We hadn’t been to Edinburgh for four years before this year’s festivals, and a lot has happened—and not happened—in those intervening years
We arrived in Edinburgh when the news reports were of our highest temperatures ever recorded and our worst risk of drought since 1976. But this is Edinburgh, so while the day we arrived was still shorts and sunglasses weather, the next day the rains arrived, and we had every kind of weather from sun to torrential downpours for the rest of our time there.
This is a city that can organise large-scale events and the public services can step up to accommodate them—there can be a major event with thousands of people on the streets behind barriers, and the next morning there is no sign they were ever there—so when the bin collectors went on strike right in the middle of festival month, it hit the national headlines even over the border in England. We saw some of the effects in our last couple of days, with bins overflowing and tons of rubbish blowing across The Meadows and through the streets. It was a sight that seemed so alien to Edinburgh.
One shopkeeper, who had been open in Edinburgh for over twenty years, told me that in 2019, the city was busier than he had ever seen it during festival season, but then of course everything ground to a halt in 2020. This year it was quite busy in the city centre at peak times, but you could easily walk down Princes Street without having to fight your way through crowds as you used to every August. A large part of this city’s economy relies on the tourist trade during this one month of the year, so while there are signs of a post-COVID recovery, it is still a long way from where it was just three years ago.
I’ve loved Edinburgh every time I’ve visited, even outside August, but after four years away, I did wonder whether the festivals would have the same appeal, even whether perhaps I was too old for it (when I told one leafleteer when I had first seen the company she was promoting, she told me that was the year before she was born). But no, it was great to be back.