Edinburgh: Getting lost on foot

Yesterday I planned to have another laid-back, stay-at-home day. But after a conversation with Esther over at Spirited Bodies, I decided to go into town for All the Young Nudes (the same life drawing club I attended last week in Glasgow). It was rather a momentous occasion, because it was: (a) my first foray into Edinburgh after arriving here last week, (b) my first time walking around Scotland by myself (without Erik), and (c) my first evening out in Edinburgh.

I set out just after 6:30, armed with my sketchbook and two sets of directions from Google Maps. The route looked very straightforward and I had an hour and a half to walk two miles. I would cut through the Meadows (a huge park) and that would pretty much take me into the city center. Easy!

Well… it should have been easy, anyway. I ended up taking a wrong turn just before the Meadows, and found myself outside the Bruntsfield Links with no Meadows in sight. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ve got plenty of time and I know roughly the direction I should be going. I’ll keep walking.” I couldn’t stop marveling at the pretty old houses. There were plenty of people about, and it was pleasant to be out in the light mist, knowing I’d be in the city soon and drawing.

Great old house (?) outside Edinburgh city center

After maybe twenty minutes, though, when I reached a major road and found it was one I’d never heard of, I began to wonder. I’ve mentioned before that it can be hard to see street names here, since they’re posted on the sides of buildings rather than on corner posts. To add to the confusion, streets often change their name at an intersection (e.g., Morningside Road becomes Bruntsfield Place, and after another five blocks it becomes Leven Street, then Home Street, and then something else), and the same name can apply to several different streets in the same district (Lauriston Gardens, for instance, is right next to Lauriston Park, and both intersect with Lauriston Place).

I noticed all the other pedestrians seemed to be headed in one direction, which was also the way I thought I should be going, so I turned that way too. It was a well-traveled road with walls on either side.

Walled street

But the road seemed to end, and as there were fewer and fewer people on the sidewalks, I thought I was probably not going toward the city center. I’d been walking longer than forty minutes. I was hot, and my glasses were now spotted with mist. I’d loaded my jacket pocket with items (so I didn’t have to carry a purse), so it swung more than usual, and the zipper kept smacking into my thumbnail. I turned again toward what felt like the right direction, and kept going.

Residential street in Edinburgh

I found myself in a definitely residential neighborhood, much like the one in which we’re staying. It appeared quite safe, but for several long blocks I was the only sign of life on the street, a circumstance which cannot but inspire wariness. I was thirsty, and I had to pee. I wondered if I should have just taken the bus.

I kept walking (what else?) and was rewarded with the distant sight of the end of the street — and a large hill far away, which confused me greatly as I had no idea what it was. I still don’t know, even looking at the map. When I hit the end of the street I again took stock. There were pedestrians yet again, and lots of cars, and most of the people were walking to the left. So I did too. (I wasn’t just following the crowd. I thought the hill might be Holyrood Park, and if it was, I needed to go left.)

A hill in the distance?

To my great relief, this street seemed a relatively busy one, with pubs, restaurants, and a supermarket. Of course I could have gone in and asked directions (or used the toilet), but what can I say? I didn’t. I felt safe, I still had time, and I thought I was on the right track. So away I went up the street.

A busier street

I passed more big, busy streets. “Any second now,” I thought, “I’m going to hit the city center, and then it’ll just be a short hop over to The Bongo Club.” As it turns out, I was kind of right, and should have just taken that street further north. But I didn’t, because I spotted the Meadows, and thought, “AHA! I need to cut through here!”

The Meadows

What I didn’t realize was that I was at the eastern edge of the Meadows and my “cut” through the park was actually a backtrack. But — no matter. I was in the Meadows, I was surrounded by fit young athletes, and I knew sooner or later I’d get to my drawing class. I felt very pleased with myself for finding my way to the park because I knew it meant I was near the city center.

I walked on and on, envying the runners their speed as I watched them move easily across the interminable green. My lively walk was beginning to feel more like a mindless trudge, and as I checked my phone, I saw that it was now 7:40. A panicky voice in my head yelled over and over, “YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE FOR YOUR CLASS!” I told it to shut up — I have a lot of experience with this voice, and I usually drown it out with a calmer voice that says, “You’ll get there when you get there” — and it did, but it kept popping back up at regular intervals (interspersed with the “gotta pee!” voice).

However! I finally reached the (other) edge of the Meadows, where I found myself exactly on track with the first set of directions I’d originally written down. Right on Chambers Street, left on Guthrie St, right on Cowgate.

EdinburghI knew I was in the city center now, with its beautiful architecture and all the people walking around. Soon I would arrive at the club!


I don’t know how I missed my left turn, but I did, and when I came out at the end of Chambers Street (which I recognized as the neighborhood we’d walked around with Daniel last week), there was no sign of Guthrie St, nor Cowgate. “That’s okay,” I told myself (firmly quelling the panic voice), “I know where I am now, and from here I can find the club.” I walked up South Bridge toward High Street, full speed ahead. When I passed a picturesque view I told myself “there’s no time” and continued walking, but then my brain processed what I’d seen and a chilly suspicion hit me. I stopped dead and backtracked. Returning to the view, I saw to my total dismay that I was on an overpass, and underneath, instead of a river, there was a street. For once the name was clearly visible: Cowgate.

Cowgate as seen from South Bridge

Passersby would have seen a tourist calmly taking photos over the side of the bridge, but in my head I was shrieking, “There are MULTIPLE LEVELS to this city?! How the ?!@$ am I supposed to get down there?!” This babel went nicely with the pee voice and the panic voice, which was chiming in again with “YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE! LATE!!!” The voice of reason stepped in once more to say, “Just keep going. There must be a way down from High Street.”

Luckily, there was.

Walking downhill to Cowgate

I skimmed over the cobblestones as quickly as possible, turned left, and made my way down Cowgate toward where it becomes Holyrood. I made a big loop around a slow-moving gaggle of Eastern European tourists (or students?), but when the street abruptly emptied out (of stores and pedestrians), I was afraid the club was one of these tiny, easy-to-miss storefronts and the door had been right behind the tourists. But I thought not, and when I passed St John, I suddenly remembered that it was the nearest cross-street for the club, and I was almost there.

There it was: the Bongo Club, and it was 7:54 and I had just enough time to get in, pay my £4, use the toilet, and get set up for drawing. No time to get a drink, but that could wait until the break.

It was a good session (I’ll post photos tomorrow), and my hour-plus walk didn’t tire me at all. At the break, I got a big glass of water with a squeeze of lime, and that was everything I needed. When I left the club, I was going to take the bus home, but when I saw that it wouldn’t come for another 10 minutes, I decided just to walk. This time I would follow my directions and it would only be 2 miles, really!

I did get a tiny bit lost again on the way back, but only a couple of blocks’ worth. And along Grassmarket I got this cool view of Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle lit up by night, seen from Grassmarket

Before I got home I stopped into a market and rewarded myself a little more, with a jam doughnut. It wasn’t very good cold, but it responded nicely to the microwave. Erik and I shared it (after another little hitch when I couldn’t figure out how to open the front door — left open during the day — and I called him to come out and let me in).

Jam doughnut with the jam oozing out

Here’s one more little bit of food porn for you: the salad and kedgeree I made for dinner earlier that night. Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish of rice and smoked fish, with soft-boiled eggs. I always use this recipe since it’s the first one I ever found. The smoked salmon is so good here; I’ve been eating it almost every day.

Lettuce/tomato/fennel/green onion salad, and kedgeree.

And if you’re interested, two maps for comparison. This is the route I planned to walk:

Route from Bruntsfield to The Bongo Club in Edinburgh

And this is the route I did walk:

Circuitous route

It is, in fact, so roundabout a route that it actually took me three tries to remember how to map it. It comes out to about 3.5 miles.

Tomorrow: sketches!