06 March 2010

Navigating Edinburgh

Slate.com has an interesting article up about the difficulties of navigating in London. These difficulties arise from the fact that London isn't really one city--it's a bunch of medieval-era villages that over the centuries grew together into one massive, lumpy blob.

Many of the article's insights apply to Edinburgh, as well, since Scotland's capital is also made up of dozens of discrete (and unplanned, with a few exceptions, such as New Town) old neighborhoods that have grown together over the course of hundreds of years. For example: Londoners rarely refer to "blocks," which is much too regular for the odd shapes created by the city's haphazard road network, but instead navigate by prominent landmarks and major intersections.

In Edinburgh, folks do the same thing, but in many cases take it one step further by giving each little stretch of a major road an entirely new name. Our apartment, for instance, sits between two main routes into Old Town--to the west, there's Causewayside, and to the east, there's Newington Road. That's almost all you'd need to find our place, because about 100 yards to the north, Newington Road becomes South Clerk Street, and about 20 yards to the south, it becomes Minto. It's the same on the other side: if you head north, Causewayside becomes Summerhall becomes Buccleuch becomes Potterow . . . all within about a 10-minute walk.

This system has its advantages, but it also has its headaches, as people will often use the name of any well-known stretch of a route as shorthand for the whole route. You need to hold in your head, for instance, that North Bridge, South Bridge, Nicolson, Clerk, Newington, and Minto are all essentially the same street; by the same token, Canongate, High St, the Lawnmarket, and Castle Hill are all referred to as the Royal Mile.

Things are easier in New Town, which is laid out as a grid, but for the most part we here in Edinburgh are in the same boat as those in London: the kind of have to get lost a bit in order to learn your way around.

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