Thursday, 12 July 2012

Edinburgh International Festivals 2012- A Visually Impaired Perspective

Update 17/8/2012

The Edinburgh International Festival has started and I have posted as a festival blogger on their website.  My post on Watt based on Samuel Beckett's story and performed by Barry McGovern can be found on: and .

My review of Waiting for Orestes: Electra can be found on: 

The EIF home page can be found on:

*** end of update

Update 31/7/2012

Tip:  National Galleries of Scotland offer a culture vulture package for admission to four exhibitions which will be running throughout the summer.  Picasso which has been transplanted from Tate Britain ( ) opens on 4th August.

The four exhibitions are:

Van Gogh to Kandinsky: symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910
Scottish National Gallery (Mound complex)
(my review of this can be found on:

Expanding Horizons: Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the Panoramic Landscape
Scottish National Gallery
(my review of this can be found on:

Picasso and Modern British Art
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One)

Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gundersen Collection
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)

There is also a courtesy shuttle bus from The Mound to and from Modern One and Two which are located on the other side of the Water of Leith. 

I know the way on foot but it is not an easy walk, given the tram line construction and associated road works and bad weather.   

*** end of update

*** update 24/7/2012

Having arrived in the Edinburgh area, the weather was truly dreich on Monday (23rd July).  This was a demonstration without any need of audio description of this weather phenomenon.  The forecast is likely to be for some appearance of the sun.

*** end of update

Edinburgh is my home town, so here are a few tips for visually impaired people and their friends if they are attending any of the many events at the Edinburgh Festivals this year.  The city can appear to get very busy though there is often a quiet area round the corner.  There is much to do in the town, but you are also never far from hills, wind and strange music. 

Those interested in a few side trips by train which can be done independently or some with a friend with a car may like to also refer to the following two posts in my blog which offer some suggestions:   

If you have already booked events make sure your access requirements are met.  Some of the events are staffed by temporary workers who may, on occasion, have little blindness awareness training.  Be quite firm.  For example, if taken up in a lift (elevator), check out the stairs first and if necessary insist on being shown the way back down.  If you find anyone talking very slowly and loudly, remind them that you are not deaf. 


You may find yourself encountering several Scottish words to do with the weather.  These include dreich, drookit and haar, and refer to phenomena that can have a cooling effect, so wear appropriate clothing, especially at night.  If there is an outdoor event, beware of glaur (mud) and wear decent footwear.

Layout of Edinburgh

The City centre has several roads/streets which run from West to East. In the New Town, Princes’ Street is the main shopping street with shops on one side offering an uninterrupted view of the castle. The major Art Galleries such as RSA (Royal Scottish Academy)and NGS (National Gallery of Scotland)  are on the Gardens side of the street. Moving north of Princes St are Rose St, George St and Queen St.

In the Old Town the main road is the Royal Mile which stretches from Edinburgh Castle and runs downhill to Holyrood Palace.  There are name changes on the way such as Lawnmarket, High St and Canongate. The Old Town runs on two levels. While the next parallel road south is Chambers St (Museums of Scotland, NMS, University and Adam House) there is the Cowgate which runs from West to East but is at a lower level. This can be confusing if you have limited vision.

Much activity takes place on arterial roads (names change every 100 metres) such as:

The Bridges-Nicolson St: Festival Theatre Queens Hall,
The Mound, George IV Bridge (National Library of Scotland) Greyfriars Kirk

The National Library of Scotland has an exhibition on Scottish cinema through the years. 
There is no touch screen involvement, but if you wave your hands in front of a screen, it will trigger off the soundtrack and this can be quite funny.  I managed to get the soundtrack of Whisky Galore on one screen and a steamengine against the backdrop of Edinburgh in an other.

Bank of Scotland, Lothian Road-Fountainbridge-Tollcross Usher Hall, Theatres.

The Bank of Scotland has the Museum on the Mound, where you can experience one million pounds in Bank of Scotland banknotes.  I was given a tour by Nicola Miller and it's possible to examine the very old iron safes or kists (chests).  As a souvenir I was given some samples of banknotes (shredded).

Print Media

Main Scottish papers include Scotsman and Herald. The Evening News (paper) has up to date details of many fringe events. 


I don’t have a television, but BBC Scotland, BBC Alba and Scottish Television cover the Festival.


Radio Scotland has many offerings from the Edinburgh Festival and their café series on at lunchtime is very interesting and they often have erudite people commenting on events. (I was on Culture Café last year!)    Tune in to the Festival Cafe or follow them on Twitter: @BBCFestivalCafe.

The Festival Cafe @BBCFestivalCafe
lovely to hear from you again! Will you be tuning in next week? And how's the blog going?

For radio listening, I would recommend Radio nan Gaidheal, the Scottish Gaelic radio channel. There is much to enjoy in the music on offer which ranges from “Gaelic Belters” through Celtic Fusion to the latest chart toppers. 

Events information

The Artlink Edinburgh website (  is a good start for details of some special events.  Notes of audio description, not always live, can also be found here.   I have picked out some events which are of interest to me.  For further information and booking for these events (or others on the Artlink website) please contact Susan at Artlink either via email on: or phone 0131 229 3555 and select option 1.

Site specific art in the festival
Meeting place Fruitmarket Gallery, Market Street
Finishing at St James Centre, Leith Street entrance
2 - 4pm Monday 13th August

Artist Juliana Capes will lead a descriptive walk around some of the site specific art work in the Edinburgh Art Festival.  Juliana will introduce some key ideas around site specific work before visiting and describing work by Martin Creed, Susan Philipsz and Callum Innes.

The tour will introduce internationally renowned artists who are represented in the Edinburgh Art Festival this year.

Please note, this event includes steps, if you require an alternative route, please get in touch.

This event was very enjoyable and we toured round the Scotsman Steps with Juliana and noted the stirens on the lampost on North Bridge, ending up in St Andrew's Square at the Waiting Place of Edinburgh Art Festival.

Talbot Rice Gallery
Tim Rollins – Black Spot
2 pm Wednesday 22nd  August

Showing for the first time in Scotland, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. present an exhibition including new work.  Join a descriptive tour and discussion designed for visually impaired visitors.

My early visits to Talbot Rice and this show can be found on:

Fruitmarket Gallery
Dieter Roth
6.30-8pm Wednesday 5th September  

Artist Emily Learmont leads a tour of the Dieter Roth exhibition specifically designed for visually impaired visitors.

Fringe events

Many of the Fringe events can be more or less walked into.  You will be accosted with flyers often for free admission. There is also a lot of street theatre, though you may not come across many of the locals.  

The fringe box office have dedicated staff to advice on access.  Their contact details are:
telephone number: 0131 226 0002

My reviews of shows that I have attended can be found on:


Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910
The National Galleries of Scotland

Snippets of two Twitter conversations I had with the National Galleries of Scotland are given below:

@natgalleriessco Planning for my visit in summer. I am visually impaired & enjoyed Mod1+2 last year.
@ProfWhitestick look forward to seeing you! Maybe #ScotPortrait this time?

My post on my visit to #ScotPortrait is on:

The exhibition is now open-please please share your thoughts on twitter, fb, online #SymbolistLandscape #ScotNatGallery

@natgalleriessco #symbolistLandscape Any special arrangements for visually impaired ppl like me? Will be coming!

@ProfWhitestick yep. We'll do our best to provide whatever you require-large print etc, also music, poetry, readings on iPads throughout.

@natgalleriessco Sounds good, having access to text files to play on a screenreader of picture labels & room guides helps.

Surrealists, symbolists and Scottish colourists at this year's art festival

Another interesting exhibition called Weaving the Century is on at the Dovecot Studios.  My review of this can be found on:

Other useful websites

Edinburgh International Festival:

Edinburgh Festival Guide:   and

Edinburgh International Book Festival:

@ProfWhitestick For info on accessibility etc. plz email Someone will get right back to you. Enjoy the book fest!

I visited the Book Festival on the first day (11 August) and enjoyed a coffee in Charlotte Square, listening to happy book lovers meeting authors.  I thought I heard Simon Callow booming in a gangway and it was he, indeed!  I will be updating my stories from last year in a separate post.  

I have been in touch with Nicola Robson, the Marketing Officer, for the Book Festival.  She has kindly said that:

Offering our brochure in alternative formats is something that we offer
to anyone who would like it, and we try to publicise this, … Customers can order these by contacting our box office on 0845 373 5888 or emailing our administration address which is

On 24th August I spent an evening in Charlotte Square and attended 2 events, one with Amnesty Ssotland and the other featuring the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Alistair Darling and James Naughtie, the BBC interviewer/presenter.  Really enjoyable.  Many thanks to Alva and Sophia for guiding me round. 

The festival has now finished and my review of my two visits, three coffees, two talks and two lucky bags can be found on:

Edinburgh Art Festival:

Lothian Buses: 0131-555-6363

Edinburgh Coach Lines: 0131-554-5413

This post will be updated with Twitter feeds and email inputs from responsible, though not necessarily respectable, providers!  Enjoy the city!

Favourite tweet of the week RT @profwhitestick: @EdArtFest I will be there what ere the dreich, drookit and weather challenges. Good luck.

Hi @ProfWhitestick I like your blog, feel free to come along to our exhibition and meet Andrew, Eamon and Rosita