Ylva French Blog – August 2013

Scotland in the limelight

August is the month for Edinburgh. As you read this thousands of people are heading north, and that’s just the performers. You won’t be able to move on the Royal Mile without someone offering you a “taster” of their fantastic show luring you to their theatre, hall or pub. And then there is the International Book Festival from 10th August. So much to choose from; you could try to beat my record from two years ago – five events in one day and that included a mini-Shakespeare. Let’s concentrate on the museums actively involved in the main Edinburgh Festival.

Mary, Queen of Scots

This was already up and running at the National Museum of Scotland when I visited in July. It’s a carefully balanced exhibition – a bit of glitz but also some in depth exploration with treasured exhibits including Mary’s death mask. Most British people need little reminder of the tragic story of this 16th C Queen. This a good way of seeing it from a Scottish viewpoint and absorbing quite a lot of historical facts, such as Mary’s early years in France where she was already a very young Queen when her husband, King of France, suddenly died, and her return in triumph to a Scotland in turmoil. She married again, the unfortunate Darnley, another husband who died, this time murdered by envious Scottish lords. Not surprisingly, the star attraction of is the atmospheric show within a show telling the gruesome story of this murder. Thankfully, the beheading of Mary herself, executed on Queen Elizabeth’s instructions many years later, is treated more tastefully. Visit the NMS website for further details.

Peter Doig returns

Unfortunately I was too early for the Peter Dog exhibition at the National Gallery (Academy) which opens on 3 August. “No Foreign Land” is a major exhibition of this Scottish born artist, who studied in London, and went to live in Trinidad in 2002. His figurative style makes a refreshing contrast to most contemporary artists’ work. Many of the paintings here are inspired by his life in Trinidad. See Figures in a Red Boat. More information can be found on the National Galleries website.

The National Gallery’s café overlooking the Princes Street Gardens is the place to stop for lunch or a cup of tea. The only drawback for some may be the busking pipers on the terrace outside – others will love it – more later.

Yes, there will be a tram….

Whatever you do in Edinburgh, don’t ask about the tram. The idea for a tram link from the airport to the centre of Edinburgh and on to the north was probably sound at the time but it is taking about ten times as long and costing I don’t know how much more (about £776m so far according to The Scotsman). And it’s not up and running yet, although work started in 2009. It is now scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2014. In the meantime, buses and taxis have now returned to Princes Street which is an improvement for tourists enjoying a stroll along this famous highway, spotting the odd monument – “that must be Scott!”. But there are diversions elsewhere – and the airport bus to and from Waverley Station can take up to half an hour longer. So be prepared!

An unusual outing…

My current research project took me to the town of Hamilton just south of Glasgow – very quick and easy to get to on existing railway lines. This is where the famous Hamilton Palace once stood housing one of Britain’s finest art collections in the 19th century (for those of you who have been watching “Bought with love – the history of British art collections” on BBC4). Nothing is left of the Palace, it was demolished in the ‘20s and the grounds are now a large park with a sports centre and ice rink. I am sure the Dukes of Hamilton would have approved, some of them were quite adventurous. But what’s left is a gem of an experience – The Mausoleum. A Roman style construction dating to the mid-19th century where all the Hamiltons were once interred, until it started sinking – there was a valuable coal seam below it! Today it is quite safe – all the bodies removed – and is well worth a visit. While the crypt without the coffins lacks atmosphere, the Chapel is a triumph of architecture with its soaring dome. It features the longest echo of any building in the UK! Tours are organised by the nearby Low Park Museum.

And then there is the Tattoo…

This is the highlight of the Edinburgh Festival – brilliant for tourists and families with children. High above the city, the arena with the Castle as a backdrop was already up and waiting for the packed audiences, when I was there in July. Every night’s performance ends with spectacular fireworks. This year the show celebrates “Natural Scotland” but don’t worry the Massed Pipes and Drums will also be there.