Zoe and I, we had been talking about this trip for years. We have been good friends for about six years; I remember when her twins were born a few months before my first set of twins, and feeling inspired by her photography even then. We participated in a few photography collaborations back then, organised ones, and then challenges that we set ourselves. We spoke often – almost every day. We have so much in common: multiples and larger families, a tendency toward somewhat wobbly mental health, a deep and passionate love for photography. She has always been one of my biggest supporters and I hope that she would say the same about me.
So as soon as the lockdown eased, I booked a trip – quite spontaneously – to Edinburgh and arranged with Kirsty that I would take the four older children with me, to explore the city and spend time with Zoe and her family.
I knew that the children would get an enormous kick out of travelling on the Caledonian Sleeper Train, a train with bunkbeds where one falls asleep in London and wakes up the next morning in Edinburgh – or even further afield, as the train goes as far as the Highlands. We booked adjoining family rooms, but discovered upon arrival at Euston that the rooms were not adjoining at all – nor even in the same carriage. It wasn’t the news that I was expecting at already three hours past the children’s bedtimes, when they were already at the very cusp of their tolerance and best behaviour, but thankfully the very kind and super efficient concierge on the train was able to sort it out for us and before too long we were snuggled in our little beds and the children were fast asleep before we even left the station.
We awoke with the sun the next morning. The children could hardly contain themselves, they were so excited to find themselves on an adventure. They nibbled breakfast bars, turned the lights off and on a thousand times and helped each other to wear the sleep masks that I had forbidden them from sleeping in the previous night just in case they inadvertently strangled themselves (good lord, did I regret that decision at 5am!). Then the train pulled into Edinburgh Waverley station and off we tumbled in search of a second breakfast and, most importantly, adventure!
We had many hours to kill before we could check in to our hotel, but I had planned for this and kept the children busy with a Wild Haggis Hunt through Princes Street Park. Watching them dart behind hedges, climb trees and, on one occasion, almost tackle an unsuspecting terrier that emerged suddenly from around a corner had me choking with laughter into my oat latte and I noticed several people smiling as they observed the children’s hunt and heard them calling enticingly to the haggises that they were sure were hiding somewhere. They were so hopeful that they might catch one and smuggle it home to England for a pet! Just as they began to tire of this game they found the playground, which is castle-shaped and enticing, and we spent a happy hour swinging and climbing and sliding before I called for a taxi – we could have and should have walked, but I didn’t want to get lost! – and made our way to our hotel.
Anticipating a longer wait for check-in, I had booked morning tickets to the National Museum of Scotland. The children had been so excited for this: Balthazar is fascinated by other cultures and mythologies and adores animals, Lysander was ecstatic to have an opportunity to ‘meet’ Dolly the sheep (sheep, and death, are two of his most treasured interests!) and the girls are simply delighted to be out of lockdown and exploring the world. In retrospect, I wish that I had arranged the museum trip for a time when they were better-rested; they managed about twenty minutes in the museum before exhaustion and overwhelm caught up with them and they all simply sank into a tearful and exhausted puddle of children. This coincided with a series of urgent work-related phone calls and I felt simply dreadful as they sat there and I largely ignored them whilst trying to navigate the latest work crisis! But it was swiftly resolved and a trip to the gift shop soon perked them up. I had promised that they could each choose a toy to cuddle with at bedtime as I had been unwilling to allow them to bring their usual bedtime stuffies, simply because I couldn’t face being singularly responsible for not only four small and precious children but also for four small and precious soft toys. They were ecstatic, and soon made their selections: a panda for Olympia, a(nother) sheep for Lysander and magnifying glasses for Balthazar and Embla.
We retired to our hotel for some much-needed quiet time and lunch, and then ventured out to meet with Zoe, her husband Keith and the little wildlings: Ruby, Emily, Harry and Lucy. The eight children immediately got on like a house on fire, marvelling at each others’ accents and exploring what they had in common. Emily and Harry are a few months older than my boys and Lucy is about six months older than the girls, and they had great fun chatting about school (they were all excited to go back after the summer and Lucy was thrilled to be joining her siblings at primary school at last), birthdays and all manner of other things! We wandered the city, watched a magic show and a street entertainer and Keith very kindly carried a tired and tearful Olympia when everything proved to be too much.
It was a magnificent first day of our whirlwind weekend in Edinburgh, although by the end of the afternoon our lack of sleep had caught up with all of us and we were extremely ready to snuggle into our beds and have an early night!
Read part two of our Edinburgh weekend with the children here.