From outrageous comedy at the famous Festival Fringe to learning about a history of gruesome past deeds, Edinburgh has so much to offer in August
August in Edinburgh is Festival time. Throughout the month Scotland's capital is home to some of the best comedy, drama, music, dance and visual arts around.
Having got up at 5.00am to catch a bargain fare on the 8.00am National Express, we arrived far too early for our hotel check in and with a fierce hunger. The curry buffet at the Red Fort (10 Drummond Street, Edinburgh tel: 0131 557 1999, £6.95 or £6.00 students) was just the ticket. Two chicken, one meat and several vegetarian dishes, plus onion bhajis and naan bread were on offer and the price included a soft drink, ice cream and coffee – what a bargain.
Hunger satisfied, bags were dumped at the Travelodge Edinburgh Central and we headed off to check out the Festival action. Throughout August, Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is packed with performers and publicists handing out leaflets. Escapologists, jugglers and fire-eaters compete for space with baffled tourists boggling at the curious nature of the performances. I watched horridly fascinated as a multiply pierced woman threaded first a sword and then a butcher’s hook through her tongue and then suspended a floral hanging basket from it, how did she realise her hidden talents?
There’s a lot more to this city than just the Festival. We were lucky enough to get a cancellation on a tour of The Real Mary King’s Close (2 Warriston’s Close, High Street, Edinburgh, tel: 08702 430 160, admission £15 advance and booking is essential). At one time a warren of multiple storey tenements, Edinburgh’s lower levels were a maze of dimly lit streets, festering with crime and disease. When the City Hall was built in the 19th century, the area around Mary King’s Close became its foundations and today the subterranean streets and houses offer a diverting and educational tour – though not for the claustrophobic and make sure you wear sensible footwear.
Having our fill of heritage we headed for Bristo Square. The Square is the nerve centre for Fringe events taking place both in the surrounding Edinburgh University buildings and the giant Udderbelly tent (www.underbelly.co.uk/index.php). We took in the buzzing atmosphere of the al fresco bars and fast food joints as punters waited to see some of the hottest names on the comedy circuit, the chatter only broken by the roar of a pair of RAF Tornados on route to flyover the Edinburgh Military Tattoo at the Castle. A word of warning, if you want to see the big name acts book well in advance.
The following day started with a splendid British Breakfast (£6.95) at Olly Bongos (4 Teviot Place, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 2252849) the perfect thing to set us up for Marcus Brigstocke’s Early Edition at the Udderbelly, a show that’s always guaranteed to be topical as Brigstocke and guests take apart the morning’s newspapers.
One of the of the city’s little known attractions is The Real Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum (Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 527 1649/678, www.museum.rcsed.ac.uk admission £5 adult, £3 concessions). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an Edinburgh medical student and his mentor Joseph Bell, with his deductive diagnostic technique, was the model for Doyle’s great consulting detective. During the Festival it is open at weekends and it’s a fascinating must-see for all Sherlockians. Your ticket also lets you view the extensive collection of surgical instruments and medical curiosities, a gruesome feast for gory kids.
Even after looking around the Surgeons’ Hall our thoughts turned to dinner so we high tailed it back to the Royal Mile to catch the pre-theatre deal (£17.95 plus drinks) at The Witchery (352 Castle Hill, the Royal Mile Edinburgh, tel: 0131 225 5613, www.thewitchery.com). In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, the building dates back to 1595 and the oak panelled restaurant is opulently fitted out with tapestry, mirrors and carvings. The food is excellent even if the attentiveness of the waiters does verge on obsessive.
Next stop was the Ensign Ewart (521 Lawnmarket, tel: 0131 225 7440, www.ensignewart.demon.co.uk/ensign/) just over the road from the Witchery. Named after the Battle of Waterloo hero who seized the French standard, the pub has Deuchars IPA and Caledonian 80/- real ales on tap and a fine selection of malt whiskies. Take time to discover Ewart’s story inside the pub then visit his memorial which is just up the road in the Castle forecourt.
We finished off the evening at The Meadow Bar (42-44 Buccleuch, Street, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 667 6907, www.meadowbar.co.uk/) for some brilliant and, best of all, free stand up comedy.
And no evening in Edinburgh is complete without a fish supper and the Central Fish Bar (15 – 16 Teviot Place, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 226 6898) is one of the best chip shops in Edinburgh, nothing quite like a portion of haddock or haggis and chips to round our weekend of comedy, culture and history off.
We found the Central Travelodge to be conveniently located if a bit basic, other places worth considering are the good value Premier Inns at Morrison Link and Lauriston Place or should you be feeling flush or on expenses the Radisson Blu offers a touch of luxury on the Royal Mile itself.
Since writing this guide National Express have lost the East Coast franchise East Coast Trains are the new franchisee (www.eastcoast.co.uk)