I can’t remember the last time I travelled First Class on the train. Our usual journeys involve a 50 minute journey into London so it’s never seemed worth the upgrade. A trip from Peterborough to Edinburgh, however, with LNER (who have just taken over from Virgin) was worth doing in style. We were heading to the Edinburgh Fringe for a long weekend of comedy, music and doubtless much running about between venues.
Whenever my mum comes to visit from Newcastle, I treat her to First Class tickets and for years she has told me about the complimentary newspapers, bottles of water but, most of all, the gin. No wonder she always needs a helping hand to get down from the carriage. Time for Dougie and I to try this out for ourselves. My god, she was right. In three and a half hours on a Friday morning we managed tea, coffee, a full English breakfast, toast and jam, crisps, cake and a couple of double vodkas. We arrived in Edinburgh in a very good mood.
On a recommendation, we’d booked a Signature apartment in Old Town Chambers, in spitting distance from Waverley Station. All that stood between us and the comfort of our stylish pad were the many steps of Warriston’s Close. Dougie took both cases as he said he was better balanced though I’m sure it was to avoid any whingeing on my part. I led the way, with my lackey puffing away behind me. Old Town Chambers was an expensive choice but, wow, what a location and how fantastic to have a sanctuary in the mayhem that is August in Edinburgh. (You can read my review of the apartments here.)
You’d think with all that inter city nourishment, we’d have been ok for food for a few hours. On the contrary. Appetites whetted, lunch beckoned. I hadn’t quite anticipated how busy it would be as we walked from the apartments up a smaller set of steps to reach the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s famous thoroughfare. It was teeming with tourists, performers and people handing out flyers. We headed for nearby Cockburn Street, thanks to Dougie’s natural sense of place in the city he still calls home after leaving it when he was 18. A late lunch was needed and Arcade Haggis and Whisky House fitted the bill. Despite the bedlam outside, this cosy restaurant, with jewel-coloured velvet chairs and scrubbed wooden tables, radiated calm. We needed a haggis fix and a tower of the rib-sticking savoury pudding, with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes for the uninitiated) was pure Scottish ambrosia. Dougie had his in a thick whisky gravy whereas I opted for a creamy sauce with added Drambuie. Alongside the hundreds of whisky bottles were some surprisingly good tea suggestions so, with thoughts of a busy evening ahead of us, we plumped for an Assam rather than a wee dram..
It was a wonder we could move after our hillocks of haggis but Dougie was keen to explore and he wanted to scope out some of the show venues. He also headed for his old school, George Heriot’s, discovering the grounds had been taken over by the BBC for the festival period. At least it gave him the chance to see the building and point out different classrooms he had been taught in when he was a young lad. We managed to pick up some supermarket essentials for our stay then battled through the crowds to our apartment before a quick turnaround for our first Fringe event.
We had pre-booked a few shows in advance, one of which was Museum After Hours: Friday Fringe Takeover at the National Museum of Scotland. We’d visited the museum four years ago on our last trip to the city but were keen to return. It’s a beautiful place with a Grand Gallery like a vast Victorian conservatory. It’s normally free to enter, with charges for specific exhibitions. Our night at the museum was an adults-only affair, the museum transformed into a stylish nightclub with pop-up bars, street food and a selection of performances from some of the best shows at the Fringe. Guests could wander around with a glass of Prosecco or a craft beer in hand. Oh that I could do that in every museum. We watched other visitors creating bespoke 80s pop badges, queuing up for temporary tattoos and dressing up as the band of their dreams.
This fascination with pop culture tied in nicely with the current exhibition, Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop, which runs until 25 November. Entrance to this was included in our £18 ticket. Wow, what a step back into our past as we soaked up over 50 years of Scottish bands such as Bay City Rollers, Simple Minds, Big Country and Franz Ferdinand. You know you’re getting old when you see photographs of fans standing outside clubs and they look just like snaps from your own albums. You’ll have to take my word for it as there was no photography allowed in the Rip It Up exhibition.
We took the opportunity to have a saunter through some of the other galleries in the museum which were very quiet once you’d left the main drag. Talking of drag, there were some fabulous cabaret acts on the main stage that night including the talented circus act, Yummy, and the 7ft bearded Glamonster, Gingzilla. All that plus Dolly the Sheep, made for a rather surreal but very entertaining beginning to our Edinburgh Fringe experience. I was a Fringe virgin but, blimey, I’d well and truly popped my cherry with this extravaganza.
Here are the links to the other days we spent at the Edinburgh Fringe