6. Edinburgh – Scotland’s finest

This weekend saw me take an hour’s flight north from London to visit relatives in Edinburgh. After heavy rain on Saturday night, the streets were still wet and grey as I set off from Marchmont early the next morning. It was braw and briskly chilly in the Scottish capital for a soft southerner like me, but gradually I warmed up running on a leaf-strewn Jawbone Walk and Meadow Walk into the Old Town.

Some hardy tourists had ventured out onto the Royal Mile and I decided to follow them up Lawnmarket to reach Edinburgh Castle. The effort is rewarded by fantastic views across to Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat, the hill high above the city forever linked with Scottish Olympian Eric Liddell and the film ‘Chariots of Fire’.

edinburgh-castle.jpg

Suitably inspired, I headed down The Mound and onto Princes Street. With the clouds lifting to reveal a cobalt blue sky, and the trees lit almost from beneath with that intensest of yellows you only see in a northern November, it wasn’t hard to see why this is famed as one of the most beautiful main streets in the world. The sound of bagpipes was emerging from Waverley Gardens as old Scots and old soldiers were beginning to assemble for Remembrance Sunday. The skirl faded slowly as I turned to run back along George Street and north onto Frederick Street.

Twenty minutes into the run and tearing along far faster than on any outing for a month, I zoomed past St Stephen’s Church down to Falshaw Bridge and The Colonies. These beautiful terraces of stone cottages are set in a bend of the Water of Leith, the fast flowing stream which rips through Edinburgh on its way to the Firth of Forth. A mile later along the slightly soggy riverside path and I turned slowly homewards.

The reason for that high energy burst became rapidly clear when Dundas Street forged out a tough, straight and solidly skyward mile – so much more time to admire the Georgian stone terraces travelling this way. ‘Hills are good for mental strength’ was Hal’s mystical mantra to accompany this, like many another of my uphill struggles. Panted up to Queen’s Street, which I now know as the one which looks like the top but isn’t quite. Waited for a red pedestrian light for a few shameful seconds, despite an abundant lack of traffic, and then back at last onto George Street, a fast flat and then downhill to the Walter Scott Memorial and the poppy display alongside.

The castle glowered greyly across at me again, and a short moment of madness later I was at the foot of Castle Hill and embarking on 200′ of zigzag path up the North Face. This time Hal’s mantra faded faster into a red mist somewhere well below the top, before I launched myself crazily across the summit square, past the tartan and fudge shops and down the treacherous Castle Wynd on the other side.

A far easier lope brought me back across The Meadows and into Marchmont again. Seventy minutes, must have been over seven miles and a couple of stomping hills in the midst of by far my longest run since Chicago.

As for that next marathon – well, naturally I’m almost convincing myself that this is part of a long, relaxed recovery. Naturally too, I’m tempted now to run a hilly Edinburgh on 15th June. Yet inside I already know for certain that 27th April will be busy in Stratford-upon-Avon …

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23. The uncertain glory of an April day: Shakespeare Marathon 2003

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