We decided to have a writing retreat in Edinburgh immediately following the two week Random House tour. I’d never been there before – well other than passing through on the train between Glasgow and Newcastle on the tour. Even from the train it looked amazing and I couldn’t wait to return. We priced every option and would you believe that it was cheaper to fly from London than catch the train. It also made perfect sense as we would then fly straight back into Heathrow and on to Singapore that night. We were keen to leave our Singapore suitcase at the airport too, rather than lug it all the way up north.
We left the Chelsea Cloisters and decided to take Alice-Miranda on a quick spin around the city, taking photographs outside some of the landmark buildings. I think the cabbie thought we were slighty unhinged but we had a lot of fun racing about, standing her up, snapping a picture then running back to the cab again. We did get into a spot of bother at Westminster Abbey where the security men seem to have a bent against larger than life cardboard book characters and chased us away from the cathedral grounds. We eventually got our shot, albeit from the other side of the road. There were some strange looks from passers by but perhaps one day they’ll know who she is. I can only cross my fingers that she’ll make a big impact in the UK.
Once at Heathrow it was an easy hop up to Edinburgh – about the same time as getting to Brisbane from Sydney and by Saturday afternoon we’d arrived in the West End of Edinburgh to our accommodation at The Chester Residence. Ian chose the hotel based on the reviews on Trip Advisor (it’s # 1) and the fact that it was an apartment with a full kitchen too so we wouldn’t have to eat out all the time. Plenty of space to spread out for my week of writing – and as it turned out later in the week, plenty of space to lie all over the lovely lounge and recuperate from a ghastly tummy bug.
Edinburgh was chilly but no worse than we’d already experienced in other parts of the UK. The architecture in the West End is stunning. Rows and rows of magnificent Georgian townhouses, some hotels, others are residences and even more of them house businesses.
We walked to the nearest Sainsbury’s for some supplies and soon realised that the location was fabulous. Far enough to make a walk worthwhile, but close enough to be able to dash out for any necessities.
The staff at The Chester Residence are lovely – on the first night we were invited to the bar for complimentary cocktails and canapes which were deliious on both counts. On the second night I tweeted about the place including a mention of the beautiful bath – which I intended to try out. Not five minutes later two staff members appeared at the door with a Molten Brown goody pack, and told me that a little birdy told them I might like to take a bath. It was heaven. The townhouse was stunning – seriously I could have just moved in permanently.
Sunday morning dawned with bright sunshine – given we were in the UK we decided to make the most of it and spent the day sightseeing. Princes’ Street (the main street) has one side lined with shops while on the other side there is a stunning park, monuments and of course the view up to the cliff tops and the magnificent castle. There is nowhere like it. Edinburgh feels like a safe place and the people are very friendly.
We decided that in the interests of seeing as much as possible in a limited amount of time that we’d take an open top bus tour. It was the perfect thing to do, as we hopped on and off at the various places of interest. Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the town is beautiful – although I can’t imagine how cold it must have been to live there.
I just loved seeing the streets and back alleys and all of the historic buildings. It’s certainly a place I could spend a lot more time and I understand completely why my sister adored it when she lived there for a while in the 90’s.
We were fortunate with the weather on Monday too, so I worked for a large chunk of the day and then we went out walking, taking in more of the city.
Tuesday I caught a taxi to Scotland’s oldest prep school, Cargilfield about fifteen minutes drive from the centre of the city. We passed along the coast and the views were spectacular to say the least. My taxi driver was a chatty man and told me that JK Rowling had recently moved to the area and bought herself the biggest house – and the house next door, very close to the school.
Cargilfield is picture postcard with a huge listed mansion forming the main part of the school. I was excited to be meeting up with Simon and Michelle Northcott, some new friends we had met in the UK last June when Simon was the Headmaster at St Anselm’s in Bakewell. We’d had a particularly memorable time with them – including an evening barbecue that lasted well into what was a perfect English summer evening.
They had moved to Cargilfield this school year. Despite only having spent a short time with them last year, I was greeted like an old friend and given the run of their house – which is literally off the hallway near the library. They have the most beautiful cocker spaniel dog called Ruby, who is completely adorable. She roams about the house during the day, occasionally escaping into the school, much to the delight of the children.
Cargilfield has students from preschool to Year 8 when most of the children head off to boarding school somewhere in the UK. There are about 50 boarders, some as young as 8 and they seem to have a wonderful time. The school day is long – much longer than at home, as the children do sports as part of each afternoon and the final lesson is at 4.45-6.00pm. Parents can pick the kids up then but many opt to stay on for supper and then attend clubs from 7-8pm. There is also the option to stay in with flexible boarding. One good thing, particularly for the staff is that every second weekend all the boarders go home – or to friends, so Simon and Michelle get a weekend off with their two young children Annabelle and William. Their dedication to the school and the students is something to behold!
I worked with the students from 3-8 and loved meeting them all. The children were attentive and asked great questions and the day was a joy. I also met two children who live right next door to JK Rowling – one either side and they reported that she is every bit as lovely as I had imagined her to be.
Afterwards Ian came out from the city and we had dinner with Simon and Michelle – a roast cooked to perfection by Simon as Michelle had to duck out and take her netball club. Life is certainly busy for them and I admire their commitment.
Ian and Simon made plans for a game of golf on Thursday, as Simon has the afternoon off, but sadly I went and got very sick and Ian decided to forego the golf to look after me. He’s a truly wonderful husband!
Fortunately I had been getting on with the writing and on Wednesday, although I wasn’t feeling the best, I did make some progress. After that, Thursday and Friday are a bit of a blur. It’s awful being sick when you’re away from home but I couldn’t have had a lovelier place to recuperate.
We leftt Edinburgh vowing to return soon. Earlier in the week I’d visited the very large Waterstone’s on Princes’ Street and met the manager of the childrens’ books who was keen to tee up some school visits the next time we’re in the UK (which is looking like November).
Our return trip to the airport took us through some different parts of the city. I think I could live in Edinburgh – at least for part of the year. It’s fun to wonder where life might take us in the future.