Browned off with Bank Holiday shopping, Jane Ellis takes a jaunt on the open-topped tourist buses of Edinburgh. Equipped with instamatic camera, baseball cap and screaming tartan trews. she mingles with the first transatlantic explorers of
Did you know that you can be fined four pence for keeping a disorderly pig on the High Street? Or that Greyfriars Bobby’s master was not a shepherd but a Grassmarket policeman? That Edinburgh had the world‘s first Municipal Fire Brigade? That Charles Darwin failed his medical exams? That there is an electric blanket under the Mound to stop cars sliding about in icy weather? Or that a man who lived in Queen Street was so scared of the traffic that he had a tunnel built to get to Queen Street Gardens?
N0? Nor did I, before I discovered the joys of a double decker tour bus. Fellow fact freaks have two main tours to choose from in Edinburgh both ofwhich tout for trade on Waverley Bridge. Swooping on any passer-by who happens to ogle their topless buses. the Guide Friday team appear to have been on an intensive marketing course. The ticket sellers work from the pavement. cheerfully cajoling punters on to their green and cream buses and away from Lothian Region‘s blue vehicles parked near by.
The Guide Friday outfit have an evangelical mission to give out information — the ticket seller makes a short speech. the driver advises on the prime seats. there‘s a rack of leaﬂets on board and even the few square inches on the back ofthe ticket are closely printed with local facts and dates and a roll call of Edinburgh's most famous sons. Then we‘re off and it‘s over to the guide. ‘My name‘s Jess and your driver‘s name is Andy. On your left as we drive into Princes Street. the only statue in Edinburgh by a woman
. and on your right. . . and ahead.
. and down that close . . . and in 1864 . . . thisbuilding was. . . in this place. . . ‘ Facts. anecdotes and history pour out for the rest ofthe hour-long drive.
As the traffic grinds to a halt in George Street our guide comments illuminatineg on every building and statue in sight . . .Then. as the jam congeals around us. she expands on subjects only touched on before. Her range of knowledge seems boundless and I doubt she would have been fazed ifwe'd been stuck there for a week.
You don‘t have to wear a tartan bonnet. shades and a Burberry but they‘re almost justified — exposed to the elements on the top deck. it can
be breezy in the Windy City. but it's well worth it for the unrestricted view. Though buses run through all kinds ofweather. it is really a sunshine activity and wouldn‘t be halfas much fun to be on the lower deck ifit rained.
Emphasising things that are free to visit. both bus companies point out all the major sites of interest. Each allows you to hop on and off all day on just the one ticket. There are regular stops at popular places and since the buses run every fifteen minutes you can do Holyrood or the Castle then get back on the bus for a while to rest your legs before tackling the National Gallery or Jenners. With luck you‘ll get another guide and an alternative account of the Grassmarket hangings or the private life of Rabbie Burns.
()n the green Guide Friday buses the information keeps on coming. but it is in English only with a liberal sprinkling of undiluted Scots: foreigners can have difficulty keeping up. Non-English speakers are better off on Lothian Region‘s Classic Tour blue and white buses. A pound cheaper and 2(l-minutes shorter. it still covers essential Edinburgh but without the non-stop commentary. Here the driver doubles as the guide with a neck
I Guide Friday Edinburgh Tour Green and (‘ream Bus. £4 adult. £3 ()AP. £1 .5(lchild (valid all day). 9. 15am-—5.3(lpm every 15 minutes from Waverley Bridge (evening buses from June—Sept). Buy tickets at the bus.
I The Edinburgh Classic Tour Lothian Regional Transport. Blue and White Bus. £3 adult. £1 .50 child valid all day.
9. lt)am--7. ltlpm every 15
minutes from Waverley Bridge. Buy ticketson board or at the Tourist Info Office.
I Scotline Tours 87 High Street. (>67 7512. £12 adult £7 child. 4 hour tour including entry to llolyrood and the Castle. 9am and 2pm.
I Shell Culture Cart Free. Open top double decker. decorated with extraordinary dogs by
Neil McPherson. to ferry folk round the art galleries. lllam—Spm Mon—Sat. Tours from the Burrell through the city centre to Kelvingrove. ()41 227 542‘).
I Discovering Glasgow Tours, Scotguide £3.50 Adult. £2.5()child valid all day. A hop on and off service covering the city centre. cathedral. the (‘lyde. West End etc. llourly from George Square. 942 6453.
mike and he has to concentrate on the driving at least some ofthe time.
The LRT tour is a bit like being on a convertible No 16 bus with a chatty and cheery driver. ‘Welcome to a tour ofmy city. lfyou can hear me upstairs stamp your feet.” Responsive tramplings. Because there are gaps between the brief bites ofcommentary. the passengers are more relaxed and both non-English speakers and kids have a great time. Passengers chip in with the odd quip. Driver: ‘On the left the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell‘. Punter: ‘1 bet he had a lot to answer for!‘ Pantomime groans. ‘On your left John Knox‘s house and just in front of us. a trafficjam. C‘mon pal. this is ludicrous. You could get a bus through there!‘ Stetsoned gent yells to his wife on the lower deck. ‘Mary-Jane hear that? Doncha love it!‘
Clearly proud of his city, the LRT driver points out the sites of cultural interest and praises EDC stone-cleaning and restoration. all lost on three kids who leap from their seats at the end of Princes Street.
‘Hey look . . . a McDonalds!‘
Both tours are a great way to see the city for the first time, form a rough idea ofthe layout. and pick the places to go and visit. Ideal for anyone who only has a short time here. They provide useful free maps which mark the bus stops and the venues and various places such as Gladstone’s Land and John Knox’s House give a reciprocal discount if you show your bus ticket.
These trips are too much fun to be left to tourists. Even ifyou think you know the city well you get a different perspective from an open-topped double-decker, especially offthe normal bus routes where you can peek in the first-floor windows ofthe hoi polloi in Heriot Row and other posh parts. Did I really glimpse a huge white stuffed goat in Malcolm Rifkind‘s ﬂat in Charlotte Square. .?
The List 1 — 14 June 1990 8.7