Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Scottish Caper

January 30th, 2015

The last time I went to Edinburgh I was 16 years old on a bike trip from Bath to Inverness. Actually, I was bike-free in Edinburgh – my bike got stolen in Penrith, a huge relief to be honest.  I decided it was high-time for an encore by train, not bike. The 4 and 1/2 hour trip from King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverly (with trains leaving every half hour) is not just super smooth, but the views once you hit Newcastle are gorgeous. Try to sit on the right hand side of the train and look out for Newcastle landmarks like the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and towering Angel of the North sculpture. Then comes the dramatic coastline of the North Sea, and picturesque towns like Berwick-upon-Tweed.



The real reason for last weekend’s adventure was to support and check out a brand new pop-up shop in Edinburgh called Rail launched by my close friend Isy Ettedgui’s daughter Gigi, and her talented collaborators, Hugo and Nanette (pictured below).


The opening party was such a success that even the barman over-indulged (or maybe that’s the norm). Here’s one guest wearing a Rail black velvet coat. Phoebe Philo would approve. Note to chic shoppers: Rail is popping up in London’s Mayfair in June.


Location, location, location – Rail is next door to one of Edinburgh’s top coffee shops –  the Brew Lab on South College. After buying up everything on the rails (pun intended), my tour guide Isy took a group of us to lunch to the Timberyard, a delicious rustic spot that used to be Lawson’s Timber. Look out for the red door.


Dishes come in varying sizes- bites, small and large. After the waiter told us that the large plates are actually kind of small and the small plates are kind of large, we decided to just order everything, less confusing.

From there we caught a cab to Ingleby Gallery, a top gallery by any standards, where Richard Ingleby gave us an illuminating tour of the current show. This man knows and loves his artists. I especially liked his stories about artist Kevin Harmon, an original thinker with a capital O. In one series of works Harmon meticulously tidies and organises the contents of rubbish skips at night and then photographs them plus the construction workers’ reactions the next morning. Harmon also completely disassembles hotel rooms over night, photographs the neat results and then puts the room back together again before checking out. In addition to being odd, his works are lovely. Here’s one made with household paint applied to a double-glazing unit.


Below is a moonlit shot of the walk from Ingleby back to our hotel, The Balmoral.


What The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte hotel, lacks in glamour, it makes up for with its warm and helpful staff and top-notch location smack in the center of town.

Edinburgh may have been a sleepy town when I visited sans bike years ago, but it’s alive and kicking now. Restaurants are heaving so book ahead. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to eat than haggis, neeps and fried Mars Bars. We loved the buzzy gastropub Scran & Scallie in Stockbridge opened by two of Scotland’s top Michelin star chefs.  Or the teeny-weeny Gardener’s Cottage on Royal Terrace Gardens, originally the cottage for the gardener, but now a foodie haven. It’s run by Edward Murray and Dale Mailley, the latter of whom has worked at the two starred Michelin Ledbury in London, as well as several Mark Hix spots. If you’re short on time (like your train is leaving in 45 minutes) I heartily recommend grabbing a bite at Valvona & Crolla, Scotland’s oldest delicatessen and wine merchant set up in 1934 to feed the fledgling Italian immigrant community.

There was so much I missed seeing on this brief jaunt, like the National Portrait Gallery and those men in kilts. One can dream. Apparently, Armstong’s is the vintage place to shop for 21st century kilts.

Fare thee well Edinburgh. Long may yer lim reek. That’s Scot for ‘May you live long and stay well’  – especially those men in skirts!

January, 2015