In celebration of World Book Day, I thought I’d bring you a guide to one of my favourite literary cities (in fact one of my favourite cities full stop), Edinburgh! Aside from being obsessed with all things fashion, I’m also a massive bookworm and both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are in English Literature (hence why I’m always paranoid about spelling and grammar mistakes in my blog posts!).
As my mother’s Glaswegian, a lot of my childhood summer holidays were spent north of the border but visits to Edinburgh tended to be daytrips across to the festival which whilst memorable, never gave a proper chance to explore the city. In the last few years however, largely thanks to deciding to write my MA dissertation on the city and some of its writers, I’ve managed to rectify that and I’m now so in love with the city that I could see myself happily relocating there.
Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature (as well as its Old and New Towns being UNESCO World Heritage sites) and nods to Scottish writers permeate every inch of the city (there’s even a dedicated Writers’ Museum). Exploring the Old Town with its maze of narrow wynds and closes feels like stepping back in time and helps to bring to life the city written about by Hogg, Scott and Stevenson. The New Town also has its share of literary landmarks from Stevenson’s childhood home on Heriot Row to the more modern pilgrimage site (and fantastic place for a pint) of The Oxford Bar, watering hole of choice for Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus.
Aside from its literary heritage, the city is also bursting at the seams with museums and art galleries to while away any rainy afternoons with my top recommendations being the National Museum of Scotland and the newly refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Edinburgh’s castle is also a fantastic place to get to grips with both the city and country’s history and for a better understanding of its present (and future), a tour of the Parliament is a must.
One of my favourite ways to spend a day in the Edinburgh is to simply wander around and enjoy the city’s green spaces and amazing scenery. Calton Hill gives spectacular views across both the city and Firth of Forth whilst there can be few things better than looking across the city on a clear day from the top of Arthur’s Seat (it’s honestly not as much of a climb as you might think!). For those who prefer something a bit less strenuous, Princess Street Gardens in the city centre and the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith are both lovely places to relax and get lost in a good book whilst The Water of Leith walk weaves through some of the smaller villages which make up the northwest of the city.
If you fancy journeying a bit further afield, South Queensferry (the setting for a lot of Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped and a spectacular views of the Forth Rail Bridge), North Berwick and Edinburgh’s seaside, Portobello, are only short train and bus journeys away.
Whilst I do try to be as cultured as possible, its impossible to visit Edinburgh without indulging in a bit of retail therapy! The area around Princess Street and George Street is the go to destination for high street shops whilst for something a bit more quirky, Cockburn Street and the area around The Grassmarket in the Old Town are packed with quirky independents. For charity shop lovers, Queensferry Street and Stockbridge are the places to head for some bargain treasure and vintage hunting.
If you’ve tired yourself out from all the walking/ museum visiting/ shopping, thankfully Edinburgh is jam packed with some great places to eat and drink. Aside from the aforementioned Oxford Bar, The Stockbridge Tap in, surprisingly, Stockbridge, has a great range of ales whilst the hard to find but utterly amazing Bramble Bar on Queen Street serves some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. For foodies, Howies (Victoria Street and Waterloo Place) offers seasonal Scottish dishes at prices that won’t break the bank whilst Mother India’s Cafe on Infirmary Street bring a tapas twist to Indian cuisine.
This post only scratches the surface of why the city is so fantastic and each trip always brings a new discovery which makes my heart grow even fonder. For lovers of literature and history, parts of the city are like stepping back in time and it’s impossible to not be affected by the deep regard that the city holds for its cultural heritage and those it inspired. Rather than resting on its laurels however, Edinburgh continues to move forward, promoting both new ideas and the diverse range of writers and historical figures connected to it. It’s a city I love and I hope if you ever visit, you will too!
*Holly’s Edinburgh Reading List Recommendations*
For those of you wanting a place to start when it comes to Edinburgh’s literature, I’d suggest the following books…
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – James Hogg
‘Justified Sinner’ explores the duality of both Edinburgh and the Scottish psyche and whilst Hogg may not be the best known of Scottish writers, his influence can clearly be seen in the work of Stevenson and Rankin.
Waverley – Walter Scott
With a train station and monument named in his honour, no Edinburgh reading list would be complete without the man who also helped turn Edinburgh into the tartaned tourist destination it remains today.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Although this novel is set in London, many have argued that this is merely a thin disguise for Edinburgh and certainly to me, the cramped mix of streets and populace combined again with the strong themes of personal and geographical duality seem more in keeping with Scotland’s capital.
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
You’ve probably all seen the film but the original novel is well worth a read (once you get used to its use of thick dialect) and shows life in the city lived by its underclass.
Set In Darkness – Ian Rankin
Although this is the 11th novel in Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series (and I would urge you to read them all), its focus on the imminent return of the Scottish parliament and the discovery of a corpse bricked up in a fire place at Queensbury House highlights the importance of Scotland’s past in shaping its future and the anxieties of a country not only on the cusp of a new Millennium but also on a new political dawn.
December seems to have flown by and I can’t quite believe we’re only five days away from Christmas! I’ve barely had time to catch my breath over the last few weeks and as well as a fantastic trip to London to see the Meadham Kirchhoff V&A Fashion In Motion show, most of my time has revolved around hitting the big 3-0. Now that I’ve almost recovered from an epic birthday weekend which included a go on a helter skelter (because that’s what grown ups do isn’t it?!), I thought I’d share some of the gorgeous presents I was given.
After blogging about it way back in June, I finally got my hands on an a-england ‘Rose With Thorn’ necklace in rose gold. It’s so beautiful and delicate in real life and definitely a piece I will treasure forever. A grown up birthday also demands a slightly more grown up wallet than my current Liberty Print Hello Kitty one so this Biba leather wallet is perfect!
Once a Manic Street Preachers fan, always a Manic Street Preachers fan so this Babycham gift set from one of my oldest friends (who’s also in the ultracool band Pris) really reminds me of my misspent youth. Coupled with an amazing mix CD (including a cover sleeve feature some of my more dubious outfit choices), this was the perfect nostalgia present.
It’s always lovely receiving presents on my ‘a bit too indulgent to justify treating myself to’ wish list so I felt like a very lucky girl this year. I’m a sucker for a good red lippy with MAC’s ‘Lady Danger’ being my go to shade (nothing like a strong lip to distract from you looking like death, a trick I employed over the days spent recovering from my birthday!) so I was glad to receive a new one to replace the rapidly running out tube in my handbag. I was also given the slightly darker matte red shade ‘Ruby Woo’ which I always debate buying when the weather turns autumnal but can never decide between it and ‘Russian Red’. I’m glad my sister took the dithering out of my hands and picked this shade on my behalf as it makes me feel very glamorous which is just how you should feel on your birthday!
Another brand I have trouble with is Jo Malone – there’s just too much choice! My friend who really knows her way around the range got me a bottle of the gorgeous smelling ‘Earl Grey & Cucumber’ cologne and my heart leapt at the sight of the little black and white box tied with their distinctive ribbon.
I’m not sure when owls became my thing (although I possibly kicked it off after buying a fantastic Lea Stein Buba Owl Brooch on eBay) but now most birthdays seem to feature them. For my 30th I was given this cute silver owl necklace from the shop at Manchester Art Gallery which matches a ring I have. I love a good art gallery or museum gift shop and my new necklace proves what amazing treasures you can find!
Completing the glam theme is this stunning Karen Mabon silk scarf. Again this is a brand I’ve previously blogged about and I utterly love Karen’s quirky designs. I’ve now got my fingers crossed that the Midnight Feast scarf from her winter collection is waiting for me under the Christmas tree…
I think it’s fitting that my final gift combines both my love of literature and, er, hot men… Pulp! The Classics is a new imprint which gives classic novels retro looking pulp fiction covers with a twist. Whether you like your Pride And Prejudice with a side order of Colin Firth’s ‘Darcy’ or, like me, the eternal youth of Gosling as Dorian Gray, the eight novels in the collection will not only brighten up any bookshelf but are also guaranteed to raise a smile from fellow commuters during the rush hour slog!
I do realise I’ve been a shockingly lazy blogger over the last few weeks. I’m blaming a combination of a very busy period at work and weather so chilly that all I want to do when I get home is curl up on the sofa in PJs and a blanket with a stack of magazines. Bliss! When the weather starts turning wintery I have a habit of doing very little but laze on weekends which means on weeknights I try to cram in as much as possible. Whilst late night shopping has long been a feature of our lives, those wanting cultural rather than retail evening pursuits generally only had theatre, film or gigs to choose between. Thankfully several art galleries and museums have noticed this gap in the cultural market and have started offering later opening hours to catch those of us who work all week and don’t fancy facing the crowds at weekends or rush round exhibitions during lunch breaks.
Manchester’s Art Gallery runs a ‘Thursday Lates’ scheme with the gallery staying open until 9pm and giving you the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine, explore the exhibits and catch one of the talks or live music performances which are often a feature of the evenings. The Art Gallery is currently exhibiting Grayson Perry’s series of tapestries The Vanity Of Small Differences and I headed there a couple of Thursdays ago to view them.
‘The Vanity Of Small Differences’ comprises of six tapestries which are loosely based on A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth and were inspired by Grayson’s Channel 4 documentary In The Best Possible Taste which focused on class and British life. I’ve been an admirer of Grayson’s work for a long time as I love the way he takes traditional forms of art such as pottery or tapestry and subverts them to offer social commentary. The grotesque humour often found in his pieces juxtaposes brilliantly with their delicate intricacy and to see them up close is visually stunning. The exhibition is part of a wider national tour supported by The Art Fund and I’m so glad I didn’t have to trek to London to see them! The full tour dates are below and I definitely recommend checking them out!
◾ 14 February – 11 May 2014: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
◾ May – August 2014: Walker Art Gallery
◾ 1 August – 1 October 2014: Leeds City Art Gallery