By Nick Searle-Donoso
Although Edinburgh might sound a tad exotic for a day trip, it only takes a reasonable two hours on the train from Durham. Arriving just after eleven o’clock on a windy Monday morning, we started our odyssey of the Scottish capital by striding up Calton Hill, which was only a pleasant ten-minute walk from the train station.
Located at the heart of Edinburgh, Calton Hill offers spectacular panoramic views of the historic city. With the gusting winds buffeting us hither and thither, we admired the ominous charcoal-coloured medieval buildings which were set against the backdrop of an ashen grey sky. On the other side of the hill, we tried not to get blown away as we looked across to Arthur’s seat, the vast volcano which surrounds Edinburgh, holding the city tightly in its snug embrace.
Returning to street level, we walked past the stone buildings of the so-called ‘New Town’. The appellation “new” is only relative, of course, since that part of the city was in fact built in the 18th and 19th century. Then we crossed the bridge to the ‘Old Town’, which certainly does deserve its title since it was built in the medieval times. The Victorian patriarch, Thomas Carlyle, once described Edinburgh’s Old Town as “this accursed, stinking, reeky mass of stones and lime and dung”. Nowadays, the Old Town is a rather more sanitised tourist hotspot with cultural attractions like the National Museum of Scotland (which can be visited for free if booked in advance).
Once inside the museum, I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the place. Consisting of a labyrinthine six floors, the displays stretch from the earliest of Scotland’s long history right up until the modern day. Ultimately, I only managed to lose myself in three of these jam-packed floors before my stomach began to rumble. Culture and history thus gave way to food. I lunched (or brunched) at the highly rated Edinburgh Larder, which serves a full Scottish breakfast complete with local delicacies such as black pudding, smoked bacon, and a potato scone. The Scottish breakfast was prepared with care: the baked beans were homemade rather than the usual horrendously sweet Heinz beans, the mushrooms were lightly roasted in herbs, and the tomatoes were still slightly smoky from having lightly kissed the griddle pan.
After brunch, I strolled up, and then down, the Royal Mile, darting into mysterious alleyways, which often led only to the grimy backside of a chippy, but sometimes would lead to a hidden gem of an old-fashioned sweetshop. The Royal Mile, with its endless side streets labelled with ornate signs and its promise of hidden secrets to uncover, exemplifies what makes Edinburgh such a great city to explore. Based on my experience then, I really think that Edinburgh is the perfect day trip for any Durham student looking for a change of scene.