Those little pandas are one giant reason to visit Scotland. BARRY LEIGHTON found a few others too

Edinburgh’s most celebrated couple may not be as amorously entangled as say, Romeo and Juliet – at least not yet – but they are certainly toying with the affections of visitors to the city’s zoo.

And all they gotta do – as Ringo Starr once sang on The Beatles album Help – is act naturally.

So while eight-year-old Tian Tian – also known as “Sweetie” – sat contentedly in a corner of her enclosure munching panda cake, a concoction of assorted roots, she attracted wide-eyed excitement and gasps from on-lookers.

Nine year-old Yang Guang – “Sunshine” – was a trifle more adventurous. As a giant panda, he may look like an ungainly bundle of black and white fur, but he showed surprisingly agility while effortlessly scampering around his tree house.

There were oohs and aahs aplenty: some, embarrassingly, from me. And you could almost feel the anticipation as he waddled purposefully over to a grated window separating his outdoor pen from Tian Tian’s.

Would there be some form of fraternisation; a brief nod or acknowledgement between the zoo’s expensively imported Chinese bears? A playful rubbing of noses, perchance.

Alas, Yang Guang brusquely scratched his rear end against the grating before plodding off in search of bamboo shoots.

“They may look cuddly but pandas can be quite aggressive,” said our guide Laura. “If we kept them together, they’d probably start fighting.”

Not ideal, perhaps, for the chance of an intimate liaison which, as everyone hopes, will lead to the arrival of a panda cub on British soil.

Laura remains up-beat. “They’re getting to know each other. We’re really hopeful that they will mate, possibly next year,” she said.

Until then, the adorable duo will spend most of their time doing what they do best – sleeping and eating. “They pooh about 40 times a day,” added Laura, helpfully.

Our visit to Britain’s second favourite city – just behind London, according to a Lonely Planet survey – was primarily to see the pandas.

I’ve been several times to “Auld Reekie”, so named after the smog and smell which engulfed the once horribly cramped but now world renowned Old Town. It is one of those cities that keeps luring you back.

There are more howffs – or pubs, as we know them – per square mile in Edinburgh than any other city in Europe, so it is claimed.

We popped into just one on this occasion, the exquisite Café Royal in the grand New Town sector where a dozen Kilpatrick oysters (£15.65) slipped down a treat with a pint of Deuchars.

It is one of those gorgeously ornate 19th century hostelries which retains an elegant and authentic air of Victoriana.

It is worth a visit just to admire the magnificent ceramic portraits of inventors and innovators from William Caxton (printing) to Michael Faraday (electrics) astutely acquired by a previous landlord in 1889.

We stayed in nearby Leith – about 15 minutes on the bus – where the Malmaison Edinburgh is one of several 19th century buildings to have been painstakingly restored in the once grimey old port.

Built in 1883 (it says so over the impressive arched entrance), the building, which sports a majestic clock tower, was once a home for retired sailors and also served as a venue of ill-repute for visiting seafarers during the area’s darker days before its eventual salvation.

Its neighbours include the state-of-the-art Ocean Terminal shopping complex, and the Queen’s former residence-at-sea, Britannia, along with a host of evocative reminders – from bridges to cranes – of its maritime heyday.

Just over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh is Scotland’s largest city, which Billy Connolly, Robert Carlisle, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jim Taggart and Lulu once called home. If ever the word rejuvenation could be applied to a place it is Glasgow.

It is a mass of regeneration projects, ranging from the restoration of once smoke-blackened, industrial structures to the creation of architecturally eye-catching complexes, many along the former ship-building banks of the Clyde.

There is a real buzz – a perceptible vibe – about the place… not to mention more shops than anywhere else in the UK outside of London, if that’s your thing.

An open-top bus tour – several are available – is essential to attain a feel for the constantly evolving face of Glasgow, where tradition, history and heritage collide head-on with the cool and contemporary.

The Necropolis itself, Glasgow’s spooky Victorian cemetery is definitely worth a visit: it looks like something out of Hammer horror film.

Chic interiors, stylish bar, slinky sink-in settees… these probably weren’t what the worthy fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church had in mind when they built an imposing place of worship on the edge of downtown Glasgow.

But praise be, that’s what their wonderful old building comprises today after a striking make-over by the Malmaison group, which specialises in transforming the fortunes of grand but unwanted or out-dated structures.

Who knows what would have happened to such a singular construction had it not become a boutique hotel and trendy bar-cum-restaurant?

For guests of an energetic nature, the management provides a handy five kilometer running map of the city centre.

Instead we chose to descend a spiral staircase to drink beer, eat nuts and soak up the stylish atmosphere of the hotel’s uniquely fashioned purple and white main bar… no sweat.

  • Malmaison Glasgow, 278 West George Street, Glasgow, G2 4LL. Tel: 0141 572 1000. Email:
  • Malmaison Edinburgh, 1 Tower Place, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 7DB. Tel: 0131 468 5000. Email:

Travel facts

You could be forgiven for thinking you had wandered into a medieval cathedral upon entering Glasgow’s Hotel Du Vin.

The unsuspecting visitor is knocked sideways by two stunning stained glass windows which dominate the sweeping wood-panelled staircases.

They are a sight to behold – especially when the sun streams in, highlighting the rich reds, pinks and greens in all of their glory.

The windows, we are told by a proud member of staff, were commissioned by shipping magnate, philanthropist and art-lover Sir William Burrell (1861-1958) who once lived in the property.

The Hotel Du Vin at “One Devonshire Gardens” is located in Glasgow’s fashionable West End, where during the 19th century wealthy merchants built their elegant and roomy town houses far from the madding crowd and the grimy city centre.

The idea was that as the smoke from the industrial hubbub generally blew in the other direction they would enjoy the benefits of cleaner air and thus longer life. Over recent years the hotel at Number One has, in a Monopoly-like manner, slowly expanded and currently occupies five adjoining late Victorian properties.

With their sumptuous décor and huge open fireplaces, you can get cheerfully lost exploring the former reception areas, drawing rooms, cocktail lounges and dining areas of wealthy Glaswegians.

If you fancy doing so with a glass of wine in your hand, then there’s plenty of choice from a 600 bin wine cellar. Whiskey adherents need not distress – there are over 300 brands to choose from too.

The hotel is a brief stroll from one of Glasgow’s best loved thoroughfares, Byers Road, populated by a rich array of quirky shops, bars, cafes and restaurants.

  • Hotel Du Vin, 1 Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow, G12 0UX. Tel: 0141 339 2001.
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