Tag Archives: Scotland

Sarah Dara - The Elephant House

Edinburgh: History and Literature

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Edinburgh's Charms

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the 7th most populated city in the United Kingdom. Located on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, it is cited as

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Top 5 Ice Skating Destinations in Europe

It’s that time of year again. The temperatures have dropped: we’re anticipating snow, hunting for that perfect present and the fires are lit. The winter season also means the opening of outdoor ice rinks across the world. Whether you’re a beginner or practically a pro, it’s something that everyone can be involved in. It allows you to participate in some festive cheer, appreciate your surroundings and you can use the ‘it’s exercise’ excuse before/after you make a start on that massive Christmas dinner on 25th December.

Europe in particular has some beautiful rinks. Below I’ve compiled a list below of the top five rinks – which was no mean feat. If you find yourself in any of these cities this winter, it is worth checking them out. Make sure you wrap up and remember to skate in the direction of the crowd!

5. Edinburgh – Princes Street Gardens

Every winter Edinburgh’s Christmas comes to town. It’s a highly entertaining six-week festival in the heart of the city, featuring shows such as stand-up, carnival and disco, the event also offers rides and attractions. The ice skating rink in particular stands out, and is popular with locals and tourist alike. The rink is located underneath the big wheel and is especially beautiful at night when it’s lit up. There’s juxtaposition between the old and new here, with the big wheel situated right next to Scott Monument. The presence of this Victorian Gothic memorial might appear a bit sinister in all its dark glory next to the brightness of the wheel, but it really is testament to the feel of the Gothic Edinburgh as a whole. And better yet, you’re afforded a spectacular view of the skyline.

Price: Starting from £5 – £12.50 depending on time of day/age of person

1387672893-the-ice-rink-at-the-hotel-de-ville-opens-in-paris_3548505(Visit the ultimate symbol for Christmas in Paris www.demotix.com)

 4. Berlin – Potsdamer Platz

This rink is set against the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, a fine example of German classicism is Berlin’s annual Winter World in Potsdamer Platz. The event hosts a wide range of winter sports, the most popular being Europe’s largest mobile Toboggan, curling and ice skating. The ice skating rink affords you a splendid view of the Stage Theatre, which is Berlin’s answer for housing cinema and live entertainment. Within the area are the famous German Christmas markets with small huts offering a variety of different foods. The smells of savoury and sweet are mixed in the air and laughter chimes out from the nearby pop-up biergartens. The result is a fun atmosphere that is undeniably German.

Price: Free, but pay for skate hire

3. Paris – Hotel de Ville

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Edinburgh and the North

Raised in the East Midlands and now living in London, I’ve always been curious as to what things look like ‘up North’. Naturally, people I meet in London hear my accent, recognise it as being from north of the M25 and think I’m from a far flung land filled with tractors, carrots and bales of hay where coal is the only currency. From the perspective of someone from Lincolnshire though, ‘the North’ is equally as fascinating as ‘the South’. Being wedged in the middle of the country does offer you the option of travelling upwards or downwards with relative ease, but living in London and only returning to Lincolnshire for a few days at a time has meant that for the last couple of years, being ‘northbound’ has either meant a trip on the tube heading towards Camden, or a train to Lincoln via Peterborough. This summer though, time and money finally permitted my family and I to visit Scotland, and as we were driving we were able to stop off at some fantastic places on the way.

After a slight mishap involving a surplus of oil being put into the car and an oil change being required on the very morning we were due to leave, we left a little later than planned. With the car stuffed to bursting point with suitcases, boxes of bacon sandwiches, my teenage brother, my pet snail and several stray shoes arranged in what little free space we had left, we headed North. Having been subjected to more than my fair share of journeys up and down the dreaded A1, things weren’t all that interesting for a while – although bacon helped. Suddenly, we realised we were a few miles south of Newcastle, and my mum became excited at the prospect of seeing the Angel of the North. The sculpture invites us to remember the region’s mining history and the years where endless streams of men and boys toiled away in the dark: it celebrates light, evolution and the future, standing proudly as a focus for our hopes, desires and fears and providing a concrete portrayal of an other-worldly being we can only begin to imagine. We then headed to the Metro Centre, a giant of a shopping centre on the outskirts of the city. Brief shopping ensued, and then my partner and I insisted that my mum and brother should try Krispy Kreme donuts. We bought a hefty box of twelve of the delicious little devils and munched on them next door to the biggest Starbucks I’d ever seen, vast car parks, huge roads and a sunny sky.

Angel of the North - 004(Head to the Angel of the North to remember the regions’ mining history www.dsphotographic.com)

Satisfied yet almost vomiting from our sugar intake, we resumed our journey. Our next stop was Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island. Organisation is vital for this attraction as the tide dictates when you can and can’t access the island, so I’d recommend printing off the timetable beforehand. Trying to describe Lindisfarne and the feeling it gives you is almost impossible to do without sounding like a poet from the Romantic period, purely because it’s so utterly sublime. We reached the island just as the sun was sinking over the horizon, and as my experience there was incomparable to anything else I’ve ever encountered: I’d strongly suggest visiting at sunset on a clear day. I spent some time revisiting a favourite childhood activity and searching for the best shells I could find, leaving with a small bag of green, pink and encrusted mollusc souvenirs. I then climbed through the marshy wetlands and slippery rocks across the beach to get to St. Cuthbert’s Isle. Stood at the top alone with the wind whistling through my ears and the sun going down in the distance, I felt a huge rush of adrenaline and exhilaration that can only be achieved through being somewhere so spectacular and isolated. We strolled back up to the top of the island and looked at the Abbey Ruins – we didn’t pay to go inside as you can see everything you need to through the wrought iron gate and over a nearby wall.

We reluctantly left the island and continued on our journey to Scotland, taking the winding coastal roads and passing Torness nuclear power station. This is bizarrely attractive by night as it stands there in solitude amidst miles of greenery looking out to the sea, showcasing the conflict between nature and intrusive industrialism. We reached our Travelodge on the outskirts of Kinross late that night, and woke up the next morning in need of sustenance. We headed to Loch Leven, and sat on the outdoor terrace with a dramatic view of the water and the surrounding hills, sipping coffee and scoffing more bacon rolls. Afterwards, we drove along the outskirts of the loch to Kinnesswood, a nearby village where my partner’s parents met for the first time over thirty years ago. Sadly the pub they used to frequent had long become derelict; an enormous shame, as the building backs out onto a panoramic view of the Scottish countryside.

Britains-islands-lindisfarne-castleHead to the island on a clear day at sunset. (wolfblood.wikia.com)

On the route towards Edinburgh we crossed the Forth Road Bridge – a great chance to see an amazing feat of design – and navigated our way towards Portobello, a slightly run down but soon to be up-and-coming part of the city. My mum was keen to see her great aunt’s old apartment in a block of tenements there which she hadn’t seen for over forty years (more nostalgia!). We wandered down the promenade and found a tiny but spotlessly clean chip shop, ordering deep fried chips with homemade curry sauce served by possibly the friendliest Scot in Edinburgh. As the check-in time for our accommodation was approaching, we drove on to Musselburgh.

Arriving at our log cabin complete with a hot tub was certainly one of the highlights of our stay. Drummohr Holiday Park is sensational, and walking through the door to our cabin certainly made our jaws drop. My brother took full advantage of the hot tub the second we were shown how to turn it on, and spent the majority of our time away basking in its bubbly depths until he looked sufficiently like a prune. The cabin was £400 for four nights as the Scottish summer holiday and the Edinburgh festival finished the week before we arrived, which meant we got beautiful accommodation at half the price. Sipping wine in the hot tub at midnight with a view of the lights of the city beyond felt shamefully decadent.

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The Scotch Mist

8116835014_913ba8c97c_z(The Scotch mist casts an eerie blanket over Edinburgh. www.flickr.com)

I am just back from a long weekend in Edinburgh: a place adorned with kilts, whiskey and a man busking on his bagpipes. It felt nippy up there and a frisky breeze added an extra chill to the cheeks; trousers weren’t enough to keep me warm. What is not obvious to the eye, however, is that below the ancient streets of the city centre, a hidden depth of mystery lies below your feet: vaults carry a dark history and there are sinister stories to tell. I joined Mercat Tours for an evening Ghost Walk. It seemed fitting that a layer of hazy mist cast an eerie blanket on the Royal Mile (the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh).

GG1 (Medium).JPG[ProductMain](The Mercat Tours take you on a Ghost Walk guided by a hooded figure. http://www.visitscotland.com)

A group of us somewhat curious tourists were led down a narrow lane and taken through a large wooden door and down some wonky steps into the South Bridge Vaults, which is said to be the most haunted place in Edinburgh. Gathered together on the uneven flooring we listened. The tour guide, dressed in a long black cloak, held a dripping candle as he told tales of grim murders and grave diggings under the arched, damp walls of a vault. He made it clear that no gimmicks are used to scare the tourists – if we sensed a drop in temperature, saw a shadow of a figure or felt the touch of a boy’s hand in ours – it was the infamous ghosts reminding us of their presence. I felt an icy gust brush against the back of my legs but chose to ignore it, and another girl stroked the back of her neck as if she’d felt a shiver. The musty smells and flickering candlelight made for the perfect setting of ghostly tales, and each little vaulted room had its own tale of the past – but I can’t say I saw anything out of the ordinary.


Edinburgh in a Day

The Scottish capital is a beautiful and vibrant city. It has rich associations with the past, and its Gothic architecture is unlike any other European city. What is really great about Edinburgh, though, is that it is compact and walk-able, and therefore is an ideal place to take a day trip. To make the most of it, it’s best to arrive as early as possible in the morning (which might mean a very long journey for those of you coming from London), and leave as late as you can. Below is my suggested itinerary:


Let’s say you hypothetically arrive in Edinburgh at 8am ( sorry – I did mention it was best to arrive as early as possible!). Upon arrival, head straight to Princes Street Gardens, which is only a 5 minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley Station if you’re arriving by train. This beautiful public park separates the Old Town from the New Town, and is home to a wide variety of statues, monument and floral displays (and make sure you check out the floral clock!).

By 9am, it’s time to move on to the next stop: the Scott Monument. It is a bit of a climb – 287 steps to be precise – but is worth every loss of breath and sweaty mop. It stands as a tribute to Sir Walter Scott, and its size makes it the largest monument of a writer in the world. Once you’ve reached the very top, take a moment to appreciate the splendid view.

08.08.2005(Bring spending money for the ‘Harrods of the North’. wikimedia.org)

The next stop is directly across the street from the foot of the Scott Monument. It’s known as the ‘Harrods of the North’. That’s right, you’re going to Jenners, the city’s famous department store.

After you’re laden with shopping bags, for any art lovers out there, the next place on the list is the National Galleries of Scotland at the bottom of the Mound: they’re only a 2 minute walk away from Jenners. The galleries are comprised of the Royal Scottish Academy building and the National Gallery of Scotland, two magnificent neo-classical designs which house works from many famous artists including Da Vinci, Vermeer and Monet. Still not convinced? Entry is free.


By now you have probably worked up a thirst so it’s time to stop off for a spot of lunch. Allow yourself a 10 min walk to the George VI bridge and head to the Elephant House. This is a popular haunt for tourists and locals alike. It is steeped in literary history; JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books here!

Once you’re finished it’s time to start exploring again. The next stop is only 100 yards away: Greyfriars Bobby. This is a little statue commemorating one of Edinburgh’s well-loved residents, a Skye Terrier. He’s been made famous by various books and the 1961 Disney film ‘Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog’. There’s time for a quick photo before the next stop.

2675713_8d00f6cc(Grab a quick photo of this well-loved resident before your next location. geograph.org.uk)

If you’re a museum buff, directly across the road from Greyfriars Bobby is the National Museum of Scotland. It’s a fantastic way to explore Scottish history, from the primeval age to the modern era. Be sure to check out the amazing 360 degree views of Edinburgh from the roof garden.

From the museum, your next stop is Edinburgh Castle – a visit to Edinburgh is not complete without a visit to the city’s iconic landmark. It is best to go just before closing time because it is quiet and contemplative in nature. You can also observe the dusk falling. If you do want to see everything the castle offers, it might be worth skipping an earlier attraction to give yourself time to explore.


Like London, Edinburgh is a city containing numerous top restaurants. However, the highest recommendation is The Dome. Located in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town, it was originally the old Physicians Hall (1775), and then a bank, before it reopened in 1996. It offers you the most famous Scottish delicacy: haggis! Are you brave enough to try it? You’re looking at under £20 for a main, but considering most of your day has been low-cost, it’s time to flash the cash a little.

518bc9440b3f2(After a long, cheap day it’s time to reward yourself with a lavish meal at The Dome. http://www.luxuryscottishwedding.co.uk)

There’s just one last stop before you head home. This one is a bit further out, around a 50 minute walk from The Dome, but you would’ve noticed this on your travels. The final and most famous stop is Arthur’s Seat, the 251m high extinct volcano that sits in the middle of Edinburgh. Because of its location, a taxi is probably the quickest route. Take one to Dunsapie Loch and then there’s only a 30 minute climb where you can work off the lunchtime calories. It offers an amazing panorama of the entire city best enjoyed in the summer evenings. If you go during other times of the year, it might be best to have this as one of the first stops made.

And now it’s time to head back home full of happy memories – but before you leave, don’t forget to buy some famous Edinburgh rock for the journey home!