Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Deacon Blue & the Ricky Ross Christmas Panto

You wouldn't expect a gig from a household name group to feature mention of Potato Scone, Stornaway Black Pudding and a range of unusual items added to by a live but comically drunken Santa, but this was Ricky Ross and Panto season was in full swing.

Having been unable to go along to the Usher Hall date around the corner from us on Deacon Blue's 25th anniversary tour, we made the sub-zero trip up to Perth for the 11th December gig there. The setlist order was substantially different from those published  for many of the tour dates, but along with the obligatory current release and some more than reasonable newer tracks, all the old hits were pounded out with the energetic commitment of a teen band given their big break. Evidence of this unfaded enthusiasm was clear from the fact that Lorraine McIntosh was singing along off-mic to every line of Ricky's solo lyrics in every song. A very dynamic Dougie Vipond  broke loose his drumkit at one point, James Prime (keyboards), Gregor Philip (guitar) and Lewis Gordon (Bass) completed the lineup

It was wonderful  for the mostly 40's plus audience demographic to be whisked back to their younger years with some emotional sing-alongs - but this wasn't the all too common aged group milking former glories - this was a top rate professional performance from start to finish. One of the highlights was a homage to Woody Guthrie (born a hundred years ago this year) which was wonderfully woven into "Loaded", but Ricky was in full Christmas mode and injected a huge dollop of humour into proceedings, his Christmas tale from the croft brought those Full Scottish Breakfast items references and mention of the Paisley version of Scottish dancing with swords (which has no dancing). This story turned out to be a comically contrived introduction to a full-blooded hammering out of "Fergus sings the Blues".

The venue, Perth Concert Hall, didn't quite live up to the standards of the performers, Scotland's newest Concert Hall it may be, but a virtually flat standing area should have been coupled with a higher stage level - a fairground style "you must be this height to see this gig" sign at the door wouldn't have been out of place. My wife though only slightly vertically challenged, had to rely on my reassurance that Ricky hadn't lost his boyish rugged looks.

The gig built to a crescendo as you would expect with the encore - a mass participation thumping out of "Dignity", "Chocolate Girl" and their cover of Dylan's "Forever Young". But the Ricky Ross panto still wasn't finished, now tinsel-clad the full band took part in a rendition of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) originally by Darlene Love, and often covered of course, but the romantic would like to think it was chosen because U2 recorded their impromptu cover of it in Glasgow?

Friday, 30 November 2012

One Day Coach Tours From Edinburgh

We are often asked about coach tours out of Edinburgh by current or future guests to the Guest House.  So here is the detail that expands the answer we can normally give! There are four or five companies running tours to the rest of Scotland from Edinburgh. In our opinion they are all much the same, with differences being down to the individual guide it seems as much as the company, and are virtually the same price. Past feedback has been good for Rabbie's and Timberbush Tours in particular though.

Most, including the two mentioned though, involve a bleary-eyed rush to the Royal Mile to leave early morning typically around 7-7.30am. One firm though will pick up from the guest house (an advantage of being in the city centre) and this is nearly always after you have had some breakfast - far more civilised!! Now trips built around either Roslyn (Rosslyn, Roslin) Chapel or St Andrews are fine if that is exactly what you want, but public transport will easily take you straight to the main attraction in either case. That leaves two main choices, Loch Ness which is great if that is what you really, really, really want to do, but it's an awful long way on the bus and in winter much of it in darkness. 

This leaves us with Loch Lomond, absolutely stunning, genuine Highlands, and a reasonable distance away with little trips to Stirling Castle and Glasgow thrown in. This has consistently excellent feedback from past guests. We can sort this one out for you - a few days notice is usually fine. The details below outline the details of this particular tour

Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle

Estimated Departure times: 09.00
Days of week:
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday (every day in Summer)
Additional Info: FREE pick up from the Guest House. Please note the tour price is for transportation and your guided tour only.

Tour Route
Heading west towards Loch Lomond, we take time for a short panoramic tour of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow and see how this once industrial giant is again flourishing.

Soon after passing the River Clyde, world famous for it’s heavy industry and shipbuilding, we stop on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Britain’s largest expanse of water, with time for a boat trip or a ramble, as you wish. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs area was recently designated as a National Park, where the magnificent landscape has fired the imagination of writers and artists for centuries.

Moving on, we soon come to the village of Aberfoyle, the gateway to the Trossachs, where we will stop for lunch. With its lochs, glens and heather covered mountains’ this area is well known as ‘Scotland in Miniature’, and was a favourite destination of Sit Walter Scott, who used the location as the backdrop for his ‘Rob Roy’ and ‘The Lady of the Lake’.

Soon after driving through the picturesque village of Callander we pass the massive 14th century Doune Castle, which was featured in the movie ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. Then on to Stirling, with an opportunity to visit the Castle. With at least an hour’s stop on the castle esplanade you will be able to visit the castle or other nearby attractions and take in the magnificent views over the Forth Valley towards the Wallace Monument, a 200-foot memorial to William Wallace, the man immortalised in the movie ‘Braveheart’.

Leaving Stirling, we pass Bannockburn, scene of Robert The Bruce’s famous victory over the English in 1314, and then Linlithgow Palace, birthplace if Mary Queens of Scots in 1542. Suitable and relaxing music will be played during your comfortable drive home.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

When not to start a new blog!

Here's a tip, if you aren't in the habit of blogging on a daily basis, don't start a new blog and tell everyone about it just when you are at the start of a major renovation project. During the day there is always so much to be done and so I think - I'll blog tonight. Inevitably there is a point in the evening when I wake up having missed the finer details of the TV shows that the family has been watching and realise that I need to go to bed, I'll blog (and do all the slowly piling up paperwork tomorrow), and so it goes on.

November is the quietest month for the guest house, it always has been for us. It's the time when there is the chance to carry out some maintenance, make some improvements, or just to move things around a bit. This  year three rooms on our top floor are being re-modelled to create three new en suite rooms. This involves some wall removal, some new wall fitting, some electrical work and crucially, a level of plumbing work that has quickly shot past that envisaged in the plans and scaled the whole project up a notch or two to "Are we going to get this done on time".

Of course, as we are generally busy until the end of October in Edinburgh, when many of the airlines end their 'Summer' schedules and some routes hibernate for the Winter, then it's also the month we try to get a bit   of an overdue rest. But not this year, not with so much to be done. So any time off involves some guilt, inevitably. The renovation has thrown up some interesting aspects of our 1813 building and revealed the previously unclear objectives of some previous re-modelling, as wells as different building materials and methods over the last 200 years. It's like a museum up there at the moment. I'll use a few blog entries to catch up to where we are now, and of course photos to go with it and some of the things we've found. Meanwhile the plans are attached for anyone interested. looks so straightforward, eh?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Charms of the Far East. (pt 2. Concorde, Fish & Whisky)

One of the most common questions we are asked at the guest house by those staying more than a couple of days is what they can do as a daytrip out of Edinburgh. Guests are keen to see the history and attractions of Edinburgh, but don't want to miss out on 'the rest' of Scotland. Its a tall ask of course, but in this second part we'll look at neighbouring East Lothian's other major attractions after covering its' Castles in part one

The county has the only easily reachable single Malt Whisky distillery from edinburgh, easily reachable by car that is, a local bus will bring you to the village of Pencaitland, but you would still be a taxi ride to the Distillery. Glenkinchie do a wonderful tour - matching any further North. No picturesque pagoda atop its buildings here, a chimney instead looking a bit like an old steam train in black and red. But this is not an industrial unit by any means such as the whisky 'factories' of the blended whisky product. Instead an intimate tour from malting through to tasting awaits you.

To our mind one of the most understated attractions in Scotland is the Museum of Flight, home to a Concorde would be a big enough star attraction in itself, but that is just one small part of this extensive exhibit. Sited on a WWI airship base, it has a collection covering both commercial and military history, and specific exhibits on Scotland's early adoption of air travel where it offered huge advantages over the early road and ferry networks. There are great hands on sections too - in one wartime building you can create paper planes and then try them out on the Museum's test launch equipment - this is often the scene of intense competition. From Vulcan bomber to simulators to standing on board Concorde (worth mentioning twice), this can be a full day out in itself!

If things that fly on their own is more your taste then North Berwick is home to the Scottish Seabird Centre and some of the best traditional Fish 'n' Chips to be found anywhere. The Seabird Centre offers a number of boat trips out past nearby seabird colonies - most notably the iconic Bass Rock; and there are some aquaria too (check on Larry the Lobster's feeding time!). On your way down to the harbour area to this attraction you pass the square - your target for the most wonderful fish and chips - and if it's nice there is a great stretch of good quality beach just by the harbour to stroll along.

See the links for more detail on these attractions official sites, or take a look at East Lothian's tourism website.

In the final part, we'll look at the remainder of tips on east Lothian and some of the best routes to journey along as a tourist.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Charms of the Far East. (pt 1. East Lothian & it's Castles)

So you're staying in Edinburgh for a few days, perhaps not for the first time, and haven't seen much outside of Edinburgh - what to do? 

A quick glance at the coach tour companies seems to suggest a fairly fixed set of day-trip options - Loch Ness (that's an awful long way as a day trip, but you might just see the monster), Loch Lomond (beautiful, full blown wilderness without the marathon journey), Stirling (lovely Castle and the Wallace Monument) or St Andrews (Steeped in the History of both Scotland and Golf). Add a passing mention to the Borders and Perth/Scone Palace and that's just about your menu. 

Under your own steam you could jump on a train or bus to Glasgow, Perth, Stirling or St Andrews (the latter being our top suggestion by public transport) and have a nice day out. But rarely do tourist plans seem to look East from Edinburgh - and what a great pity that is. Unless you have a very limited itineray in mind, public transport will be a bit of a struggle sadly, but if you have come to Edinburgh by car or if you either choose a day hire from any of the big companies or a local choice such as, or if you treat yourself to a personal guide (with a vehicle of course) then East Lothian offers a wonderful day out.

A dazzling array of attractions are open to you - none of which are more than an hour's drive from the Capital -  'classic' castles, an original Concorde, a whisky distillery, Sealife Centre and top rank fish 'n'chips to name but a few! Here we catalogue the main attractions which you can tailor to your own interests - it can't all really be covered properly in a day- some have tried, but failed! In Part One - the Castles!

So What's a 'classic' Castle? Now don't get me wrong Edinburgh Castle and its stunning location deservedly wins just about every poll its eligible for - its rightly Edinburgh's number one attraction. Its a complex series of buildings dripping with history. Physically its a Fort - there is no one element that you can point at and single out as the 'Castle'. What East Lothian has by contrast is a dusting of 'fairytale' or 'impressive single building' Castles that are equally rewarding to visit. Our pick are Dirleton and Tantallon. Dirleton Castle is set in a village with a huge green, not hard to imagine how things were centuries ago. It has a massive outer wall with an area inside it that swallows up a Dovecot and a bowling green with plenty of space to spare. The big wooden 'drawbridge' passes over the site of the moat, and you enter into a Castle beautifully balanced between ruin and survivor - you can literally walk up one spiral staircase and look across at the mirror image ruin on the other side, the banqueting hall is as impressive as the views to the coast (including lighthouse) from the top.

Tantallon Castle is just beyond North Berwick and the furthest point we'd suggest on your East Lothian day out. It is jaw-dropping in its stature - a huge solid structure sitting on the coast which makes a fantastic shot in late light in particular. Its in looks in good shape as you approach from the West, but its in ruin to the coastal side, as if half of it had sheered off and plunged into the sea down the cliffs below. This though, only adds to its appeal.

See the links for more detail on each of the Castles on their official sites, or take a look at East Lothian's tourism website.

Other attractions and suggested routes in part two!

Monday, 5 November 2012

When is it Christmas?

Christmas decoration etiquette seems to get tougher every year. Restaurants have been spotted with a small tree from, well January, alongside 'book now for Christmas', but King James VI has still to be saved and yet The Dome, Ryan's Bar (a great landmark set complete with the evidence of their arrival on Twitter) and Frasers to name but a few are decorated already. Is that an extension of 'book now' or recognition that the Christmas shopping season has begun? Or is it just too early? The 'official' Edinburgh switch on, one of the year's iconic events for visitors and  locals alike as part of Edinburgh's Christmas festival is the 29th November this year - still just short of a month away, with local switch ons (a partial list) from the 24th. When should other businesses join in? its certainly not the 12 days of Christmas anymore, but when is right for a Guest House to join in, or the Office, or the local Chemist, butcher and fast food takeaway?

I want them up as soon as possible just because for the time it takes I want it to be longer before they all come back down! The guest house has four floors, three blocks and three internal staircases - it takes quite a lot to decorate it even lightly. Sadly our reindeer had its last rooftop outing last year - the weather and being cajouled into position has finally finished it off after all these years. But when exactly should it be replaced??

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Bad Good Food Guide

I don't tend to buy a newspaper, simply because I never have time to read it - flights and train journeys only generally. Being tied to a laptop means that more uptodate sources of everything are at hand anyway. But while visiting away from the guest house I came across the Sunday Times Scotland, or should that be Sunday Times 'Scotland', under this bold heading was a self-advert for "The top 130 places to Dine for less than £50" - 'great' I thought -'bound to be lots of Edinburgh area entries out of 130, what with the 18 Michelin stars in town (I've heard), the next tier down is bound to be brimming with gems and how will it compare with our own preferences'.

I was a little taken aback (though in all honesty barely surprised) to find that nearly all of the Sunday Times 'Scotland' top 130 weren't in Scotland at all. Pages and pages for London, a page for each English region, a page for Wales and then finally a page for something called 'Scotland and N. Ireland' - don't look for bargains outside of Belfast when in Northern Ireland as that is where both NI's entries were located - thus leaving 10% of the UK population represented by barely half that percentage of entries and this remember under the banner 'Sunday Times Scotland'. In some industries this would be called false advertising.

And what of Edinburgh with such a strong reputation for culinary delights - one of Europe's 'foody cities'. Scotland's capital only matched Belfast with two entries and that's if you consider Leith to have lost its separate identity...