When I started planning this trip, I was only going to hit up Edinburgh to see one of my favourite bands and catch up with a few friends. A weekend turned into a “long weekend” when I thought it might be a good idea to take an earlier ferry just in case, and my plan was cemented when one of my close friends mentioned that he’d be taking that same ferry.
I then reasoned that it would be stupid not to look at the option of going further south to see friends that I hadn’t seen since coming back from our travels. I found crazy deals on the Megabus, unbeatable advance train fares on thetrainline, and managed to get a return trip to Sussex from Edinburgh for just £32!
I’m not going to lie: I tried to cram a lot into this trip. I had eight days altogether, including a travel day (London to Orkney involved an overnight bus, another bus from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, and a six hour ferry back to Orkney! You can see why I looked at extending my trip while I was already on the mainland) and managed to visit five cities and four other towns. I stayed with three friends, saw at least twelve more, and walked over thirty miles. I visited five museums, seven pubs (including one old favourite and one new favourite!), a zoo, a university (don’t ask), did a ghost tour and went to a gig (concert).
Loads of things went wrong. You might notice I didn’t go to Brighton in the end; unfortunately this means I didn’t get to see one of my best friends or hang out in one of my favourite cities! I also tried and failed to go to Edinburgh Castle (because it closed in high winds) and Palace Of Holyroodhouse (it frigging closed ticketing early just as I got there). I didn’t get to climb Arthur’s Seat because of a change of plans. We didn’t arrive at Edinburgh Zoo until 1pm. I was two hours late meeting some friends. Twice. And then the train I booked from Eastbourne to London was cancelled.
Thing is, I had a really amazing time!
I think I expected it to feel so rushed that actually it didn’t at all. I made last minute arrangements with a group of friends in one town, and they all turned up apart from two people who don’t live in the town any more! I had a really relaxed afternoon in the town where I lived for eight years, and even our crazy day in London wasn’t stressful at all.
Here are some of the highlights.
My first port of call was Dundee to hop off the bus for a few hours to see a friend. He led me surreptitiously to his university to test out a gaming app that he and his fellow students are making for tourists to the city, which turned out to be a perfect way to have a little exploration of the city centre. Naturally, it started raining so we only tested two of the spots before we retreated for some lunch.
After a very full plate of nachos, we headed back to where we started on the app – the McManus galleries, which is pretty enough on the outside but actually houses a really interesting museum about Dundee life from history to present day.
I can’t say I’d ever really thought about the history of Dundee and its people, but did you know the Beano, Dandy and lots of other comics are published there? There’s a whole cabinet dedicated to it! Plus Rockstar North originated in Dundee before moving to Edinburgh, so there are old computer games like Lemmings and the original Grand Theft Auto.
It’s a really good way to pass some time in the rain, although ironically Dundee is dubbed “Scotland’s sunniest city”. A bit like that time we turned up to Magnetic Island, one of the sunniest places on earth… oh yeah.
Hands down, Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities. Possibly my number ONE favourite city, although the jury’s out on that one.
I spent just over three days there and did loads of really cool things! My first night was spent in a hostel with a colourful history, and I did a ghost tour with Auld Reekie tours which was really interesting – we explored Greyfriars graveyard and went inside the South Bridge vaults for some spooky tales draped throughout its dreary history. I stayed with a very good friend of mine in Leith for a couple of nights and met up with a heap more. I also saw one of my favourite bands and it was a great night although I’m sad that they’re never going to be the same as they used to be. I hung around afterwards to try and say hi, but it wasn’t really going anywhere so I headed off in the wrong direction to meet my friends and eventually turned up almost two hours after I had originally meant to.
Seeing pandas and penguins at the zoo.
The ghost tour.
The National Museum of Scotland.
And, to be honest? Just walking around Edinburgh’s Old Town and Royal Mile is always such an experience in itself.
Lowlights? Fighting my way through the wind to finally reach Edinburgh Castle, only to be told it was closed for the rest of the day due to the wind I’d just battled my way through! The castle has never been on my must-do list purely because it’s so expensive, so the fact I’m a paid member of Historic Scotland and can now get in for free, but then couldn’t get in at all, felt like one of life’s little piss takes.
I then walked the entire length of the Royal Mile in the rain to get into Palace Of Holyroodhouse (also free with my membership) only to find they close off entry over an HOUR before closing!
So I dejectedly wandered back up the high street (in the rain) and dipped in to the Edinburgh Museum which I’d never heard anything about. For a free museum about the city’s history, it’s not too bad, but it felt like the booby prize after what I’d just been through!
Other contenders included not getting to climb Arthur’s Seat after arranging to with a friend; and then after an extra two mile walk to Dean Village, thinking I’d left something at my hostel just as I was about to get on a bus after walking allllllll day, so walking roughly another two miles to eventually find that it was in my bag all along. By then I was so hungry that when I finally got to my friend’s, we decided to go out for dinner and our food took an hour to arrive. By which point my stomach had eaten itself. soz guys I am ded.
Dean Village was pretty at least, even in the rain.
I’ll be writing a full blog post about my time in Edinburgh, so expect even more misadventures (like someone beating me to the last seat in an ice cream place so I had to eat my goats cheese ice cream outside in the rain, true story), plus all the gorey details of the city’s history and of course cute photos of pandas! Ooh Edinburgh, you’re so diverse and weird and I LOVE IT.
I cannot believe it had been over TWO YEARS since I last went to London! Considering I would visit every month or two when I lived in Sussex, it felt strange to be going back after so long.
I deliberately gave myself a few hours to kill between my bus arriving and my train south leaving; I also semi-deliberately booked the train from Charing Cross so I’d have some walking to do from Victoria.
It’s actually the first time I’ve taken this camera out in London, so I was looking forward to getting a few snaps of all the typical tourist sites (most of the ones I have are shocking), and I even caught some of the Changing Of The Guard for the first time ever. Two days later, I got a few more tourist photos as I spent the day in London with a friend and we visited London Bridge, Blackfriars (St Pauls & Fleet Street), Camden and Covent Garden.
Of course, it was cloudy and/or raining both days, so I didn’t come away with perfect snaps, but I think I got a few good ones!
Highlights included a visit to the Clink prison museum, a pot of tea at my favourite pub (Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street), my first time at Shake Shack, and just Camden in general. Did I ever tell you how much I love Camden?!
Again, I’m sure a few blog posts on London will be wangling their way to you soon – after all, I’ve been there over 60 times so I have a few things to say about it, and I’ve only ever posted about it once!
Sussex / Kent
Alright, I’ll clump four towns into one here. After my morning of wandering around central London, I took the train to Tunbridge Wells in Kent where I met an old friend, he made me a shit cup of tea (thanks mate) and we had a nice catch up befoooore I went to meet another friend in town to go back to hers in Crowborough, Sussex. She made me a bacon sandwich and a much better cup of tea (thanks love!) and we also had a lovely catch up. She suggested that we go to the pub, so I messaged “the group” (aka “the Crowborough crew”) for a last minute get together – and to my amazement, everyone turned up! Well, almost everyone. Three of them have decided their lives would be better elsewhere, and although that elsewhere is only half an hour away, I forgive two of them for not making it. Y’know, I’d only come down on a 12 hour bus journey to see you guys. ;) I kid, I kid!
The next day, we had a toddler tantrum to deal with and absolutely nothing went to plan. Eventually I met some friends in the town where I used to live, albeit much later than we had arranged. That was okay though, because as you know by now, I wasn’t going to Brighton any more. In fact, here’s just how much of a disaster that day was.
Take toddler to Uckfield, have lunch. Meet friend in Uckfield, go together to Brighton for the afternoon. Stay with another friend in Brighton.
What actually happened
Toddler kicked off. We didn’t take her to Uckfield. Tried to appease toddler with alternative plans. Nothing worked. Eventually gave up, had lunch in a supermarket and Lou gave me a lift to Uckfield. Meanwhile, friend I was going to Brighton with cancelled due to illness. Friend I would be staying with cancelled altogether and I had nowhere to stay. Met ill friend in Uckfield anyway, spent afternoon together, other friends joined, a good time was had by all. Bus in the evening to Eastbourne to stay with another friend.
It all worked out for the best, because the girl I stayed with is the same girl I spent the day in London with, plus she’s one of my favourite people in the world and I was glad for the extra time with her! And we watched Mean Girls, which can ONLY be a sign of an excellent evening, right? Oh, and she made everyone a kick ass lasagne and because it was Pancake Day, pan-cackies!!
After my break of catch ups and reminiscing, it was time to return to Scotland. I had an hour’s break in Edinburgh to grab breakfast before my next bus to Aberdeen, and then a few hours to kill before my ferry back to Orkney.
I remember a time when Aberdeen was one of the most exciting places in the world. It was the city that you could hop on a ferry to and have a weekend away from our rock. A quick blast of the real world and real shops and civilisation, and a weekend of independence, which was especially thrilling as a teenager. I very quickly outgrew Aberdeen and moved on to Glasgow and Edinburgh for short trips before I moved south altogether.
Now? I sometimes feel guilty saying this, but I am really, really not a fan of Aberdeen. I know the city centre like the back of my hand and I have to pass through it almost every single time I visit or leave Orkney. It’s like visiting a relative that you don’t really like or want to visit, but you have to pop in and see them just to be polite. And maybe it’ll be better than last time anyway.
This time, it was better. For a start, half the reason I don’t like Aberdeen is because all the buildings are grey and the sky is grey and the roads are grey and EVERYTHING is grey. Seriously, it’s not called the granite city for nothing. It’s so effing dull my mind tries to set itself on fire because at least that would inject some colour into it.
This time, the sky was BLUE! Some of the buildings were almost WHITE! There was a guy playing saucepans and bottle drums on Union Street outside Bon Accord shopping centre, and I got two massive chocolate-covered strawberries in Thorntons for free. I found myself in an unlikely good mood, and I began to actually treat Aberdeen like a place to spend time rather than just pass time.
Even so, after a pleasant walk around, I still had plenty of time to visit the Maritime museum which was actually pretty interesting, especially from an Orcadian point of view. While there are lots of exhibits on the oil and fishing industries as well as diving technology, they also have a whole indoor deck believed to be from a passenger ship that used to service Orkney. There’s lots of information on old north isles ships, including posters and menus from ships connecting Orkney to the mainland as far back as 1928, and another ship that took you from Orkney to Edinburgh from as early as 1867.
Still, it was kind of weird to read information about a ship I was actually about to board.
Tell you what, though. After that monolithic week, I was definitely ready to go home!
What are some of your favourite places to visit in the UK, or in your own home country? Have any surprised you?