Top 5 Edinburgh Festival Hideaways

The festival is crazy, frenetic, exciting and at times overwhelming time to visit Edinburgh. With so much happening sometimes you just want to take a moment, step back from the crowds and gather yourself before plunging back into the myriad of shows and street performances. This is our top 5 festival oases for you to seek some calm in from the festival madness.

 

Dunbar’s Close

Dunbar’s Close Gardens on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town is a real hidden gem. The garden has been laid out in the style and character of a 17th century garden which feels very fitting given its surroundings. To enter you travel along a narrow, cobbled close which opens out into a surprisingly tranquil and elegant sculpted garden of clipped shrubs under a cosy green canopy of trees. Beyond the entrance are further levels, each with different atmospheres and all are sheltered thanks to high church walls on the west side and clipped hedging on the others. The garden is special, particularly when the trees are in full leaf. It has such an authentic sense of place that you feel like you are one of the few to have discovered it. It is hard to believe that somewhere so peaceful was a building site up until 1976 when The Mushroom Trust funded the creation of a new garden by Seamus Filor, landscape architect. The Mushroom Trust handed the garden over to the City of Edinburgh on completion and is still involved in its management. The close was probably named after David Dunbar, a writer who owned the tenements at the garden’s entrance. Close by you will find one the Oink restaurants, a real favourite amongst the walking tour guides and often not as busy as it’s sister restaurant on Victoria Street.

 

Archivist’s Garden

 

The Archivist’s Garden is a little known green space that sits just off the bustling Princes Street. The open courtyard between General Register House and New Register House has been transformed into a unique garden planted with 57 plant species which are all connected in some way to Scotland’s collective memory, whether through myth and folklore, heraldry, or association with individual famous Scots. The garden was conceived and coordinated by David R Mitchell, Curator at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, who also researched and produced the interpretation. It is hoped the gardens can help reconnect Scots to the many traditions that used to exist between the people of Scotland and the flora and fauna of this beautiful country. For instance did you know there used to be a tradition of planting an apple tree on the birth of a baby boy or a pear tree on the birth of a girl?

 

Hermitage of Braid and Nature Reserve

 

 

The area is steeped in history, some of which is told in the old Hermitage House which is used as the Headquarter of the City of Edinburgh Countryside Natural Heritage Service who provide a visitor center’ full of displays, activities and information. You can also explore the surroundings to discover the Ice House, the Dovecot in the Walled Garden and even a clever water pump system along the burn that provided running water to the Hermitage House in the past! The first recorded owner of this area was the son of a Belgian knight called De Brad, in the 12th Century. His son, Henri De Brad, was Sheriff of Edinburgh. He and his guests hunted for deer and wild boar in the forest. In 1775 the architect Robert Burn was employed by Charles Gordon of Cluny to design the mansion house. The house was finished in 1788 and it was around this time that the dovecot, walled garden, stables and ice house were built. The dovecot housed pigeons which were eaten by the householders. The ice house was used to store food. It was kept cold by filling the base with ice collected from local ponds and wrapped in straw, so it melted more slowly. In 1937, the Hermitage was presented to the city as a public park by the owner John McDougal. The surrounding parkland offer some fantastic walks which will feel very different to the walking tours around the Old Town as the forests act as a natural haven for wildlife.

Portobello

 

 

At one point Portobello used to be it’s own town and still feels very much like it’s own community despite now falling under the boundaries of Edinburgh City Council. In the summer month the main attraction here are the long sandy beaches stretching out into the Firth of Forth. If the sun is out and you are down enjoying the beach you may want to cool of with a 99 ice cream, something of a British summer institution that was first “invented” in Portobello. The name came from the address of the shop at 99 High Street where the Arcari family used to sell ice cream. The family moved to Portobello from Italy after the fightings of the Second World War. Portobello’s history covers a wide range of topics other than ice cream though. From a booming Victorian seaside town to an important Napoleonic defence garrison there is plenty to learn and discover if you decide to make the trip away from the Festival madness of the Royal Mile.

Leith

 

 

Leith was made infamous by Ian Rankins Train Spotting but Leith has come on a long way since the times of Mark Renton, Spud and Sick Boy. Leith Walk offers a fine selection of restaurants, pubs and cafes, many of which have interesting art spaces and music events but without the crush of people often associated with the Festival. Walk to the bottom of Leith Walk and you get to the Shore, an area of Edinburgh that well deserves it’s own walking tour. With a rich history of pirates, whaling, whisky and wars. There are many interesting buildings to look at and the bottom end of the Water of Leith to explore the shore has a lot to offer including some of Edinburgh’s top rated eateries. We recommend a visit to The Teuchters Landing for their wide whisky selection and floating beer garden!

We love Edinburgh during the festival and if you join one of our free walking tours of the Old Town we can make many great recommendations for you of shows or artists to see but if you are finding the Festival a little too much we hope this short guide will help inspire you to find something a little calmer away from the crowds.

 

5 Best Cafes in Edinburgh for a pre/post Free Walking Tour Coffee

We at Little Fish Tours find it hard to imagine starting one of our walking tours before our morning double espresso. So much so that the coffee shops we visit often feel like an extension of our office given how much time we end up spending in them both pre and post tour. So we thought we would compile a top 5 best cafes in Edinburgh you may like to visit either before or after you have joined us on one of our walking tours. So in no particular order, here we go!

 

Black Medicine Coffee

Black Medicine have been in the heart of Edinburgh since before the year 2000. They take their name because the native tribes of the Americas would often refer to their coffee drink as Black Medicine. The Native American theme continues on the inside. How many coffee shops have you been to that have their own wood carved totem pole on the inside? As you may expect from a coffee shop that is strongly inspired by the people of Native America, Black Medicine has a strong ethical business policy always looking at new and innovative ways to cut down on both their own and customers waste. As well as all the regular coffees on offer that you would expect in a well-established coffee shop, Black Medicine also do their own Cold Brew Coffee and home-made lemonade and ice tea. During the long winter months in Edinburgh, after finishing a walking tour I like to warm up with a hot honey, lemon and ginger drink that they will make from fresh for you. To go along with your coffee Black Medicine also have a fine selection of great freshly baked cakes, home made soups and a wide selection of both hot and cold sandwiches, one of my personal favourites being the Sweet Potato Pakora toasted Panini. Black Medicine is just a short walk from the National Museum of Scotland and you can find out more about them HERE!

 

Brew Lab

If you are serious about coffee then there is one coffee shop you have to visit in Edinburgh and that’s Brew Lab. They are as passionate about coffee in their cafe/training lab as we are about whisky on our whisky tour. If you want a barrister who can tell you about the different flavours, aromas and mouth feel of various coffees whilst having your filter coffee being made to order then there are few better coffee shops anywhere in the world than here. At Brew Lab you don’t just get to drink the coffee, you also have the chance to make the coffee. Brew Lab offer a variety of training courses in their specially designed and fitted training lab. They cater training courses for complete coffee novices through to at home coffee enthusiasts all the way up to professional barristers who are looking at upping their coffee game. Brew Lab source all their coffee from Union who are ethical hand roasted coffee producers founded by two ex scientists who fell in love with coffee and coffee production. Brew Lab is located close to the historic quadrangle of Edinburgh University. You can learn all about Brew Lab HERE!

 

Spoon

Completing the mini triangle of coffee heaven coffee stops we have Spoon. Spoon flirt with the line of classification falling somewhere between a restaurant/cafe/bar/friends-living-room. There has been a Spoon in Edinburgh for many years now first opening on Blackfriars Street after the owners honed their cafe running skills operating the cafe at the Scottish Story Telling Centre. They then opened Spoon on Nicolson Street back in 2009. Before Spoon opened up it was an Indian buffet restaurant but way back in 1997 the Nicolson’s Cafe operated here. Probably the most famous patron of the Nicolson’s Cafe was the as of yet undiscovered J.K. Rowling. Spoon has arguably the strongest claim to being the “birthplace of Harry Potter” over some of the other cafes in Edinburgh. You won’t find any broomsticks on the walls here though. What you will find is a nice relaxed atmosphere where you can sit and enjoy quality coffee along with good food whilst you sit and read or maybe do a little writing yourself. You can find out more about Spoon HERE!

 

 

Zebra Cafe Co

Zebra Cafe Co is located right round the corner from where our walking tours begin making it the perfect pre-tour coffee spot. It is a nice relaxed cafe, small yet beautifully formed with stools and high tables in the front, sofas in the rear and even a small coffee garden out back where on a sunny day you can sit and enjoy your coffee whilst watching the procession of walking tours come past to point out the beautiful Writers Museum found in Makers’ Court. Zebra Cafe Co offer big rustic sandwiches and soup as well as salads and nachos or even a full cooked Scottish Breakfast, however our favourite is probably their buttermilk pancakes that pair perfectly with their artisan roast coffees. You can find out more about the Zebra Cafe Co HERE!

 

La Barantine Victoria

Last, but by no means least we have La Barantine on Victoria Street. As you may learn on one of our walking tours the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France means we have long had great relations between the two nations and owners, Céline and Vincent, continue to strengthen that relationship with their cafes. Céline and Vincent used to run their own boulangerie-pâtisserie in the North of France but in 2010 they packed up to persue their Scottish dream and moved here to sunny Edinburgh. Ever since they have been continuously delivering top quality French cafe culture across not one but now four cafes throughout the city. La Barantine offer a simple but tasty breakfast menu, but it is their cakes and in particular macarons that they have become famous for. You can even join one of their popular macaron making classes during your stay here in Edinburgh. Also located on Victoria Street you can continue the French experience and visit I.J. Mellis cheesemonger and wine merchant for a fine selection of local and international cheeses. You can find more about La Barantine HERE!

Travel Blogger – Luci’s Morsels – Free Walking Tour Experience

Little Fish Tour’s Free Walking Tour was recently reviewed in a popular travel blogger’s post. Read about Luci’s full Edinburgh experience HERE!

Below are her words about us in particular.

Free Old Town Edinburgh ToursFREE OLD TOWN EDINBURGH TOURSFREE EDINBURGH TOUR

I’ve mentioned before that we love taking unique tours. We searched for some fun tours in Edinburgh and what we ended up on was actually a free walking tour. Go figure! Little Fish Tours offers a variety of tours that look like great fun (hello whisky + folklore tour). They also offer free, twice daily tours. The tour wanders around Old Town and gives you a very wide range of history and cultural insight about Edinburgh and Scotland. The tours are supposed to last a little under two hours, but ours certainly went over. To be fair, our tour guide was a history grad student – long-windedness is just part of our DNA. And the tour was lots of fun, so I didn’t mind!
Free Old Town Edinburgh ToursOne of the highlights of the tour for us was visiting Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery). Now, I’m not usually into cemeteries, not to worry, but this one has a whole lot of Harry Potter references. In fact, it inspired much of the story details throughout the books and movies, including a grave marker for one Tom Riddle. And next to the cemetery is George Heriot’s School that’s actually comprised of four different houses each with colors similar to those of Slytherin, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. And the exterior looks awfully familiar too. Just sayin!

If you aren’t into Harry Potter (I’m a very recent convert), not to worry – there’s a whole lot more on the tour!

Free Old Town Edinburgh ToursJust outside Greyfriars Kirkyard is Grassmarket where one of the weekly farmers markets happens – this one on Saturdays. There are a number of restaurants in this area as well as the National Library of Scotland, so there’s always something happening in this little area. If you walk past these restaurants above, you’ll hit a small road that will lead you around to the northern edge of Princes Street Gardens, which is the perfect spot for a stroll or, in our case, a picnic lunch from our finds at the farmers market. You can see Edinburgh Castle on the hill (yes, I got the Ed Sheeran song stuck in my head a few times)!

Maggie Dickson – A Tour Guides View

One of the stories that many of the guides like to tell on the free walking tour is the story of Maggie Dickson. Now there are as many ways to tell Maggie’s story as there are tour guides telling the tale. This is because Maggie has reached an almost mythical status here in Edinburgh similar to other great Scottish heroes like William Wallace or Marry Queen of Scots but after running free walking tours across Edinburgh for over five years now this is the story of Maggie as I have come to know it.

Maggie was born in Musselburgh in the early eighteenth century. When exactly is hard to say, I have three different history books at home that all have different dates as to when she was born. She worked as a fishwife and would have led an entirely unremarkable life had it not been for her husband deserting her.

Musselburgh is a small community and many whispers and rumours began to spread across the town. Who was this strange woman Maggie Dickson that had driven her husband from her household? For surely it was Maggie’s fault that her husband had left and nothing to do with his own lust or shortcomings.

Maggie may not have been driven out of town by an angry mob with torches and pitchforks, but she was certainly made to feel uncomfortable at best so she packed what few possessions she had and made her way inland heading for the Scottish Borders.

Maggie eventually arrived in the town of Kelso where she got work as an inkeep in exchange for lodgings.

Soon after she started at the inn Maggie began to attract the attention of the innkeeper’s son and they began an affair, which led to Maggie falling pregnant. Not wanting the innkeeper to learn of the affair, as this would surely lead to her instant dismissal, Maggie tried to conceal her pregnancy. Maggie began to eat more food and wear loose clothing, concealing her bump. Tragically for Maggie, and her new partner, the baby was born prematurely and was stillborn. Maggie was understandably upset but still had to hide the baby’s existence, she planned to put the baby into the River Tweed.

Wrapping her first born in some muslin she made her way down towards the riverbank but could not bring herself to place the child into the fast flowing water. As she sat there sobbing she was spotted and people came over to comfort her but when they discovered the dead baby they were aghast and handed Maggie over to the authority’s thinking she had killed her own child.

Maggie was quickly taken to Edinburgh and brought to trial. The idea that Maggie had committed filicide was obviously ridiculous. The baby was tiny and obviously had not been brought to term, however Maggie had done something just as deplorable in the eyes of the law, she had the tenacity to conceal the fact that she was pregnant.

There was an old law in Scotland called the Concealment of Pregnancy Act. Why this law existed I don’t know, just another draconian way for men to try and exert their rule over the female form. Maggie had indeed concealed her pregnancy and for this and this alone she would be hung!

So Maggie was led down to the Grassmarket area of town where the gallows stood, she was marched up on top of the gallows where the noose was pulled tight around her neck. Maggie looked out across the crowds as they booed and jeered at this harlot, and with the crowd’s angry shouts wringing in her ears she dropped.

That day several executions had taken place, Maggie was the last and it was not long until all the bodies were cut down, placed into simple coffins and loaded onto the back of the cart to be driven out of town.

As the cart driver rode his cart out of town he heard what sounded like a banging noise come from the back of the cart. Somewhat perplexed he stopped the cart and went to investigate the noise. He cracked open one of the coffins and out popped Maggie Dickson still very much alive!

The whole idea of a hanging was to be a relatively quick painless death. The force of the fall should snap your neck. Maggie however was a very slight, small woman, and she had not fallen far enough to damage her neck. She was simply left dangling there and the lack of blood going up to her head had caused Maggie to fall unconscious and she was not quite dead when they cut her down.

The cart driver had never had to deal with a situation like this before so he panicked, shoved Maggie back down into the box, turned the cart around and made back towards the Grassmarket.

The dispersing crowds quickly flocked back for they could not believe their luck, they were going to get two for the price of one from Maggie Dickson. For a second time that day poor Maggie was taken to the top of the gallows, and for a second time that day the noose was placed over Maggie’s head, this was not a good day for Maggie Dickson.

But just before they could hang Maggie for a second time that day a lone voice rang out from the gathered crowds,

 

“Stop! Wait! You can not hang that woman!”

 

It was the Innkeeper’s son.

 

“But why not?” The crowed wanted to know.

 

“Because of double jeopardy.” He cried back.

 

With that Maggie was let back down and taken back to the head Judge and indeed the Innkeeper’s son was correct, they could not charge Maggie with the same crime twice, in fact it was “Gods will” that Maggie should live according to the Judge.

Now earlier in her life Maggie had taken her wedding vows and her wedding vows were “till death do us part” but that day Maggie had legally been declared dead, she had a copy of her own death certificate. This annulled Maggie from her old relationship allowing Maggie to marry the Innkeep’s son, with whom she previously had the affair.

So it was that the worst day in Maggie’s life quickly became the best day.

Maggie Dickson became something of a local celebrity picking up the nickname, Half Hangit’ Maggie and Maggie is remembered in Edinburgh to this day by a pub down in the Grassmarket bearing her name, close to the spot where she hung.

If the sun is out you can take a seat outside at the pub and enjoy a drink or two whilst listening to the many tour guides come past the pub with their tour groups and their take on this classic Edinburgh tale.

 

David Hume Simplified – A Walking Tour Guide’s Take on The Man

David Hume was a philosopher in Edinburgh in the 18th century. He is one of those incredibly complex characters whose influence has such a profound importance in so many subjects. His works are incredibly difficult to understand and even harder to simplify. As a free walking tour guide in Edinburgh, Hume’s home, I often find myself struggling to convey the importance of a man that I do not fully understand in only a few minutes to my guests in an entertaining way. In this blog post we are going to attempt to delve into the main aspects of Hume and his works in the simplest way possible.

 

Scepticism

David Hume was a very sceptical or pessimistic man. This does not mean he was overly negative, it meant he did not believe things easily and required some sort of proof in order to accept them. In short, he questioned everything from superstitious notions like good and bad luck to theology and religion. The irony that rubbing the shiny toe on his statue in Edinburgh brings good luck is a favourite joke amongst our walking tour guides.

 

Empiricism VS Rationalism

Empiricism is scepticism put into a philosophical theory. Put as simply as possible, it is the belief that our understanding of the world around us comes from how we experience the world around us. Before Empiricism, Rationalism was more popular amongst the intellectual world. Rationalism is the belief that our understanding of the world around us comes from how our brain interprets the world around us. A Rationalist is happy to sit in a room and think about the universe. Whatever he concludes must be true if it makes sense. An Empiricist must test everything in order to accept it.

 

This emphasis on experience (how we see, feel, hear, etc.) VS just rational thought had huge implications on the intellectual world, particularly when it came to science. For example, a Rationalist might deduce that the heavier an object is, the faster it will fall. This seems to make logical sense. However an Empiricist won’t accept this as truth until they have seen it happen. It was Galileo that dropped two balls of different weights from The Leaning Tower of Pisa and saw that they did, in fact, fall at exactly the same speed. Empiricism had won over Rationalism.

 

The new importance that Hume and others had placed on experiment as apposed to hypothesis had huge implications in an Enlightenment Scotland in the 18th century. With a large proportion of the Scottish population receiving tertiary education, scientific experiment was now being done on an industrial scale. It was this industrial experimentation that has largely led us to the modern world we live in today.

 

Hume’s Impact on Empiricism

Hume is not the founder of the theory of Empiricism. That honour belongs to John Locke. Hume did, however, have a big impact on the subject.

 

Where John Locke in Hume’s opinion did not take Empiricism far enough, Hume applied it to everything. This lead to controversial subjects arising like the existence of God or, more famously, the existence of morality.

 

The Hume Guillotine – Empiricism meets Morality

Now that we have the simple topics out of the way (for Hume that is, not us mortals), we will now attempt to understand the dilemma that Hume came across when faced with the question of morality. This led to his famous Is-Ought Problem, better known as “The Hume Guillotine”.

 

Although we don’t recommend that you read it (it’s quite heavy), here is Hume’s Is-Ought Problem as he put it.

 

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.

 

Heavy, right? For us too and we’ve spent hours debating this in our office and are still not sure we understand him. Here’s our best shot.

 

Hume is basically saying that all models of morality he reads about connect is statements (statements on fact) to ought statements (statements on morality) too easily and without explanation. He says that these statements actually have no logical connection. The Hume Guillotine is the severing of an is statement from an ought statement.

 

Here is the easiest example we could find.

Mankind evolved eating meat (the is statement), so we ought to eat meat (the ought statement).

 

This argues that it is natural for mankind to eat meat and so we should do it. Seems logical! However vegetarians might dispute its morality for equally logical reasons.

 

Let’s get a little darker with our next example shall we?

When someone dies their loved ones get sad (the is statement), so we ought not to kill people (the ought statement).

 

An even less arguable point right? However military powers, people in favour of the death penalty, people whom are pro-choice or even a lion might disagree. All of them for different reasons! Some of us know how Thanos felt about it.

 

There’s just too much to argue here. Hume saw himself as a moral man, however he saw morality itself as just a symptom of human nature and society itself, not fact.

 

In conclusion, David Hume’s works are much too complicated to summarise into a short blog post! We do, however, hope that we have made his more famous theories easier to comprehend. Come join a free walking tour of Edinburgh with us to explore the man’s life, works and anecdotes.