As August draws to a close, so does my first foray into taking part in the Edinburgh Fringe in a new capacity – after 17 years as audience and arts journalist, this year I took part as a participant with my Festival City Explorer Tours. Along with these daily public tours, I've also had my fair share of private tours and groups joining me for my weekly Whisky Walks, and so here's my public 'debrief' of what I've learned and discovered over the last month of festivities.
Firstly, hard though it may be to believe (for those of us mired in Edinburgh and its festivities) there are people in the city during August who don't have the faintest idea what is going on. “So, what is this Edinburgh Festival, then?” I was asked more than a handful of times by visitors, and I realise I was in danger of presenting a less than welcoming face of the city when I responded with faux-incredulity at their lack of knowledge.
I am still genuinely astonished that people can book accommodation, board a plane, and arrive in the city during the summer without (apparently) having typed 'Edinburgh' into an internet search engine. (I've just done it; the top five links returned by Google on my laptop are, in order: the Edinburgh Council website; the VisitScotland listing for Edinburgh; the University of Edinburgh home page; the Edinburgh Wikipedia page; and the homepage of the Edinburgh festival Fringe. One does not have to trawl the web too deeply to find out about 'this Edinburgh festival'.)
So, as proud as we may be of hosting the world's largest arts festival every. single. summer (#fact), we must not get complacent. There are still people who do not know of it, or the myriad other festivals hosted by the city throughout the year. And we/I must develop more appropriate responses than a plaintive, 'seriously? You don't know?' when faced with that dreaded question.
Secondly, the people who are doing some elementary research into the city before they arrive are coming from a wide range of backgrounds. I have had the pleasure of meeting a family from Mexico, a CERN research physicist, a group of Danish civil servants, two separate groups of Foo Fighters fans, two Texan priests, an Icelandic personal trainer, a Scottish ex-pat who has lived for the last 30 years in New Zealand, two families from India, a man and his shar pei, and a partridge in a pear tree. It has been a sheer privilege for me to show off the city I call home to such lovely and diverse groups of people, and has made all the miles of walking well worthwhile.
Thirdly, those miles truly add up. At a conservative estimate, I have covered approximately 137 miles ON FOOT since the start of July. Some days I have climbed Calton Hill twice in the space of a day, I've walked the Royal Mile uphill and downhill, crossed from the Old Town to the New Town and back again, strolled the banks of the Water of Leith and circumnavigated Arthur's Seat. I now have the legs of Achilles (and a heel to match) and a tan that only those who spend two weeks on the sunbed before they go for a fortnight to Ibiza can match.
Fourthly, I have learned that however familiar I am with the city, and however much knowledge I might have accumulated after 17 years of living and working in the city, there are still a thousand (slight exaggeration) details that I notice for the first time every time I tread the pavements. And there are always questions that the visitors ask, not unreasonably, to which I have no certain knowledge; learning to hold my hand up (metaphorically) and say 'actually, I don't know' has been one of the greatest feats of the last couple of months.
And so my summer is drawing slowly to a close, and I am going into the autumn feeling buoyed up by the overwhelmingly positive response that people have had to my tours. I may be a little wearied from the exertion (I'll be honest, I'm absolutely knackered) but I have enjoyed every minute of it, and am going forward with new ideas, new plans, new knowledge to build and develop and improve the services I offer.
Edinburgh, I am truly in ya for the long haul. Here's looking forward to the next season, and the mix of joys and challenges that it can offer.
This Edinburgh Festival thing might be finishing, but my tours continue all year round! Book your Up-Close and Personal private city tour with me today!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...