A cup of delicious coffee.
Edinburgh has many cafes. The chain shops such as Starbucks and Costa are there, in fact, recently when I was in Edinburgh, I discovered one of each. They were hard to find. I came across them unexpectedly. It appears the big chains have not been successful in dominating the café world in Edinburgh, at least. Edinburgh, has an abundance of cafes. They are mostly individual businesses and some of them family run establishments. Some were begun as what is termed,” pop ups.” The Edinburgh Festival held each year, during the month of August, attracts people from all over the world to view artists work, performance art, new theatre productions, comedy and music shown at various venues around the city. The cafes thrive. Their use continues throughout the year, being frequented by locals and the large student population who attend Edinburgh University with its campus sites situated in the heart of the city and further out in the suburbs.
I was walking along Princes Street towards Calton Hill. I passed, Princes Gardens, The National Gallery of Scotland, with its multi-coloured Ionic columns, Waverley Station down in the hollow of the N’Or Loch and the cathedral like gothic spire of Walter Scott’s memorial, all on my right. In front of me I could see the iconic memorials high on Calton Hill, Nelsons Tower, The Dugald Monument, like a small round temple from Ancient Greece, and ”The National Disgrace,” or so it is termed by many Scots. The National Monument is a row of Greek columns, reminiscent of one side of the Parthenon that is situated high on The Acropolis in Athens. It is unfinished and nobody intends to complete it. The money ran out so it remains in its present state today.
The, "National Disgrace."
At the bottom of Calton Hill, before I was about to make my way up the steep road to the monuments, I saw a small café called, “Pep and Fodder”. There were a few tables and chairs on the pavement outside and some clean deal tables with harp back chairs inside. The ceiling was high. It was an old Victorian shop and by the tiles on the walls it looked as though it had once been a butchers shop or maybe an old dairy. A young couple were behind the counter. The girl, with tattoos up her arms and a neat workmanlike striped apron, asked me what I would like. I looked up at the menu behind her on large blackboards, painted carefully in bright white paint. I chose an Americano with milk and decided to try one of their delicious looking cheese and ham paninis. She heated the panini for me in a grill. I chose a table inside by the café window so I could look out at the world. A couple of other people came in and ordered coffees and sat down at one of the other tables. It was a welcoming place, warm and fresh and new. I noticed on the pavement outside that a sign had been stuck to the pavement saying, “pop up.” I asked the waitress what this meant. She explained that a pop up was a small business that is provided with a premise for a short period at a low rent to enable the business to get established. If the business took off, became popular, made money then a more substantial rent could be charged and the business could continue. This café, the Pep and Fodder was fresh and bright and seemed popular and what it was offering, good coffees and freshly made food seemed to be a winner. I noticed new pieces of art work on the walls. The bloke behind the counter informed me that they were painted by friends, art students who were trying to make their way too.
I left the café and explored Calton Hill and took photographs of Edinburgh from on high. There was a fantastic view of, Holyrood Palace, with Arthurs Seat and Salisbury Crags, massive, behind the palace. Edinburgh stretched out towards the castle and I could pick out many famous Edinburgh sites now that I had got to know Edinburgh.
Holyrood Palace from Calton Hill.
On my walk each day from and to Priestfield, about a mile and half from the centre of Edinburgh, I passed many local cafes. As I walked down Nicolson Street each day I always got attracted by first, the sight of The festival Theatre, glass fronted and modern which is the main venue for the Edinburgh Festival every year and followed by the Greek columned and porticoed Surgeons Hall on my right and the domed edifice of Edinburgh University on my left. At first, little did I know, that just before the university entrance and across the street from it, was, SPOON, a very famous Edinburgh café. I walked past it a few times and didn’t even look in. This was one of the cafes JK Rowling sat in while she penned Harry Potter. Being so close to the old and main part of the university it is often full of students with their Apple Mac laptops open, writing essays. But I will come back to students in cafes and the clientele of Edinburgh cafes later.
The Hula Juice bar in the Grassmarket area just down behind The Royal Mile, was one of the friendliest and heart-warming cafes I went into. It too, like the Pep and Fodder café had a sign on the pavement outside announcing it as a pop up business. It was immaculate inside and the people running the shop were so warm and friendly in their welcome. The coffee was freshly roasted and ground, it smelled and tasted wonderful,appealing to all the senses. The food was delicious and made right in front of me. I sat down at a table near two ladies discussing their children. A brash young man with his girlfriend sat two tables away but he spoke so loudly in his American accent, I knew all about his business in no time. A student at Edinburgh he talked about Paris and Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin, places he had been to while in Europe and he talked on and on, laughing at his own witticisms, about where he was going next when the university term ended at Christmas. I wondered what his degree could be. The girl with him didn't say much. A couple of free newspapers lay on the table next to me and I picked one up. It was a local student paper. It had articles about new music, art and new places to go in Edinburgh. It had interviews with students asking about their experiences of Edinburgh. Some of it, the arts pages were analytical and thought provoking. There was an article about a sex club just set up in Edinburgh based on a club that somebody had come across in Barcelona; bondage and mild forms of pain, that sort of thing. I turned a page and there was a full page about the Hula Bar itself. The girl behind the counter I now discovered was the owner and she was interviewed on the page and there was a photograph displayed on the page taken of her, taken just about where she was standing as I looked across at her. In the article she spoke about the, “pop up,” schemes in Edinburgh and the ethos and philosophy of the Hula Café and her plans for the development of the cafe. I was most impressed and mentioned the article to her. She smiled and was pleased. She told me about another place I should visit, which a friend of hers had set up.
The Dugald Monument on Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh.
On another day I was walking up the cobbled street of The Royal Mile between high sided shops selling kilts and tweeds. I walked past The Whisky Centre and a restaurant or two, and just before the entrance to the forecourt of Edinburgh Castle there is a tall 18th century church with a high steeple that is now called, The Hub. It is the offices and organisational focal point for The Edinburgh Festival. I walked inside and it discovered that it has mostly kept its church layout with gothic arched windows and its vaulted barrel ceiling with wide oak beam arches. There is a café and restaurant to one side and various offices and performance and display spaces spread around. In the entrance there was a wonderful display showing sketches, finished watercolours and hand written text with annotations. It showed the development of a children’s book called Ruffled Russell; a collaboration between Mary Paulson and Audrey Grant the artist. It is the existential journey of a dog called, Russell, who is in search of a soul.
Ruffled Russel in search of his soul.
I sat there looking at the various elements of the display and actually began to think about my own soul and what it’s essence was. As a teacher of young children, over thirty three years, I believe you must challenge children with the deepest of concepts and they respond in many surprising ways.
One afternoon it began to rain and I escaped into a café called the, Brew Lab, situated again on The Royal Mile. Two nice young ladies served me a coffee and I took it upstairs. There were a lot of people up there, mostly students with their Hewlett Packards, Acers and Apple Macs flipped open in front of them. They sat singly or in pairs. Most of the tables were taken except one small table by a window. A bespectacled girl sat at the table close to the table I was aiming for. The back of her chair was touching the rim of the table I wanted to sit at. She was totally focussed on the screen of her Apple Mac. She had a couple of weighty looking books open on the window sill next to her. She had marked pages by placing post it notes sticking out with page numbers and an annotation on each. Without looking at me or removing her gaze from the laptop screen she muttered, “sorry,” and shuffled her chair sideways to allow me room to get to the table I wanted to sit at. Her focus on her bright screen never wavered. I couldn't help look over at her screen. She had got to the end of her essay. I could see she was working on the bibliography and she was formatting the essay. I glanced at one of the books. It was a book on theology. I tried hard to glimpse the first line of her concluding paragraph. I wear glasses and my eyesight isn't great. I squinted. I didn't want her to realise I was looking at her work. She couldn't see me. I was slightly to one side of her and behind. I managed to work out a sentence, something about Jesus as a philosopher. I couldn't quite get the full gist of it. I looked around me and noticed that all the other people in the café appeared to be working on essays too.
The Elephant House where J K Rowling drafted some of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone.
It made me think of what I had heard about JK Rowling who as an unemployed mother with a baby, living on government benefits, worked on writing her first Harry Potter novel The Philosophers Stone, in Edinburgh cafes. Indeed, The Spoon, opposite the Edinburgh Festival Theatre was where JK Rowling wrote some of her first Harry Potter. I came across The Elephant House, another JK Rowling haunt. The Elephant House is interesting, because the rear of the café, where JK Rowling is supposed to have sat, overlooks the back of Edinburgh Castle High on its rocky outcrop. I have never seen anything more like a vision of Hogworts School, high on its rocky outcrop. Just across the road from the Elephant House is the National Library of Scotland. A library member can study and research any subject they choose. JK Rowling, if she had been a member, would have been able to request every book written on witchcraft, black magic and the dark arts. Close by, The Elephant House, there is an old, well renowned Edinburgh School called George Heriots. It is a very high achieving school and pupils do very well there. It is a mixed, boys and girls school and in the late afternoon I watched the pupils on their way home walking past The Elephant House in their smart dark blazers, striped ties and white collared shirts, the boys in grey flannels, the girls in tartan skirts. The pupils of Hogwarts, no less!!!!
The cafes in Edinburgh are places to read papers, to enjoy reading novels, for students to write their essays, for Mums to relax and for authors to set themselves on the way to fame. They often display art work, live music is performed in some and next to John Knox House not far from Holyrood Palace is the Story Telling centre, which is a café and restaurant but it is where poets and story writers come to perform their work to the public.
John Knox House with the Story Telling cafe next door.
These varied and inspiring uses for cafes in Edinburgh reminded me of the cafes of the 18th century that first of all sprung up in Oxford and a little later, in London and their importance to all forms of public, artistic, scientific and economic life.
Coffee houses began in earnest in England during the mid-17th century. Oxford was the first place in England where coffee houses began. A Jewish gentleman named Jacob began a coffee house called the Angel in 1650.A distinctive coffee house culture grew up. They were places where scholars could meet, debate and discuss new ideas openly. They were not restricted by the codes of the university. Christopher Wren and other famous illuminati gathered in Oxfords Coffee houses such as John Evelyn, Thomas Millington and John Lampshire. These Oxford style coffee houses which acted as centres for social intercourse, gossip and scholastic interest quickly came to London.. Pasqua Rosee, the servant of a Levant Company merchant called Daniel Edwards, set up the first of the London Coffee House in 1652. In 1656 the second coffee house began in Temple Bar set up by James Farr.
Tom in The Rakes Progress outside of Whites Chocolate House. St James's Palace is in the background.
Coffee houses spread. Each had its own character and style of clientèle.
Lloyds coffee house in 1692 was home to England’s insurance brokers. Jonathans Coffee house in Change Alley was the start of London’s Stock exchange. The Chapter coffee House was renowned for its clientèle being voracious readers and also authors and aspiring writers went there to read their works and gain inspiration. The Grecian Coffee House was an upmarket place for scientists, philosophers and classical scholars. Isaac newton frequented this establishment. White’s Chocolate house near St James palace was the haunt of gamblers, whores and highwaymen. Hogarth depicts his dissolute character Tom from The Rakes Progress, in Whites Chocolate House.
Comparing Edinburgh’s coffee shops with London and Oxfords Coffee houses in the 17th century little has changed, well perhaps the whores are not around, or not obviously, but as places of gossip, news, education, discussion, art and literature, nothing has much changed. A day shopping for me is finding a good coffee shop to sit, be invigorated by a good draft of coffee, to read and to observe people. If a bookshops has a coffee shop attached to it all the best.
Roasted Coffee beans.
A cup of coffee, depending on its strength, has 20 to 100 milligrams of caffeine in it. Caffeine has been proven over the centuries to be a mild stimulant that reduces tiredness and can make people more alert. It is easy to see why from the 18th century right up to the coffee shops of Edinburgh and indeed The Elephant House, coffee shops are places for discussion, debate, writers, writing, thinkers and academics. The other sort of place for social gathering, the pub, which involves the drinking of beer can very quickly cause a situation where thinking clearly is not the foremost attribute to be stimulated. Caffeine can also help remove headaches, increase heart rate, the metabolic rate and blood pressure; just the things to promote exciting performances from poets, debaters, musicians and comedians. But of course it has its down side restlessness, nausea, sleep disturbances and cause the heart to have an arrhythmic beat, so it needs to be drunk responsibly!!!