The Oxford Bar in Edinburgh

In this post, I wanted to talk about two of my favourite things – travel and reading. And the best part … it is the intersection of one of my favourite cities (certainly my favourite small city) with my favourite author.

I will read almost anything. Fiction, biographies, business texts, blogs … you name it. But when it comes to fiction, the clear winner for me is Ian Rankin. Rankin primarily writes crime fiction and from all accounts he is one of the best in the genre. Although he is my favourite author, I am not a big reader of the genre. He wins “best author” solely on his ability to capture setting and character so well.

Edinburgh is a city of half-a-million people and the capital of Scotland. It might be my Scottish ancestry, but Edinburgh has a charm unlike anywhere else in the world. It is a great walking city (if you don’t mind hills) and the sites, food and drink are legendary.

Where is the intersection? Rankin’s main series of novels revolve around detective John Rebus of the Lothian and Borders Police. Rebus is a great character. He likes to drink. He smokes heavily. He does not do well with authority. He is sarcastic and biting. In spite of these things, Rebus almost always solves the crime when no one else could have, with a very utilitarian approach, although we always see into his character and how torn he is when someone has to get hurt (or a criminal gets away with something) for the greater good. This makes him – at least to me – really endearing in spite of his flaws. Rebus’ favourite hangout is The Ox (The Oxford Bar).

When we arrived in April of 2003, Edinburgh immediately felt familiar – almost like home. I could chalk this up to my Scottish lineage, but more likely it was reading all the Rankin books set all around town. We had a great time hitting all the “can’t miss” spots in the city (listed below), enjoyed the food and couldn’t even bring ourselves to leave for a day trip to St Andrews or Glasgow.

One spot we had to hit was the Ox on Young Street in New Town. The bar is heavily featured in all the Rebus novels and we wanted to see it for both the setting we read about so many times as well as the staff who are presented as very direct and to the point in the novels. From the bar’s own website: “The bar staff are as legendarily curmudgeonly as Rankin makes out – he should know as he is not averse to dropping in for a pint or two …”

The Oxford Bar in Edinburgh

The Oxford Bar in Edinburgh

To add to the setting, in April of 2003, Scotland was in one of its longest periods without rain – it had actually been weeks in a city that I think would declare a drought after 48 hours. We were not expecting this of course so we had light rain jackets in our hands when we walked into the “front bar” and were immediately greeted with, “Ah tourists, clearly. The only two with rain slickers in the country.” In other words, the experience did not disappoint!

To sum this up. If you are an Ian Rankin fan, get to Edinburgh and the Ox. If you aren’t an Ian Rankin fan, get on it! In any case, if you can find any excuse at all, visit Edinburgh. It won’t disappoint.

Getting to Edinburgh

Most European airports fly direct. It would be about five hours by train from London.

Getting Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh is not big and it is easy to walk to most main attractions and sites. Parking is a nightmare. I would not recommend a car for these reasons. If you want to day trip to Glasgow or St Andrews, they are both short trips by bus or train. For Dan Brown fans, Rosslyn Chapel – also part of the setting of a Rebus novel – is not far by taxi or city bus.

Where to Stay

We stayed in a B&B owned by a friend of a friend that is no longer operating unfortunately. I would recommend a B&B over hotels. There are also a lot of really nice looking flats on airbnb.

Things to See (in addition to the Ox)

So many things in small area: Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill (pictured on this blog header and on my twitter page), Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat, National Museum of Scotland, and so much more.  It is the home of Robbie Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

I also plan on going back for either the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo at the Castle or the Fringe Festival.

’til next time … Kirk, out.

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