(You might want to get yourself a brew as this post has turned out to be very long - and an apology in advance - although it seemed bright enough when we were out and about, the photos do seem to be very grey!)
I have to say, I wasn't particularly sociable at all on Friday morning when I got on the train at Warrington to go to Edinburgh. I was so looking forward to some uninterrupted sock time that I put my headphones on, listened to podcasts - the KnitBritish update on the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Radio 2's Simon Mayo Confessions (which made me laugh out loud, always a strange experience if you're not the person with the headphones on), and Radio 4's In Our Time debate about the Roman emperor Justinian's legal code because I like to mix it up a bit! - and knitted until the train arrived at Edinburgh. I got on very well with the Stylecraft cinema (and now train) sock. I managed not to drop any stitches or do anything otherwise daft and was ready for the Kitchener stitch by the time the train pulled into the station. Thank goodness!
I met my lovely friend Lucy at the station. We congratulated ourselves on having a weekend away from family duties to please ourselves and after finding our hotel, celebrated with cider and gin. Oh, and chips, which we ate outside as we watched the world go by. They were good!
We'd planned to spend the Saturday at the yarn festival as it was the afternoon by the time we had got to the hotel, so after our pit stop we thought we'd get a bit of sightseeing in. If you've never been to Edinburgh before, it's a brilliant city to walk around as everywhere is closer than you might think. We decided not to get the sightseeing bus but instead see where our feet took us and with the help of the friendly man at the hotel reception who knew all about the best places to walk to and a map, we set off to see what we could see. One thing that we hadn't realised, though, was quite how hilly it was. We walked up steps ...
and down steps ...
and up more steps. We certainly got a workout over the weekend!
It was worth it, though, because the views from the top of the hills were amazing. I love to look down on rooftops and out across cities. This view was from just outside the castle, which dominates the landscape in every direction.
These days, the imposing esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle is the venue for the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (a "tattoo" is a military performance of music or display of armed forces) which is an annual festival featuring musicians and performers from around the world, amongst other events, such as concerts and even weddings, but the history of the castle dates back to the 12th Century. It's not in use as a royal residence any more but houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Scottish Stone of Destiny or Stone of Scone, used when monarchs of both England and Scotland are crowned and the War Museum of Scotland.
I don't think there are many places in the city where you can't see the castle, which seems to have grown right out of the rock. It towers above the Old Town and the New Town (which was built in the 1700s so isn't actually that new at all), linking the two parts of the city.
The street that you can see running along the bottom of this photo is Princes Street on the New Town side - this is the place to go for the shops and the grand hotels. You maybe can't see from this photo but the characteristic of the New Town is that it's built on a grid system, in contrast with the Old Town which is much more organic in the way it was developed.
There are so many fascinating tourist attractions in Edinburgh - including the castle - but we chose to keep walking. It's a good excuse to go back to visit them again! One that we didn't see but which is top of my list for a future visit is The Real Mary King's Close, a warren of 17th Century houses underneath the modern city; because Edinburgh was built on such steep hills, houses were built to take advantage of all of the slopes so some face one way and others are built on top of them facing in the opposite direction. A "close" is a narrow street through the buildings (similar narrow thoroughfares are often called alleys, ginnels or snickets depending on where you live in the country) leading off the Royal Mile which is the main road up to the castle. Mary King's Close was one such street, but in the time of the plague it was partially demolished and abandoned - allegedly with plague victims trapped inside - and forgotten about until it was rediscovered and became a tourist attraction in the 1990s. I'm not so bothered about the ghost story that goes with it (there's no shortage of ghost tours in Edinburgh!), but I think it would be really interesting to see what was left of those tenement buildings, some of which were apparently seven stories high, packed with families living in dreadful conditions. It's a different life, one that I can't begin to imagine, and it's no wonder that the plague tore through the community.
On a more cheerful note, this sign made me laugh. I thought it said "Elf Office" until I looked at it again J.
I loved looking down through the closes to the buildings beyond. We found ourselves really drawn to them, turning off the main street at every opportunity to walk down the "secret" passageways!
My favourite thing about Scottish architecture is the turrets that are built into the tops of the buildings. I'd love to live in a house with a turret! Edinburgh is one of those cities where you miss so much if you don't look up.
Simply turn your head to the left, though, and you leave the city behind. The hill to the left is known as Arthur's Seat and the long slope in front is Salisbury Craggs (the white dome, in case you're curious, is Dynamic Earth, a natural history museum). It's obviously a very popular walk up to Arthur's Seat - Lucy and I sat for a long time on the bench from where I took the picture and we could see figures in the distance walking (some were even running!) up and down the long slope. It's a good place to sit and put the world to rights, and it wasn't until it started raining that we thought it might be wise to head back to the hotel!
After dinner and an early night, we were up and about in good time to set off for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival on the Saturday morning. Did you think I'd forgotten about it in my excitement of telling you about the city? J
It was a bus ride away from where we were staying in Grassmarket, and we weren't the only yarny people on the bus as it headed out of the city centre to the Corn Exchange. We'd heard that it had been incredibly busy on the Friday and Lucy and I hadn't bought advance tickets so we expected to have to wait in a long queue to get in, but by the time we arrived we pretty much walked straight in.
We headed for Blacker Yarns and the Podcast Lounge first of all so that I could show off my Blacker Yarns Pod KAL makes and also say hello to Louise of the KnitBritish podcast as I'm going to be sponsoring one of the episodes later this year. Lucy managed to grab a seat to talk to some friends and I shouldered my way through to talk to Sonja at Blacker Yarns and Louise. Phew - we thought it was really busy in the cafe/knit n natter area so if the day before had been busier ... it would have been standing room only!
I made my first purchase of the day - some mini-skeins of St Kilda Laceweight (I got a discount as I'd taken part in the KAL, it would have been rude not to use it) - and waved my Arwen socks at anyone who wanted to look at them. No, they weren't on my feet, I had considered this beforehand and kept my socks safely in my bag!
One of the big draws to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival is their classes, which run for four days - two either side of the main festival weekend - and are very popular. They sold out really quickly and it's easy to see why when you look at the people running them: Kate Atherley, Clare Devine, Karie Westermann, Felicity Ford (Knitsonik), Bristol Ivy, Justyna Lorkowska (Lete's Knits), Nathan Taylor (Sockmatician), Hazel Tindall, Tom of Holland ... the list goes on and on! I think it's an interesting idea to run the classes outside of the main festival too, and they were in three different venues so the marketplace was opened up early to give the people attending the classes chance to get in to look around before they went off to their classes and potentially missed buying anything.
It was pretty busy when we headed out into the market place, although the exhibitors we spoke to said it was nothing compared to the day before ...
and I think that if you had a specific plan of buying certain yarns and hadn't been there on the first day then you might well have been disappointed as many of the stands had bare shelves. This sign made me laugh (I think it might have been at An Caitin Beag) ...
and I thought that these long plaits of fleece stand for spinning at the Porpoise Fur looked like mermaids' hair.
We saw lots of beautiful Fair Isle - Kate Davies was there, and Marie Wallin (this picture is from her stand) - amongst others ...
and there were lots of yarns from the Scottish islands which were just gorgeous and it was impossible to pass them by without squishing.
Other designers including Jared Flood were there - it was a very designer-orientated festival - although there were more than a few stands that I recognised from Yarndale and Woolfest. There wasn't much crochet at all, which meant that it felt like much more of a knitter's festival. Luckily, there was plenty that Lucy was interested in seeing so she wasn't bored.
Knitted bird, anyone?
We headed back into the lounge/cafe area and demolished a piece of cake (good job I took the photo when I did, I don't think that cake lasted more than 5 minutes!) ...
before settling down with a cup of tea and our knitting and crochet for a bit. I'd moved onto the black sock and did really well with it at the weekend - I'm up to the toes now - and Lucy was working on her new Hydrangea blanket which she's planning to talk more about on her blog pretty soon.
After another quick look around to make sure that we hadn't missed anything (I had, as it turned out - some sock yarn!), we left the Corn Exchange and hopped back on the bus to the city centre. Look, another turret - and the castle!
Our room was right up high on the third floor of the hotel overlooking Grassmarket, once a place where markets were held and hangings were a daily occurrence. We had such a good view across the rooftops, and luckily there was nothing more disturbing than rugby songs from the pub below us as the Six Nations Rugby Championships were on.
Sunrise on Sunday morning ...
We had a leisurely breakfast with my relatives who were able to come over and meet us, and then headed out for a last walk around the city before heading for our trains home. This is the Elephant House cafe, the place where J K Rowling wrote much of her early Harry Potter novels. Edinburgh hasn't gone commercially overboard on the Harry Potter connection; it's there if you look for it in the merchandise in some of the shops, some street signs and Harry Potter-inspired walking tours, but there's plenty on the internet if you want to read up and visit some of the sites that allegedly provided inspiration for the books. Of course, we were out of season so it could be that in the summer, Edinburgh is Potter-mad!
I loved the tower of St Giles' Cathedral which looks like a crown. This is on the Royal Mile and you can see right down to the sea - behind us is the castle so it must have been a very imposing sight in the days when there were less buildings.
We took a last walk over to the New Town. I love that the view of the castle is everywhere, as if it's protecting the city no matter which side of it you're on.
The buildings in the New Town are not as tall as those in the Old Town, and it's surprisingly quick to walk from one end of Princes Street to the other down these straight streets.
Quite unlike this one - this is Victoria Street leading down to Grassmarket, and apparently the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. I like the fact that the shops are all different colours, and that no space has been wasted as there are shops and restaurants up above the main street level shops too.
I don't really have much to show you in the way of a "haul". I bought the Wool Tribe book before I went, and it was good to have been able to read it before the festival, not least because I recognised the knitted projects on the various stands.
All I brought home was my set of rainbow mini-skeins from Blacker Yarns, hand-dyed by The Knitting Goddess, and destined to become a shawl at some point using the spare skein of St Kilda Laceweight that I had from my Hartland Cliffs shawl ...
and some beautiful green sock yarn. This is from the Shilasdair stand where their yarns are dyed on the isle of Skye with natural dyes. My green yarn is dyed with Skye meadowsweet and indigo and the way that the yarn has taken the dye in the various shades is just gorgeous.
There was so much more that I could have bought, but I am trying really hard to keep my stash to what I can reasonably use in one lifetime ... I did bring this sample of the new Blacker Yarns Samite silk blend yarn so that I can tell you more about it. No, I really don't think it's ever going to be socks no matter how much I might wish it to be, but it is very lovely and I am very pleased to have been offered the sample to look at. The colours are all inspired by the pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements and have wonderful names like "Bursting Figs" and "Aspen's Shiver". My sample is "Tide of Dreams", and I'll let you know what I think!
Phew - what a long post - but what a great weekend it was! Lucy and I had such a fun time exploring the city and visiting the festival - bring on our next weekend away!
It's always nice to be home, though J