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Issue 7 - The magic is still there

Scotland Magazine Issue 7
March 2003

 

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The magic is still there

Editor DOMINIC ROSKROW renews his love affair with Edinburgh

Over the years, it has been my custom to travel to Edinburgh in a positive and happy mood and to depart sadly, knowing that I might not be back for months.

For my first visit to the capital as Editor of Scotland Magazine, however, those feelings were strangely reversed, for several reasons.

One of the most exciting things about this job was the prospect of being able to visit Edinburgh and Glasgow regularly; I adore them both, for very different reasons. I love the grittiness and honesty of Glasgow, its passion, its pubs, its grassroots politics and its football.

But I love Edinburgh a fraction more; it has, for many years, been my favourite city in the world, and, like a good whisky, it never fails to live up to my expectations. Its back streets and alleys, pregnant with menacing history, murder and romance, fire the imagination; its restaurants, shops, art galleries and museums feed the culture bug in me many times over.

On this occasion, my journey north was less happy. Partially as I was facing a cheese tasting at the other end (see page 76), but mainly as my visit came soon after the appalling fire that ravaged Cowgate. How many of you, the world over, watched in shock and disbelief as the flames ate into history not just for hours, but days? And how many of you wondered, as I did, how such a disaster could happen?

The fire serves to remind us that as historical as Edinburgh is, it has also become one of Europe’s most progressive urban centres. People have moved back into the city, making accommodation fashionable and expensive; the old town disguises a mass of pubs and clubs, where music, comedy and poetry, all vital to the city’s – and indeed the country’s – cultural life, thrive.

What will happen to the 13 gutted buildings in this area is increasingly becoming a political test for the city, but we should support the powers that be in taking as long as they deem necessary in getting the redevelopment right. And it’s not just which buildings are reconstructed or introduced; it’s about getting the cultural blend correct, too.

I was heartened by people I met during my stay, and am optimistic that the city will bounce back with aplomb. There are enough people involved in the rebirth of Cowgate to ensure that the mistakes made some years ago with the St James shopping centre will not be repeated, and that tackiness will never have a place in the city’s heart.

While in the Edinburgh, I stayed at The Scotsman, the stunning five-star hotel high above the railway station on North Bridge.

You expect quality from such a prestigious hotel, and everything was excellent. But I was particularly impressed by two relatively unimportant features, both particular bugbears of mine.

Firstly, the mini-bar was reasonably priced. Why should hotels charge four times the normal price for a coke just because it comes from a fridge in a lovely room you’re already paying for? And secondly, room information clearly stated what a three-minute phone call to London after 6pm would cost.

I’ve long held the view that there’s no point in stating the cost of a telephone unit if the user doesn’t know how long a unit lasts for – and I’ve witnessed a colleague struggling to come to terms with a $500 phone bill at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, just because she had rung home to the United Kingdom a few times.

Perhaps because I knew I would be returning to Edinburgh regularly, my journey south was an uplifting and contented one. I had arrived from England by train with the mists rolling off the moors on one side and the sea on the other. Stare out of the train window long enough on such a day and you’ll see the ghosts of Wallace’s warriors in the fields and smugglers on the water – a magical, moody and melancholy experience, but ultimately an empty one.

My journey back, though, was stunning. I left before dawn in the freezing dark of a Scottish winter: the sky was dark-ink blue, the sea a foreboding black, punctured by the lights of small fishing vessels. By Berwick-upon-Tweed, the sky had turned raspberry-red and peach-orange; the town’s buildings created broody silhouettes to complete a picture of breathtaking beauty.

As the light increased, the fields were covered in winter frost, rivers glistening in the early morning sun, the trees were white bones against the blue sky. If you’ve got the time, the train journey north is a thoroughly recommended part of the Scotland experience.