We stay in Edinburgh for two nights, waiting for the final fix to the rear wheels; the garage is in Newtongrange, a former mining colony on the southern outskirts of the city with rows of identical red brick houses and a tall, disused railway viaduct; so is the campsite we’re staying at. Edinburgh centre is a mere half an hour on a fast bus, so we get to walk around the Old Town for a bit before coming back to learn the wheel bearings we ordered are still not the right ones. Third time’s lucky, though, and the next day we get the proper bearings fitted, along with the new brake drum. Hopefully this will last us all the way to the end – and more!
There isn’t much that can be said about Edinburgh that wasn’t said before by hundreds of travel writers and guidebook editors. Britain’s second most famous city, Edinburgh is basically all tourists, bagpipes, artists and students. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great place, but can feel a little monotone at times, and I don’t just mean the yellow-grey of its walls. Plus we have been here before, so this time we focused just on finding good places to have a sip of coffee. Between our last visit to Auld Reekie and now, the Edinburgh cafe scene has exploded, and now you can’t pass two kebab shop on Clerk Street without stumbling onto a new cafe.
If I mention kebab shops and indie cafes, it’s because that’s what Edinburgh’s high street seems like; for someone coming from London, with its massive social divisions and bubbling class war, Edinburgh is remarkably ungentrified. Apart from the row of department stores on Princes Street, you get everything together: Polish delis, posh restaurants, halal butchers, indie cafes, organic grocers, pubs, clubs and curry houses. It’s all mashed up together in a combination which makes one dizzy and wonder, what social-economic sorcery is this?
Another thing we’ve noticed this time is how small everything is in Edinburgh. It’s as if we had grown up since the last visit; I remember climbing to the top of Calton Hill – it seemed as if we’d conquered Ben Nevis; and when we got down, the prospect of climbing again to the castle was a daunting one. This time, we found ourselves at the castle gates pretty much by accident (admittedly, coming from the direction of Old Town it’s much easier) and we almost missed Calton Hill and its monuments altogether.
The cafes of Edinburgh are up to highest standards, especially around the Old College, and the Brew Lab alone is worth the journey; there are several outlets of the Artisan Roast which we have already met in Glasgow. Other than that, everything in the tourist section of the city centre is far too expensive, but then that’s to be expected anywhere. The Asian and Middle-Eastern shops around the Central Mosque, on the other hand, were brimming with cheap and tasty goodies we eagerly stocked up on.
Once we got the car back, we made our way towards North Berwick. It’s a small harbour town, which would be perfectly missable if it wasn’t for a bit of rock jutting out of its bay: Bass Rock, world’s largest gannet colony.
To the naked eye, the Rock looks just like another off-shore reef, albeit strangely silver all over. But even in the sights of poor binoculars, the silver turns into a countless, chaotic myriad of birds. Gannets, as we’ve discovered before, tend to live in huge cities; and the one at Bass Rock is the largest of all, a mind-numbing 150 thousand strong.
What was a shock for us was just how close the Rock is to the town. We expected having to sail deep into the Firth of Forth to see it, and we didn’t really have time for that anymore, after all the delays. Instead, the Rock loomed over the campsite in the morning, over the town, and even popped over the horizon a few times later in the day as we drove on, like some Hitchcockian nightmare.
In the town there’s a modern building, proudly named “Scottish Seabirds Centre” – but since it costs £8.50 just to get inside, we’ll never know what exactly is it that they do there, other than having cameras pointed at the Rock and a few other nearby islands – if somehow you still didn’t have enough of gannets. The seabird season is coming at an end, anyway, with all the guillemots, razorbills and puffins long gone to their winter abodes.
Tantallon is a large holiday park on the North Berwick coast; it’s split into three parts – tent site, static caravan site, and touring site. It’s the touring site that’s the closest to Bass Rock, a breathtaking site in the morning, as it emerges from the mist. The facilities are a bit meh, though, and not justifying the price tag of £20 per night.