Edinburgh, August, 2019, by AirBnB
This is our fourth visit to Edinburgh, the third since we retired. For the others we camped--in 2010 at Morton Hall, run by the Caravan Club, and in 2013 The Camping and Caravan Club site. Both were fine but required an hour or more bus ride to the city, so not really good for going in more than once a day. Both times we came in August to enjoy the Festivals. There are several that overlap—an art festival, book festival, International Festival (symphonies, opera, theater, etc), and the Fringe Festival. Also August is the 3 week performance of the Tattoo—military band performances from around the world in a stadium set up outside the Edinburgh Castle. Though Edinburgh is crowded it handles it pretty well and the weather in usually in the high 60s (lots of rain), so a great place to beat the heat.
It is very popular so you must make reservations ahead of time for housing/camping, Tattoo tickets (go on sale in November), and any of the big name International Festival performances. This time we stayed at an Air BnB about a mile from the Royal Mile called SECLUDED CITY CENTRE FLAT WITH PRIVATE PARKING . It was an extremely quiet location on a dead end lane, 1 bedroom, bare bones apartment but very clean. It cost us $146 a night for 11 nights. The pound was a bit higher when we made the reservation and is at $1.22 now which is a great exchange rate. There is a bus stop 2 blocks away 1.7L pp, but we have been walking a lot even though it is uphill. If we go up twice a day, we take the bus the second trip. About 5 blocks away is a Tesco superstore plus smaller stores on the way back from the Mile make it easy to get supplies when we want to cook. Edinburgh is fairly expensive for dining out even when the pound is low. One more comment about Air BnB. This one was obviously an investment property with a manager overseeing dozens of such. I could not find out from the manager or searching online what the legal status of short term rentals was in Edinburgh. I did read a story a couple of weeks ago that an Edinburgh court had found against a similar property where a man owned two short term rentals in a building. The building tenants said that the short term rentals caused too much wear and tear on the common areas such as hallways. The judge ordered him to cease the short term rentals within 30 days. Edinburgh, especially in August, is awash in short term rentals. Personally, I think the easy days of finding an AirBnB are over. Cities are cracking down everywhere and having a backup plan is a good idea as your rental may disappear before you get there. All the better to have an RV in Europe.
The Fringe has gotten more and more organized over the past ten years. There are now over 3,000 acts—many ticketed, but still lots of street artists and donation venues in bars etc. There are also ways of buying half price tickets online if you become a friend of the Fringe or you can wait in line for same day half price tickets at the Virgin Half Price Hut. At this point we have been just buying the tickets full price. Our tickets have been running from about 8L to 18L pp. Deciding what to see is the biggest issue. Some acts are repeats from previous years, others come from other countries, so there are reviews. We are here from the start of the Fringe so tickets are easier to get, but reviews of new shows not plentiful. This is called the Fringe for a reason—lots of satire, adaptations, avant garde, edgy, etc. We tend towards the more “normal” stuff—for instance, there is always one regular musical—this year Legally Blonde—which was excellent.
We had good seats for the Tattoo. Section 4, Row T. Next time I think a little lower would be better for the view and my knee. We paid about $80 pp back in November. We have been to 3 Tattoos and this one was enjoyable but not as thrilling as in year's past. We have never been rained on—if you go, expect rain, (no umbrellas allowed) it rains a lot and it is always cold and windy as you are high on the ridge. We were okay in medium coats but could have used a lap robe like so many brought. They rent cushions for the stadium seats too. The first time we went, neither one of us was that excited at the prospect, now we would go every year if we could. It is terrific even when only an average year.
Our apartment was only 4 or so blocks from the lovely, free Royal Edinburgh Botanic Garden. It has one of the largest rock gardens we have ever been to, and the largest selection of Chinese plants outside of China. You do have to pay for entrance into the 9 glass houses as they call them. We went a second time to see the glass houses. They are well worth the entrance fee.
We made return trips to the Castle as our two year Wales Heritage Pass allowed free entry. Frankly, it is not much and the lines are long. It looks much more impressive from the outside, though the views are nice. Much better are the free National Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery. The Museum has a confusing layout if you are interested in the history of Scotland. Basically one wing on each floor starting in the basement. Signage is good. Don't miss the Lewis chessmen and the rare and beautiful, medieval harps—they have two of only three in existence. The crown jewel is the small but oh so classy National Gallery of Art. You can see it all in about two hours and it is a wonderful walk through art history. They have at least one painting by a famous artist from every era. Purposefully they don't rope off the areas in front of the works so you can get very close—want to see a Leonardo? Forget the Mona Lisa, here is a Madonna painting and several drawings. Also Botticelli, Lippi, Rembrandt, Raphael, Cranach, Rubens, Velazquez, El Greco, Hals, David, Lorraine, Titian, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, etc...even a Vermeer for gosh sake. Don't miss it.
We had several forgettable meals, but two that were excellent. Mark loved the fish and chips at Bertie's Proper Fish and Chips right off the Royal Mile—unfortunately, I had forgotten how I loath British hamburgers—the meat is very finely ground, so I wasn't happy with mine. The best was at Chez Jules, a French bistro on Hanover in New Town. I had onion soup and steak frites, Mark mussels—very good and the same price as a hamburger and chips elsewhere. Strangely enough Mark found the best prices for singl malt scotch at the very touristy Scotch Whiskey Experience right outside the Castle—he brought home the 6 single malt samplers in our carry-ons as all fit quite nicely in a quart bag. Don't do the “experience,” just head for the retail store. Since my maiden name is McCoy ( a subclan of MacKay) I am always looking for small but interesting clan items—the biggest selection by far of all things Scottish is the Tartan Weaving Mill, also at the Castle entrance.
So here I leave you for a while. Our next adventure is a suitcase trip starting in January to visit Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We will be gone about 10 weeks. We will return to RVing in Great Britain in late April or May. In the meantime we will be house sitting in Knoxville in October and spending November in DC with our youngest daughter and husband. Happy Travels!
Here is the finish of England to Edinburgh and storage of the RV:
We had two more stops to make when I left off last month. The first was Cragside—a National Trust property and a really good one. The house started off as a weekend retreat for the Victorian engineer who made his big money inventing the Armstrong gun which was adopted by the British army. He had played in this valley as a boy and eventually bought over 4,000 acres and set about planting the whole shebang in trees. Frankly the whole thing is quite remarkable—stream, artificial lakes, rock gardens, terraced gardens. You can sit in the terrace garden and survey the moors—barren of almost all trees and then see the contrast with the gorgeous, heavily treed valley. The house too, is full of fine Victorian furniture, an amazing Italian carved marble fireplace three stories high, and some lovely paintings including one by Turner. It is a huge place. We couldn't drive the coach road as we were too tall and wide but you could easily spend a day here.
Not but a few miles away is Alnwick Castle. We had stopped here in 2013, spent the night in the parking lot (no longer allowed), but decided not to go in. This time we stayed at the Rugby Club on the edge of town for 15L with electric (not much sun the last 5 days!) It was close enough to walk to the castle and also right on the way is the Barter Bookstore. It is one of England's most famous and deservedly so. It houses thousands of well organized used books in the town's old train station. Prices are not super cheap but the variety is immense and comfy chairs and a cafe invite you to stay a while. The castle itself looks just like a castle should and has been featured in several movies. Entrance to just castle was 10L pp, more if you added the gardens which we did not. We took the free movie tour and saw the spots featured as Hogwart's in the first two Potter movies, as well at the Scottish castle visited in season 4 of Downton Abbey. The inside is also well worth visiting but no photos are allowed as the family still lives there in the winter. The docents in each room were well informed and the family collected a lot of valuable art—Reni, Claude, Lafranco--all you can see up close with no annoying glass to get in your way. A very enjoyable day.
Heading north to the border we stopped in Berwick on Tweed to get the oil changed before storing for the winter and spent the night high up in a carpark where the battle of Haloden Hill saw the Scots defeated in their attempt to take Berwick. Not a very level place, so we don't recommend it. The next night though was right at the coast in a free carpark in Prestonpans. There were at least a dozen campers parked with us. Great boardwalk for strolling the North Sea coast and the Lidl superstore right next door. We spent the last two nights in Drummohr Campground so we could pack up and clean up before storing. Nice place but not really within walking distance of anything other than the train or bus to Edinburgh. Fare about 10L round trip and takes an hour or so. Reservations are recommended for August because of all the festivals but only a month or so in advance would probably work. We had contacted Scotland Caravan Storage a year ago. Jan Witt had been kind enough to be on the look out for a storage place for us when they were in Scotland last summer. It turned out to be a great facility—10 months for 400L and he didn't require us to have insurance since we rented for less than a year. Most storage places in GB and France require proof of insurance (which we can't get), so always check in advance. The owner also was willing to drive us and our luggage to our B&B in Edinburgh since he lives there. Saved us lots of hassle and money!