I love getting to know new cities. I’ve always found that the best way to do that is to start walking and see where it takes you, without much of a destination in mind. Whether it’s following the Cam out to Chesterton and discovering the Green Dragon, following the seafront from Westcliff up to the pier and on to the Kursaal or simply walking from Camden to Trafalgar Square just to see what the tube goes under, it’s always rewarding.
Edinburgh is an old city, spread out and full of hills and steps. It’s the kind of place that it’s easy to get lost in. I started on Princes Street, the Scott Monument and the Gardens on one side, the rock and the castle looming behind them, seemingly at odds with the chain shops and department stores opposite. It was quite empty early on a Saturday morning, the buskers setting up while people slowly emerge from Waverley Station.
Roads lead off of Princes Street at regular intervals, mostly lined with cafes and restaurants. The pubs and bars are hidden behind Princes Street, sandwiched between it and another road full of shops. This time of year the windows are full of flags, the Six Nations rugby being the main attraction for many of them. They fill up during the day, and stay full into the night.
Onwards leads to a choice of heading into the shopping centre or crossing over the bridge, which feels strange without a river under it. I’m used to bridges of that size crossing water, not a valley. It leads to a choice of destinations; you can reach the Royal Mile, and follow along the tourist traps and gift shops up to the castle; you can continue straight on, out towards the university and feel the area become more run-down the further from the tourists you get; or, alternatively, you can head down onto Cowgate and follow it along, a deep urban valley that leads you back towards the centre, only at a lower level.
Following a relatively straight line from there leads out towards the exhibition centre, along Bread Street and past a small concentration of strip clubs, then back out to a busy road. It marked a arbitrary border for this first venture around Edinburgh, and I followed it back to the Gardens, which had filled up as the weather improved, Princes Street now buzzing with activity. The Gardens were a calm refuge from the noise, a place to rest my by now weary legs.
I’m not not as familiar with the city as I’d like to be yet, but I have the beginnings of a map in my mind. I rarely remember street names or even house numbers, instead I remember what things look like and where they are in relation to each other. It’ll take a while yet before I have that understanding in Edinburgh, but it was a good start. Next time I’ll have to spread the net wider and see what’s outside of those arbitrary borders that I set for myself.