Lit Major Abroad

Lit Major Abroad: Edinburgh – First Impressions

Edinburgh CastleYep. I know I’ve dropped the ball again when it comes to blogging (although, let’s face it, when it comes to my blogging habits, I have all the athletic skills of – well, of me, really). In my defence, it has been a crazy time: new city, new people, new bookstores to discover and spend way too much time in…. But now that winter has begun to sink its teeth into the city, and tourism seems distinctly less appealing in the biting wind (seriously, what is up with the wind in this city?) I thought I’d share some of my first impressions of Edinburgh. Because to be honest, I haven’t had all that much time to stop and reflect on my experiences here so far. Also, it’s essay-writing season over at the university, and I’m a tried and tested procrastinator.

So… where to begin with this famous city of literature? (And I’m not just saying that, by the way – Edinburgh really was named a City of Literature by UNESCO.)

The Weather

First, just a brief word about the aforementioned wind and rain and stuff. I’ve always been one of those people who banged on about how I love the cold and how there’s nothing better than sitting inside and reading a book on a rainy day. I was actually looking forward to the gloomy weather of the British Isles. But coming from Australia, I don’t think I was prepared for just how much weather there actually is here. The skies over Edinburgh have the attention span on a two-year-old; look away from their sunny faces for a few seconds and suddenly you’re covered in unmentionable goo from head to foot. I still don’t think I’m entirely used to how quickly the weather can take a turn for the worse here. And I never, never thought I’d miss the sun. I have a slightly lower risk of melanoma now, but I still think I finally get why people like the sunshine.

The Hills Are Alive

Another unexpected thing – just how beautiful the Scottish landscape is. It’s entirely different from the lush greenery of England and Ireland, and much more about strange, gold-and-green-and-brown hills that seem to have a dreamy, fluffy look about them. They’re not easy on the leg muscles, but they are incredibly beautiful.

The hills surrounding Arthur’s Seat, which overlooks the city.

The City At Night (Is Incredibly Creepy)

Edinburgh is apparently famous for being quite the ghost town, and it’s hardly surprising that so many famous crime writers seem to have made a living from this place. Ian Rankin, Irvine Walsh, and J.K. Rowling are just three names, although on the Rowling front Edinburgh is probably better-known for its connection to Harry Potter (more on that in a later post). Maybe it’s the effect of the towering brown-stone buildings, or the claustrophobic little closes, or perhaps the grim history of body-snatching that made the city infamous in the Victorian era. In either case, Edinburgh at night can be a spooky place.

Family funtimes galore at the creepy Greyfriars Kirkyard, which features these cage-like ‘mortsafes’ that protect your squishy bits from potential grave-robbers.

The Classics

But despite the huge number of grim tales associated with Edinburgh, it was also home to some of the classics of British literature. Walter Scott, R.L. Stevenson, and Robert Burns all have strong connections with the city, in one way or another. Scott is a constant presence; the Scott Monument on the main shopping street, Princes Street, is the largest monument to a writer in the world. That’s right. They love their writers here. So much so that they build colossal monuments to them. How many cities can claim that?

Edinburgh Classic Writers
Edinburgh loves its authors – (from left to right) The Burns Monument, The Scott Monument and Waverley Train Station, and some Burns memorabilia in the National Museum of Scotland.

Bookstores, Bookstores, Bookstores

Edinburgh is also a veritable haven for people like me, who can’t resist a good bookstore. Especially a good second-hand bookstore, complete with creaky floors, funny smells, and random piles of books everywhere. Health hazards? Only for the faint-hearted. And unromantic. I’ve already gotten to know the bookstores in West Port way too well, and in the tradition of all good bookworms everywhere, have inexplicably found myself with a ton of new books that I have no way of finishing in the next year.

So, there it is – a whirlwind tour of Edinburgh. Sadly, for the moment I’m confined to touring the halls of the university library, thanks to my major essay deadlines, but that doesn’t mean I can’t relive all the fun I had when I first got to the city, or plan ahead for the warmer months. Also, I’m betting the city looks pretty cool when it’s lit up for Christmas.

Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What were your impressions of it?

7 replies on “Lit Major Abroad: Edinburgh – First Impressions”

WOW. I’ve been following your blog for as long as I can remember and I cannot believe you are in Edinburgh. The reason for this is that I live here and study at the university here too. Are you at the University of Edinburgh? If so, we might just as well have passed each other in the aforementioned halls of the university library. Enjoy your time here and… if you feet like having coffee in Grassmarket where all the best bookshops are, drop me a message.

Oh I’m sorry – I was so excited to read this post, I wasn’t careful enough. But now I’ve reread it and realised that you explicitly said “I’ve got to know the bookshops in West Port only too well”. In any case, oh how I would love to meet you! I sympathise about the essay season and its consequent procrastination melodrama… :) Sending you the tightest of hugs, Sara!

I only spent a day or so in Edinburgh, but I really enjoyed myself. Would love to spend more time in the city to really explore. I was in the country for only a week, but I loved it.

You’re right about the landscape – the hills and ponds near Glencoe, in particular, felt almost prehistoric.

Never been anywhere near Edinburgh, alas! I will go one of these days, super intense book buying risk be damned! I always was mightily impressed at the number of little bookshops I encountered in every UK town I visited. Even my own little Colchester had several. No Waterstones but a bunch of charity shops with massive books sections, and two used bookshops as well.

I’m definitely impressed by the bookstores in the UK! I’m glad it’s not just Edinburgh that’s so rich in them. In Australia more and more bookstores are closing down, and I just don’t feel like the ‘bookstore experience’ is as big a deal.

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