Caution: Muddy When Thawed

Hermitage of Braid, EdinburghWhat would a weekend be without walking the dog? Yes, it’s that time again, another Monday and I’ve done very little of interest over the weekend and so talk about where it was we walked the dog this weekend*. Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh

Hermitage of Braid, EdinburghAt Christmas time I came across a little book of 40 walks to do in Edinburgh online and promptly bought it with the vague hope that we hadn’t done all the dog friendly ones. It turns out we’d done quite a few of them. The Hermitage of Braid, however, was entirely new to us. None of us had ever been there. Ever. To put this into context between the three of us walking the Spotty Pestosaurus (her new official title – who is, at time of writing, curled round my ankles, snoring) we’ve lived in Edinburgh for a combined total of about 70 years.

Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh

The book suggested that it was a gentle walk, ‘flat with a few steps’ (Read there’s a rather steep slope half way round, if you follow the book’s little map), but that it can ‘get a little muddy’. Well, it’s winter and the ground is currently solid so we didn’t have to worry about that, but when we go back in the spring I think it will be rather different.

Once private property, this canyon on the south side of the city is now a local nature reserve (and property of our… esteemed … council). Following the path at the side of the burn is pretty flat (and the bridges are all built to take small vehicles, so no two-planks-held-together-with-spit-and-prayers affairs – well, apart from this one) and fairly solid. When frozen. In fact it was rather sheltered, if a little hidden away from the sun for the most part.Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh

It was actually another really calming walk. It’s hidden away from all roads and houses (with one obvious exception), so without any wind the place was pretty quiet, only the trickle of running water – or the crashing as it comes over the miniature, somewhat redundant looking weir – and the occasional dog barking to fill any lulls in your conversation. Who needs expensive spa days when you can take a stroll down the side of gently rippling water? Perhaps all it needs is to be a little warmer… Perhaps I have a bit of an obsession with running waterHermitage of Braid, Edinburgh

The Braid Burn meanders its way down through the Hermitage for about two miles, and far beyond all the way down to Portobello, and is well worth a little stroll if you desire a gentle walk in the park (literally). Although, given the state we would have been in if it wasn’t for the ice I’d urge caution: it’ll be be muddy once thawed.Hermitage of Braid, EdinburghHermitage of Braid, Edinburgh


*For those who are concerned I should stress that we do take the dog out more than once at the weekend. But only if she’s good…

And the Prize for Pointing Out the Bleeding Obvious Goes To…

Yesterday we went for a walk at the Hermitage of Braid on the south side of Edinburgh.
As we reached the half-way point of our walk we came across a temporary bridge. It looked a bit out of place, but was obviously there because the main bridge wasn’t  … erm … as serviceable as it once was.

Now, I love signs. They can be so informative, but sometimes they go a little over the top in pointing out what is already fairly obvious. I present exhibit A:Hermitage, Edinburgh, bridge


A Whiff of Chilli and an Air of Disappointment

I’m going to start this with a bit of a confession. I love chocolate.

Hotel Chocolat Edinburgh ChocolateRight, now I’ve got that off my chest we can move forward. More specifically, move ourselves to Frederick Street (in Edinburgh) where we shall find ourselves standing outside one of the older shop fronts, but one that has just found itself some large plate-glass windows and the modern styling you’d expect to find on some designer boutique. But it’s not what you think. It’s much more exciting than that, it’s Edinburgh’s! I’ve been a fan of these lovely people’s chocolate for some time now and the prospect of them opening a shop here was greatly exciting. One might even compare my glee to that of a child in the proverbial sweet shop; but this is more than a sweet shop, it’s a chocolate shop, and one for grown-ups at that.

As with all things nouveau in town I’ve wanted to have a look since it opened (back in December), but have struggled to find the time – such a busy social life, what can I say? Ahem… Anyway… I managed to have a quick look in the door the first time I was in town this year, but apart from realising they had a little coffee shop at the back and that it was all rather shiny I got no further. So I enlisted my partner in crime for all things culinary, Mel, and we decided that the 14th was the date for sampling the coffee shop. Then I had to bail. We finally made it last Saturday morning (21st) and, quite frankly, it was not worth the wait.Hotel Chocolat Edinburgh Chocolate

Admittedly they didn’t appear to have been open particularly long when we arrived, but as we stood waiting to order, the barista seemed more intent on prodding a paper cup full of something (one would presume chocolate-based) that she proclaimed (to no one in particular) ‘had gone a bit solid in the fridge overnight’. One prod should have been sufficient for this deduction, however, Sherlock persisted and then went on to elaborately create make a butchered attempt at two cappuccinos  without so much as an ‘I’ll get you in a minute’. Not the most ideal of starts, but I didn’t want to jump the gun. What was I really expecting? Something resembling Hot Chocolate from the wonderful Polar Express was probably a bit much for a Saturday morning (and the size of the shop), but something a little more professional wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The place isn’t exactly what you’d call expansive – it can fit maybe 18 people, if they all stand – so not a place to come with a book and settle down for a morning, but for a shop of that size it’s not small. They’ve gone for a bit of a ‘diner-style rustic barn’ look for the decor, but it works well. Inviting, but not so comfy that you’re not going to want to leave. It also seemed to be a bit of a hot spot for people with young children (I’m not entirely sure why) and several passed through in the 30 or so minutes we were there (accompanied, obviously).

After a fashion our two Chilli Hot Chocolates (£2.75 a piece, served in a somewhat unglamorous branded paper cup) were ready and we sat down to enjoy them. They weren’t piping hot (again a subtle hint you’re not expected to stay long?), but pretty much just right to start sipping. Whilst picking up on the various problems thus far can easily be put down to being pedantic my major gripe starts here: The chilli flavour started as a barely noticeable ‘I’m not sure it’s there’ background noise and reached the peak of its crescendo as a subtle (very subtle) undertone. To say that we were both disappointed would be a bit of an understatement. So much so that I decided to break the stereotypical ‘shuffle your feet, keep your head down and say nothing’ approach and as we were leaving went up to the barista (a new one, not our original Sherlock). Now, as the (rather smug) barista helpfully pointed out, I wouldn’t want the flavour ‘smacking me around the face’ – undeniably true – and that some people ‘don’t like too strong a chilli flavour’ (perhaps they should be ordering something else then?) all of which is perfectly reasonable, but personally I’d quite like to easily taste the two flavours that the drink claims to have. And I wouldn’t regard that as being selfish or overtly fussy. Also, saying ‘oh, well no one else has complained’ was not of particular conciliation to me either.

We left somewhat aggrieved.Hotel Chocolate Edinburgh

Now, perhaps I am being too harsh. Whilst their competence and customer service was utterly hopeless I should point out that the other member of staff who served me in the shop was very helpful and chirpy (verging on too chirpy for a Saturday morning, in my opinion) and that had my drink just been a plain, ordinary hot chocolate I would probably have been much more up beat. However, it was not. Perhaps they weren’t made properly – entirely possible considering the cappuccino making we witnessed – maybe the second barista I complained to was new and unsure of how to handle such a comment, possibly many things; but my over-riding impression of the trip was that I was in a designer shop staffed by Primark’s newest trainees. Not what I expected from a company whose mantra of authenticity, ethics and innovation has won them shedloads of fans and critical acclaim and whose chocolate tastes so damn good.

I do want to go again (perhaps I was expecting too much?), hopefully quite soon. And I hope to be able to chalk this trip down to experience, but one thing is for sure next time I want to be as impressed with what I drink as I am with what I buy in their shop.Hotel Chocolat Edinburgh


Leith’s Had a Bit of a Facelift

Urban regeneration is a bit of a buzzword these days. Taking old, run-down, disreputable areas (which are conveniently inexpensive, a cynic would say) and transforming them into ‘trendy’ and desirable parts of the modern city. This is nothing new, of course (look at the Dean Village if you don’t believe me), but it seems to be constantly in the news right now. Over the years a lot of the Water of Leith has been upgraded from its commercial past, and there are few places where that is more evident than where the river parts with the land: Leith.

Fish statues at Comercial Quay, LeithAlthough historically governed by Edinburgh’s Town Council the outlying  Port of Leith was given its own status as a ‘municipal burgh’ in the 1830s and only became an official part of Edinburgh (geographically and politically) in the 1920s – something that was contentious then and remains a bitter point to some locals to this day. Despite this its port has always been recognised as that of Edinburgh. When I was little Leith was (and had been for some years) in a bit of a fix. The cranes on the docks had long ceased moving, the area was decaying and its reputation was going down faster than a scuttled ship. What had been a very busy port had been spiralling downwards since the end of the war, however, the main catalyst had been the end of Whaling.

Leith's had a bit of a facelift, Edinburgh, Water of Leith

Leith was of major importance to the Whaling industry. What started out as a hunt in local waters grew to become an enormous industry for the port; leading on to many others, such as the soap industry. Such was the importance of the port that when focus moved to the South Atlantic one of the principal whaling stations of South Georgia was named Leith Harbour.

Since its dark days Leith has come a long way. The end of the 80s saw the start of the change to the area’s fortunes when some old industrial areas were demolished to make way for affordable housing. Since the building of the Scottish Office near the old East Dock (now ‘Victoria Quay’) in 1994 there has been a constant (and continuing effort) to bring up the area’s reputation. It is now home to Ocean Terminal, the Royal Yacht Britannia as well as an ever-increasing population through the various residential waterfront developments.Leith's had a bit of a facelift, Edinburgh, Water of Leith

Leith's had a bit of a facelift, Edinburgh, Water of LeithIf you look closely it’s not difficult to find traces of the area’s unglamorous past, but walking around the base of the river you are greeted with a plethora of cafes, restaurants and bars. Since 2004, when it was officially announced that the port would be closed, some docks have been shut off and a large number of flats have been constructed, but the ongoing stipulation is that some of the character and the heritage must remain. This has led to paths being made across some of the old docks (one corner even has a floating outdoor eating area for the adjacent restaurant), and parts, like the old port gates and the old iron and wooden bridge, being incorporated into the area’s layout. Whilst the work is ongoing (and will be for the foreseeable future) Leith has come on leaps and bounds since the dark, post-war years and is now definitely well and truly part of 21st century Edinburgh – despite what some might say. Leith truly has had a Facelift.Leith's had a bit of a facelift, Edinburgh, Water of Leith


In the Summertime When the Weather is Fine…

I think we can all agree that here in Edinburgh the weather is anything but ‘fine’. At the time of writing it is raining, it is cold, it is windy and it is generally miserable. We’ve just come through a cold snap – we had a lot of heavy frost last weekend, which made for lots of fun photos – with plenty of ice (I ended up having an unexpected sit down on the way to work on Friday) and bone chilling winds. Don’t get me wrong, I really like winter and I have no objection to the cold – my favourite weather-related maxim is There’s no such thing as bad weather; just inappropriate clothing – but at this time of year our minds often wander to the warmer months where all you need are shorts, t-shirts, flip flops and sunglasses. I was thinking about this in work on Friday and it made me look up an old photo album from August 2010.Sun, weather, St Andrews, East Sands, Beach, Paddling

Sun, weather, St Andrews, East Sands, Beach, PaddlingThere is nothing better than strolling along the edge of the water on a nice sandy beach. The waves gently lapping over your feet and the biggest care in your world is where you’re going to find an ice cream or a cooling jug of Pimm’s. I was on East Sand, St Andrews on this particular occasion and so these ponderous questions weren’t even a problem (Janetta’s, the ice cream shop; and I own ‘the Pimm’s jug’ for a reason) so I was just left to watch the sun glimmering off the gently rippling water. Bliss. And certainly much better than the driving rain…

Sun, weather, St Andrews, East Sands, Beach, Paddling