As a mad athletics fan, I was over the moon to get tickets for two sessions at The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
As the date grew closer, I decided to turn my trip into a mini break and base myself in Edinburgh so that I could get to see all the sights I had previously missed out on. On this occasion the timing could not have been better as my stay coincided with the beginning of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
My accommodation was at Canal Point, ideally located just a few minutes walk from the heart of Edinburgh. My studio flat was beautifully laid out, very comfortable and with a prime view of the fireworks courtesy of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle.
On my first day, I decided to have a spot of lunch at the Grassmarket before heading off to Glasgow – less than an hour’s train ride away. St George’s Square was a hub of activity with the official Commonwealth Games shop, street entertainment and the iconic Big G. The great weather had brought everyone out to soak up the friendly atmosphere and a short train journey out of the city took me to Hampden Park for the athletics.
If you have never watched athletics live, you really should as it is very different from what is shown on TV. There are numerous events taking place at the same time, so you never know where to look. If you are lucky enough to get seats near the front, you may find yourself amongst the coaches and families of athletes also watching the action closely.
The quality of athletics on show did not disappoint, with the highly anticipated Mens 800m favourite David Rudisha beaten; David Weir winning yet another gold medal for England in the Mens 1500m and seeing England get three women successfully through the heats in the 200m. However it was the atmosphere that really made it special from the crowd singing the Proclaimers ‘500 miles’, to the reception Scot Eilidh Child got after her silver medal. The unity shown and appreciation for good athletics, regardless of who they competed for left me in eager anticipation for the Saturday night return to Hampden Park.
Friday was a day spent away from athletics and time for me to be a tourist. I needed a good breakfast to start the day off and so made a trip to my favourite café – Peter’s Yard in The Meadows – great food and a great spot for people watching. As any good tourist does, I got on a City Sightseeing bus and enjoyed the commentary as we slowly made our way round the city taking in sights such as Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and The Royal Mile.
I then headed over to the high street to enjoy some of the street entertainment, which was buzzing with performers promoting their shows to the delighted and captivated audience. The centre of the festival is in Bristo Square which is home to the famous Underbelly. There I watched the Soweto Afro-Pop Opera, a joyful mix of motown, acapella and traditional South African songs that had the crowd dancing in the aisles.
With the sun out for the afternoon, I decided to head out of the city on a Magestic Tour Bus which goes out to the Ocean Terminal and Leith, taking in the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Royal Yacht Britannia. The last stop was St Andrew’s Square which had been transformed for the Festival with pop up bars and entertainment venues. I was quite happy to while away a couple of hours, having a drink and listening to great live music. Dinner was courtesy of Zizzi’s at the canal basin opposite Canal Point where you could still hear the music and audiences of the Festival venues.
Saturday morning started with breakfast at Loudons in Fountainbridge – a popular spot with tourists, local families and students alike. Sadly the weather turned for the worse so I spent the best part of the day watching the Commonwealth Games on the big TV in the comfort of the Canal Point common room before heading back over to Glasgow. Where, despite the weather, everyone was very upbeat and it seemed that most Scottish men were wearing kilts, including the staff at the train stations.
The last night of the athletics and the anticipation of Usain Bolt made the atmosphere in Hampden Park electric. Sat 8 rows from the front, by the pole vault event made me feel like I was in the midst of the drama unfolding. The poor girls were struggling to keep warm and dry in the torrential rain, wrapping themselves in towels and blankets and seeking refuge in the stand with their coaches. Despite the event being delayed, the weather meant that only four girls managed a legal jump, which was a miracle since they were slipping all over the place and one girl even snapped her pole. The unlucky ones spent much of the night in tears, seeking comfort from each other and their coaches. Touchingly, the four home nation girls (three of which hadn’t made a successful jump), took a group bow to a standing ovation. This is the sort of action you just cant capture unless you are there in person.
The rest of the nights’ action passed in a blur with a series of outstanding performances despite the difficult conditions. Notably Jo Pavey’s gutsy 5000m run to secure a silver medal in front of a rapturous crowd and the relays where England won a medal in each of the four races. The man of the moment Usain Bolt stole the show, not only for his brilliance as a sprinter but the way in which he interacted with the crowd (right by me!) which raised the atmosphere another notch. That night, everyone waited for the Jamaican relay gold medalists to make their way slowly round the stadium on their lap of honour, happily signing autographs, stopping for selfies and posing in tartan memorabilia before reluctantly leaving the stadium, and the XX Commonwealth Games.
There were so many special moments to mention and although the atmosphere made these games the most fun and exciting I have been to, it was by no means unusual for an athletics event. On a personal note, the weekend was very enlightening, who knew that you could have such a great time in two small cities, and in one weekend without even leaving Great Britain. Even without the Games, I will definitely be heading back to Edinburgh when the Fringe Festival is on to spend more time watching the excellent entertainment on offer and being part of the very special atmosphere. If you are a student in Edinburgh or heading there this September, you are very lucky indeed!