This week I found myself up before dawn and driving towards a low full setting moon up the M1 once again. This time it was in an Audi Q7. And this time I was going all the way north, not stopping halfway in Yorkshire.
I was going to Edinburgh.
The first of December and to mark the occasion, the weather seemed to decide to give us all the first day of proper winter, the first day this season that the temperature sank to zero.
As I left London, it got gradually lighter, but not warmer, the temperature guage on the dashboard informing me that outside it was 0 degrees, -0.5 degrees, -1.5 degrees.
Given that it is now December, and that I’d spent most of November 30 pretending I was hard and northern when actually I was fairly frozen, I got out my winter coat. And my gloves. I wasn’t taking any chances.
I’ve written about the journey north before, but I do love it. There’s a magical point when everything changes and I feel settled, like I’ve arrived where I really belong. Not sure where exactly it is but it’s a sense of everything being right with the world all of a sudden.
We headed past the Angel of the North and on through Northumberland National Park to take photographs at Kielder, before cruising into Edinburgh at the pitch black time of half five in the evening.
Is there a city in the UK that can make you feel as instantly Christmas-sy as Edinburgh can in December? The windy streets and underpassages and bridges with towering austere tall black buildings make you think of A Christmas Carol. Add to that, atmospheric but tasteful uplighting and a biting cold and you’ve got the entire fictional Victorian festive experience as it appears in my imagination.
But I wasn’t in the city for old school nostalgia. I had been sent to stay in the brand new Hotel Missoni, standing on the corner of George IV Bridge and the Royal Mile, on the site where, when I was a student, there had been ugly government office buildings.
Missoni is all about clashing stripes, colours and patterns and I was anxious I’d get no rest in this hectically designed hotel. But when I arrived I found that it was tasteful, understated and restful. The staff were hilariously attentive, which made such a pleasant change. I suppose it helps to be a member of the press, although I would like to hope all their guests get such high quality service.
Or maybe not. At dinner we had three people attending our table – the waiter, the restaurant manager and the sommelier. All three regularly walked past and topped up our wine and water glasses. Whether we’d drunk out of them or not…
I met RW and her man in the bar downstairs after dinner and the sommelier brought my half empty wine glass down for me on a tray. I wasn’t allowed to carry it for myself. That’s how good this hotel is.
We sat up chatting til gone midnight and I was up the next morning – still dark at eight – for breakfast and then to do more photographs up Arthur’s Seat. The day was totally clear and you could see out over the Firth of Forth and along the Edinburgh skyline with unusual clarity. I felt quite sad this city isn’t my home any more. But glad that I got to see it on a most splendid wintry day, before driving the length of the M6 (my third complete motorway this year) back to the M1 and a rainy London…