The rain clouds of the previous day seemed to have vanished but had been replaced by a strong wind so we wrapped up warm and after coming to life with bacon sandwiches and coffee, we wandered along Princes Street to visit Jenners. This famous department store has been part and parcel of Edinburgh’s history since 1838 when it opened to supply fine silks to the people of Edinburgh who previously had to travel to London for these luxury items. By 1890 the store had become so popular that it expanded into adjoining buildings making it one of Scotland’s biggest and most loved stores.
The building features a galleried hall where a gorgeous Christmas tree takes pride of place each year. It looked even more beautiful than ever this year but sadly it may not be there much longer as plans are afoot to turn the historic building into a hotel with luxury shops. It is believed that Jenners will move into a new development but however nice the new store may be, it will surely never be the same. The wonderful building contributed so much to the shopping experience with its antiquated polished wooden lifts, narrow winding staircases and higgledy-piggledy layout.
Feeling nostalgic, we crossed busy Princes Street by the Scott Monument and made our way down the escalators to Edinburgh Waverley Station which was much quieter than when we arrived on Sunday lunchtime.
We bought two off-peak day return tickets to Newtongrange (£5.60 each adult ticket) and found the platform for the ScotRail service to Tweedbank which would take us there. The journey took just 20 minutes and from the small station, nine miles south of Edinburgh, we followed a footpath which weaved its way up the hillside to the National Mining Museum of Scotland.
The museum is housed in the wonderfully restored Lady Victoria Colliery, the finest surviving Victorian colliery in Europe. Standard adult entrance to the museum is £9.50 which includes a one hour guided pithead tour and access to the large exhibition galleries.
Our tour guide, David was a former miner at the colliery and had a natural ability to set the scene and vividly describe the atmosphere of what life was like down the pit and of the poor working conditions and dangers the miners had to cope with on each shift. He led us through dark tunnels, explaining how coal was extracted and ways in which coal mining technology have developed over the centuries, pointing to the carts that transported it to the surface.
Our guided tour ended in the Winding Engine Room where we inspected the Lady Victoria winding engine, the largest and most powerful steam winding engine in Scotland. There was even an opportunity to sit in the operator’s chair and drive the mechanism.
Following our guided tour we viewed the very interesting museum. The first gallery, The Story of Coal takes visitors a step back in time to coal’s creation in the Carboniferous Period 360 million years ago viewing displays of human efforts to extract coal up to recent times. The second gallery, A Race Apart provides glimpses of what life was like for Scottish mining communities and how they relied on the collieries for their livelihoods. Visiting the museum was an absolute treat and if you share my interest in the industrial revolution and social history then this is a superb place to visit.
We returned to the station and took the train back as far as Brunstane as breaks of journey are allowed with standard tickets. It was then a 15 minute walk to the seaside suburb of Portobello where we enjoyed a stroll along its high street which had a splendid new bookstore and an inviting pub, The Forrester’s Guild at its far end.
We then looped back to the station along the seafront taking in the views across to the Firth of Forth. There were quite a few people about considering it was a chilly December day and our walk along the promenade in the bracing conditions helped to blow away the cobwebs. As well as taking the train to Brunstane it’s easy to get to Portobello by bus (15 or 26) from Princes Street, avoiding the long walk from the station.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived back in Edinburgh and as it was just starting to go dark we had a wander through Multrees Walk just off St. Andrew Square popping into both Harvey Nichols and John Lewis for some festive gift inspiration and a welcome cup of coffee.
As we’d spent a large part of the day on our feet we had dinner close to our hotel and opted for some traditional Scottish fare. Relaxing with a few drinks we reflected on the lovely day we’d just spent in one of our favourite cities.
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