I thought I would have a crack at painting this scene by way of a change. I have never tried painting a Scottish view before, usually too busy with the Mediterranean. Scotland has a lot to offer, with any amount of castles ea ch set amongst stunning scenery. Every family or clan had its stronghold, […]
Things to do in the Scottish Borders Warm, sunny afternoons, empty country roads, windows down…..it sneaks up on me with alarming realisation that I can’t remember the last time I had this experience. This sense of solitude. You’ll certainly never find it in the Highlands in summer and it’s always in August that us locals…
What can you do when the holidays have wiped you out financially, and the traditional down time of winter from the New Year to March has got you down. Many flock, if they can get cheap flights, to warmer climes around the globe. What do you do if you are very poor after the holidays and you are also looking at the taxes blues. How can you budget to get away or do the staycation thing and feel like you are escaping the winter drears? Hopefully, you caught a great cheap flight to sunnier climes, or for you hopeless romantics, going to the country of your dreams may be much more affordable during the winter months. Flights will be cheaper for non traditional tourist months as will the accommodations. Can you plan a great trip with the idea that you will have 6 to 8 hours of sunlight during the day, as opposed to the summer where you can have until 11 pm for sunlight? Pack for colder climes but see great sights as the natives do.
I often vote for the obscure, out of the way things to do, and as many low budget or free activities as possible. Remember, museums are free in many countries and great for rainy days. Cafes are great places to dodge the elements, but there are more entertaining ways to do that.
Head to Scotland!
Edinburgh is known for many things, including its centuries old tradition of training some of the best surgeons in the world. It’s twisty wyndes will get you pleasantly lost and overhead streets and underground tours will make for an eventful saunter.
I always vote for a music tour if you can find one. Edinburgh had it’s own great Punk history as well as a post punk explosion in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Everything from Punk to Funk. As always on tours, check reviews on Trip Advisor or local Yelp to see how these tours are doing.
Edinburgh Musical Tour
Edinburgh Music Tours
The Closes of Edinburgh are fantastic twisty stairways that often have shops and historical places leading off of them. This close sadly had a terrible history with the close being blocked off by the city in the 1600s due to plague, and all inhabitants became trapped. This was a common quarantine action in the days of the plagues with many large cities forced to try to contain a disease they did not know. Thankfully the city took reasonable care with the inhabitants, those that were healthy enough were moved, and others stayed behind with food being left for them. These days, the close is one of the many great routes through the city.
Surgeon’s Hall Museums, History of Surgery Museum Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DW, UK
I can attest to the amount of weird fun you will have here. Not for the squeamish, houses really great, bizarre medical specimens that have been collected over 200 years have gathered here at the training college. Rows of jars filled with unique human issues that helped surgeons understand the human body, often with the conflict of medicine of the times and laws that would limit exploration to treat people effectively. There is an exhibit of Burke and Hare, the famous body snatchers and murderers. Burke was hung and dissected, with his skin used to cover a book.
Check days and times before you go.
Nothing better for a weird cold day than to visit the various cemeteries of Edinburgh. I confess that I have done the cemetary walk as a self tour, just hitting up all of the cemeteries and kirkyards of the city. This cemetery had some of the best 18th century to Victorian effigies and funeral arts in the world. Great places to dodge out of the rain. They are quite lovely in the snow as well, and free.
Yup, the nuclear fear hit Scotland too. This bunker was set aside for the Royals to escape should the need be. Secret until 1963, it was purchased back in 2005 with the intent of turning it into a museum. You can see the exterior of the facility, but due to fire it’s full of asbestos. If the bomb doesn’t get you.
Yes, you vinylphiles like to travel. And it’s such a danger being on vacation and finding Scottish and UK music records where they were produced, used, and maybe in mint shape if you’re lucky. Check with these shop and see if they ship, or very carefully gather up all your acquisitions before return trip and in the appropriate sized and padded record box, ship it back home to your best friend who knows your fiendish record fetish. You’d do the same for them.
VoxBox Music 21 St Stephen Street, Edinburgh
Born out of the Gramophone Shop, which is across the street, it’s an Edinburgh institution and has some rarities for you. Vox Box has the front room with new and very good used selection of all genres. The back room is a bargain hunters paradise. Something for every budget, and a dodge out of the rain.
Unknown Pleasures 110 Canongate, Edinburgh
I have been in this wee boutique shop, it’s loads of fun. It’s at the bottom of the Royal Mile, convenient to having tea after. Vinyl and CDs.
Underground Solu’shn 9 Cockburn St, Edinburgh EH1 1BP, UK
Coda Music 12 Bank St, Edinburgh
Want more record fun after your music tour of Edinburgh, read this.
Hope you enjoy your trip to Edinburgh. Let us know what strange, fun, things you can do on a wintery day there.
Scotland’s Most Gripping Derelict Places If you have been following my activities on social media in recent months, you’ll likely have noticed that old, abandoned and derelict places have featured regularly. I’ll admit it, I’m hooked. Fascinating, beautiful and massively evocative wreckages litter Scotland on a scale that I had no appreciation of and that…
My Featured 45 for today is Crass’s, How Does it Feel. Crass is by no means for everyone, but they sure could get their messages across. They always had great cover art and posters from their singles.
In 1982, I was a punky 17 year old on my first trip to the UK. I was vagabonding for a month on my own. I was desperate to see where all my favorite punk bands had been and what influenced them, even if it was just to stand in the same city, hop record shops, and try to get to a show. I had to experience Carnaby Street, Camden Market, Portobello Road, and of course I had to travel and hit up other towns in the UK. I learned that each city had it’s own music scene after talking to local kids, each with it’s own flavor. I liked Joy Division, so off to Manchester I went. I then had to visit with some pen pals. So after that it was Wales.
I’ll never forget visiting with my pen pal. Ah, that ancient teenage custom of meeting people from around the world, before there was Twitter and Snap Chat. You dug around in the back of music Fanzines from the UK, the ones you might find in the import section at the record shop. You found names of people who liked the same groups you did. Hand wrote a letter, said “Hello, I found your name and you like some of the same bands I do. It’s hard to find this music here, I listen to college radio to get it. I’ll tell you about California Punk and Rockabilly, or Goth.” And so weird transatlantic bonds were formed. I would of course learn that not everyone you wrote to was how they presented themselves. That’s another story for another time.
A Discotheque in York
I was in Wales, that ancient city with Roman bits still strewn about it. My pen friend and I went down to the local all ages discotheque, me in all my crazy bizarre finery from the markets in London. Yeah, half my clothes got lifted at a youth hostel. London lesson. At least they didn’t get all the 45s I had picked up you couldn’t get back home. We sat in the disco, she with her Shandy, me with a Pernod and Ribena. Two lads started trying to get our attention. This was new territory for me. Boys didn’t give me the time of day at school or in California in general. The Gingery thing. So I let my pen friend handle it, they were Welsh and I figured I wouldn’t get it. But one wasn’t speaking Welsh, and he was in a soldier uniform. I picked up the accent finally. A Liverpool man. I had just gone through on the one day trip there. But he was speaking in tongues I didn’t get, very intensely. Finally his mate, probably seeing the utter bewilderment, and reminding his friend there was an American, tell me in my ear, “Don’t mind him so much. He’s just been through the Falklands business. He’s still not with us yet.” It was the short, fierce little war between Argentina and the British.
I had been hearing of the Crisis through my travels. I had heard something before I left home, and wanted to find out more. But this was the days of no Internet, and American filtered news, even more filtered than now. It was Ronnie Reagan and Thatcher. All about control. The conflict took place the April before I arrived, and cemented Thatcher for upcoming elections. The whole conflict was a mystery to me, and many tried to explain it to me, many of them older and very British. But the punk rock contingency was having none of it, and protests of the violence were being sung about in the music that was released that summer and fall.
I tried to be patient and sadly the young soldier with drink got far worse, and my friend and I had to make our escape. After that night, I felt terrible that such a young man had to go through such violence, and live with the people who had died because of the actions on both sides. I was determined to find out more about the punk scene in other cities. I had been told to try Edinburgh, and hunt record shops there. Maybe even get into a club. So next day, after dealing with Welsh friend’s bizarre Mum, I boarded a train for Scotland.
After surviving the strange heat wave that had hit London a week before, I was warned to prepare for Scottish Summer. On the train I would find out what that was. I was scrabbling about lugging the case, my boots and short skirt, my punky self. Slipping and sliding on the wet floors. Trying to avoid all the leering men I kept encountering. Learning life’s mysteries of older men hunting young 17 year old girls. Definitely not something you tell Ma about when you get back. I finally found a car with mostly women in it. Everyone was going about the weather. In those days, no WiFi to check the actual weather. But as we got closer to Scotland, you could see the bendy trees and debris flying about. Clouds dark as night. The train got thumped by gale force winds. Finally at the border, there was an announcement. All trains cancelled going in. We had to catch the train going back on the other side. Panic.
My Edinburgh Punk Rock history lesson was thwarted! Yes, it was really 4 years after the scene was really happening, but I still wanted to see the streets and venues these kids went through and fought in. I wanted to get in the record shops!
So after the insanity of trying to cram in on the return train on the other side, with no room for me, I found myself sitting on my case on the platform. A young station master strolls up and I ask when the next train will be. There is no next train, not for a few days maybe. Devastation. The Station Master says, ” I’ll call the Missus.” Apparently everything is solved with calling the Missus in the UK. The man came out and said his wife insisted that I stay with them. I was a bit worried as I didn’t know this person, but he was in uniform and looked very worried about my well being. So I was given my Tae and got on so well with their young child, that I was asked if I had baby sitting experience and sat for them while they went round the pub. The Missus wrote to my Ma to tell her I was alive. Sadly, I had to go back down to London and couldn’t get to Edinburgh after all of the trouble I had been through.
This year, a fabulous adventure of a exhibition featuring Scottish Punk and Post Punk music is going on at the National Museum in Edinburgh, Rip It UP! I cannot travel this year, but if you are, take it all in. Tell us how it is.
Got any great stories from 1976 to 1990 about your travels and experiences in the UK and Ireland music scenes? I would love to hear them. If you know any great Punk and Post Punk bloggers/blogs, give me a line. I would love to feature stories here. Got rare 45 and album poster art to share, send it to me, all credits will be made.
In the Summer of 2016 I was on a more than amazing Scottish roam. The itinerary I had changed and rearranged many times before departing, and changed yet again when I got there, going where the heart pulled me. Never a typical tourist, I may climb castles and ruins enthusiastically, but I find spending time in public transit and anywhere people gathered and talked to be the best places to be. Hearing spoken Gaelic being freely used was an amazing thing. You didn’t need to understand it to see how people communicated. It is the perfect backdrop while taking trains through the highlands, listening to happy families speaking their language in pure joy. A language of green mountains and hills you won’t find anywhere else.
After the first foray into the Highlands, I swung back down and ended up in Oban. The sea was calling me. I had been reading headlines in papers at some of the train stations. Big changes were coming for the UK. And big changes in the US. When I feel any serious emotion, I have to touch the river or the sea. I was feeling a bit guilty, a bit escapist. I was ignoring the real world. It was after the Scottish IndyRef vote had not passed, and Theresa May had just taken office. With the way the US Presidential campaigns were going, it seemed inevitable that we were heading for a repeat of the Thatcher and Reagan era.
I was sitting on the rug in a great B&B I got for a steal. Beautiful view of the bay that I had just cruised through to get to the Isle of Mull. I should have been very happy. Suddenly it just hit me. I was at a loss. So, I sat on the floor with my phone. The world was really about to go into the funnel of a maelstrom or so it felt. Into some kind of void. It was like it was the very first time I ventured into the UK as a very young teen. Back then it was Thatcher and protests, the disenfranchised youth without work and no future. This new thing called Brexit, how the UK was trying to pull out of the European Union seemed a really bizarre idea. I wasn’t so sure what I would being going home to in my own country.
I put music on my iPhone, I needed comfort from old favorites. I started with John Lennon’s Imagine, singing along and tears streaming. I fell into George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love. I had to have that cry out. Went to bed that night, decided not to stay the second day. I needed to get back to a city, to not be an escapist, not be in an idyllic, coastal Scottish town. Needed that heart beat and throb. Edinburgh was calling to me, something in me said just go. So I arrived a few days early. It was one of the best decisions on that trip.
Edinburgh has rescued many a soul. After walking the streets and climbing over and around graveyards for hours, I came out and wandered into a sprawling historic area. A protest parade had started. My internal forever university student drive kicked in and I made a beeline to it. Saltires and EU flags were flying, IndyRef badges and banners displayed. People still wanted their independence, but they didn’t want to be ripped from the EU without their say. Scotland Police were escorting and walking alongside. There were all ages present, children in strollers and on small bikes. People walking with dogs, a cat on a leash. Even a parrot. I spent a time trying to figure out the rules of the Scottish protest, can you just jump in, was there an end of the line you funnel in at. Someone said, “Come on”. It was strangely quiet compared to the American protests I had been to. So, I joined for a bit of solidarity. It was one of the highlights of that visit.
Sadly I won’t be traveling this year. I barely scratched the surface in Ireland last summer, much less Scotland. I plan to return in two years to bag my Munro. So many places I have yet to discover. Maybe I will find another parade to join.
Next weekend, June 30th 2018, is an organized protest supporting Families and Children in our refugee crisis with the Mexican border. Will you join us?
North Berwick Boat Trips After my East Lothian adventures in April, my flirtation with the region continues at pace as I head back to the coast for an expedition with the Scottish Seabird Centre and one of their North Berwick boat trips. Taking to the water, I’m headed to the brilliant nature reserve that is…