Dithered over the title, should it just be Edinburgh, or Edinburgh Fringe Festival? Should it be here (photo free) or on my other blog that has less followers, but image capacity? Where should it all start?

I think it started when my husband asked for a week off our self-run business to walk around The Isle of Wight (in the end he did The North Downs Way, but that’s not important). What should I do with my week off then, because I was going to have one! It didn’t take too long to decide it should be Edinburgh, having wondered just what The Festival was like since I was about 15. Now we are home, I realise the desire may have gone even further back, as a memory was triggered of The High House a book I read when I was about 10. Set in Edinburgh, but nothing to do with The Festival, the set of three Emma books made such an impression on me that I still have them, and pulled out The High House yesterday to skim read through the tall buildings and narrow alleys of Edinburgh. With Emma’s Aunt an artist, and her brother a musician, I guess some artistic image of life in Edinburgh was lodged, which added to the wish to hang around The Festival as a teenager.

Instead I ended up taking a teenager, and my daughter and I economised with two overnight coach trips, and an Airbnb in Leith, a short bus ride out of the town centre. Overwhelmed by the Fringe website, I ordered the paper guide, and was equally overwhelmed, but at least I had some maps to get going with. A flat map though gave no insight into the hills, valleys and bridges involved in the Edinburgh Experience. I also have to say – fringe-wise we did very few of the things I had post-it-note tagged in the guide.

So, part one, The City, and Leith.

Leith is a coastal port, used to be fishing, ship-building, whaling… now it’s re-generating – old warehouses are turning into trendy workshops, restaurants and flats, there’s a great big new shopping centre (Ocean Terminal), home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, some Parliament offices, more flats being built. There are still the old brick/cobbled roads, and a quayside of eateries opposite The Custom House. Our Airbnb was a minute walk from a bus-stop, and in that walk we passed: a traditional old 1970s style pub, a traditional 1970s style café and a hipster bar. The buses rattle along regularly, you need to have the correct change, drive down a long straight road towards Edinburgh past new cafes and Polish supermarkets. Graffiti on some hoardings says (along the lines of) Don’t pull down Leith Walk, save it for the community – an item that has made the papers: Read Here

Once in Edinburgh, we generally got off by Waverley Station, in Princes Street. This road is the main thoroughfare, with The New Town to the north, and The Old Town to the south – Edinburgh Castle to the west and Arthur’s Seat to the east. At this point you are right by Calton Hill , but you can’t see it – it’s one place we didn’t get round to going to, although I quite wanted to see the view. A shopping centre by the bus station is currently being re-developed, and there is also a mass of roadworks in this area. Beyond here in The New Town – smartly laid out roads and gardens, posh shops, and an equally posh part of Fringe Festival.

Back down on to Princes Street, and in front of you are the gardens, Scott Memorial and National Gallery of Scotland. The main part of the gardens has a stage and assorted related items (portaloos, food and drink stalls) on site for the Festival time. It also has an ornate, working, fountain. The smaller garden has lots of fringe festival stalls and busker pitches, as well as “The Half Price Hut”. Cross over the railway bridges, and we enjoyed City Art Centre on Market Street, and the marble staircase to North Bridge.

The bridges take you to The Royal Mile, and on to the National Museum of Scotland, and the squares of the southern part of the City. Head uphill (west) on The Royal Mile to The Castle (except in festival time you need to do this early in the day as it closes for the Tattoo), head downhill for The Scottish Parliament and Palace of Holyrood. The Royal Mile is basically mad during festival time, crammed with buskers, stages and flyer-hander-outers. Also contains The Edinburgh Museum, Childhood Museum, the Scottish Storytelling Centre…. many tartan selling shops…. Use Victoria Street, or a narrow road/alley to head downwards to Cowgate and Grassmarket, old parts of the town with a fascinating history. The City built up to the east of the castle on it’s volcanic rock, but limited space meant buildings went taller and taller, and streets narrow, all surrounded by The Flodden Wall which we didn’t manage to spot. We did spot the Lawn Bowls, bowl maker opposite the photo gallery, under the Freemasons. The photographer told us Cowgate literally was that – a road that cattle were driven along, and people emptying their chamber pots out of the windows, until part of the old town were rebuilt, and some of the roads widened. We had seen some old photos of this in The City Art Centre. Here are more: edinphoto.org.uk

There is also Greyfriars Kirk, and the dog statue. Plus an awful lot more we didn’t get to see. Once we heard The One O’clock Cannon at The Castle. We briefly walked around the graveyards at the foot of The Castle. But mainly, those flat maps don’t give you 3D image of the City and what to expect.

Moving on to part two, August.

Tattoo: noun: an entertainment consisting of music, marching, and the performance of displays and exercises by military personnel. Origin mid 17th century (originally as tap-too) from Dutch taptoe!, literally ‘close the tap (of the cask)!’.

Tattoo: verb: mark (a part of the body) with an indelible design by inserting pigment into punctures in the skin. Origin mid 18th century: from Tahitian, Tongan, and Samoan ta-tau or Marquesan ta-tu.

Not as old as one might expect: 1949   according to Wikipedia. I was sort of thinking The Edinburgh Tattoo was an ancient thing, which lead to the Festival being here every August. But the International Festival, and Fringe predate the Tattoo by 2 years. Started in 1947 as a post war motivation for the arts, both have got bigger… and bigger.

What did I expect? Less hassle to get advance tickets, less queues, about the same quantity of flyers, less jugglers.

What did we actually do (other than collect flyers and see buskers)?

WOLF:  one man play/comedy. We went as we were given a flyer, we were near the venue when it started, it was 2 for 1 ticket offer day. Our first experience of queues and small rooms on little chairs. Guessing it was early days for staff who rather crossly herded their queues, suspect they got slicker at this by mid-week. Fast moving – action thriller, I got a bit confused, my fault I feel, it was good, but it was our first day.

WORLD PRESS PHOTO EXHIBITION, The Scottish Parliament, free. We went because it was photos. I learnt about breast ironing.

ANDREW ROPER: WHAT IS BEST IN LIFE?: comedy. We went as we had eaten in the courtyard of The Free Sisters, and looked on the screen to see what was next, it was pay what you want on exit. We queued badly and sat near the front. It was funny, he was enthusiastic, we are getting into the spirit of it.

CITY ART CENTRE (not strictly festival stuff) IN FOCUS: SCOTTISH PHOTOGRAPHY plus EDWIN G. LUCAS: AN INDIVIDUAL EYE. Loved it (and free).

MUSIC AT THE MUSEUM, music, free. We saw Ainsley Hamill & Alistair Paterson (National Museum of Scotland). Museum is super, music was good, event was busy.

DON’T TELL ME NOT TO FLY, WITH CLAIRE SWEENEY: musical theatre. We went as we got free tickets while walking down a street nearby at lunch-time, this dictated our next 4 hours. I was pleased out of all the ladies we got Claire Sweeney, the theatre was beautiful, we didn’t need to queue, there were songs and humour, tales and stories. It probably meant a lot more to musical fans, but I wanted us to embrace various elements of the festival, if we didn’t need to pay.

MATT PRICE: LAST NIGHT A WEEGIE SAVED MY LIFE: comedy. We went as we had eaten in The Bristo Square courtyard, and we were given free tickets. Efficient queuing to a small, hot room, excellent heckler, it had funny parts, and dark parts.

not really festival: NATIONAL GALLERY OF SCOTLAND. We went as we wanted to use the toilets. The mountain display was good.

SLACKER-IN-LAW MARK GRIST: spoken word. We went as I looked on the app for what’s on nearby, it was pay on exit, and sadly he ran out of books, and we didn’t return the next day to buy one. But it was great, despite the man in front being tall. Bad seating decision.

HOT MESS: BEZZIE MATES: comedy. We went as someone gave us a flyer two minutes before it was going to start. So there was no queue, but there were just really bad seats at back left. It was however funny, and was pay on exit – but should we donate more as they were a duo?

OLD TOWN: NEW PERSPECTIVE 2018: exhibition. We went because it was photos. Small gallery exhibition of interesting photos, free.

THE JONI MITCHELL STORY: music. We went because we knew the people involved. Most comfortable seats of the week. Theatre rather off beaten track. Charlotte Brereton’s amazing voice sang through the life of Joni Mitchell with video & audio backdrop, and Dan Clews on guitar.

STAND AND DELIVER: theatre. We went because one of the actors was busking in The Royal Mile, and she sold the story on the taxidermy lobster aspect. We had to go and buy tickets from The Fringe Box Office, then get to the theatre on-time, and up all the stairs to floor 3, but had time to be in a queue. I’m still unsure if you can just blunder into theatres and get tickets on the door. Otherwise it is a how long to walk vs how long to queue dilemma on pre-purchased tickets. But – anyway – madcap play with fast costume changes and hobby horses, we think some of their friends were in the audience and knew more of the ‘in’ jokes than we did.

I think that was it. We seem to have missed seeing any dance and cabaret, but a lot of cabaret was on late. We missed some things I quite wanted to see. We saw a lot of male comedians, and I’ve checked in guide – there were female ones. The amount of street musicians and performers we saw were immense.

Was I glad I went? Yes

Would I go again? Maybe

Should I have gone in the mid 1980s? Maybe

Could Tunbridge Wells do this? No

Could Tunbridge Wells support a smaller art festival? Probably

What next? Not sure

Bucket list: tick






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