As the door shut my immediate reaction was to check it had a handle on the inside. Yes. Okay, not as bad as I had first feared. We can work with this. What stood in front of me was two sets of triple bunk beds crammed into an L shape which wasn’t big enough to swing a cat, or tiger (one for the Alan Partridge fans) in. Berating Sam, who had arranged these sleeping arrangements could wait, it was half nine on a Thursday evening and we had just arrived in Edinburgh. Time for a drink.
The hunt for liquid sustenance luckily didn’t take too long and before you could say bunk beds I was sitting with a glass of chilled Tennents in front of me. Wetherspoons the venue. We hadn’t set our sights high for the first night in town, any dram will do. On entering we heard, not for the last time, the catchphrase du jour, “masks on when you’re not at the table. It’s the law in Scotland.” I’m not sure what gave away the fact we weren’t local. Perhaps the faux Danny Dyer “Awite geezah, got a table for three me old mucker?” That I felt obliged to drop at every door. I’ve been the victim of racial profiling in a Scottish nightclub before (a story for another time), so I go double cockney in instances such as these. As I am zero percent cockney, multiplying that level by two makes no difference.
As last orders were called at the bar and with the thought of a night in triple bunk beds nestled in the backs of our minds we were in no hurry to go back to the accommodation. A member of staff thankfully pointed us in the direction of some bars that stayed open until the early hours of the morning. Being the intrepid explorer I am I felt compelled to sample what they had to offer. More warnings about keeping masks on when not at the table and the same alcohol only more expensive it turns out. We also bumped into the real life version of Tim Nice But Dim (Google him). Tim told me a heartbreaking story of how he only made £45k last month and that his girlfriend had dumped him because he slept with another woman at his parents’ place in Ibiza. I’m welling up just typing it.
Back in the dorm, which Sam had booked completely for us, it was time to choose a bunk. The bottom bunk was too low, the top bunk was too high and the middle bunk. No it wasn’t just right, this isn’t Goldilocks. It was too cramped. So I decided I’d take the top, if the structure fell apart I wouldn’t be crushed. That was genuinely my logic. Somehow I managed to cobble together six hours of sleep without smashing my head on the ceiling. Great success.
I’m at an age now where heavy drinking has heavy consequences. One of those is that my hangovers feel as though the soul has been sucked from my body. The last thing I needed was heavy artillery. That is why at one o’clock we were standing waiting for a big gun to be fired. The one o’clock gun is an Edinburgh Castle tradition apparently. An empty round is fired from the battlements on a daily basis. This was a tradition I could have bypassed but James and Sam wanted to watch it and I’m not that miserable a git yet that I’d stomp off and ruin their fun. Mobile phones all around me rose to capture the moment for posterity and being the sheep I am, I shrugged my own phone from it’s home in my wooly overcoat and trained it on the target. Bang. The gun went off, as if I needed proof that my soul had indeed departed my body the previous night, I held firm and caught the entirety of proceedings. To my right James uttered an obscenity and missed the shot, Sam, who used to be in the army didn’t fare any better. The one o’clock gun was quite fun it turns out.
If I am to give Covid one piece of credit it will be this, social distancing made the castle quieter than it usually would be. When dealing with a hangover this is an even more blissful experience, not having to put up with with ignorant people. You know, the type who stomp on your heels to move you along quicker when looking at exhibits or those who are so slow that you end up in their back pocket. What I’m saying is that the world should move at the pace I decide on a day to day basis ideally. It was good to take in the castle at a leisurely pace, well worth the £15.50 entrance fee.
The rest of Friday lent itself more to culture. A few drinks were drunk but it didn’t get too heavy. Covid restrictions being quite tight in Scotland, we were limited to two hour slots in the bars we had booked. This was an issue that was to come back and bite us the following evening as well. Not knowing this, following a trip up Calton Hill, the day ended in bed at a reasonable hour, ready to see what Saturday had in store.
Calton Hill is one of the seven Edinburgh hills. By night it offers a fantastic view of the illuminated city below. So much so that our first port of call on Saturday morning was to return to see the view in the daylight. Having completed the castle on Friday, Calton Hill was actually the second of the seven hills we had tackled. They say things look different in the daylight and they aren’t wrong about Calton Hill. While the city draws the eye after dark, the main sight to see come daybreak is Arthur’s Seat. Hill number three, and the biggest. Arthur’s Seat is the dormant volcano which erupted to form the Edinburgh landscape as it is today. And it is tall. On the spur of the moment we decided we were going up.
Equipped in my best climbing gear of skinny jeans, a flimsy t-shirt and bald Stan Smiths we wound our way towards Arthur’s Seat. Hollyrood Palace serves as a kind of base camp. Here, explorers returning from their ascent share tales with those planning to follow in their footsteps momentarily to the backdrop of clinking coffee cups in the cafe. North Face jackets and hiking boots litter the scene. For a second I wonder whether the dress code for ascent is gilet only. In my mind I know I’m ready for this though, I’ve read The Fear Bubble by Ant Middleton, I want to go to Machu Picchu next year, Google tells me this isn’t even a mountain. Keep you North Face jacket, keep your hiking boots, keep your gilet and keep your doubts about this skinny jean clad chancer being able to make the summit. I’m going up. But I am also taking about three breaks on the way because I’ve still not fully recovered from Thursday night’s hangover.
The view from the summit is spectacular. Edinburgh in all it’s glory. The castle sitting atop what looks like a molehill when viewed from here. “So you thought that was high?” Arthur’s Seat implores. To our left a group crack open a bottle of champagne. I drain the dregs of my mineral water and let out an obscenity. It turns out there was a much easier way up but we took the steep route. It would be the following Thursday before my thighs had fully forgiven me for the ordeal of Arthur’s Seat. It was worth the aches and pains.
What goes up must come down, but that isn’t to say the momentum stops there. Saturday afternoon was spent walking through the picturesque Dean Village, punctuated with a stop at one of my favourite literary character’s haunts. The Oxford Bar is where Detective Rebus does most of his drinking. A pint of Deuchars IPA at The Ox was, if I’m honest, top of my Edinburgh bucket list. Alas the pub was shut so a snap of the unassuming exterior had to do, along with the promise to myself that I would be back one day to fulfil my own prophecy.
While The Ox was shut, the rest of Edinburgh’s pubs were doing a good impression of copying. This comment is a little unfair as we should have known to book ahead. Not being from the area made this difficult as we didn’t know the best locations to drink in. Catch 22 caught us and almost left us thirsty until we nabbed a table at The Pipers Rest where we began working our way down their shot menu. It would be rude to go to Scotland and not partake in a Bucky Bomb after all. A shot of Buckfast submerged in Irn Bru. The catch, it actually tastes nice despite being diabetes in a glass. Wheels suitably greased we moved onwards being turned away from more doors than Mary and Joseph before we found another pub willing to accommodate us and our desire for alcohol. By this point it was freezing outside so luckily we were afforded a seat indoors as opposed to the stable. It was here that the evening’s festivities were to end. Last orders were called and again we went in search of another watering hole, to no avail. The night, and trip, ended drunk, but early in a bunk bed with a battered Mars Bar for company. Sensational.