On the plane up to Edinburgh I sit next to Angus. He spots that I’m rereading Four-Iron In The Soul and we get chatting about golf. He has played all the big courses in Scotland, and I’m slightly jealous. I love the story about his caddie on The Old Course telling him to aim for the rough because of the devilish bunkers in the fairway where unsuspecting rounds have sunk without trace.
At the airport you have to walk halfway to Edinburgh before picking up your hire car, but eventually I fold myself into my Economy option which seems to be a new creation called a Vauxhall Miniscule. It does the job, though, and I scoot through the rush hour traffic to my hotel. The Roxburgh is a proper establishment and the last minute deal I found makes it seem ludicrously good value. It needs to be though because the taxi to the races costs an arm and a leg. Then, a man at the turnstile asks me for £25 to go in. I ask him if I get a winner for that price and he simply responds “eh?”
Musselburgh is busy and loud, even raucous in places, but somehow avoids crossing the line into ‘rowdy’ that Thirsk seemed to transcend so markedly. Angus has told me to look out for his brother Alistair who is 6 foot 3 and would most-likely be dressed as a Scottish dandy in pink tartan trousers. I can see the obligatory Stag in a horse and jockey outfit, the cast of Grease with a young man revelling in the role of Sandy, no less than 7 Blues Brothers and some guys dressed in lounge suits left over from the 1980s (I’m not sure if this last category was meant ironically or not, and didn’t ask).
However, I can’t for the life of me see a tall dandy in pink tartan. It’s like a Scottish version of Where’s Wally set against the manic throng of a racecourse crowd. Plenty seem to have made an effort for the Boogie Night after racing, hosted by none other than Radio Forth, but plenty haven’t and I question the wisdom of effectively making all racegoers subsidise what only a minority will stay on for.
I discover a stall selling Edinburgh Gin, and it really is a fantastic drink mixed with Fever Tree tonic and ice. The lady explains that their main competitors (those of the medicine bottle) have grown too big now and have lost sight of what made them great. This of course is the mirror situation facing Cheltenham et al – success brings problems. Edinburgh Gin seems like Ludlow – local, authentic, independent, and producing a great product that is enjoyed by a diverse bunch. It is made under Huxleys in the city, it’s 12 botanicals are all entirely natural, and it tastes great. I just hope it still does when it makes the big time.
I leave winner-less after the fourth race. If you need to do a crash course in speaking Scottish I would suggest just repeating “aye” and “ken” frequently, whether it seems they fit in the sentence or not, as the cabbie demonstrates on the way back. He likes having a bet on the horses, won 9 grand a few years back by all accounts, but likes the football more. He supports Man City and was there a while back to see them play Barcelona. He spent the whole game watching Messi, his movement off the ball and sublime skill on the ball.
“Aye ken, just couldna take my eyes off him, the runs, the passing, and incredible strength.”
We have a big debate about the greatest of all time, where names like Pele and Best are suggested, but it’s difficult comparing different eras, just like it’s tough comparing racecourses that seem so varied. Some of his big wins on the horses have come through Placepots and I decide that is something I haven’t attempted so far and should be a feature of my final week, as long as I can make it in time for the first race that is.
I’m tempted by the set menu back at the hotel and they produce by far the best meal I’ve had on my travels so far. I have a delightful poached salmon salad to start, followed by an exquisite calves liver and bacon. They are nicely presented without being poncey, and the service is impeccable. The waiter kindly suggests two wines to accompany the dishes which are superb, and £15 for two courses this good in central Edinburgh is simply astounding. He subtlely suggests a Trip Advisor review, but surely this website now carries more influence?
As I finish my meal the walls of the George Street Bar and Grill are bathed in a glorious sunset, the warm colours of heather reminding me of my new location, and somehow signifying that this last big trip really does represent the dying embers of my dream.