We celebrate St Andrew's Day in Scotland every 30 November, so here's a brief introduction to St Andrew Square, one of Edinburgh's iconic Georgian squares in the New Town.
The square was created during the first phase of building of the New Town from the 1760s, and was an integral part of James Craig's design to have George Street flanked at each end with an impressive garden space.
Despite being named for the patron saint of Scotland, the large monument in the centre of the square isn't in fact dedicated to the eponymous saint. The statue is of Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, and a man of considerable influence in Scotland in the latter half of the eighteenth century, his power gaining him the nicknames 'King Henry the Ninth' and 'the Great Tyrant'. He was also a significant figure in the abolition of the slave trade in Britain
He was the United Kingdom's first Secretary of State for War, and became the last member of British Parliament to be impeached, for misappropriation of public money - some say the money he 'misappropriated' was used to construct the monument, designed by William Burn and costing £8,000, on which his statue stands today.
The Dundas family seemed to have a predilection for behaving badly - Henry's cousin, Lawrence Dundas, bought a plot of land on the east side of the square, land which had been intended for the construction of St Andrew's church, as laid out in James Craig's original designs.
Instead of constructing the church, however, Dundas had a large mansion house built for his family to live in. In 1825 the mansion passed into ownership of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), becoming its head office. The building still operates as a branch of RBS today. (The church which was supposed to have been sited here moved a short way down George Street.)
After its completion the square was an incredibly desirable place to live, with many well-off family and landowners purchasing properties here. Famous residents include Sir Henry Brougham, whose name lives on in the design of the four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage that he had built to his specifications.
The philosopher David Hume not only lived on the square, but unwittingly gave his name to one of the streets running off it. A dedicated atheist, the previously unnamed street between St Andrew's Square and Princes Street was (ironically) dubbed 'Saint David Street' in honour of its famous occupant. The name stuck, and today is still known as St David Street.
Today the square is open as a public garden, as well as a useful thoroughfare to cross between George Street and the east side of the square. At the north east corner of the square is access to Edinburgh Bus Station, adjacent to the Harvey Nichols department store. Recent efforts have redeveloped the south side of the square, removing unsightly architectural constructions from the 1960s and replacing them with buildings which work to retain and show off the square's architectural heritage.
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With its characteristic hills and valleys, its city centre ploughed into a series of ridges and troughs, Edinburgh is very obviously shaped by geological influences - as I often say, it's created by fire and by ice: volcanoes and glaciers!
Although much of the ground beneath your feet in Edinburgh was shaped primarily by the effects of the last ice age, the most visible influences on the cityscape are the three extinct volcanoes whose outcrops still dominate the city today.
The rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built is the plug of a volcano, believed to be around 350 million years old. The summit of the rock is 130 metres above sea level, and it was on this exposed by defensively significant site that human occupation in the city began approximately 3,500 years ago.
This makes the setting of the castle the oldest continually occupied site in the city - and is also the feature which gives Edinburgh its name, translating as 'the fort/settlement on the rock/cliff'.
At the other end of Princes Street in the New Town, graced by the columns of William Playfair's unfinished National Monument, is Calton Hill.
A second volcanic site, the hill here is only 103 metres high but is easily climbed and affords a fantastic 360-degree panoramic outlook across the city and further afield to Fife, over the Firth of Forth (the estuary of the river Forth) to the north.
This is where my New Town fixed-route tour finishes, giving you incredible panoramic views across Edinburgh. From the top of Calton Hill it's possible to see the physical separation of the Old and New Towns, as well as giving a sense of the different styles and layouts of each side of the city.
The most dramatic of the volcanoes, however, is Arthur's Seat.
Situated at the centre of Holyrood Park behind the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it rises to a height of just over 250 metres, and is a worthy attraction for visitors wishing to stretch their legs and gain a new perspective on the city. The lower slopes of the hill are easily climbed, whilst the final stretch is a little more challenging, so solid footwear and a willingness to scramble as required are advised.
The name Arthur's Seat has no solid derivation. Some people attach it to the Arthurian legends of Camelot, but a more grounded explanation is likely to be a corruption of the Gaelic phrase 'Àrd-na-Said', meaning 'the height of the arrows', indicating the highest altitude that an archer could attain with an arrow fired from his bow.
Viewed from the city centre, in front of Arthur's Seat is a ridge of imposing cliffs, called Salisbury Crags. If scaling the full height of Arthur's Seat feels too much for you, there are paths which run along the base of the crags - called the Radical Road - and also along the top, both providing picturesque outlooks over the city. On the smoother side of the crags, between the ridge of clifftop and Arthur's Seat itself, is further evidence of prehistoric human occupation, dating back several thousand years.
The road which loops around the peak of Arthur's Seat is called the Queen's Drive, and was created by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria so that she could take a carriage through the park to imagine she was traversing the landscape of the Scottish Highlands. The road today is open for vehicles to follow the same route, with plenty of parking for visitors to get out to stretch their legs, see the ducks in the artificial lake that Albert created, or to climb to the summit.
It's also possible to walk down a steep flight of steps that will take you into the historic village of Duddingston, where you can find the oldest pub in Scotland.
It was whilst excavating sites around Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat in the latter part of the eighteenth-century that James Hutton discovered what he considered to be evidence for dating the Earth.
Prior to this time it was widely accepted that Earth had been created according to the terms laid out in the Christian creation story - that is, within seven days, and probably only about 6,000 years previously. Hutton uncovered layers in the rock which seemed not to make sense, as the lower layers of rock - those which had been deepest underground - bore evidence of being younger than the rocks at the surface.
This observation gave rise to his theories about the way in which the Earth shifts and recreates itself, a process of ongoing change and difference, which in turn led to our current understanding of structures such as the tectonic plates which support Earth's massive landmasses. These insights coincided with the Scottish Enlightenment, and earned Hutton the moniker the Father of Modern Geology. You can still visit the site of Hutton's excavations in Holyrood Park, where the exposed layers of his work bear the name Hutton's Unconformity.
Within Holyrood Park are several of the original holy wells which attracted pilgrims to Edinburgh, along with the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel, dating to the fifteenth century. Along with a plethora of plants and wildlife - Historic Scotland run the ranger service responsible for maintaining the park itself - Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park are an integral part of Edinburgh's scenery.
And, what is more, access to the park and to Arthur's Seat is completely free of charge, making it an economical choice for visitors too!
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Edinburgh is a city bursting with independent retailers, and whilst in recent times the city centre may have given way to many chains and branded stores, it's the local, independent merchants who are still likely to be hands-down favourites with locals.
One such local store has attained a reputation and a customer base which has seen fit to rank it among the best delicatessens not only in Scotland but in the UK as well, with a royal warrant to supply cheeses to the British royal family.
Near the top of Leith Walk, five minutes walk past the eastern end of Princes Street, is the deceptively small shopfront of Valvona and Crolla, an Italian food and wine merchant that was established here in 1934. As they celebrate nearly 90 years in business, and still in the same building for all of those years, Valvona and Crolla (or V&C as locals know it) is well worth taking a stroll to visit whilst you're in the city.
Founded by two Italian immigrant families, the shop today trades internationally and is still family-run. Philip Contini is grandson of original co-proprietor Alfonso Crolla, and together with his wife Mary they manage the daily business of selling imported Italian meats, cheese, pasta, fruit and vegetables, as well as wine and a whole range of home and kitchen gifts and accessories.
They bake their own bread in their local bakery premises, and at the back of the narrow, Aladdin's cave of a shop there is a restaurant and cafe serving high-quality meals, snacks and drinks. Snap up a copy of Mary's latest recipe book, or catch Philip performing with his Be Happy Band during the festival or on special occasions!
Combining the very best of Italian and Scottish produce, heritage and tradition, V&C makes for a tasty stop-off on a stroll around the city, or a convenient place to meet friends for a coffee.
The Scots-Italian tradition has become well established in Edinburgh, following the arrival of many immigrant families to Scotland during the early twentieth-century. Although introducing Scots to an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) selection of pasta, 'proper' ice cream and coffee, it wasn't always easy for such families and businesses, especially during the Second World War.
But today Valvona and Crolla is a thriving and forward-looking local business which trades all over Europe, with their Scots-Italian heritage proudly to the fore, and can look forward to at least another eighty years as an independent family business.
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St Andrew has been recognised as the patron saint of Scotland (as well as Greece, Russia, Poland and a few other places...) ever since the declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Several relics of the martyred apostle (a fisherman by trade) were brought to a small coastal village in Fife in the middle of the 10th century, and the town on the site today is named St Andrews after him. The cross of St Andrew - deriving from the form of the crucifixion by which he died - is also a national symbol of Scotland, and is represented in our national flag, the Saltire.
In the 11th century, Queen Margaret (later canonised and made Saint Margaret) established a ferry crossing to carry pilgrims journeying northwards to the reliquary in St Andrews. The site of this crossing is still marked today by the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry on the banks of the Firth of Forth, some distance to the north of Edinburgh. The world-famous Forth Rail Bridge was constructed to carry a rail line across the Forth in the same area, opening in 1890.
The national shrine to St Andrew is located in St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral at the eastern end of Edinburgh's New Town, where two relics of St Andrew (one described as a 'large portion of the shoulder of the Apostle Andrew') are kept, presented to the cathedral in 1879 and 1969. St Andrew's body is today housed in Amalfi, in southern Italy.
St Andrew's Day is celebrated on 30th November each year, and following the Scottish Parliament's introduction of the St. Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007 the day is officially a bank holiday across Scotland. Perhaps confusingly, banks are not required to close and employers are not required to grant the day as holiday to employees! Nevertheless, the day is usually marked in a variety of ways across the country, as much in a celebration of Scotland and Scottish culture and identity as for St Andrew himself.
The weekend nearest to 30th November is usually the most prodigious period of celebration, and visitors are likely to be able to enjoy a variety of experiences during this weekend and the surrounding days, including ceilidhs, dinners, concerts or dramatic performances, or special menus or deals in restaurants across the country.
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