At this time in Edinburgh we’re usually starting to experience the surge of visitors arriving for the city’s festivals – the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe and the Book Festival (plus a host of minor festivalettes).
But all have been cancelled, or at least reduced to an online offering, because of the pandemic. For the first time that I can remember, the city centre feels pleasantly relaxed as August approaches. (See photo of Edinburgh’s West Bow, normally a hive of activity during the summer).
In recent years the streets have become so crowded in August that many residents avoid the city centre altogether. A year or two ago I ventured up to Edinburgh Castle in mid-festival with a foreign guest and was aghast to find myself practically shoving people when it seemed there was no other way of progressing up the narrow cobbled lanes amid the tightly-packed throng of visitors.
At the moment the empty streets, which seemed so ominous during the early part of lockdown, feel quite relaxed because Scotland currently has very low numbers of Covid19 infections (touch wood). So this year we residents are inclined to wander out and sniff the air in a city centre shorn of its usual crowds.
Everyone says the pandemic has offered Edinburgh a chance to step back and reflect. Has the success of the festivals got out of hand? Most people would say yes. There are too many commercial operators who sweep in, install their Fringe venues, blitz the place with advertising, efficiently hoover up money and depart. Meanwhile, of course, performers themselves are struggling to make money. The hollowing-out of the city centre, where many flats are holiday lets, has become a scandal. I had always thought the Old Town must be a fascinating place to live until someone with a flat in the Cowgate told me that the quality of life there has gone rapidly downhill. At night it is like living in a perpetual nightclub, the noise unceasing.
So I have decided to enjoy the historic centre ‘mindfully’ this August, relishing the quieter streets and taking the chance to explore the Royal Mile and its little ‘closes’ without having to compete with tour groups, selfie sticks, upraised umbrellas and litter. Who knows – I may never see it like this again.