“Really insightful … I found myself asking intelligent questions”
Until this preview I’d never been on a walking tour of Edinburgh, despite witnessing what seems like several hundred of them in earnest progress from day to day. It was with some trepidation that I dragged myself to the agreed meeting point on a Sunday morning, for I had no desire for pantomime-esque shouting, spun-out theatricals, or vaguely competent script recitals. Thankfully, Gareth Davies’ Festival City Explorer Tour does not do these.
Starting at one end of the Grassmarket, Gareth immediately sets out what to expect and what makes it both interesting and unique compared to louder and more commercial efforts. He introduces it as a tour of two cities – the old, the new; the charming facades, the sordid histories; and the intriguing combinations of the geological and the human that have shaped the city into what it is today. What follows is a fascinating lesson in 101 things you didn’t know you didn’t know about Edinburgh.
At just shy of two hours, and taking in a fair whack of our city, it’s certainly not one for those hoping for a quick stroll. The tour encompasses both new and old town – exploring the stories of their design and build, finishing up on Calton Hill to view it as one whole.
In the old town we learnt about hangings, trade routes, and (yes, ok) a ghostie. As we passed along Mound Place on our way down to Princes Street, Gareth pointed out that not many tours actually venture into the new town. Indeed, the methodology behind his tour is to focus on those parts of the city that don’t feature in the glossy guide books. We spent very little time on the Royal Mile, and instead unearthed many of Edinburgh’s lesser-known treats in sidestreets and wynds, from walkways and vantage points.
What made this tour really special was Gareth’s personable and honest way of talking. He is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about what he does, but without the overblown routines and tired witticisms that you can get from a showman guide, especially in August. During the Fringe no group will number more than 10 people, which I think will help keep it all friendly and informative.
This was in fact a really insightful experience. For one thing it woke me up and for another I found myself asking intelligent questions that I’d never before considered – just how did some of our streets get their names? Remarkable.
Wear a comfortable pair of shoes and bring an open mind – you don’t know what you’ll discover.
Edinburgh: Festival City Explorer Tour runs Monday-Thursday at 10am during the Fringe. Booking is highly recommended.