Grendon’s Lindsay Butcher, 36, is a mum and blogger, who pens the humorous And Other Idiots. A keen writer married to Lee, 47, she started her blog to journal what she says are “the hilarious, witty and frankly incredulous things my children said in their early years. As they grow up, the focus has inevitably widened to include husband-based idiocy”. Here she writes a guide to Edinburgh where she travelled to with her children, Rose, six, and Barnaby, three . . .
Firstly, let’s just get one thing clear - you should go to Edinburgh. With or without your children, but just go. It is a wonderful place.
Having recently dragged both my children there to enjoy a long weekend with assorted friends, old and new, I’ve come back with a renewed sense of how important it is to widen your horizons every once in a while. Not too much - I’m not suggesting attempting, say, Glasgow, or anything crazy like that. But just enough to remember that there is vibrant, city life, art, culture, giant slabs of cake in nice cafes and all sorts of things you might have forgotten to enjoy about yourself since having produced some small humans.
My children are six and three, which means that I felt brave enough to attempt the ludicrously cheap £30 return flight from Luton to Edinburgh on my own with them. My husband couldn’t come - he was too busy taking a free helicopter to the Grand National, (true - don’t even...) but as this is the same man that last year bought a terrible caravan which subsequently ended up in all the papers when I listed it on eBay (google s***house crap caravan) I think we’ve had controversy enough for one lifetime, so I braved it alone.
The flight itself was fine once my son got over his initial disappointment that the Easyjets were not, in fact, taking us to the actual moon. I think the man in front of us was also disappointed when the children took to shrieking ‘THE EEEEEEASYJETS’ at the top of their oddly high-pitched voices for a full five minutes too, but that’s ‘public transport’ for you right? Anyway, here’s what we learned for next time...
Hiring a car is a great idea. It means you have the freedom to truck all over to visit long lost friends and family out in the suburbs, and you can also threaten to lock child in the car when they stop behaving - more difficult if you’re imminently to disembark from more public forms of transport like buses I found.
A note of warning though - my hire car was a very reasonable £40 for the four days of our stay. Less so was the additional £42 it cost to rent a child seat for that same duration.
If I knew then what I know now - namely that some genius has invented an inflatable booster seat, I would have much preferred to make them rich, rather than the rental car company, but you live, you learn.
I’ve never really done AirB&B or house sitting before, but we were able to stay in the (empty, lovely) house of my friend’s brother for our time in Edinburgh. I had some reservations about how much damage my children could do to the house, its contents and the two cats and a gerbil who were wilfully mistrusted to our ‘care’ during our stay.
Luckily, nothing got broken, apart from my will to live when one cat, Mango, was sick for the third time in quick succession one evening after eating what I at first feared might have been the other, as-yet to appear, cat.
Fortunately, neither cats nor children ate the gerbil (whose name is still unknown . . . my money is on Lucky) and, animal vomit aside, it was a great way to see parts of the city we wouldn’t come across on the usual tourist trail, and meet the wonderful neighbours and friends of our hosts’ house.
Got to be honest, after three hours of walking round Edinburgh Zoo, I was getting concerned at our ‘pace’. Things seem to take longer when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings. It was pretty tiring for my children to be out, walking around all day, and made me realise it’s not something we often do.
Living in the countryside, most of our jaunts are punctuated by a car ride, and the walks we do are rarely of the whole day out type. The three-year-old became so exhausted that he tripped head first at the feet of every enclosure like some terrifying sacrificial offering - I don’t think the penguins minded so much, but that tiger was looking shifty; our saviour was my coat with deep pockets, full to the brim with contraband snacks.
Next time I will take industrial quantities of chocolate buttons and simply leave them, Hansel and Gretel-style, in a trail to the nearest pub. Then everyone wins.
In the centre of Edinburgh? Two words: don’t bother. Lots of people warned me of this, but being wilfully stubborn, I thought it couldn’t be that bad, surely? Especially on a Sunday, when most parking is free? But after a full half hour of driving up and down the same, central streets, even the children could tell that it might have been better to leave them on the bus, in this instance.
The best thing about a city break with children is there is just so much to do. Not all of it might seem like it will be easy, especially if like me you live a very lazy life in the country with few roads to cross and no crowds, but you’ll be surprised how many miles of pavement will be covered by the promise of cake/ice-cream at the end of it.
We spent a brilliant afternoon running around and poking things in the National Museum of Scotland (free to enter, absolutely beautiful inside). We didn’t do a paid tour of Edinburgh Castle, but I was amused to see that the cash machine just inside the entrance gave me the option of doling out “£400, £500, £600 or £-other amount” so it’s probably just as well.
The city itself is a joy, with a skyline strung somewhere between history and fiction, ringed by peaks as rugged and romantic as they come and jammed so full of secret spaces you feel as though you’re in some beautiful film. We made it out to the beach at the north of the city on our last day too, where the children happily threw unsuitably large rocks into 1. the sea and 2. other people’s dogs on more than one heart-in-mouth occasion, but thankfully no-one was seriously hurt.
It should be noted that under no circumstances would I have considered doing this trip alone with two children without the safety net of a fully charged iPad, but as it turned out, we very rarely needed it. They were so excited to be exploring this wholly new place that most grumbles were simply solved by inserting cake into their tiny faces, and an espresso shot to the eye (for me).
There’s nothing inherently ‘scary’ about being in a strange place with children so long as you master the trick of not really assuming that anything will go to plan. Be flexible. Don’t get tied down to timings, and don’t try and plan in too much. Everything will take so much longer than if you were just with a partner or friends, but that’s part of the joy.
Even the airport part was quite fun, as I gave myself permission to not sweat about how unreasonable the cost of our lunch was, and instead set ourselves the challenge of just how much you can perfume a six-year-old before they start to choke. They loved it.
My long weekend away with my children made me realise that they don’t care where they are really, so long as I’m there, and I’m present. A change of city was a breath of fresh air for my soul, and if I ever have a spare £600 to drop on seeing some old stuff, I’m first in the queue for the Castle.
Go. You won’t regret it.