cultural and local highlights wherever they choose to spend their precious days away from normal routine.

I look forward to seeing what culinary discoveries they make when exploring Edinburgh – they’ll be able to buy a great range of Scotland’s best produce at the weekly Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, and I’m sure they’ll be sampling haggis, whisky and shortbread. A personal favourite would also be a trip to Clark’s Fishmongers in Musselburgh. Where else in Edinburgh do you think we should recommend they visit to source local delicacies?

Signboard from Clark's Fishmongers, Edinburgh

Clark's Musselburgh

St Andrew’s Day 2010 – a winter wish

It’s still snowing outside as I write this post, but it’s been a lovely day with the schools closed because of the severe weather. However buses were running, so we got out and about and made a little video for you to wish you a Happy St Andrews Day and to say hello from Scotland for all the expats who pine for home on days like this. Come and visit soon – we know a lovely little cottage where you can stay right in the centre of the capital city.

Edinburgh Fringe 2010 Family Reviewers

Dan from Potted Panto with McNaughton Family Reviewers

Our 2edinburgh blog is designed to give a flavour for things to do and places to go when visiting Craigwell Cottage, our little city centre cottage (with parking) right in the heart of the city of Edinburgh.

We occasionally review special events and happenings in Edinburgh, but as a family we’re not able to cover a vast range of different types of event, preferring to focus on little news items about permanent attractions or events which are annual occurrences in the Edinburgh calendar.

This year, our family was given the opportunity to undertake a very special assignment – that of guest reviewers at some Festival Fringe performances on behalf of the review site Edinburgh Spotlight. We were very excited to be asked, and as soon as the Fringe Programme was issued we pored over it working out and planning which shows we would ask to review, and fitting reviews in as best we could with other holiday activities we had planned.

As first time reviewers we really had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, but the owners of Edinburgh Spotlight were very helpful and patient with us, explaining what would be required. We also opted to go to some shows simply as ‘the audience’ so that we could relax and enjoy them without having to exercise our critical faculties.

Our first reviews of CBBC’s Dan and Jeff in Potted Panto, and the West End Glee Club have now been published, and you can find our other reviews by following the links below We hope you enjoy sharing our experiences.


Sausage & Samosa

Dr Bunhead is Volcano Head

Azincourt performed by Willington School

James Campbell’s Comedy and Song for Kids

Things that go…bump, rattle, klunk, cackle, woo!

Water Babies – Stage Stars Young Actors Company

Fabulous Female A-Capella – In the Pink

Dandelion’s Story – Modl Theatre

Shipwrecked – The Amazing Tale of Louis de Rougemont as told by Himself

Time-Tastical Productions – Dr Austin and Sparks in Space

Indefinite Articles – Pinocchio

Thanks Edinburgh Spotlight for this opportunity to experience so much of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo – advice for first time visitors

Edinburgh Military Tattoo - Hints for Visitors

Wrap up warm!

As a frequent visitor to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo over the years, our family has got into something of a routine in planning our trips to this amazing spectacle, so when asked for some advice about where to park if coming from out of town, I realised that our experiences probably had enough ‘old timers’ knowledge in them to merit a little article on how we do it. Families frequently make this the first experience of Edinburgh’s August Festivals, so we’re including some advice particularly for visitors who are bringing children to the Tattoo.

Edinburgh Castle survived by being a difficult place to attack, and that means few ways in! On the night of the Tattoo, the only access route is via the upper section of the Royal Mile: Castlehill. To get there you will approach on foot either via Lawnmarket or Johnston Terrace. Organised tour buses will probably drop their passengers in the vicinity of Chambers Street and you’ll walk via George IV Bridge and then into the Lawnmarket.

If you’re coming by car, our recommendation would be to park at the Kings Stables Road/Castle Terrace car park (see map). Time your arrival to get there after the daily shopping traffic has left, but before it gets filled by Tattoo visitors – and make sure you have a debit/credit card or a large supply of change (at least £10), for even in the evening this car park is expensive. The chances of getting a free parking space in any streets within reasonable walking distance is slim.

The Tattoo takes place in the late evening and although it is August it will be COLD up there – to accommodate the huge crowds which flock there every year, giant stands are erected on three sides of the Castle Esplanade. These stands are high up above the city and even a slight breeze will mean a chilly night as it gets dark and the temperature dips. Remember also that you will be sitting still in a small space, so you won’t be able to move about much to keep warm.

This means layers: lots of lovely layers of clothing. It may be August, but dress all the family as if you are going out to play in the snow. This means hats, scarves and gloves too. A good thick pair of socks and stout walking shoes or trainers (sneakers) will be appropriate footwear. I’ve seen people come here with summer sandals and flip flops – their feet must be blue by the time the show ends. And remember, the Castlehill is cobbled and you will have lots of stairs to climb in the stands so no high heels!

We also find that taking a travelling rug each is a bonus. You can wrap it round your knees and then wear it shawl-like over your shoulders on the way home for added warmth. When our son was small, it was also useful for wrapping him up in to carry a sleeping bundle back to the car.

I’m the niece of a man who wore a wet suit under his clothing one year when attending the Tattoo. I’m not advocating that, but if the forecast is for rain, don’t forget that the Edinburgh Military Tattoo has never been cancelled because of the weather – the show will go on!

Hope this is helpful for visitors planning a visit to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Next time you come, stay a little longer – maybe at the lovely Craigwell Cottage from which you can walk to the Tattoo! And here’s some more if you’re thinking of attending Edinburgh Festival Fringe events.

If you have more helpful hints – add them to the comments.

Massed bands on the Esplanade

Massed bands on Castle Esplanade