An A to Z of Edinburgh

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September 18th 2018
Published: January 21st 2020
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Edinburgh, a home town A to Z. After great visits to London and Glasgow it was time to try and do the city I have lived in for 30 years justice. This was to be a run round favourite places and well-known landmarks on a fine September day. Post festival, the city’s heatbeat has dropped and it’s muscles have relaxed. A special time of space for residents – so let’s go and enjoy it! After a low key announcement via the club email, Neil Thomas decided to join me and we met in the Swanson Walkers car park ready to climb to the start of the run. Allermuir, as you may well know, is a special place for me and it seemed appropriate to start the run from the summit. I see Allermuir from my bedroom window and even after past endeavours want to run up there at least once per week.

Allermuir is really part of our family. I’m there through thick and thin, summer and winter, ordinary days and birthday and Christmas. A to Z started at the summit making the day different however and it was a very enjoyable plunge down the hill and through cockmylane

, used by Robert Louis Stevenson when he walked in the Pentlands, to reach Braidburn Valley Park. The park is very much the domain of locals and often busy with dog walkers and kids playing. The Braid burn is very picturesque at this part and has been used by me previously for some cold-water recovery. It used to be on the outskirts of the city prior to post war expansion including the estate where we live. We continued downhill through South Morningside stopping briefly at the entrance of Canny Man’s. The sign “No rucsacs , no phones “ has been removed however it is a hostelry which I’ve never liked . Very Morningside.

I have greater affinity with the Dominion Cinema which is a bit further up the hill. Independent and a cut above the local multiplexes, The Dominion has adapted and flourished over the years as cinema has changed. I have always had the feeling that it was a cinema for staff and movie goers who love cinema. Long may it thrive. Checkpoints were very close together at this stage with the next one being the Eric Liddell Centre at Holy Corner. Famous for competing, and then not competing, at The Paris 1924 Olympics , Eric Liddell combined athletics with a very strict Christian faith which led to him choosing not to compete on a Sunday. There is a great wee exhibition about Liddell in the centre which concentrates on his later life as a missionary in China. More depth than Chariots of Fire, it is worth a visit. I wonder what Liddell would have thought of our society and athletics now?

We stretched our legs through Bruntsfield and the meadows to reach the Flodden Wall close to the castle. Built to protect the old town in the 16th century after the gubbing at the Battle of Flodden, the wall is visible at the Grassmarket and at the Pleasance. The configuration of the Old Town and the need for trade made the Wall a bit of a busted flush as a defensive feature. Unlike Berwick there are not even rampants to walk along meaning it is largely ignored in the city.

In contrast we visited one of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist attractions next - Greyfrairs Bobby. After years of devotion to his deceased master and a statue to mark his service, the poor things nose is often worn away through the inappropriate affections of visitors. We can protect Embra’s favourite dug by shouting “Don’t touch the boabie “each time we pass and see a visitor taking a liberty.

We were excited about the next part of the run. As HBT runners we were taking the opportunity to run down into Holyrood Park (not the H we wanted) and visit club Headquarters (H again) , Hunters Bog. On the way we bumped into Dave Hope Jones out on a bugging run with young Bertie who then joined us for this special moment. A meeting place for hunters in days of old, the stalking of venison has been replaced by the thunder of trotters running to build up a thirst on Thursday night training sessions. The dry summer has had an impact on the bog and we look forward to a wet autumn restoring the bog to its usual splendid wetness for the start of the cross country season

.It had taken ten miles and an hour and three quarters to arrive at Hunters Bog and we were looking forward to knocking off the next letters in the city centre. After bidding farewell to Dave and Bertie who were going home for a sleep, we trotted westward and after a tea stop at the arches on Market Street, we reached another special place for me – The International Brigade monument in Princes Street Gradens East to British volunteers who fell fighting facists in The Spanish Civil War. The International Brigade Memorial Trust focussing on ensuring these brave men and women are remembered. Their meeting are also a celebration of Spanish / Catalan / Basque culture and I was humbled to meet them a couple of years ago when their AGM was in Edinburgh.

Then we ran through Princes Street Gardens West and out the low gate and up the steps on King Stables Road to reach another place close to Trotter hearts – Johnstone Terrace. This is the traditional location of winter hill reps where the castle rock offers shelter as a series of runs are done up the steep incline. We did a one minute rep which took us perfectly to Granny Green’s steps leading us in a direction of Edinburgh’s top pantomime venue the Kings Theatre. It proved difficult to find but was behind us the while time..

After a number of miles through the old town we now zig zagged to the modern Lochrin Basin at the end of the canal where in the last decade student accommodation has been built and a number of restaurants and clubs opened. The houseboats give a tranquil feel however I would imagine that late night at weekends the peace is shattered regularly.
We retraced our steps and turned south to reach The Meadows. I would guess that if the miles ran on the meadows were laid end to end annually, they would travel to the moon and back. Nice and all weathers, but best on a summers evening when the grass is packed with folk relaxing, playing sport and there is a Sri Chimnoy Self Transcendence race on. Adrian Stott’s race series is now well into its third decade and the staple for Wednesday night entertainment for City based club runners.

Good news is we added a mile and a bit to the meadows annual total and then ran through George Square in the direction of the National Museum. This was during freshers’ week and we were offered pizza and shot vouchers which we declined. The Haribos however were gratefully accepted and eaten later in the day. The National Museum is always worth a look if you have free time and the present Rip it Up exhibition on the impact of Scottish pop music is a must visit.

From there, we jogged round the corner to The Old College of the University. This is a quadrangle I had never been in before and as the sun had broken through looked spectacular and peaceful despite a gaggle of new students finding their way around. Again, we chose to retrace our steps however we also chose to ignore the first “P” we came across which was the statue of New Town top architect William Playfair on Chamber Street and instead added an extra few hundred metres to the run by trotting down The Mound to the Playfair Steps which reach the National Gallery. Similar to the Meadows, I have ran up and down these steps countless times on commuting runs when I was working in town. As always, the steps were packed with tourists going to and from the Royal Mile.

After paying respects to the architect of the new town, we ran along George IV Bridge to visit Quartermile to see what his modern equivalents had done to the site of the old Royal Infirmary. We had done a fair bit business with the old hospital with the happiest visits being the birth of Callum and Fergus in 1999 and 2001. From this modern development, we crossed the road and headed down the line of the Flodden Wall again to revisit Prices Street Gardens and take in the magnificent renovation of the Ross Fountain. Originally costing £2000 in 1862, I would think the refit cost a bit more than that – great result though. This took us to our next wee break as we buckled up for the final few miles

I was knackered by this stage and glad to hear that Neil was also a bit tired. The next section was a short hop through Princes Street Gardens to the Scott Monument. I fancied something to eat and had a crepe from the café that sits below the structure. Suffice to say a crepe is a crap way to refuel on a distance run. Also, I had originally planned an ascent of the monument however £8 each scuppered that plan! I find the Scott monument iconic and the zenith of nineteenth century pomp however coupled with the price, a large proportion of visitors wont have the energy to scale it these days. The Nelson monument on Calton Hill is cheaper at a fuver and offers more comprehensive panoramic views.

Keeping on the tourism theme, The Edinburgh New Year has changed beyond all comprehension since the early 1990s where as a community, people gathered at The Tron. We had a light trundle up Cockburn Street to get there. Nowadays the ticketed event and a collection of B string bands makes a number of us hide indoors. Apologies to the Gorgie faithful for choosing The Tron as my “T”.

With fatigue realy kicking in now, it was a relief that the next points to visit were conjoined as I had chosen the Union Canal where it meets Viewforth Bridge. This is adjacent to the new and oft delayed Boroughmuir High School on the site of the old brewery. I remember may games of football in the old Tartan club and wisely giving the brewery shop a wide berth. Remember Tartan Special?

We turned east for the final time and after a sticky moment in the Lochrin business area where we hit our only dead end of the day, we reached the statue Women and Child in Festival square. Edinburgh has a poor reputation for statues with the majority being of monarchs and the boys from the Enlightenment, in fact there are as many statues of dogs as there are of women in the city. Woman and Child was the response by the council to the campaign to free Nelson Mandela from incarceration. Glasgow renaming its main financial area “Nelson Mandela Square” was surely much more effective. The thoughts of the stockbrockers having new headed notepaper still makes me smile.

There was a brief run south up Lothian Road to reach TollX where this picture of a box junction was taken.
We were nearly there and had about 4 km to go from Tollcross. There had been a shortage of “Y” in the city so Yeoman Place was picked. Close to where we once lived at Shandon and featuring the Golden Rule a fine drinking establishment. Close also to the flat of JK Rowling and on the milk round of Sean Connery a place of residential importance. More importantly today , it was on the way to the Zoo. The wheels fell off on the way to the final destination and I needed a walk through the grounds of Saughton sports centre where I ran and coached during my time at Corstorphine AAC. Always frustrating to see our parks and tracks empty on a bright afternoon. Neil powered on as we reached a part of the seven hills course – the most forgettable part for many I would guess and we did have a sense of achievement when we met at the zoo gates under the panda poster.

It had been a grand day out and on reflection, the majority of the checkpoints were special to my thirty years in the city. I had also distracted my body sufficiently to do another very long run. 22 street miles would in normal circumstances trigger a day in bed. We supped our pints with pride after a bus ride to the Blue Blazer and already I am in planning mode for a follow up. I know Edinburgh is special for everyone that lives and visit and I’m sure an alphabet could be done with no duplication on the letters I chose – that sounds like a challenge

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