UK TRAVEL: Tale of Two Cities; Winter in Edinburgh Can Melt the Coldest Heart. One Ice Maiden Finds Herself Thawing

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If ever a city belonged to winter, it's Edinburgh. Summer may seem to be its high season, the time when it's in its pomp, plump with tourists and entertainments of all kinds, but when the days get shorter and the nights longer this city shines.

Dressed in a layer of frost on one of those hard, bright days you only really get on the east coast, Edinburgh shows its true self - a city that's at once all sweet and sugar-spun and darkness and mystery.

Edinburgh's story is a tale of two cities, or rather, towns - the Old and the New.

In winter, the differences between these two halves seem more pointed, as if the summer heat blurs the boundaries where the cold highlights them.

In many ways, these differences embody many of the traditions we associate with winter, and moreover, Christmas.

The New Town, with its elegant, proud and precise Georgian architecture, offers the ideal backdrop to the traditional Christmas card Christmas.

Just add urchins and snow. The Old Town, with its ancient, mysterious buildings, threaded with dark, twisting closes with names like Old Tollbooth Wynd, Porteous Pend and Fleshmarket Close, reaches back further into the past, to medieval times, when the turn of the year meant much more than an explosion of rampant consumerism.

This is no cosy Christmas card world.

This is darker, more mysterious, like an old tale told late on Christmas Eve and imbued with all the magic of the midnight hour.

Cross one of the bridges linking the New Town with the Old and it's sometimes like stepping into another city entirely.

These two distinct halves together make Edinburgh the kind of place you can imagine as the setting for John Masefield's Box of Delights.

And no description could be more fitting, for this place is like a jewellery box full of long-hidden gems, one that can tempt even the biggest Christmas humbug - me.

We arrived in the city early on a Saturday morning, and already Princes Street, the main shopping drag, was, as they say, "hoachin'".

I like shopping as much as the next woman, but not like this. So we did what exactly what anyone wanting to find out what a city is truly like should do - we got ourselves lost.

This may seem daft in a city you don't know well, but, provided you don't wander far off the beaten track, I've always found aimless wandering works wonders in unearthing shops or cafes that always seem to have something a little more exciting than your average high street shop.

And so it was here.

Wandering round closes and down lanes, we stumbled across cosy, inviting pubs, craft shops with beautiful handmade furniture and jewellery, clothes shops with gorgeous bags and clothes. In short, everything we couldn't find on the high street. …