What do we really know about time? we are told that it is our most precious resource, that we never have enough of it, that it is free yet priceless. Time passes, or flows, or stops even. We are powerless in its grasp, being swept along second, by second, minute by minute, experiencing life through an illusionary lens. Stephen Hawking asked if there was a beginning of time? could it run backwards? Is the universe infinite?
Time never ceases to puzzle us. Philosophers, artists, physicists, continue to explore its meaning.
Time flows at a different speed in different places and scenarios. 2020 was a year for many where time slowed to a trickle. For some, time stopped, for others it gushed more frantically than ever. Each experiencing a global pandemic through a personal fog that has, thankfully, begun to evaporate.
For the famous Balmoral clock, icon of the Balmoral Hotel, it too was a strange year. She broke down twice. Time stuttered. Never in her nearly 120-year history, has this happened. Normally, she runs fast, 3 minutes to be precise. Except on Hogmanay or New Years’ Eve when she is on time. The first to ensure the guests never missed their train, the second to ensure they never miss welcoming in a new year.
When the clock struck midnight on 31 December 2020, bang on time, the new year ushered in hope after such unparalleled times. The world was finally emerging from its cocoon, clawing its way back into civilisation like a sleepy ravenous bear awakening from hibernation.
Renewed, rejuvenated, alive.
This is the sense you get when you traverse Prince’s Street, and arrive at her ‘Grand Old Lady’, the Balmoral Hotel.
The doorman, dressed in traditional Scottish attire, welcomes you with such delight, you almost overlook the vibrant spring flowers tumbling over the steps.
These are the hors d’oeuvres.
Once inside, the floral display centrepiece takes your breath away. A welcome assault on the senses. Breathing in the scent of roses and carnations, dazzled by the colours of spring. The arrangements are carefully chosen to reflect an event or a season, changing every Tuesday, they will be forever stamped in guests’ memories, a perfect moment in time.
As you move towards the check-in desk the ornate chandelier overhead sways ever so slightly in the breeze emanating from the street, another well preserved icon of the hotel.
There are many icons.
The hotel is steeped in history. It opened in 1902 as one of the first train station hotels. Simply named the North British Station Hotel. You can still see the ‘NB’ carefully chiselled into selected bricks. Built beside Waverley station, doormen still greet guests arriving by train, Balmoral placard in hand.
These days, the lower entrance that VIP guests arrived by is used to transport linen into the hotel. This floor also hosts the delectable spa area. Here you will find a swimming pool, gym, and wellness treatments such as Forte body ritual, very different than in 1902. A relaxing scent induces the need to slow down, take your time and rest. You can even take it home with you, candles are available to buy as are any of the soul soothing products by Irene Forte or Ishga, made from hand harvested seaweed on the Isle of Lewis.
Nowadays, when steam trains pull into the station, the hotel shuts off its fire alarm temporarily, ensuring that the steam does not thrust though the door and set it off. Thankfully, steam causes little chaos, goodness knows the mess made by soot a century ago.
The hotel quickly became the talk of the country. Royalty, musicians, actors, and politicians flocked, and still do. Elizabeth Taylor, Sofia Loren, the Queen Mother, she adored dining on lamb and has a suite named the ‘Beau Lyons’ in her honour. Another Scottish icon Sir Sean Connery opened the hotel in 1991. As part of its refurbishment, Sean can be found mischievously glancing down from the bathroom walls in the rooms on the 5th and 6th floors.
In 2007 J K Rowling moved in to write Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. To mark the occasion, she signed a bust in the room in which she stayed. Incidentally, you can find traces to many of the characters in the Harry Potter series in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, a ten-minute walk from the hotel.
In a further nod to Edinburgh’s literary heritage, in 2004 it was crowned the worlds very first UNESCO City of Literature, throughout the hotel you will find books open at poignant chapters or passages. All set in Scotland, written by Scottish authors or linked to the Balmoral. Sir Author Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes is one example, although of Irish parentage, he was born and educated in Edinburgh.
‘Music is the literature of the heart, it commences where speech fails’, according to Alphonse de Lamartine, one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century. And the Balmoral celebrates music and France in much the same way as it does literature and food, superbly.
In the alcove above the Palm Court, a harpist plays. A piano is tucked away in the stairwell, ready to be tinkled, music sheets resting open, at aptly named pieces of music, ‘May’ in this case, Starlit Night by Tchaikovsky.
Meanwhile history seeps from the well-preserved walls. A grandfather clock keeps perfect time, alongside trophy antlers on the wall. The ceilings are corniced and brilliant white. In the stair well, stained glass windows are penetrated by the sun to illuminate ‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ or ‘No one provoke me with impunity’. This was the motto of the Royal Stuart Dynasty, from the reign of James IV in 1578. Today, it is the adopted motto of the Order of the Thistle and three Scottish regiments of the British Army.
The gallery on the first floor is a cosy retreat. Thistle leaf uplighters set the mood, a balcony overlooks the reception with its imposing fireplace, a bust of Sir Walter Scott, suitably masked and of course, the Palm Court.
The Palm Court is a sumptuous space like no other. Transporting the tropics in a pristine way to Edinburgh. Framed by white columns, palm trees tower over tables, trees and greenery deck the walls. Try to spot Calton Hill follies. Though you will more than likely be too swept up in the afternoon tea served in fern covered crockery made especially for the Balmoral to notice.
One element will not escape attention, the sparkly lit trees in the centre, accompanied by a glass dome and a venetian chandelier.
The rooms are fresh and bright. Perfectly chosen thistle wallpaper complements the tartan chairs and botanical artwork. A print that looks extremely like a Jack Vettriano hangs above the bed. The writing desk with views over the castle and Prince’s Street is the perfect inspiration for budding authors. Nibble on the basket of Scottish strawberries or the chocolate fudge while crafting the next bestseller. Irene Forte toiletries adorn the bathroom, made with ingredients and inspiration from Sicily.
Breakfast is served in the airy Brasserie Prince, a melange of French and Scottish cuisine. For breakfast sample Balmoral classics such as smoked salmon and scrambled egg or the Balmoral full Scottish breakfast. Post breakfast, why not indulge in some French cuisine, steak frites with Café de Paris butter or make a reservation at Number One, the Michelin starred restaurant by Mathew Sherry, hand dived Orkney scallops are worth the wait.
Your stay would not be complete without a trip to Scotch, the whisky bar with 500 varieties, one of the largest in Edinburgh. Settle in, sup a wee dram, while away your time, remembering that time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
Put the Balmoral on your list, no time like the present.