Edinburgh Fringe fatigue: Get away from it all

Escape to the Pentlands. Picture: Julie Bull
Escape to the Pentlands. Picture: Julie Bull
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Pockets stuffed with flyers, ears melting from the constant happy singing of jolly thespian types and tongue on the verge of telling someone where to stick their show – it can be very hard work surviving Edinburgh in August.

That’s not to say we don’t all love the annual “thesp fest”, when the city bursts into colour with comedy, drama, magic, music.

Roman Rock's Bedlam paintball can shake of Fringe frustrations

Roman Rock's Bedlam paintball can shake of Fringe frustrations

Indeed, it’s not at all annoying trying to move from A to B while being accosted by a man in a 19th century frock claiming to be the ghost of Jane Austen.

And it’s really not a problem if there are ten buskers all within five feet of each other playing different tunes on different amplified instruments.

But sometimes you just need to find a space away from it all. Somewhere to actually hear yourself think . . . or scream. So where can you go to escape all this Fringe and Festival fun?

Roman Rock is the boss of Bedlam, which could well describe the Royal Mile each afternoon but instead could be sanctuary for anyone who feels the need to release that pent-up rage after a day dodging leaflets. He says bookings for his paintball and brand new Laser Tag games are going great guns, possibly the result of people seeking an alternative to the mayhem of the city centre.

“We’re getting a lot of people looking for something else to do, mainly locals who see the Festival come around year after year – 3000 shows and 2000 of them probably rubbish,” he laughs.

Bedlam has just spent £200,000 moving to a new site at Craigton Farm on Hopetoun Estate, with eight arenas for paintball and new Laser Tag and, for younger players, Splatmaster.

No-one could spend the entire month running around blasting opponents, pretending they’re Fringe performers. So Roman has his own peaceful retreats, where there’s not even the sound of a paintball popping.

“When the kids were younger we’d walk across to Cramond Island,” he recalls. “It was used by the military during the war, so there’s lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. Got to watch the tides though, or the kids will be playing a game of being deserted on an island.”

He suggests bobbing under the Forth Bridges to Inchcolm Island on the Maid of the Forth (www.maidoftheforth.co.uk), watching seals and puffins on the way, or walking in the Pentlands – with the promise of a pint or a bite to eat at the Flotterstone Inn afterwards.

Of course, the trouble with seeking sanctuary during the Fringe is that some places which normally offer peaceful refuge are infected by performers such as the Botanics, Edinburgh Zoo, Inverleith Park – scene of this weekend’s Foodies Festival – even your favourite pub or, heavens above, local church hall. So far the 12-plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway remain Festival-free with the entertainment provided by Mother Nature herself. For company, tune into the new audio trail available for download (www.waterofleith.org.uk for details).

If you really don’t want to be disturbed, the recent clean-up at the Victorian garden cemetery at Warriston has revealed beautiful stones and monuments previously trapped beneath thick ivy, making it a fascinating place to wander around. Not creepy really, but definitely different.

There may be days when chef Michael Neave craves peace and quiet – after all, he could not be any more in the thick of it with a home in the Royal Mile and his restaurant, Michael Neave Kitchen and Whisky Bar, just off the busy street in Old Fishmarket Close.

“There is no escaping it,” he grins. “I’m in the restaurant from 8am until 1.30am, we’re so busy. Even when I get home, it’s busy outside till 5am.

“I’m not complaining – it’s great but hard going sometimes. I’m running on adrenalin. If I stopped, I’d collapse.”

If he had the luxury of time off, the Edinburgh-born chef says he’d pack a lunch and head to Dean Village.

“I’d just sit beside the river and watch it go by. It’s so quiet there, there’s never any tourists, it’s just a nice place to sit and relax.”

Alternatively, he’d get out of Edinburgh entirely and head for the beach at North Berwick. “Not this week, though – there’s even a festival going on there,” he laughs.

Of course, Edinburgh has no shortage of award-winning parks – Edinburgh City Council has 24 Green Flag parks including Braidburn Valley Park, Figgate Park with its pond and boardwalk and Ravelstone Woods, where wildlife includes tawny owls and buzzards. And, of course, there’s always Arthur’s Seat to climb.

Even the Royal Mile has pockets of sanctuary. Dunbar’s Close off the Canongate leads to a centuries-old secret garden ignored by most who pass by.

Nearby at 267 Canongate, Paul Wedgwood runs his restaurant, Wedgwood, where, like fellow chef Michael, he’s under constant pressure from the Festival crowds. He loves the business they bring, but on a rare day off he’s likely to head for peace and quiet, cycling along the city’s old disused railway network, pausing to collect herbs and berries to use in his kitchen.

“The banks of the River Almond are great for foraging, too,” he says. “And East Lothian beaches are great for finding samphire and sea aster and beach coriander. I’m kind of working but relaxing, too.”

But should he have time on his hands, Paul likes to embrace the Festival spirit. “I love it,” he laughs. “I find a spot to sit at the Pleasance and just soak up the atmosphere. It’s brilliant.”