Exploring Edinburgh’s cultural landmarks on New Year’s Day

Whether it had hoped to capture the sense of can-do dynamism that waking up fresh on the first morning of a new year can give you or drain away the directionless ennui which pervades the first hangover of a winter that isn’t even halfway gone,

Taking advantage of both the “Be Lucky” branding gimmickry enabled by the superstitious connotation of the year we’ve just entered, and the array of unexplored Old Town spaces just begging to be discovered by the thousands of tourists crowding the city, someone’s bright idea was to stage a massive treasure hunt of fun cultural happenings around the area through the afternoon. You turned up at the National Museum of Scotland, you rolled a pair of dice and you were given a card bearing directions to one of another eleven venues around the area. At each destination the process would be repeated.

Such a date-specific happening is unlikely to be repeated, so it’s beside the point to identify failings in the process – all minor – but they might be borne in mind in the event of a similar endeavour next year. With roughly just four hours to get round everything it was impossible to attend each event and feel like you’d soaked up the best of each stop, and lengthy dice-rolling queues on the way out did not help matters.

Highlights were everywhere. In the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile, Carrbridge-raised Rachel Sermanni, one of Scotland’s finest young singer-songwriters, performed a wintery and emotive set of frosty ballads for guitar, keyboard and a trio of violinists. In extremely evocative circumstances St Giles Cathedral up the road was the scene of a set by Crows’ Bones, a spectral folk supergroup comprising Lau accordionist Martin Green, nykelharpist Niklas Roswall and singers Becky Unthank and Inge Thomson, a positively revelatory experience.

At the Hub by the Castle, Duncan Chisholm’s sometime Edinburgh Fringe show Kin, a blend of live folk instrumentation and visual cultural history, was an evocative journey into rural life in the heart of the city, although not best served by compulsive dice rollers shuffling in and out during the performance.

A piece of Scottish musical culture of a different sort was to be found in Greyfriars Kirk, with a communal ceilidh hosted by Stretch Dawrson and the Mending Hearts, Scotland’s “only country and western swing band”.

Sadly time cheated us of the chance to experience Sandy Nelson’s immersive Scots afternoon tea at the City Art Centre and Alasdair Roberts’ reimaging of children’s folk tale Galoshins at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, but special mention must go to Chancin’ It, an afternoon of spoken word featuring poets JL Williams and William Letford at Checkpoint Charlie.

Hosted by Harry Giles, it paid homage to this special venue’s past life as the Forest Café and the vibrant heart of Edinburgh’s contemporary cultural scene amidst a strong sense of the traditional.

David Pollock