Saturday Reader: New Book on Edinburgh Points of Interest Drops the Ball

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A new book points out some of Edinburgh’s top tourist spots, but you may be surprised to learn there’s no mention of the Grassmarket and no elegant New Town. No Royal Mile with its atmospheric closes. The royal Palace of Holyroodhouse and Greyfriars Bobby are both posted missing too.

There’s no Edinburgh Castle  No Grassmarket and no elegant New Town. No Royal Mile with its atmospheric closes. The royal Palace of Holyroodhouse and Greyfriars Bobby are both posted missing too.

The bustling tourist haunts and the familiar postcard views, the places recognised the globe over as Edinburgh, are nowhere to be seen.

Instead a new guide to the pick of Scotland’s best 100 places has revealed an alternative – perhaps even controversial – side to the capital city.

Peter “Mr Hogmanay” Irvine – the street party organiser whose fingerprints are on just about every major event in Edinburgh and beyond, and who has even received an honour for his services to the Capital, has unveiled his personal pick of the nation’s most impressive spots.

And the results, he admits, might take a few by surprise.

While Edinburgh Castle is still one of Scotland’s most visited attractions, it’s Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby that earns a mention in his latest book. And the Festival and Fringe – “must-do’”events for any arts lover – are nowhere to be seen, unlike the International Book Festival.

Forget too the historic status and splendour of St Giles’ Cathedral – it’s a small church that most Edinburgh folk have probably never heard of, never mind ventured inside, Old St Paul’s, that takes the honours. “I wanted to have a selection of places that I know are uniquely brilliant,” says Peter, below, who created Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party in 1993 and has worked on it ever since.

“Places like Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and so on, are obvious places for people to visit. My selection is entirely subjective. There are perhaps glaring omissions – Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Zoo – but I’m confident that these 100 places are all exceptional.”

Each location – from the Highlands and Islands to the Borders – was chosen either for its sheer magnificent scenery, its spiritual impact or its role as a ‘must do or see’ attraction.

Accompanying each is a stunning photograph and mini guide to visiting it, including places to eat, stay and walk.

Some 19 Lothian places feature – among them Yellowcraigs beach, Gosford House near Longniddry and Rosslyn Chapel.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s missing ‘big name’ attractions shouldn’t complain too much – Scotland The Best 100 Places manages to completely omit Aberdeen and Dundee.

EDINBURGH’S famous castle didn’t make the cut. But then neither did Loch Ness or Loch Lomond. So where, according to Scotland The Best 100 Places author Peter Irvine, is good to go?

DR NEIL’S SECRET GARDEN

Perhaps less secretive now it’s featured in a glossy guide to Scotland’s best places, the pretty garden at the edge of Duddingston Loch was created in the Sixties by doctors Andrew and Nancy Neil on a stretch of wasteland. Today it is a lush pocket of evergreens, shrubs, pretty rockeries, terraced beds and alpine plants which is free to visit and which has the added attraction of a William Playfair structure, Thomson’s Tower, in one corner.

OLD ST PAUL’S

It doesn’t boast the Gothic spires of St Mary’s Cathedral or the historic roots of St Giles’ Cathedral or even the royal seal of approval of Canongate Kirk. But according to Peter Irvine, Old St Paul’s stands above them all for its “tangible air of spirituality”. Built in 1883, he singles out the church, which sits beneath North Bridge on Jeffrey Street, for its vibrant community along with its WW1 memorial and the Martyr’s Cross, on the site of the Grassmarket gallows, which sits alongside a powerful modern painting by Alison Watt.

JUPITER ARTLAND

Who needs the National Gallery of Scotland with its treasures at The Mound? Or, for that matter, the faces of Scotland’s people at the Portrait Gallery and the thought-provoking collection at the Gallery of Modern Art? Jupiter Artland at Bonnington House features for its quirky approach to presenting contemporary art, groves, gardens and lawns are the gallery space for bright and dazzling sculptures and installations.

PRESTONFIELD

So what if Edinburgh has a royal palace fit for a queen? The Palace of Holyroodhouse has been elbowed out of Scotland’s best places by a historic house that enables everyone – with enough money for the five star hotel’s rooms or restaurant – the opportunity to sample regal living. “Sympathetically and meticulously restored from faded grandeur to an almost theatrical exuberance, it is imbued with a heady atmosphere of opulence, romance, even decadence,” explains author Irvine.

MURRAYFIELD

Probably not high on most tourists’ lists of places to visit, the home of Scottish rugby is featured among Scotland’s top 100 places not just for its sporting credentials but for the impact it has on the capital on a big match day. “It transforms the city,” explains Irvine.

“Most of us are never at a rugby match. But over a rugby weekend, Murrayfield changes the city. The crowd is good natured, the pubs are full, the restaurants are lively, the city for a weekend is a different place.”

EDINBURGH GRAVEYARDS

Come to Edinburgh and visit our dead – not a slogan for the Edinburgh Dungeon, but a serious offer for visitors seeking a completely different aspect on city living. The Capital’s old graveyards, in particular Old and New Calton, Greyfriars, Canongate and Warriston are included for their roll call of well-known historical occupants, a reminder of the immense influence Edinburgh had on the world. Warriston is singled out for its “romantic melancholy” created by years of overgrown ivy which drapes itself over its Victorian monuments.

BOOK FESTIVAL 

The Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe may be the really big attractions of the summer, but it’s smaller cousin the Book Festival which grabs a spot in the top 100. “For two weeks in August it’s one of the best places to be in the world if you like book festivals,” explains Irvine.

CALTON HILL 

Perhaps not a shock addition to the book, but the specific day on which Irvine suggests visiting might be. While he’s best known for planning and organising Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party, he suggests the optimum time to pick a spot overlooking Princes Street is the night before when the Torchlight Procession is in full flow. “From Calton Hill the city – from Arthur’s Seat to Leith and the coast – twinkles below. Look back along Princes Street where a river of torchlight keeps coming. It’s a magical place to be.”

SUMMERHALL 

Usher Hall, a century old with its ornate ceiling and copper dome… nope. The Playhouse with its never ending stream of sell out musicals, not there either. Nor is the King’s which every year keeps pantomime fans in stitches. Instead its Summerhall which takes the honours. The former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is Edinburgh’s newest arts venue and creative hub and earns a spot, according to Pete, as “Scotland’s most eclectic most exciting arts destination.”

OTHERS ON THE LIST

The remaining local attractions are: Arthur’s Seat; The Botanics; The Forth Bridge; Gosford House, East Lothian; Greywalls, East Lothian; The Palm Court at the Balmoral Hotel; Princes Street Gardens; Rosslyn Chapel; St Margaret’s Loch, Holyrood Park; Yellowcraigs.

Scotland the Best 100 Places by Peter Irvine, published by Collins, £25 – not worth the price tag, given the material or lack thereof. There are so many other books by authors who know Scotland better and have done their homework. This book is the new standard of poorly-conceived guides.

Crash

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