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  • Writer's pictureRosemary Gemmell

An Artist's Date in Edinburgh

I enjoyed a rare exploration in our capital city, Edinburgh, the other day all by myself. Work was being done at home so I escaped for most of the day while my kind husband supervised here. I decided not to meet anyone for coffee or lunch, but just wander at will and stop when I felt the need.

Julia Cameron’s excellent book, The Artist’s Way, is a must read for any creative person and it has sat in my drawer for too long, being ignored after an initial read through many years ago when given to me by my daughter. From the Morning Pages and Artist's Dates to the weekly exercises, it's a book to inspire and motivate an artist of any kind.

So my solitary wandering in Edinburgh became my Artist’s Date and I loved every minute. From the train journey, when I wrote with pen and paper as usual, to the Royal Mile and George Street, it was a time for observation and reflection in a city steeped in history and culture.

John Knox House, dating back to 1470, is the oldest medieval building still on the Royal Mile. But it was the attached modernised Storytelling Centre where I had my first stop for coffee and cake to fortify me for the walking up hills and down, as I had visited the historical House many years ago.

Much of the Royal Mile itself was lined with the usual bustling touristy shops, with copious amounts of tartan, shortbread and whisky on sale, to the accompaniment of a kilted piper, but it all adds to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the middle of the road was having repairs done which spoiled it a little at one long part, but it’s a good time to fix things in between the festival and New Year.

I headed to the magnificent St Giles Cathedral which is open to visitors. After reading about some of the names honoured in Writers Corner, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Margaret Oliphant and Robert Fergusson, and admiring the colourful stained-glass windows, I sat for a few moments in the peace and stillness; a welcome oasis from the bustling streets.

On my way down towards Princes Street Gardens, I was the only person walking along that particular tree-lined path, a happy surprise as I was able to take my time and enjoy the kaleidoscope of autumn colours carpeting the path and grass. I looked up at one point to find a squirrel sitting on a ledge as though frozen in time. When I couldn’t resist saying hello, it soon scurried back to its hidden world.

A little further along, a rustling amongst the leaves beneath some bushes made me pause to watch a couple of blackbirds finding sustenance and privacy in the foliage, then nearby a beautiful knotted tree with an opening on its wise old trunk, provided a secret entrance to the imagination.

Leaving the natural world behind, Christmas suddenly intruded and added a touch of wintery magic, the busy market stalls enticing customers with the aroma of street food and the glitter of international gifts. The big wheel and various fairground rides provided excitement, going by the screams, while Sir Walter Scott sat inscrutable in his vast Victorian Gothic monument in between the festivities.

Lunch soon beckoned and I treated myself at the café of the National Gallery, where I could look out at the gardens from the warmth within and write while waiting to be served. The huge main course of Cullen Skink (smoked haddock, potatoes and leeks in a creamy soup) accompanied with a hunk of soft focaccia almost defeated me in the end but was too good to waste.

Leaving culture and early Christmas fun behind, I finished my wanderings along George Street in the Georgian New Town, window-shopping in the many designer shops housed in graceful buildings. On the walk back to Waverley Station, I admired the sight of the Old Town rising above the gardens, Christmas market and fun rides, secure in its ancient presence and narrow, hidden closes, the castle at the pinnacle in the late afternoon dusk.

There is far too much to explore in one day in Edinburgh, and I’ve visited some of the other museums before, but I’ll definitely take time to enjoy another Artist’s Date by myself to fill the creative well and discover new delights.

If you can’t get to Edinburgh, you can take a virtual tour of St Gile

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