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Edinburgh Town and Country

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Fill up on orgies of urban entertainment, then cleanse body and spirit with a walk in the hills, or a stiff sea breeze.

Edinburgh: City Meets Country

Metropolitan melee or rural idyll?

The choice of setting for the perfect weekend away is a tough one to make -- so why choose at all?

We tend to respect an apparently unbreachable divide between the hectic city break and its antithesis, the languid country escape. But this dichotomy is mythological - in fact its two halves can readily be fused, giving you the best of both.

Just as nothing beats the refreshment of a hot steam bath and icy plunge pool, harnessing the contrasting forces of nature and culture will leave you feeling thoroughly recharged.

For best results you've got to pick the right city. The likes of New York or Berlin boast impressive attractions, but natural beauty is not among them.

Looking closer to home, where better than Edinburgh?

Scotland's capital is a rich cache of architecture and the arts, in a truly glorious setting between the rolling Pentland Hills and the sea.

Ringing the town centre, islands of green rise above the rooftops, volcanic and glacial landforms that bring an awareness of the natural world into the heart of the city.

Surrounding Edinburgh, the countryside of Lothian and the Borders offers wonderful day tripping: from wild upland and wooded glens, to rugged coast and islands rich in bird life.

The townie delights of Edinburgh are well known; the earthy delights less so.

Once you've tired of the bright lights, escape to one of the city's fantastic open spaces, or hire a car and head out in search of real countryside.

Here's a Suggested Plan of Action to Fill a Weekend Break

Start day one in a gallery, not something of which Edinburgh is short.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, situated in the heart of the New Town at the east end of Queen Street, provides a unique visual history of Scotland, told through portraits of the figures who helped to shape it.

Head from here to the Fruitmarket - located directly behind Waverley Station, between Princes Street and the Royal Mile - an alternative art space exhibiting contemporary art of the highest quality.

After lunch at the Fruitmarket's popular caf�, try a tour of the Palace of Holyrood.

Those with young offspring in tow may instead prefer to take the little darlings to the nearby Our Dynamic Earth geological exposition, housed in a futuristic beetle-like tent beside the Scottish Parliament - opened in September 2004.

You're now perfectly placed for the hike up Arthur's Seat. With a couple of hour's daylight in hand the circuit described below is eminently feasible.

In the crystal glow of a perfect winter sunset, this could prove the highlight of your weekend. If the Seat looks too daunting, Blackford Hill is a worthy alternative.

Spend a gluttonous evening immersed in an opulent array of eating and drinking establishments that would not disgrace any proud capital city.

The next day, you can hire a car, forsaking the urban jungle for the Scottish countryside. Any of the options listed below will conclude your weekend in memorable style. The only downside is that you can't pick them all.

Edinburgh City Centre Rambles

Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Park

A short hike up the molehill that thinks it's a mountain rewards you with spectacular views ranging over Edinburgh's celebrated skyline, the silvery Firth of Forth and the blue smudge of the distant Highlands.

From Holyrood Palace and the new Parliament, follow the dramatic curving crest of Salisbury Crags, like a stone wave poised to break over the city. Then take your pick from a number of paths that make the steep pull to the summit of the Seat.

Holyrood must rank amongst the world's finest parks; unmissable.<

Blackford Hill

Edinburgh's 'second best' park boasts a few attractions of its own.

Wander to the summit from the historic observatory for a fine outlook over the suburbs. Then make your way down the far side into the Hermitage of Braid, a small wooded gorge abounding with animal and vegetable life. The old Hermitage itself is also worth a look.

Nearby Day Trips

Pentland Hills Regional Park

Prominent in views from town, especially when floodlit at night, one of Europe's largest dry ski slopes provides a cheap and accessible approximation of the real thing - Skiing in Scotland.

Those craving more tranquillity can salve the spirit with a spot of easy hillwalking over the grassy undulations of the Pentland Hills, with wide panoramas over Edinburgh, the Forth Bridges and the Southern Uplands.

From the car park and ranger station, a long circuit over Scald Hill and back via the Loganlea Reservoir pleasantly fills a five-hour slot, though shorter expeditions are also possible. Just half an hour's drive from the town centre.

Roslin Glen

Close to the (in)famous birthplace of Dolly the test-tube ewe can be found attractions of a rather more wholesome nature.

Rosslyn Chapel dates back to the Templars, with intricate carving that is little short of miraculous.

From here a path leads down into the twisting confines of Roslin Glen, a wooded ravine complete with semi-ruined castle. The riverside ramble along its base is a fruitful use of an afternoon. Half an hour's drive from Edinburgh.

Glentress Forest, Peebles

(Forestry Commission)

Britain's most extensive purpose built mountain-biking trails thread through forested hillsides deep in the beautiful Southern Uplands, with routes graded from blue to black - like ski pistes.

Break yourself in on something gentle before taking on the ferocious Helly Hansen V-Trail.

Pottering around the quaint market town of Peebles provides the perfect wind-down after miles of hair-raising, off-road cycling.

Hire bikes at The Hub (tel.01721 721 736), the caf�-cum-info-centre at the car park in Glentress. An hour from Edinburgh.

North Berwick

This self-consciously pretty seaside town acts as point of embarkation for boat trips to Bass Rock, an impressive gannet colony in the Firth of Forth.

From a distance, Bass Rock looks snow-capped but as you bob towards it the 'snow' resolves itself into thousands of birds (and their doings), cloaking every available perch.

The rock resembles a maritime beehive, with swarms of gannets wheeling about in spectacular confusion. Up close the air is thick with their cries, and their odour.

To witness a display of the natural world this extraordinary many people would assume you have to travel overseas. Not so, North Berwick is less than an hour from Scotland's capital.

St Abbs Head

Mid way between Edinburgh and the Northumberland town of Alnwick, this forgotten stretch of the North Sea coast rears up into broken cliffs above, literally, crystal clear water.

Park close to the isolated farmstead of Dowlaw, and make your way down to the remnants of Fast Castle, perched on a headland. A chill sea breeze direct from Scandinavia should blow the cobwebs away.

Back in the car, make for the picturesque fishing village of St. Abbs, with a clifftop nature reserve boasting a huge seabird population.

Out at sea the St.Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve preserves a delicate aquatic ecosystem that provides some of the UK's best diving.

Scoutscroft Diving Centre, in Coldingham (Tel: 018907 71669 for further details). Only 1 hour from Edinburgh.

By Dan Bailey.

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