I am a recommended person!

I received an e-mail from Shelli Stein of www.joyinmovement.com saying she had placed my details on her website as a recommended person. Shelli and I met last month and had a great day out in Edinburgh.

Here is what she says; “I love to travel and when I visit a place, I walk A LOT! I also like to seek out like-minded walking enthusiasts where ever I go. Gerry is a kindred walking spirit! When you’re in Edinburgh, Scotland you simply must let Gerry show you around. You’ll learn history, architecture, and culture while having a great time!”

Shelli is a successful businesswoman based on the Pacific West Coast of the U.S.A., concentrating on a healthy lifestyle, fitness and wellbeing. Give her website a look as it is inspirational.

 

Thanks again Shelli for the listing.

“The sun has got his hat on….”

Edinburgh in the sun is a beautiful thing. People cast off their winter woolies and expose their pale skin to the big orange ball in the sky, even in March.

Whilst out in Edinburgh this weekend, I took some photographs to show my city in a better light. Enjoy!

IMG_0218

This is Edinburgh Castle from the South (rear) side and includes the windows for the Great Hall.

 

IMG_0212

And this is the magnificent North side of Charlotte Square in the New Town, designed by Robert Adam at the end of the 18th Century to James Craig’s original plan of 1766. It includes…

IMG_0214

Bute House, the Official Residence of Scotland’s First Minister. So it is our White House or 10 Downing Street….

 

IMG_0219

This is the Grassmarket, which is an area to the south of Edinburgh Castle. Very historical, though most people on this day are more interested in the Saturday Market or in getting a seat outside the many bars and restaurants there. Very Continental.

And now, some photographs showing The West Bow, Victoria Terrace and Victoria Street

IMG_0220

IMG_0222

IMG_0224

IMG_0225

Notice that people will find ingenious places to stop for a drink or some food as long as the sun is out!

 

IMG_0227

And finally I though I’d show you Anchor’s Close, just a minutes walk from the the throng in Victoria Street and Victoria Terrace. The high rise properties mean the sun does not penetrate to the lower floors of these tenements in Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town. Therefore, there is no one around this very atmospheric alleyway.

 

I hope you enjoyed these photographs. You can see these sights (and many, many more) on a guided walk with Edinburgh Walks. Just get in touch by going to www.edinburghwalks.com and going to the contact page. Or just email contact@edinburghwalks.com for more information.

 

 

 

Edinburgh Coffee Shops as recommended by Gareth Thomas (Reserve Apts.)

My Favourite Top 5 Coffee Shops in Edinburgh

Luckily for all lovers of good coffee, Edinburgh’s thriving coffee scene means there are plenty of high-quality coffee shops where they really know their beans. Whether you prefer an espresso, an artistically served flat white, a skinny latte or a cappuccino, check out my list of the best coffee shops in the city to find local providers of freshly ground, delicious coffee in cosy and convivial settings.

Artisan Roast

Artisan Roast has three branches in Edinburgh: Stockbridge, Bruntsfield and in the centre of town near the Edinburgh Playhouse, so wherever your wanderings take you, you won’t be far from an excellent cup of coffee. The team at Artisan Roast take their coffee very seriously indeed, roasting their own beans and creating their own in-house blends. With its book-lined walls and trendy but relaxed ambience, Artisan Roast is the ideal place to refuel with a long black, a bowl of soup or a freshly-baked pastry and you can also buy packs of freshly-ground coffee to take home with you.

Addresses: 57 Broughton Street, EH1 3RJ, 100a Raeburn Place, EH4 1HH, 138 Bruntsfield Place, EH10 4ER

The Counter

With its quirky setting in a former police box, The Counter is a small but excellent coffee shop in Morningside. Its colourful atmosphere and bespoke-roast coffee have quickly established a reputation with locals and visitors alike. The friendly and knowledgeable baristas at The Counter create a warm and welcoming environment where you can enjoy your coffee and perhaps a slice of homemade cake in convivial surroundings.

Address: Police Box, 216a Morningside Road, EH10 4QQ

Castello Coffee

Located in Castle Street near Prince’s Street Gardens in the heart of Edinburgh, this brilliant little coffee shop with its clean, minimalist decor serves amazing coffee, including perfectly made guest espressos and a good range of cakes, pastries and soups served with chunky wholemeal bread. This area is home to many of the large coffee chains, but Castello Coffee stands up well against the competition. Its popularity means it can get crowded indoors during busy periods, but outdoor seating areas allow you to relax and enjoy your coffee while taking in a stunning view of the castle.

Address: 7 Castle Street, EH2 3AH

Cairngorm Coffee Co.

With its welcoming and dog-friendly ambience, Cairngorm Coffee Co. is an excellent place to refuel in central Edinburgh. This small, independent coffee shop certainly punches above its weight: its top-notch, locally-roasted coffee attracts a loyal customer base while tasty bites such as the Cairngorm’s trademark cheese toasties, served with chili jam, and luscious carrot cake are equally tempting. With its cosy and relaxing ambience, Cairngorm Coffee Co. is also one of the best places for breakfast in the New Town.

Address: 41a Frederick Street, EH2 1EP

Brew Lab

The Brew Lab, near the museum and university, is a must for aficionados of excellent coffee. Brew Lab are passionate about classic black filter coffee and see it as the best way to appreciate the full flavour and aroma of fine Java, but they also serve excellent lattes and flat whites. The friendly staff are always delighted to discuss their methods with you and their scientific approach to coffee ensures that your visit will be a fascinating experience.

Address: 6-8 South College Street, EH8 9AA

 

Author Bio

Gareth Thomas is one of the co-founders of Reserve Apartments, an Edinburgh based holiday let and online booking / web publishing software company.

Edinburgh’s Stockbridge is a turophile’s paradise

I have to admit to being a turophile.

According to The Collins English Dictionary Turophile : (noun) a person who loves cheese.

Stockbridge is a old village now within the northern centre of the City of Edinburgh that has a somewhat bohemian atmosphere and is a much sought after place to live. Every time I take guided walks here it seems that there are new bars, cafe’s and restaurants springing up adding to the many independent retailers and high-end charity shops which proliferate.

And the one thing that locals can not say they are short of is cheese.

Yes, there are supermarkets serving prepacked products – something my late dad, also an avowed turophile, called plastic cheese! And there are great established independent Deli’s on Stockbridge’s main street Raeburn Place, like Herbie’s and Henri’s who have been serving a fine selection for some time. The Stockbridge Sunday market here has several cheese purveyors and sometimes a stall selling kits from The Big Cheese Maker.

Some years ago Edinburgh then saw the establishment of artisan cheese shops from Ian Mellis, one of which was established in Stockbridge.  I visited Mellis’s not that long ago for lunch

20150421_131728

and it was terrific.

Then in September 2015 Smith & Gertrude, a bar focussing on wine and cheese opened in Hamilton Place, Edinburgh and has been a great success.

IMG_0162

They match wine and cheese – along with some charcuterie & breads, and the atmosphere is very relaxing.

You would think that that was that! Cheese fanatics could sate their appetite.

But now comes along another cheesemonger. George Mewes have set up shop in Edinburgh following great success in Glasgow and they have chosen Stockbridge. So now two stores only hundreds of metres apart dedicated to cheese.

IMG_0190

Paradise!

As part of our Edinburgh guided walks – see www.edinburghwalks.com/walks – we take in Stockbridge and you too can visit cheese paradise……..

 

 

“…but the Romans didn’t come north of Hadrian’s Wall and into Edinburgh”

I was out recently leading a walk through this beautiful city – see ideas for guided walks at www.edinburghwalks.com/walks – when I was asked why the Romans didn’t enter Scotland, but hid behind Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England fearing attacks from northern barbarians. Well the truth is that the Romans did come into Scotland and in fact made it up to the Moray Coast which is considerably further north of Edinburgh. They also built a structure in earth and wood in the Central Belt between the Rivers Clyde and Forth called the Antonine Wall. The Romans did not stay long – something to do with the weather? – but they were most certainly here and they have left evidence of this.

One of their forts was in Cramond, a village to the North of Edinburgh which sits on the mighty Forth estuary and at the end of the tributary called the River Almond. There is evidence of accommodation here, but it was not until 1997 that a most amazing item was discovered.

IMG_0186

The Cramond Ferryman discovered a sandstone sculpture in the mud of the River Almond and it turned out to be the most important Roman find in Scotland in many years. The sandstone was not from a local quarry and was dated as being about 1,800 years old. It is likely to be a memorial stone to a high ranking Roman officer and is symbolic of death. It is a bit grizzly, but depicts a lioness devouring a bearded naked man, who has his hands tied behind his back and is likely to be of a prisoner  – more than likely a resident of Scotland. There are also two snakes on the base of the stone which probably depicted the survival of the soul.

IMG_0187

Being sandstone, it has been worn down by the river in the last 1,800 years, but the open lioness’s mouth – and sharp teeth – can clearly be seen, as can the depiction of the poor barbarian.

The stone now sits proudly on show within level -1 of the National Museum of  Scotland, which is in central Edinburgh and is well worth a visit. Even better, it is free to enter and is fantastic.

 

 

Beat Boxes

As I take my guided walks around the city – see www.edinburghwalks.com – I cannot fail to regularly come across cast iron buildings which have been on our streets since before World War II.

It had been proposed to place these Police Beat Boxes around the city to allow Officers to ‘parade and retire’ whilst still on the beat, rather than starting at their home Police Stations and marching or walking to their patch. This of course would have allowed criminals to take advantage of shift changes and go about their nefarious deeds without fear of detection. And in 1933, from a design by the City Architect Ebenezer MacRae, 142 Police Boxes were sited throughout Edinburgh.

IMG_0076

Manufactured at the Carron Foundry in Falkirk in Central Scotland, these boxes were painted blue (what else?). They contained a built-in desk, doo’cots (small shelves) for paperwork, a stool for the Officer to rest his weary feet and a small bench chair for his partner/probationer or, if required, his prisoner whilst he awaited some assistance. There was a light, a sink and running water and a very small and inadequate heater. Why inadequate? Well, the Police Inspector didn’t want the water to freeze for the sink, but similarly he didn’t want it snug enough that the Officer wouldn’t go out in the cold! There was also a phone which could be accessed from outside so that the public could request the Officer in their hour of need.

IMG_0073

The windows were frosted glass and the light could be seen by the public too. Often fitted to the roof was a blue flashing lamp which would alert the patrolling Officer to return to his beat box as there was an urgent message. This was in the days before personal radios were carried. During World War II, air raid sirens were also fitted (the flatbed for the siren can be seen in the top photograph here).

These Police Boxes were used as part of the beat box system until the mid-1980’s even though personal radios were used by Officers from the early 1970’s. But even after the mid-1980’s, the boxes were still utilised for the use of the telephone (remember….no mobile phones!) and to keep out of inclement weather.

Having become mostly redundant the City of Edinburgh Council started a sell off of these historic buildings. Some in prime positions, others in suburban backwaters. One box in the city centre was for sale with an expected price of £3,500-4,000 and sold for over £100,000.

IMG_0072IMG_0080

IMG_0071IMG_0070

Most sold for a lot less than this. I’m told one Police Box in the middle of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town sold for £500 last year.

But what have the owner done with them? Well, some are just storage and some have been left to deteriorate with smashed windows and graffiti. The majority have been looked after and they have become coffee stops – with varying success going by the picture above –  food outlets, art spaces amongst other things. The one that sits in Croall Place in Leith Walk (the old Box 10-D, Leith Police Division) is the Edinburgh Tool Library which lends out power tools.

So, when out and about in the city have a look for these wonderful little buildings.

+++STOP PRESS+++  10 Police Boxes across Edinburgh will open to the public on the 4th and 5th July 2015. Check out www.facebook.com/policeboxes or visit the website on www.edinburghexpoliceboxes.co.uk for more information.

 

Did Mary go to Mr Lamb?

Sunshine on Leith indeed!

As we are now well and truly into Spring in Scotland’s capital city, I went down to our port recently for a wander. The changes in Leith have been sweeping in the last 30 years. The old Georgian and Victorian dwellings that were in some semblance of disrepair have been getting spruced up and the pubs and restaurants have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps! Michelin Guide eateries and gastropubs abound, not to everyones delight it has to be said, however the old style boozer has nearly had its day.

As part of the “Sunny Leith” walk – see www.edinburghwalks.com – I take visitors down Water Street, formerly known as Rotten Row, where amongst other interesting sights we come across Lamb’s House, which is on the corner with Burgess Street .

IMG_0024

The history of this property is difficult to pin down. This is not the original merchants house on the land as the Earl of Hereford’s English army burnt down much of Leith under Henry VIII’s orders in 1544. Indeed historians are uncertain about the exact age. There are those who attribute it to the mid-sixteenth century, basing their assumption on a contemporary record which claims that Mary Queen of Scots “remainit in Andro Lamb’s hous be the space of an hour” on her arrival from France on the 19th August 1561. In fact she landed only 100 metres away on Leith’s Shore.

FullSizeRender

Mary had set out from France for Scotland after a 13 year absence and arrived two weeks earlier than expected in Leith in poor, foggy weather. The Palace of Holyrood House was not ready to receive her so she visited Lamb……or did she.

Whilst the Lamb’s were a well known family in Leith, there is not the evidence to confirm whether this visit to Lamb’s House did take place – or even if the building existed when Mary arrived in Leith. The building we see is one of the finest surviving merchant’s houses in Scotland and dates from around 1610. But it is thought her late mother Mary of Guise had a Palace in Rotten Row nearby and this is where she stopped.

However, Lamb’s House was a dwelling for the Lamb family and a warehouse for his goods. There are religious family connections and a descendent of Lamb, a Dr. Cheyne lived here with his family from 1800-1822.

IMG_0026

 

By the early 20th century the house was in a state of disrepair and it was only by the intervention of  the Marquis of Bute and then the National Trust for Scotland that the property was saved from demolition. I knew it for a long time as a day centre for the elderly people of Leith.

IMG_0023

By the beginning of the 21st century it was again in danger of falling into disrepair whilst many of the surrounding buildings were coming to life with the renewed interest in Leith properties and businesses. The building then had a dramatic change of use. Over £1 million was spent on restoring and upgrading the building to its former glory. And what a splendid sight it is.

The property is now the offices of an architect and the base for the Icelandic Consul to Scotland. Whilst it is not open to the public, The Pavilion building on site is available to rent as overnight accommodation.

It really is worth a visit to this beautiful building, even if the visit of Mary Queen of Scots to Mr Lamb is in question.

What to do in Edinburgh on the last Saturday of the month.

There are very few opportunities in the year to visit a little known museum in Edinburgh that contains one of the most famous exhibits the city has.

Only open on the last Saturday of every month and with free entry, The Anatomical Museum of the University of Edinburgh

IMG_0017

is found in Doorway 3 of the Medical School of Edinburgh University. The Medical School was established in 1726 – though medicine had been taught at the University prior to this – and flourished during the “Scottish Enlightenment”. It is still very highly regarded to this day.

As part of one of the Walks available through www.edinburghwalks.com, I was in the vicinity and called in. Through the heavy wooden door and up two floors, you enter the anatomy lecture theatre which has seating for two hundred students and was used to teach medical students from the 19th century onwards.

IMG_0008

I’m sure the dissection of bodies was a messy procedure, but nowadays the ‘slab’ is electronic and – as can be seen in the attached photograph – a lot less gory and a lot more interesting.

Then I made my way upstairs to the Anatomical Museum itself.

IMG_0011

 

The Museum was part of a block of buildings devoted to medical education which opened in 1880. The lobby still contains elephant skeletons and other exhibits from the original museum, which was reduced in size in 1950 from a three storey hall to a single upper storey, which is how it remains today. The Museum has a fascinating

IMG_0012

collection of both animal and human remains, plaster masks of famous people from the past made by the Edinburgh Phrenology Society and that famous exhibit I mentioned before, the skeleton of the infamous murderer William Burke. Burke – along with his unconvicted accomplice William Hare – murdered (probably) sixteen people in  1820’s Edinburgh and sold the bodies for medical dissection. He was convicted and hanged in 1829. The fate of Burke and all those convicted of murder was to be subject to the Murder Act of 1751, where they also had to be dissected after execution. The Anatomical Museum also houses the skeleton of John Howison, otherwise known as “The Cramond Murderer” who suffered the same fate as Burke. Howison was the last person to be publicly dissected prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832 which ended this practice and allowed medical schools to obtain cadavers by other means.

This museum is a great place to help understand Edinburgh’s historical and medical past and the exhibits are not laid out in a manner meant to frighten or shock the visitor. Next time you are in the area – or as part of a www.edinburghwalks.com Walk – give it a visit. You will not regret it.

Heroism, Cannibalism and the North West Passage

I have written before about The Dean Cemetery, to the rear of The Dean Gallery in Edinburgh. It is an interesting place and many of those that lie peacefully here have a fascinating past, most from Georgian and Victorian society.

Passing through last week – as one of the walks available from www.edinburghwalks.com – I came across the dark Celtic Cross which tells the fascinating story of Lieutenant John Irving of the British Royal Navy.

IMAG0431

Irving was part of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the North West Passage that left Kent, England in 1845 on board HMS Terror. The other Royal Navy ship in the party was HMS Erebus.

Having wintered at Beechey Island, they thereafter set out to find the Passage, but became locked in the ice for two years. By June 1847 Franklin, twenty Officers and Seamen died, but Irving and 104 other survivors landed on King William Island and tried to march further South into Canada, some 250 miles away. They perished in this venture.

Many expeditions were sent out to trace the crews, and it was in June 1879 that Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka’s American Searching Expedition found Irving’s grave near a place called Camp Crozier, the remains identifiable by the presence of a silver medal engraved ‘Second Mathematical Prize, Royal Naval College. Awarded to John Irving Mid-summer. 1830’, lying nearby. His remains were returned to Edinburgh and on the 7th January 1881 he was buried in the Dean Cemetery.

IMAG0428

The tableau on the Cross appears to show the survivors leaving Erebus and Terror to commence their march South.

IMAG0433

 

A synopsis of the terrible affair is also on the cross. However, it brought to mind more recent information that adds colour to this story.

Dr. John Rae was a qualified surgeon from Orkney in Scotland who was employed by the Hudson Bay Company after his arrival there in 1833. He stayed in the Moose Factory area for around 10 years and in this time assimilated with the local native Canadians. He learned their vital survival skills, though his insistence of dressing like a native was frowned upon. Dr. Rae assisted in two searches for Erebus and Terror and their men, but abandoned the search for Franklin in 1854 after learning that the expedition had ended in disaster and that the last survivors having been forced to resort to cannibalism.

In April 1854, Rae had heard from an Inuit that a group of 40 white men had been seen four years previously pulling a boat and sledges South along the West coast of King William Island. From what he was told, Rae decided the men had died in the winter of 1850, after ice had crushed their ships. Some years later, Rae learned that the Inuit had discovered 30 bodies and a number of graves and it appeared the men had died of starvation. But the report of cannibalism caused a scandal which was not accepted by Victorian Britain and, in particular, Franklin’s widow. Even Charles Dickens wrote of his disbelief. But in May 1859 following another expedition, skeletons were found of some of the last survivors and they appeared to confirm that the men had resorted to cannibalism.

Dr. Rae eventually returned to the UK, but his courageous deeds in the snowy wastelands of Northern Canada were never truly recognised….until 2014. On 30th September 2014 a simple plaque was unveiled to Rae in Westminster Abbey in London, England. This plaque is adjacent to a memorial to Franlin.

But there is more……. Also in September 2014 the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the discovery of a ship to the West of King William Island, South of the Victoria Strait. This ship has been confirmed as HMS Terror’s sister ship, HMS Erebus. Work is continuing to find Irving’s ship, which must surely be nearby.

So, although Irving was interred in the Dean Cemetery 133 years ago his story and that of the Franklin Expedition continues to evolve to this day.

 

Golf in Leith & Edinburgh

Scotland is the undisputed home of golf.

The exact origins are not known, but it is recorded that golf had to be banned in 1457 as it interfered with archery practice. But it was James IV of Scotland who took up the sport around 1505 giving it the royal stamp of approval and it is reported that Mary Queen of Scots also played. However it was also a game of the people.

At Leith Links, there were originally 5 holes, around 400 yards long. The first rules of golf were drawn up here in 1744 and the first international golf foursome was played at Leith as was the first ever national tournament, played by professionals in 1867. By this time, there were 7 holes and four rounds were played to complete a ’round’.

Leith Links was the original home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The Company subsequently moved to their present home of Gullane in East Lothian in 1836. (You can walk around Leith Links and learn more about its history as part of the Sunny Leith guided walk from Edinburgh Walks www.edinburghwalks.com)

I took a walk last week to another area of Edinburgh which has a long history when it comes to golf. A short walk to the South of the medieval city of Edinburgh, but still within easy sight of the Castle – though where is not I suppose – is Bruntsfield Links. Part of  the ancient Borough Muir and Borough Loch, the area provided the old city with fresh water and areas for quarrying, grazing sheep and hunting. The Roman road Dere Street is believed to have cut across the southern boundary of the Muir.

But it is golf that was important to the area. Two of the four oldest golf clubs in the world were based here, and their favoured tavern for refreshment was the Ye Olde Golf Tavern

IMAG0435 which has been here since 1456 and is still open today.

IMAG0434

Previously known as the Golf Hotel, this was where the Royal Burgess Golfing Society met, having played golf on the Links from 1735. The Bruntsfield Links Society, which was formed in 1761, also used Ye Olde Golf Tavern as it’s clubhouse. Both these Societies moved to the North of the city in the mid 19th Century as the Brunstfield Links were too busy with other activities. However, you can still play golf for a very small fee on the Links outside Ye Olde Golf Tavern.

IMAG0439

You just call into the starters box to rent a club and ball and off you go.

IMAG0440IMAG0441

After your round, do as I did and call into Ye Olde Golf Tavern for some food and a drink. You will not be disappointed.

You can also pass through Bruntsfield Links as part of the Three Volcanoes guided walk from Edinburgh Walks  ( www.edinburghwalks.com ).