I am very guilty of not exploring Britain enough. So desperate am I for sunshine during my allocated-weeks-per-year that I often head abroad for my down time. I've never, for example, been north of the English border for a holiday before, which I now see is absolutely a crime because of how goddam brilliant Scotland is. Yes it lives up to it's stereotype as rainy (where doesn't in the UK) but it's also supremely beautiful. Yes the menus contain Haggis, but I tried it in a pie and can report back that it was delicious. I spent a glorious week exploring Edinburgh, North Berwick and even a festival in Glasgow and can tell you for a fact, I'll be back. If I've whet your appetite for all things Scottish, keep reading for some of my best bits...
It was almost ironic that we'd spent the past 4 hours on a train from London looking out at sunny beautiful weather, and the moment we crossed the border the sky's greyed and the pitter patter of rain fell on the windows. We stepped out into the rain at Edinburgh Waverley and immediately heard the sound of Bagpipes - no exaggeration, they know what the tourists want. Hello Scotland, we had arrived! Determined to not let the rain dampen our spirits we warmed up with Chocolate and Coffee at Hotel Chocolat's very own cafe in the centre of the city, whilst planning the couple of days we had here to explore.
High on the list was for me Edinburgh Zoo, the only place in the UK that you can see Pandas! A gift from China in 2011, I had been anxious to see these amazing black&whites in person - and boy did they make me work for it. The Zoo itself is pretty great, I'm not a huge advocate of the concept of Zoos generally but Edinburgh Zoo puts a great deal of focus on conservation, education and the breeding programs. As you are only able to view the pandas in time slots, and only if they have ventured outside it's tricky to know if you'll even catch a glimpse - luckily the zoo is understanding and allows you multiple trips back if it's not too busy. Eventually I got to see the male Yang Guang (just about) while he fed on some bamboo and he was an absolute beauty. The Zoo is definitely worth a visit due to the sheer quantity and variety of animals they have - the penguins being particularly entertaining.
The next couple of days were spent exploring on foot, the many beautiful cobbled streets of central Edinburgh - our time was very limited so we tried to hit as many of the main sights as possible. The sheer popularity of the city meant we didn't actually enter Edinburgh castle itself, but made do with the many sights of its dominating presence on top of the hill. We did however, make time for Greyfriars Kirk - a fascinating graveyard that, may be on the too creepy side for some, was impactful and pretty beautiful at the same time. But it was the winding and hilly streets that stole my heart; Cockburn street and Victoria Street down to Grassmarket in particular made for happy strolling an admittedly a bit of browsing when I happened upon the most amazing vintage clothing shop 'Armstrong's'. Victoria street is rumoured to have inspired J K Rowling's Diagon Alley in Harry Potter - with topsy turvy interiors and one shop holding enough Potter stash to make the most avid fans happy, this street is so worth a little look. We stopped in as well at an odd little distillery with exquisite tasting gin and other liquers 'Demijohn' - highly recommend for something a little different.
The rest of our time in Edinburgh we spent being tourists on 'The Real Mary King Close', showing us an 'underground' or rather closed up street of Edinburgh and teaching us some of the cities history. I'll be honest, I was expecting people dressed up in period costume and telling me about plagues with wax figurines to be a bit naff - but it was actually amazing. People had genuinely lived, worked and died in the places we then stood - and our tour guide bought this all to life with his humour, extensive truthful knowledge and what turned out to be the most convincing English accent I'd ever heard. We ended with an incredible meal at Bar Soba, eating Pan Asian Street food and drinking cocktails at reasonable prices.
Food and Fun in North Berwick
We then spent a good deal of time relaxing in North Berwick - a beautiful coastal town just a 30 minute train ride from Edinburgh Waverley. Whilst I spent a great deal of my time eating delicious fresh seafood or buying even more local produce from the local butcher and baker (and candlestick maker) there's a brilliant range of activities here too. Hiking being a great one and a personal favourite, as there is the North Berwick Law, famous for having mysterious Whale jawbones atop of (replaced with replicas in 2008), as well as the pretty ruin of an Iron Age hill fort. It's a steep climb and a spectacular view that's so worth it.
The beaches, of course, are also a big selling point, although I must point out the sea breeze cools the area off substantially (I wasn't seen out without a jumper or jacket). The sea is swimmable if you have a wetsuit, or a stubborn attitude, but more than this, to walk it is beautiful - day time or sunset there are amazing views to be had and that 'fresh' feeling to gain. Of course you should stop off for a Luca's Ice Cream - the little car/van (?!) is located on the pier on any not too rainy days.
The high street itself is also brilliant with lots of little shops (for the size of the town), places to eat and even an old timely sweet shop which I was a huge fan of personally. And of course, the culinary highlight of the entire trip for me was the freshly caught lobster I got to taste al fresco at the Lobster Shack - apparently they catch what they can, sell it and that's it, closed and job done for the day. Friends, I cannot stress how crazy tasty this lobster was - and if the below photos don't make you salivate a little, I'll be concerned.
I can't mention North Berwick without giving a bit of a shout out to the Steampunk Cafe - where i drank multiple soya lattes and rinsed their wifi collating this post. Super cool and wouldn't be out of place in Shoreditch, this steel framed converted warehouse to local coffee roasters is an absolute gem to work or relax in with it's mismatched vintage furniture, exposed brickwork and wooden two storey floors. The staff are amazing, the coffee is tasty and the decor is dreamy. Much like most of North Berwick, I'm a little bit in love.
Glasgow: TRNSMT Festival
A chance read of the free copy of NME magazine us Londoners get on our Friday commutes directed my attention to TRNMT Festival as the line up ranged from The Kooks, Catfish & The Bottlemen and The 1975 to Stormzy, Kasabian and Rag 'N' Bone Man. I'd been keen to catch a festival this summer and the timing of this (since we'd already booked the previous week in Scotland) seemed too good to miss! While we didn't get to experience the whole weekend (sadly) the Saturday line up tempted us and so we made the short train ride over to Glasgow. This was TRNSMT's very first year and despite being the only girl there not covered in glitter (sadly again) I would definitely go back, and HIGHLY recommend it to anyone as an alternative weekend festival. The location of Glasgow green gave a brilliant bright (and green!) location with tons of food stands, a whopping 4 stages and even a nifty phone changing tree. Nice. All in all TRNSMT rounded off our amazing week in Scotland pretty perfectly.