HOGMANAY

HOGMANAY – A SCOTTISH NEW YEAR

It’s not hard to describe in general terms what Hogmanay is. Like most other countries, Scotland loves to see “the back of” the old year, and the seeing in of the New Year. We call it Hogmanay and it is a time for great celebration. Some say that Hogmanay is far more important to the Scots than Christmas Day itself. That is probably less so now than in years past with more emphasis on Christmas Day. 

Many of the Old World traditions associated with New Year are practiced less and less. But still many from outside of Scotland want to experience a ‘true’ Scottish New Year – Hogmanay. 

So, how do we celebrate Hogmanay here in Scotland? Well, you will still find that the locals will carry out their celebrations at home, normally in the company of family and friends. Food, drinking, music, dancing and even more drink make up a typical Hogmanay celebration. As we gladly say farewell to a devastating 2020, the normal celebrations to ‘see in’ the New Year will not be taking place this year. Whether it be the public celebrations in the many cities and towns, or the smaller family events, thanks to COVID-19 we won’t see the same level of celebration. 

Certainly there will be a strong desire to kick this year well and truly into the back of beyond but celebrations will be different. I am sure, judging by some of my own friends, that many will be celebrating their New Year via Zoom, Facetime or any of the other digital platforms available. But there is nothing like the human contact to totally immerse yourself in the traditions of welcoming in the New Year. 

THE ORIGIN OF HOGMANAY

The origin of the word Hogmanay is difficult to pin down. The three main claimants to the word itself are from the French, Norse or indeed Gaelic. With the return of Mary Queen of Scots from France it is speculatively suggested that the French word hoguinané was adopted into the Scottish dialect. The word itself means a gift given at New Year. There are other suggestions including ‘au gui mener’ meaning ‘lead to the mistletoe’ under which it is traditional to kiss loved ones. 

However, there is a strong claim that the original source of the word for the French, Scots and Gaelic is in fact from the Norse. The Norse phrase Hogman aye, Troll a lay roughly translates as ‘the hill-men banish the Trolls into the sea’. 

Whatever the derivation, the celebration of Hogmanay in Scotland became the main event of December. After the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Presbyterians allegedly decided that the celebrations of Christmas Day were too ‘Roman Catholic’. And so more emphasis was put on celebrating the New Year.

TRADITIONAL HOGMANAY CELEBRATIONS

So historically how do/did we celebrate New Year and what are/were the customs associated with it? The most common practice is ‘first-footing’.  This can only take place immediately after midnight. The idea is that the first person to cross your threshold whether it be a neighbour or family friend doesn’t come empty handed.

So, normally the ‘first-footer’ will arrive with a lump of coal to warm the house, shortbread and black bun to feed the inhabitants and a bottle of whisky to celebrate. Oh, and it’s also worth pointing out that it is tradition for the ‘first-footer’ to be tall dark-haired men. That’s why I was always pushed out the door shortly before midnight with the required gifts in hand. Then shortly after midnight I would be required to ‘chap’ on the door and I would enter and wish everyone a Happy New Year. This sequence of events could be seen taking place at doorways all along your street. Then it is most likely that you would carry on this tradition by ‘first-footing’ your neighbours or nearby family.

It was a loooooong night.

Traditional ‘First-Footing’

EDINBURGH’S HOGMANAY STREET PARTY

Of course, celebrating Hogmanay in Scotland has seen a resurgence in the last couple of decades particularly as overseas visitors want to experience a ‘true Scottish Hogmanay’. Edinburgh, for example, holds one of the largest street parties in the world. This event at one time was a free event with the highlight of the night being the spectacular fireworks display from Edinburgh Castle. Then it evolved into a street party with a ‘pay to enter’ event in the Princes Street Gardens with top acts performing below the Castle at the Ross Bandstand. 

In 1996-1997, the Guinness Book of Records recognised Edinburgh as having the largest New Year street party with 400,000 participants.

Torchlight Parade – Edinburgh’s New Year Street Celebrations

Now almost the whole of the city centre is closed off with entry only by ticket. All of the main streets are traffic-free, and there are stages at various strategic locations where bands perform. As before, the highlight of the night is the humongous firework display from Edinburgh Castle synchronised to music. It lasts approximately 20 minutes and the explosions can be heard from miles around. I live five miles outside of Edinburgh on higher ground and can not only see the fireworks but can hear them.  

Firework Display at Edinburgh Castle

For those at home who may prefer to see in the New Year quietly, they can watch the events in Edinburgh unfold on their TV or online. The BBC and STV channels have their own respective New Year shows. Parts of the shows have been prerecorded months before. For entertainment value I think it would be fair to say that most viewers prefer it live – that way there is more chance of major ‘cock-ups’. Far more entertaining. 

PERSONAL MEMORY OF HOGMANAY

So, let me take you back to the New Year of my younger days, those that I can remember. My parents loved to host a party and Hogmanay would be the highlight of their party year. Of course, up until my teenage years we weren’t allowed to stay up to watch the revelry that took place on the 31st December and into the ‘wee hours’. But we got a foretaste of how the evening was going to go. 

Being a child of the 60s, I remember great music being played which everyone would be dancing to. It would be the bands of the day like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees. However, my Mum & Dad were both born in the 30s as were many of their friends and family and so they also liked a good jive. So, it was not uncommon to hear Billy Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, Elvis or Chubby Checker being played. When they came on you made space for my Dad as jive was definitely ‘his thing’. 

In between the dancing, copious amounts would be drunk and there would be a veritable spread of food and snacks on offer. This was a joint effort by everyone attending. They would generally bring something to the table, and most would have brought their ‘kerry oot’ – or their preferred bags of booze. The kitchen would resemble the shelves of any well stocked off-licence. By the end of the night, or more likely the early hours of the morning, you would assume that a thirsty swarm of alcoholic locusts had arrived and simply ‘glugged’ everything. 

Those were the days! 

This year there will be no mass gatherings which is sad but without doubt necessary if we are not to overwhelm our National Health Service. But if you are still in need of a collective celebration, then head over to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 20 website. There they have some cool short videos of iconic locations throughout Scotland celebrating everything that is great about our country and with a look forward to a better and safer 2021. 

https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com

To all of you out there, have a great Hogmanay. Celebrate it in your own way and let us all raise a glass to a New Year. 

Slàinte

A MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM EDINBURGH CAB TOURS

A Merry Christmas?

At this time of year, we would normally be emailing travellers past, present and future who have taken tours with us or who have booked tours for the following year. Our greeting would traditionally consist of wishing everyone a Merry Christmas from Edinburgh Cab Tours and a Happy New Year as the icing on the cake. I might have even put together a short compilation video of the numerous visitors we had taken on tour this year.

BUT!!!!!

A little something has got in the way of being able to do that. If you haven’t already guessed – COVID-19 has had a major impact on every facet of our lives. It has made 2020 a year to remember for all of the wrong reasons.

Abstract covid-19 coronavirus background vector

For many it will be the year that they lost a loved one or indeed loved ones. For others perhaps their own health has been seriously compromised over the long term. Others will have lost their jobs and will be relying on the charity of others and the assistance of their respective government. 

As 2020 draws to a close, do we see a glimmer of hope from various big pharma companies? Let’s hope so and that the various vaccines that are rolled out will combat this tsunami of a virus.  

What have Edinburgh Cab Tours been doing in the meantime?

By now, we the collective Edinburgh Cab Tours, and me personally would be hanging up our kilts and putting our proverbial touring boots up after a hectic and busy tour season. However, there has been no tour season to speak of. My last booked and actual completed tour was on 15th March. So, this is truly the year that I, like many, will be eager to put behind us. 

For us in the tourism and hospitality industry, it has been a devastating year. With no earned income during the last 9 months, it has meant any “rainy day” money has been well and truly exhausted. If it were not for the British government assisting operators and other tour-related businesses with financial grants to see us through this year, many would have had to declare bankruptcy. Some, unfortunately, have fallen through the cracks and have lost everything. 

Whilst seeking other avenues of employment, I was initially able to keep myself busy updating my website and freshening up its content. I was also able to spend more time adding posts to my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. 

But the real leap forward was in creating more tour-related videos of Edinburgh and Scotland. At the invitation of Stephen Maloney at the Scottish Travel Society on Facebook, I took their subscribers on a three-part live virtual tour of Edinburgh’s New Town. Each live tour lasted approximately 45 minutes. It was actually quite exciting with viewers able to ask questions in real time. Once I had completed the tour, I was able to upload it to Facebook. Then other viewers could watch the tour afterwards and ask questions. 

However, it led on to me taking the plunge into creating my own tour videos which can now be found on my YouTube channel. In total, I have created over 45 videos. The most popular are the 1-Minute Snapshots of various locations. For those viewers who wish to luxuriate in the beauty of Edinburgh and Scotland, there are also longer videos. I have also provided suggested walking route videos, highlighting the key landmarks along the way with a little bit of background information. If you want to watch any of our videos please click here and subscribe (and like, if you like) our videos. This will ensure that you are notified of any new videos that I upload. Here’s one as a taster.

My temporary employment as a delivery driver for a well-known UK supermarket chain has slowed down my input in these areas. But I will be adding new videos from time to time. Apart from helping to pay a few bills, I guess one of the benefits of this type of work is that I have lost almost a stone in weight since starting…..some may say that I had at least a stone to lose!

Credit to Vauxford for image

New additions to our Tours

Although Edinburgh Cab Tours prides itself on having built its reputation providing high quality private vehicle tours, we decided to add two walking tours to our offering. Each are of three hours duration, with one tour covering the Old Town of Edinburgh and the other the New Town. These can only be booked through our website and we look forward to taking visitors on these tours.

You can’t beat taking visitors in person on our tours. We have truly missed it. For those visitors who had tours booked with us this year, we decided right at the very start of the lockdown to play fair with them. We contacted every one of our clients and offered either a full refund (less PayPal’s commission charge which they did not waive at the time), or to use their payment on account for a future tour. It was heart-warming to find that we had a fairly equal split of takers. To those who have chosen to defer their tour until next year or the year after, thank you. For those who chose to take a refund, we still hope to see you all in the future. 

What does the future hold?

If we put aside the fact that terms such as “COVID-19”, “Coronavirus”, “quarantine”, “self-isolation”, “lockdown”, distancing”, “furlough” are now part of daily conversation, I think as a global community there are uncertain times ahead. However, what has taken place in this last year has meant major change and I personally hope some of it will mean POSITIVE change. 

I don’t think that we are out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. To complete this journey I think that we collectively now need to stand together, socially-distanced of course, and support one another. We need to look after our nearest and dearest. If nothing else, I think this last year has taught us that we need to appreciate and cherish more those around us. Our time on this earth is far too short not to make the most of it.

Without getting into the politics of how we get out of this, these are unprecedented times, and our “global leadership” have taken decisions that they thought best at the time. Mistakes have been made but this really is uncharted territory. Scientists and forecasters can predict through modelling what they expect to happen but this virus hasn’t been given the modelling script and it plays by its own rules. 

Some extreme groups have seized this opportunity to push forward with their political agenda. That is unforgiveable. The country where this all began has reaped the benefit of increasing its production of goods and continues to export all around the world with impunity. All the time it has hidden the real facts about how, why, when and where this virus really began. That also is unforgiveable. Taking advantage of more democratic nations around the world, it continues its march for global domination by buying up companies whilst they are on their knees. That is also unforgiveable. 

I can understand the frustration felt by many whether it be racial or sexual inequality or hardship for the poorer members of our society. But I like to see the good in everyone and this has brought to the fore the fact that there are more good people than bad. Even if it is simply helping your elderly neighbour to get jobs done that they can’t do. Or helping out with community-based projects on a voluntary basis. Or where affordable, donating more to charities to help the disadvantaged in our society. We all must do our bit. 

What is the future of travel?

As I type this blog, the UK has been plunged into another lockdown effectively putting to an end the chances of families from separate households being able to enjoy Christmas together. The original plan had been to allow a 5-day relaxation of restrictions, allowing travel and mixing of households. But there has been an outbreak of a coronavirus variant which spreads more quickly. The government, in my opinion, has made the right call to impose restrictions akin to a full lockdown. 

For travellers arriving from the rest of the world, presently you need to complete a passenger locator form before your arrival. You may also need to self-isolate for up to 10 days when you arrive, depending on where you’ve travelled from. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, who knows how long this will continue for. I had originally predicted that we may start to see travel from overseas to the UK recommence by about the middle of 2021. However, it may take until 2022. Here in the UK, it has been calculated that it will take the whole of 2021 to vaccinate the entire population. Until that is completed, and we “have a lid” on the virus, we cannot take the risk of further outbreaks. 

Essentially, we want everyone to be 100% safe. That includes locals who live here and for our visitors that come to experience our beautiful country. And that is what it will come down to – CONFIDENCE! 

EFFECTIVE VACCINE – NO QUARANTINE – PUBLIC CONFIDENCE = RESUMPTION OF TRAVEL 

Tourism

When we do eventually get those three factors all lined up, the people of Scotland will look forward to welcoming you with open arms. We here at Edinburgh Cab Tours will most definitely look forward to seeing you all, including our returning visitors. 

Not only will our arms be open, but our hearts too. Humans are by nature a social group as well as inquisitive about their environment. The great thing is that our mountains, lochs, hills and beaches will still be here when you can eventually travel. Our history won’t have changed. Our most iconic locations of castles, palaces, abbeys and conservation areas will still be here. The long suppressed anticipation will make it all the sweeter when you can actually visit them in person. 

So, whether you choose to self-guide yourself around them or to use our private tour services, just know that we are as eager to show you around as you are to visit. 

When things do start to move in the right direction, and if we are already booked we can put you in touch with some of our fellow tour operators who provide a great service like ourselves. I would like to just say thanks to them because collectively we have kept each other’s spirits positive during these dismal months. They are:

Gareth at Edinburgh Expert and Visit Edinburgh

Stephen at Edinburgh and Scotland Tour Company

Alan at Ecosse Executive

In the meantime, let’s look forward to a brighter future, keep your loved ones close, and above all have a happy, warm and very safe Christmas.

We will see you in 2021, either in person or virtually. 

To everyone around the world, a Merry Christmas from Edinburgh Cab Tours.

Sláinte.  

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

The 11th September 1297 was a major turning point in Scottish history due to the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Ever since 1286 with the death of Alexander III, Scotland had been left without strong leadership. Initially, Alexander’s granddaughter and only heir Margaret was to return from Norway to take up the throne. But sadly she died on the journey over to Scotland.

Numerous Scottish nobles claimed their right to the throne but without collective agreement no one could be chosen. Edward I of England was invited to arbitrate over the proposed contenders. Seizing his opportunity, he declared himself overlord of Scotland. At the same time he chose John Balliol to become king but only because he would be “his puppet.”

Balliol only remained King for a few years before Edward returned to Scotland in 1296 and forced him to abdicate. Edward took control of all of the major strongholds in Scotland and placed his trusted nobles in charge. This set Scotland on a path that would lead to the Battle of Stirling Bridge. 

However, Scotland had struggled for centuries to stand up to its much larger and more powerful neighbour. There was simply a lack of belief that they had the will, the manpower and most important of all a strong leader.Now the facts of William Wallace are difficult to establish with any sense of conviction. Much of Wallace’s story is provided by the 15th century poem written by Blind Harry. Bear in mind that this was written almost 160 years after Wallace’s death, much of its content would have been passed down by word of mouth. 

The Life and Heroic Actions of the Renowned Sir William Wallace, General and Governor of Scotland.

Blind Harry

This 12-volume work became the key reference to the life and times of Wallace and most significantly his greatest victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

By the time the Battle of Stirling Bridge took place, William Wallace had been slowly building his army. It was not a conventional army in terms of its size. It certainly wouldn’t have been capable of fighting a full-scale battle on the battlefield against Edward’s army. Instead, Wallace resorted guerrilla-style warfare. With much smaller groups of fighters, he would lay traps and ambush English convoys. He and his men became the proverbial “thorn in the side” of the English army. 

The increasing uprising suffered a blow when many of the Scottish nobles submitted to the English in the July of 1297. But Wallace joined forces with another rebel, Andrew Moray, and together they achieved their first victory at the siege of Dundee. 

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle

This victory gave them the impetus to challenge for the “jewel in the crown.”  Stirling Castle was strategically important for any army if it wanted to control the gateway to the north of Scotland. The Castle itself, like Edinburgh Castle, towered over the surrounding area and was easily defended. More importantly, it controlled the bridge that allowed access over the River Forth. 

The only problem for Wallace and Moray was even with their combined forces, they were still vastly outnumbered by the English army at Stirling. Timing was key. Wallace somehow had to entice the English army from the Castle down onto the plain below. This would mean that the English army would need to cross over the bridge. It was not substantial, barely able to allow two cavalrymen to cross side by side. 

Abbey Craig

However, from the vantage point of the Abbey Craig (the location of the Wallace Monument), Wallace was able to monitor English movements. Over a period of several hours, the English moved their cavalry and infantry over the bridge.  Seizing the moment, Wallace and Murray then brought out the rest of their army and charged at the English. In a panic, the English turned tail despite being trapped in the loop of the river. At the same time, Wallace and Murray sabotaged the bridge.

It was a major defeat for the English, with many being killed on the battlefield, and the remainder drowning in the river. The remainder of the English army back in the Castle immediately retreated back to Berwick. This left the Castle back in Scottish hands and was to instil a new-found confidence in the Scots. Wallace and Murray were appointed Guardians of Scotland. Sadly, Murray died only a few months later from wounds sustained at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. And within a year, Edward I brought an even larger army to Scotland and defeated Wallace’s forces at Falkirk.

Edinburgh Cab Tours provide tours of Stirling Castle and the surrounding areas. Alternatively, let us know what you wish to visit and we will tailor the tour to your requirements. For further details go to our TOURS page.

Riddle’s Court

Riddle’s Court

Anyone visiting Edinburgh will automatically be drawn to visiting iconic locations such as Edinburgh Castle. If you want to avoid the crowds, however, take a stroll 400 metres down the Royal Mile to Riddle’s Court. There you will find a true historic jewel in Edinburgh’s crown. 

This short video gives you a little taster of why you should visit Riddle’s Court.

Short Video of Riddle’s Court

Why visit Riddle’s Court

So why would we encourage you to visit Riddle’s Court? Well there are a whole host of reasons but let’s start with the fact that it was built in the 1590s. It’s first owner was Baillie John McMorran who was a wealthy merchant in the city. He purchased it in 1587 but with his considerable wealth he was able to create a stunning courtyard residence. 

Baillie McMorran was only to benefit from the property for five years. Unfortunately for him in 1595 he was called to a riot by schoolboys at the Royal High School. The pupils had effectively gone on strike in protest at not being given enough holiday time. McMorran was called to bring the riot to an end. However, one of the pupils was in possession of a musket and remarkably fired an accurate shot that killed McMorran. The perpetrator, William Sinclair of the highly influential Sinclair family, was cleared and incredibly avoided prison. 

The property in the meantime changed hands and it received a number of visitors over the years. The most notable visitor would have to be King James VI who hosted a banquet there in honour of his wife’s brother who was visiting. 

During the 1600s, whilst in the possession of the Sir Roderick Mackenzie a number of upgrades were carried out. An ornate plaster ceiling was added in 1684 which has survived to this day. 

The property acquired its name when it was purchased by George Riddell in 1726. Again like Mackenzie, thanks to his considerable wealth, he was able to reconstruct much of the people that faces onto the Lawnmarket. 

However, in 1837 the rerouting of the link road between the Grassmarket and the Royal Mile resulted in some very serious remodelling of the south face of Riddle’s Court. By the mid to late 1800s, Riddle’s Court was a shadow of its former self. The 1881 census records that there were 247 people living in the building. But this was far too overcrowded and like many other parts of the Old Town the building had become a slum. 

Patrick Geddes – A Man of Vision

If it were not for one man, Patrick Geddes, like many other buildings that had fallen into disrepair it would have been demolished. Geddes was a man of vision and well ahead of his time. He can truly be described as a conservationist, long before it became fashionable to be one. 

Geddes purchased the property and carried out a “root and branch” restoration of the building. By the time it was completed, it became one of the first Halls of Residence for students at the University of Edinburgh. Some buildings had to be demolished either side of the passageway to form a courtyard. The aim was to provide more light and fresh air into the building and improve the conditions for the inhabitants. 

A new staircase was added to the outside of the building to enable access between the first and second floors. This can be seen more clearly in the video. Geddes held the first University Summer schools here. The entrance to what is now the Geddes Centre has an inscription on the lintel above the gated entrance – ‘Vivendo Discimus.’ This is the Latin for ‘By Living we Learn.’

Further limited restoration was carried out in the twentieth century after it was taken into the care of Edinburgh City Council. However, huge investment was needed to carry out the thorough restoration that it truly required. 

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £2.4 million and further total funding of £5.8 million, the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust was able to commence a stunning restoration. The restoration commenced in 2016, using only the most skilled tradesmen in their field. The project was finally completed in 2019. 

Riddle’s Court is Open to the Public

It is now open to the public. As well as being able to take a tour, it can also be booked for educational events, weddings, corporate events, parties and fine dining. For further details, visit Riddle’s Court website.

Riddle’s Court can be easily missed as it is set back from the main thoroughfare of the Lawnmarket. It is almost directly opposite the more prominent Gladstone’s Land. So use that as your point of reference. Here is an image of the entrance to Riddle’s Court from the Lawnmarket. 

Riddle’s Court entrance

Arniston House

Arniston House

Arniston House is one of those stately homes that you either know about or come across it by accident. If you are staying in Edinburgh, or in the Midlothian area, then Arniston House should be added to your “to-do” list.

We spent a fantastic couple of hours at Arniston House near Gorebridge.  It is about a 40 minute drive from Edinburgh city centre to Arniston House. If you plan to travel to the Scottish Borders or to visit Rosslyn Chapel then this is a great addition to any tour day. 

Origin of Arniston House

Arniston House sits in the heart of its 6,000 acre estate surrounded by numerous working farms. The property has been in the Dundas family ever since 1571. The year before, James was born to George Dundas and his second wife Katherine Oliphant. They visited the area with a view to purchasing some land for their baby son.

Having purchased the land, they set about making making the fine tower house habitable. The tower house is sited in what is now Arniston House. Not far from the main house it is believed that the Knights Templar had one of their bases there. When the Templars were eventually outlawed it then passed to the Knights of St John. It is quite possible that the original tower house may have been built by the Knights of St John. But with no records this cannot be substantiated.

Along with the tower house, George Dundas purchased the land surrounding it known as Arniston Mains. Initially, an extensive garden was created around the tower house. To protect the tower house from the prevailing winds, a very high wall was built. It was perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing feature of the estate but certainly protected the house from the bitter winds.

William Adam’s Vision

However, in 1726 Robert Dundas, a rising star in the legal profession felt that his family home should be more befitting of his status. So he commissioned William Adam the famous Edinburgh architect to start work on expanding the property. Robert lived and worked mainly in his Edinburgh townhouse and this effectively gave William Adam free rein to do as he saw fit.

William Adam had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve at Arniston. The tower house was one of the first things to be changed. Most of the tower was reduced to ground floor level. This enabled William Adam to then build around this centrepiece his palladian vision. Unfortunately, by 1732 the family had run out of money and the project came to an abrupt halt which was disappointing for Adam to say the least.

Fortuitously the young heir to the estate, another Robert married into money and was able to recommence the work on the property. Tastes and styles had changed in the 20 years since the construction had come to a halt. Nevertheless, William Adam’s son John was commissioned to carry on his father’s work. The building today is the result of the Adam vision of the 1700s. 

One Hour Tour

There is much to see at Arniston House, although because of COVID-19, only the ground floor level is open to the public during the tour. It is hoped that when circumstances return to normal, the tour will again include the upper floor. However, when you walk into the main hallway, you are immediately struck by the fine detail of William Adam. The stucco work around the ceilings and cornices are of the highest standard and can be compared favourably with those at Holyrood Palace.

Looking down from the first floor is the Hall Clock which was originally the courtyard clock. Adam shrewdly had it incorporated into the hall design. The clock can be dated back to the 1590s. Adam had a custom made frame constructed around the original clock. The frame was made by Francis Brodie, an eminent cabinetmaker in Edinburgh, and father to the notorious Deacon Brodie. There are portraits and paintings of previous generations of the Dundas family by artists such as Sir Henry Raeburn and Alexander Naysmith.

From the hallway, you proceed into the Dining Room which was extensively restored by the present owners back in 1993. Dry rot had caused extensive damage, so it required a considerable investment to make good the damage. But it is bright and airy with fine geometric designs in the ceiling.

Leading off from the Dining Room is the John Adam Drawing Room and this really is a splendid room. The wallpaper was specially commissioned on a silver background and follows a trail of branches, plants, flowers and birds. It really is so tasteful and just makes the room so much more brighter.

The Oak Room is the only part of the building which is the original part of the tower house. It is immediately recognisable as the design of William Adam with its wood panelling. It also has fantastic views north towards the Moorfoot Hills. Althea, the present owner explained that many an evening of drinking would have taken place here back in the 1700s and 1800s. Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor to Arniston House because of his involvement in the legal profession.

The only addition to the building since then is the porch that was added to the front of the building in 1877. The sunken garden to the south of the property, as with all of the grounds, is stunningly peaceful and tranquil. You are allowed access to the sunken garden and is well worth a walk down there. On the way back to the house, you cannot help but be awestruck by the view of the house.

We highly recommend taking the tour of Arniston House. It is conducted by mother and daughter, Althea and Henrietta, present owners of Arniston House. Their knowledge of Arniston House is phenomenal and is backed up by their extensive family records. If you require further information or want to book tickets for one of the tours then you should visit the Arniston House website.

Outlander Film Location

As a footnote, for any Outlander fans, Arniston House was used as the entrance and lobby of the theatre in Wilmington attended by Claire and Jamie with Governor Tryon (in Season 4). If visitors want to include this in one of our Outlander tours, please choose the Customised Outlander Tour listing the locations that you would like to visit.

Victoria Street

Victoria Street

If you are not familiar with Edinburgh, one particular street that you must visit is Victoria Street. It is no exaggeration to say that Victoria Street is one of those places that has a charm all of its own. Victoria Street connects the Grassmarket with George VI Bridge which in turn leads to the Royal Mile.

Victoria Street was constructed in the 1820-30s to replace its predecessor the West Bow. The West Bow was a very steep zig-zag lane from the Grassmarket to Castlehill and the top of the Royal Mile. This was not a route for the faint of heart particularly if you were trying to negotiate a heavily laden cart or wagon up the steep hill. But as the population of the Old Town and more importantly, the vehicular traffic grew, so the West Bow became an inconvenient obstacle. Carts, carriages and wagons simply struggled to negotiate this tricky route. 

1827 Improvement Act

It is no wonder as part of the city’s 1827 Improvement Act that Johnston Terrace was constructed as a matter of priority. Johnston Terrace is much further west of the Grassmarket. In fact it originates at the south western edge of the base of the Castle. This road enabled traffic to make its way to the top of the Royal Mile from the west. Carts and wagons were able to avoid the busy Grassmarket and precarious West Bow.  

However, Thomas Hamilton who was responsible for Johnston Terrace was also tasked with replacing the West Bow with a more accessible route. Thus, he created Bow Street which was renamed Victoria Street when Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837. 

Photographic Gem

Presently, it is one of the most visited streets in Edinburgh. Its array of vibrantly coloured shop fronts, arches and cobblestones easily entice the visitor to come and take a look. The street itself is topped off with an additional terrace above with yet more shops and restaurants. For photographers, you can pick your vantage point anywhere on the street and capture that perfect photo.

Take a look at our 1-Minute Snapshot of Victoria Street to see why it is so popular.

For photographs, stand by the novelty/joke shop and you will snap that perfect shot as the street curves round to the right. Alternatively, walk three quarters of the way up the street and stop by the Walker Slater Menswear shop for a view back down the street. And for that aerial shot, walk up the street past the Cuttea Sark shop. Then take the first left up some steps leading onto Victoria Terrace. From here you can take a great photo looking down onto the street from above.

Shopper’s Paradise – Diagon Alley

One of the unique features of Victoria Street is that it arguably has more independent shops per square foot than any other part of the city. For the shopaholic this has to be as good a reason as any to visit Victoria Street. The small independent traders of this street will be grateful for any footfall here after the impact of COVID-19 on trade.

The range of shops include the Old Town Bookshop, a tea shop, a cheese shop, a tweed shop, a novelty and fancy-dress shop and a number of restaurants. However, all of these take second place to one particular shop…..that is, if you are a Harry Potter fan.  

No.40, about a third of the way up the street, was previously a city institution known as Robert Cresser’s Brush Shop. It had been in existence from as far back as 1873. It is only in the last few years that it has changed its role to that of the ‘go-to’ place for all things Harry Potter. The sign on the front says Museum Context but it is more commonly referred to as Diagon House. This is because it is alleged that Victoria Street was J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. 

Pedestrian Friendly

It is normally a busy little street with visitors, workers and cars making their way up from the Grassmarket to George IV Bridge. The great news is that with effect from July 2020, Victoria Street is now completely pedestrianised during the hours of 10.30am – 06.00am. Edinburgh Cab Tours include Victoria Street on both of our vehicle and walking tours. For further information visit our TOURS page.

So, whether you are a “Potterhead,” a shopaholic, or someone who loves to admire the architecture, then you must put Victoria Street on your list of ‘things-to-do.” And if at the end of your shopping, you are in need of liquid refreshment, then make your way to the Bow Bar. This is one of Edinburgh’s few remaining traditional pubs.

WE’RE GOOD TO GO

WE’RE GOOD TO GO

Edinburgh Cab Tours – “We’re Good to Go”

In partnership with the National Tourist Organisations of Great Britain and Northern Ireland we have been certified that “We’re Good To Go.”

Here at Edinburgh Cab Tours we have always placed the safety of both our clients and our guides at the top of our priority list. 

This certification recognises that we are following government and industry COVID-19 guidelines, ensuring that processes are in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social/physical distancing. 

At the time of writing, Scotland is still in Phase 3 of lockdown measures. However, it is expected that the Scottish government will carry out a formal review on 30 July. At this time they will report whether lockdown restrictions in Scotland will be relaxed further as we move towards Phase 4.

Ms Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland has resolutely aimed to manage the expectations of the public. She has suggested that phase three may last longer than the first two phases of the phased strategy.

According to a Scottish Government document detailing the move out of lockdown, Scotland will move to phase four when the “virus is no longer considered a significant threat to public health”.

Edinburgh Cab Tours – Covid19 Measures

As the guidelines will gradually change over the coming weeks and months, we will advise our clients at the time of:

  • The appropriate social distancing measures
  • The provision and use of hand sanitisers
  • The use of face masks (where appropriate and recommended)
  • The cleaning and sanitising protocols that we use before, during and after every tour

Private Tours Only

Because we only provide private tours, we can reassure you that on our tours we do not combine our groups with visitors from other groups. We will always aim to avoid areas where there is a high footfall, or large groups of people. Similarly, we ensure that our guides observe correct social distancing and where appropriate the wearing of face masks.

Because we offer both vehicle-based tours AND walking tours, we can cater to the requirements of any visitor to Edinburgh and Scotland. Normally, our vehicles have a seating capacity for 7/8 passengers. In order to observe social distancing measures between the driver and passengers we will carry a maximum of four passengers.

According to government guidelines for public transport vehicles, we have adopted a minimum 1-metre social distancing within the vehicle. We also request that both passengers and the driver wear a face mask.

Presently we believe that the seating arrangement as shown in the image below follows the correct guidelines and allows up to 4 passengers.

Contact us for Further Details

We would welcome any and all questions from visitors planning to visit Edinburgh or Scotland generally. You can raise your questions through our CONTACT US page or call us directly at:

  • From Scotland or the UK – 07734 331425
  • From the USA or Canada – +01144 7734 331425
  • From the Rest of the World – +44 7734 331425

Your safety, satisfaction and most of all enjoyment are our priorities.

We look forward to seeing you in the future.

Comedy in the Movies

COMEDY IN THE MOVIES

If you ever speak to someone from outside of Scotland, they will generally comment on how as a nation we are always so friendly. They will then say that they love our sense of humour. But that will generally be followed by “But I couldn’t understand half of what you say!” So, this the last of our series looks at Comedy in the Movies.

All five of the movies that I have chosen were filmed entirely in Scotland. Four of them display how humour and poking fun at ourselves is inherently written into our DNA. If you’re not from Scotland but love our quirks, customs and traditions, then chances are you are descended from a Scot somewhere along the way.

I think that this is why Comedy in the Movies of a typically Scottish flavour goes down so well, just like a smooth single malt whisky. You don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy it.

In each of the movies below you will recognise some of the actors and others you won’t. The Angel’s Share for example, and my personal favourite, uses all relatively unknown actors. The dark humour shines through and has you rooting for the underdog.

Whereas ‘What We Did on Our Holiday’ has a fantastic ensemble cast who provide the humour, while Billy Connolly who is regarded as one of the best comedians to come out of Britain takes a more understated ‘back seat’ role.

The only one that is not based on Scottish humour is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I have included this because it was filmed entirely on location in Scotland. It has remarkably stood the test of time. It never ceases to amaze me when I take one of my American groups to Doune Castle where much of it was filmed and someone in the group is able quote word for word, lines from the movie!

So I hope that you enjoy my selection for Comedy in the Movies.

THE ANGEL’S SHARE

This has to be my favourite Scottish comedy-drama. My wife and I went to watch this at the cinema when it was first released back in 2012 and the cinema was packed. You know that you are watching a great film when the whole audience spontaneously laugh at some truly comedic scenes. 

The lead character is Robbie who is serving 300 hours community payback service to avoid going to prison. The supervisor takes Robbie under his wing because he sees potential in him. During this time Robbie becomes a father so Harry invites Robbie back to his place to toast the birth with a vintage Scotch. It transpires that Robbie has a “good nose.” This means he can differentiate a great Highland whisky from an even better Speyside and learns about the “Angel’s Share.”

The movie follows Robbie and his little group of followers’ attempts to acquire three bottles of a single malt that are going to be auctioned. This is a belter of a movie ably directed by Ken Loach and takes in some great locations in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Naturally, a movie about whisky takes in the Highlands and a couple of great distilleries. Watch it – you won’t be disappointed. If you struggle with the accent, it might be an idea to switch on the subtitles!

WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY

Here is another movie that I didn’t hold high expectations for. However, the story combined with the cast and the beautiful scenery of the Highlands made for a fun movie. It is a story of family dynamics and relationships amongst the three generations.

Bill Connolly, diagnosed with terminal cancer, plays the cantankerous 75 year-old patriarchal grandfather. David Tennant and his estranged wife Rosamind Pike come together with their three kids for the long journey from London to the Highlands for his father’s last birthday. Then we have the added complexity of Tennant’s wealthy millionaire brother whom he resents organising the birthday celebrations. 

If you have never seen a “Viking” funeral, this is your opportunity to see one. But this might be a Viking funeral that even a Viking might chuckle at. This is an otherwise feel-good movie that will leave you with a smile on your face.

THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON

For me this is a film which on the face of it I didn’t expect much but it exceeded my expectations. It has a great cast including Robert Carlyle (Full Monty) who also directs, Emma Thompson and Ray Winstone. 

It is set in Bridgeton, a district just to the east of Glasgow city centre. The film follows a period in the life of 50 year-old Barney Thomson who leads a mundane existence as a barber. This all changes when his manager gives him the bad news that he has to let him go because he basically “disnae have any patter wi the customers.” Barney begs for his job but accidentally stabs his boss in the chest with a pair of scissors. And so begins a sequence of events that embroil his mother Cemolina played by Emma Thompson.

She helps to cover up his mishap by chopping up the manager’s body and putting inside her freezer. Coincidentally, there is a manhunt in progress because a serial killer is on the loose. Barney finds out by accident that his mother is the serial killer. 

If you like your comedy dark, you’ll enjoy this. The pace of the movie flags in a couple of places but they are outweighed by the great comedy dialogue between Barney and his mother and Barney and the police.  

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL

It has never ceased to amaze me just how many of my American tour groups are big fans of Monty Python. This movie released in 1975 was a comedy loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. 

So, if you like your comedy movies that take the word “bonkers” to a new level then this is the one for you. Be ready for God to be portrayed as W.G.Grace, Knights who say “Ni,” a Trojan Rabbit, Knights with no horses but a set of coconuts. If none of that makes sense, then watch the film and hopefully it will. 

Almost the whole of the movie was filmed in Scotland. Having been promised that they could use a cross section of castle throughout Scotland, they were let down at the eleventh hour and were only permitted the use of Doune Castle and Castle Stalker. Through some very ingenious filming most of the castles that appeared in the movie were filmed at Doune. 

Both before and after the filming of this movie, Doune Castle has been extensively used for film and TV productions. The most notable production to date has been Outlander which has seen the footfall to Doune increase by over 100%. If this is somewhere you MUST visit why not take our Outlander Tour to experience ‘Castle Leoch.’

The premise for the movie was given a second life when it was adapted for the Broadway stage in 2005 to become the critically acclaimed Spamalot.  

RESTLESS NATIVES

This low budget adventure comedy released in 1985 performed well at the box office in Scotland but didn’t achieve the same level of success overseas. A lack of a big budget shows through but I think ultimately gives the movie it’s charm.

The story follows two youths from the working class area of Wester Hailes on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Disaffected by their grey and mundane lives, they follow the British Government advice to the millions of unemployed to “get on their bikes.” They acquire a Suzuki GP 125 motorbike, don masks and head out onto the tourist trails of the Highlands holding up tour buses. Instead of keeping the money, they become modern day Robin Hoods releasing it to the public as they race around the streets on their bike. 

There are plenty to feast the eyes on with locations in and around Edinburgh all the way up into the Highlands. For those that like 80s music, the movie soundtrack is provided by Scotland’s own home-grown Big Country.

Sport in the Movies

SPORT IN THE MOVIES

For a country that is fanatical about sport, I was hard pushed to find enough choices to include an article about Sport in the Movies. However, here are my five that are either about sport in Scotland or were filmed partly or entirely in Scotland. Out of the five profiled, I have watched all of them apart from A Shot at Glory. I have included this one because being a nation of fanatical football supporters, it would have been remiss of me not to include it in Sport in the Movies. 

So, out of the five chosen, two have a connection to athletics, one to golf, one to cycling and one to football. Something there for most people.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE

Even now 39 years later when the opening sequence of this movie explodes on to the screen I always get goose bumps. With the British Olympic athletes running along the sands at St Andrews to the stirring music of Vangelis, you know this is going to be something special.

It won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Music Score. The scenery is stunning and includes the beach scene at the beginning and locations in Edinburgh. It follows the story of two athletes in particular, the Englishman Harold Abrahams and the Scotsman Eric Liddell. They were scheduled to compete against each other in the 100 metres at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. However, as a staunch Church of Scotland missionary, when he finds out that his heat is on the Sunday, Liddell refuses to run. 

This enrages the British Olympic Committee. But Liddell is thrown a lifeline by one of his teammates who has already won a silver medal in the 400 metres hurdles and offers him his place in the 400 metres. It is not his distance, but he takes it and then……..well, you’re just going to have to watch it now to find out what happens. 

TOMMY’S HONOUR

Tommy’s Honour, released in 2016, is one of those movies that is beautifully filmed. It allows the viewer a chance to experience what it must have been like to be a golfer in the 19th century. However, you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy this. It also throws a spotlight on the complex relationship between a father and son. Added to that it shows the class divide that was so prevalent in Victorian Britain.

The father and son in this case only happen to be two of the great golfers of the 19th century, Tom Morris Snr and Tommy Jnr. Tom Snr had established himself as one of the greats of golf. He was also the greenkeeper for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. He won the British Open four times, holding the record as the oldest player to win at age 46. Incredibly, the following year Tommy Jnr won at the age of 17 making him the youngest ever. He also went on to win the British Open four times but unfortunately met an untimely death at the age of 24. One can only surmise just how many more times he might have won the British Open had he not died. 

All of the filming took place on location in Scotland. There were over 50 locations including St Andrews, Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Peebles and Falkland. The shoot lasted six weeks and remained on schedule as there was only one day of rain. That in itself is remarkable for Scotland. 

If you want a taste of Edinburgh AND St Andrews, why not book our Edinburgh & St Andrews Tour?

THE FLYING SCOTSMAN

Yet another movie based on a true story, this time following the cycling career of Graeme Obree. Jonny Lee Miller played the part of Obree to perfection. In true underdog fashion the movie sets the scene with a flashback to Obree’s childhood. He was continually bullied while at school which left lifelong mental scars. However, as an outlet for the youngster, his parents bought him a bike and he began to cycle everywhere.

In adulthood he started to compete in cycle races at which he excelled. Part superhuman training rides, part masochistic personality propelled him to the top as a cyclist. He decided that he wanted to break the one-hour cycle record, but he didn’t have the right bike. Instead he constructed his own bike from scrap metal and components from a washing machine. His design was revolutionary and eventually secured him the record. The governing body, the UCI, took the decision that the bike did not conform to international rules and he was banned from using his bike in competition.

Most of the movie was filmed in Galston in Ayrshire and has a real gritty down to earth feel to it. Be warned that Obree was later diagnosed with a crippling bipolar disorder and the movie does explore his battles with his mental health issues. A “feel-good” and “feel-bad” movie in equal measure. 

GEORDIE

I first remember watching this when I was about ten years old. It was first released on the big screen back in 1955 but is shown from time to time on terrestrial TV. It is an entirely fictional story about a wee (small) lad called Geordie MacTaggart. Because of bullying due to his diminutive size, he enrols for a bodybuilding correspondence course.

By the time he turns 21, he has grown into a tall well-built young man. At the suggestion of the course trainer, he takes up hammer throwing. Unfortunately, he almost takes out not just the local laird but also the local minister. Fortunately for him, the minister knows a bit about the intricacies of throwing the hammer and starts to train him and he wins at his first Highland Games. Geordie turns out to be really good and is invited to compete for Great Britain at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.  

This is an all-round feel good movie. Bill Travers plays the part of the adult Geordie and the Laird is played by that stalwart of 50s movies, Alastair Sim. 

A SHOT AT GLORY

I felt almost duty-bound to include this one. It is the only one that is solely about our top national sport, football. Or for my American readers, soccer. Here is the crazy thing, I have asked around some of my football buddies if they had ever heard of this movie and all of them said no. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to admit that they had watched it. The movie is a bit of a stinker. 

The story follows a fictional Scottish football club who are attempting to reach their first ever Scottish Cup Final. The club is owned by an American businessman (Michael Keaton) who has threatened to move the club to Dublin in Ireland……go figure.

Even more weird than this is that we have Robert Duvall playing the club manager with a Scottish accent that is all over the place. And to cap it all we have a real star of Scottish football, Ally McCoist,  playing the part of the team’s striker who is on the verge of retiring. He is a former player in his heyday with Scotland’s top team Celtic. In reality McCoist played for Rangers and had always vowed he would never wear a Celtic strip, but he did for this film. He claimed afterwards that he had a Rangers strip on underneath so that his skin didn’t come out in a rash!

 

Science Fiction in the Movies

SCIENCE FICTION IN THE MOVIES

In this latest post we are going to take a look at Science Fiction in the Movies. This category also includes the Fantasy genre of movies. Because of Scotland’s abundance of mountainous terrain and desolate craggy features, it has been used for short clips in movies like Prometheus and Stardust. However, I would put good money on very few people being even remotely aware that part of Avengers – Infinity War was filmed in Edinburgh’s very own Old Town.

So, here are our five movies that fit the category of Science Fiction in the Movies that were filmed partially or entirely in various parts of Scotland.

HARRY POTTER (all eight movies…..yes, eight!)

The Harry Potter series of movies are the most successful movie franchise that have used Scottish locations. Some of the locations are ‘blink and you’ll miss it.’ However, there are some great backdrops from the Highlands of Scotland that really fit in well. I don’t think that I need to explain what the premise of the movies are but here are some of the standout scenes that involve Scotland:

Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the most iconic scenes in the Harry Potter movies. The most memorable scene is where Harry and Ron are chased across the “bridge” in the flying car. As locations go it is breath-taking so if you get the chance, head there whether you are a HP fan or not. If you watch this clip fast forward to 1:25. You will see the scene with the flying car and the Hogwarts Express making their way over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Loch Shiel also gets a shout out. It normally appears in the scenes involving the Glenfinnan Viaduct because of its proximity.

Steall Falls in Glen Nevis is another stunningly beautiful location which can only be reached with a 45-minute walk from the nearest road. The waterfall is the second highest in Scotland. It generally appears as a backdrop during the Quiddich matches and also in the Triwizard Tournament. 

Rannoch Moor features in the scene when the Death Eaters board the train looking for Harry in Deathly Hallows Part 1. Not too much further from here, you come to Glencoe. It was in Glencoe that the production team built a full set for Hagrid’s Hut. Glencoe itself has fantastic views looking down the Glen from opposite the Three Sisters.

HIGHLANDER

Now for some readers this might be a little before your time. Highlander was released in 1986 and I would like to say to critical acclaim but sadly not. It only grossed $12 million worldwide despite heavily investing £19 million into the production. However, it did have the last laugh as it acquired a major cult following and as a result inspired film sequels and TV spinoffs. 

Not only did it secure its legacy through its cult following. The music of Queen provided the perfect soundtrack to the film with the tracks, “A Kind of Magic,” “Princes of the Universe” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” 

Most of the filming took place in New York but there are plenty of scenes that were filmed throughout Scotland  including Eilean Donan Castle, Glencoe, Glen Nevis, Loch Shiel and more. 

UNDER THE SKIN

This is one that slipped under the radar as opposed to under the skin. However, if you want to get a feel for the landscape of Glasgow this is a good movie to watch. The premise is that a woman (Scarlett Johansson) plays the part of an out of this world woman, possibly an alien. She spends most of the movie abducting men for what purpose we are not entirely sure. However, they generally come to a pretty sticky end.

Apart from the main characters, most of the people that appear in the movie were non-actors. Some of the outdoor sequences were unscripted and were filmed with hidden cameras. That was quite a risky route to take particularly when you consider that Johansson is so well know. After filming a sequence, the production team would need to ask those that appear in it for their permission to use it in the film. 

AVENGERS – INFINITY WAR

Avengers Infinity War used a number of film locations. However, it was the turn of Edinburgh’s Old Town to be the victim of some serious collateral damage. I remember at the time of filming they closed off a number of streets around the Old Town for almost a month, normally during the hours of darkness. 

If you want to see some destruction of St Giles Cathedral and the the Royal Mile then fast forward to 3:14 on the clip above. The action then moves to the interior of Waverley Railway Station. 

WORLD WAR Z

World War Z, a zombie apocalyptic action movie was released in 2013 and starred Brad Pitt. The opening sequence of the movie saw Glasgow yet again taking star billing. Doubling as Philadelphia, the opening sequence of the Zombie attack is based in and around the city centre. George Square and the surrounding streets had to be closed off for over a week. 

This movie grossed $500 million so was an unexpected success. Considering that it is seven years since it was released, it has been perplexing that a follow-up has not been made. There have been talks to do so but things like Brad Pitt working on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and COVID-19 halting all projects. Added to that, because China has a ban on Zombie movies, Hollywood may decide it is not financially viable if they can’t show the movie in one of its biggest markets.

OTHER MOVIES IN THIS CATEGORY

  • The Little Vampire – filmed around Fife and the Scottish Borders
  • Prometheus – filmed on Isle of Skye
  • Stardust – filmed on Isle of Skye

Remember that Edinburgh Cab Tours include most of the locations above in their range of tours. So, if film locations are “your bag” then let us take you to them.