Christmas has arrived at the Royal Botanic Garden


Visitors to the gardens can watch festive light projections on the Glasshouse.


It may only be the first week of December, but the festivities in Edinburgh are well and truly underway and the Royal Botanic Garden has a brand new Christmas trail for visitors to enjoy.

Until the 29th of December, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is running a winter-themed trail with decorations, music and over a million lights called “Christmas at the Botanics”. This is the second year the Royal Botanic Garden has put on the event and there are similar trails all across the UK.

Emma Henderson from Culture Creative , the creative management company behind “Christmas at the Botanics”, mentioned some of the other trails around the country.

“Christmas at the Botanics is one of seven lit trails themed around Christmas which include Christmas at Kew, Christmas at Bleinheim Palace, Christmas at Dunham Massey, Christmas at Bedgebury, Christmas at Beaulieu and Christmas at London Zoo.”

“The first trail was at Kew Gardens six years ago and its success has led to other trails being added each year.”


Some of the one million lights on display at “Christmas at the Botanics”.

This year, the mile-long trail has several new additions, including contributions from both UK-based artists and artists from around the world.

“This year’s trail includes artworks by international and UK artists, live theatre and light projections onto the world-famous Glasshouse and Inverleith House,” said Emma.

“French lighting designers Tilt have two installations: “Lily of the Valley” and “Carbonium”. Mandylights from Australia, whose work has been shown previously at Vivid Festival in Sydney, has brought us ‘The Cathedral of Light.'”

Olivia Hill

The Cathedral of Light is one of the new attractions at the gardens this year.

The Cathedral of Light, a 70m-long tunnel with over 100,000 lights, provides quite a spectacle at the halfway point of the trail. Visitors should take their time to enjoy the stunning lights and accompanying Christmas carols: this is one of the prime picture taking areas.

There are also a number of new features this year for children to enjoy on their way around the gardens. Emma Henderson spoke about some of the options available for families to enjoy together.

“This year’s Santa Panto is themed around the gifts that conifer trees give us year-round. It’s presented by Connie Fir and Connor Fir, two Christmas elves who are Santa’s helpers. Our conifer trail is also new this year, which highlights six key specimens in the garden for adults and children to find.”


Festive decorations have been placed at different points around the garden.

Although the trail is outdoors and some may be sceptical to brave the Scottish weather on winter evenings, there are plenty of opportunities to buy hot food and drinks around the garden.

“Christmas at the Botanics is a family event created for everyone to enjoy. There are over a million twinkling lights, creamy hot chocolate, mulled wine and marshmallows, Christmas music, crackling fires and of course, Santa Clause. So wrap up warm and come enjoy the wonderful Christmas atmosphere and fun.”

You can find out more about “Christmas at the Botanics” and how to purchase tickets here.







Podcast: Festive movie favourites

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Get Christmas ready!

December is finally here so it’s time to start binging your favourite festive movies. Join Olivia Hill, Michaella Wheatley, Linnéa Lind and Paul Sinclair as they chat about their top picks and compete in a seasonal movie quiz!






Lawyer from Netflix’s ‘The Staircase’ visits Scotland


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David Rudolf, Lin Anderson and Donald Findlay QC discussed all things ‘The Staircase’ at the O2 Academy in Glasgow. Photo credit to Vicky Tait.


David Rudolf, the criminal defence lawyer who represented Michael Peterson during the true crime series, ‘The Staircase’, visited Glasgow to give a talk.

The audience at Glasgow’s O2 Academy gave David Rudolf a very warm welcome as he walked onto the stage with a Scotland-themed gift bag. The applause resembled something you might expect to hear at a rock concert or a popular comedy show, not for the entrance of a criminal defence lawyer. However, the world’s obsession with true crime documentaries such as ‘Making a Murderer’ and ‘The Staircase’ has resulted in a fascination with court cases and the people behind them.

‘The Staircase’, released on Netflix in June 2018, tells the story of Michael Peterson, a writer from Durham, North Carolina, who was accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen, in December 2001. She was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home and although Michael Peterson denied killing her, the prosecution persuaded the jury he was guilty and he was charged with murder in 2003 after one of the longest trials in the state’s history.

In 2011, it came out Duane Deaver, who conducted the blood spatter analysis for the prosecution, had provided misleading results during Peterson’s trial and exaggerated his level of experience. As Deaver’s evidence was detrimental to the jury’s decision in 2003, Peterson was released and placed on house arrest. In 2017, he entered an ‘Alford plea’ (a guilty plea signifying the defendants recognises there is sufficient evidence against him/her, but can claim to be innocent), meaning he was sentenced to 86 months in prison, which he had already served, and was therefore free.

David Rudolf, who was joined on stage by crime writer Lin Anderson and advocate Donald Findlay QC, indulged fans of the show by discussing how ‘The Staircase’ came to be, ‘junk science’ and the evidence used against Michael Peterson in the trial, the differences between American and Scottish criminal justice systems and of course, the famous ‘owl theory’.

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Fans queuing outside the O2 Academy in Glasgow. Photo credit to Vicky Tait.

As David Rudolf recounted his experience representing Peterson, the conversation flowed between the three experts, and as they compared and contrasted the different systems in place in Scotland and the US, it became clear Anderson and Findlay, alongside the audience, were enthralled by the struggles Rudolph faced during the case.

The lawyer spoke about the ‘incompetence’ of the prosecution and how it seems they were sabotaging Peterson’s case from the outset. When Peterson was a columnist for his local newspaper, he often criticised the local authorities, which led to a significant amount of speculation on whether the prosecution was prejudiced against him.

Findlay stated he would expect a crime scene to be meticulously and carefully examined by police officers if the case were to have taken place here, Rudolf described how the scene of the crime was treated in Peterson’s case.

“There were different people coming and going without authorisation, people were constantly walking back and forth through the crime scene and actually stepping over Kathleen Peterson’s body,” he said.

”Literally, the crime scene was completely trampled over.”

Rudolf discussed his admiration for the ‘not proven’ verdict which exists in Scottish criminal courts, but not American ones. This verdict occurs when there is not enough evidence beyond reasonable doubt whether an individual committed the crime. He wished it was an option in American courts, because ‘it is a more truthful way of dealing with things.’

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Fans of ‘The Staircase’ had the opportunity to ask David Rudolf questions about the famous true crim series. Photo by Olivia Hill.

Although the ‘owl theory’ didn’t feature in the documentary, it has been heavily discussed on the internet since the series’ release. The theory states Kathleen Peterson was attacked by a barred owl which subsequently led to her death. There is a significant amount of evidence that supports this, including the lacerations found on her scalp, the owl feather found in her hand and the small dots on her face that resembled those caused by an owl’s beak. Rudolf discussed the theory in depth and explained he is more in support of it now than he was at the time of the trial:

”In 2003, there was no evidence to support the theory, so I thought it was completely ridiculous.”

”But now there is evidence to support the fact that people do get attacked by barred owls. You can go on YouTube and there are videos of it happening,” he added.

During his world tour to talk to fans about ‘The Staircase’, Rudolf wants to convey an overriding message for the audience to take away with them. He outlined the importance of transparency and always asking questions, saying:

”It is an honourable thing we do here and we can’t do our jobs until we know the truth Don’t always believe what you are told and always ask questions.”

”I get to talk to you and show you these problems I have carried with me for 40 years. To get real change we need all of you. Get out there and spread the message.”

Scottish Vegan Festival back for another year at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange


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The Edinburgh Corn Exchange was packed with activity on Saturday. Photo by Olivia Hill.

The Corn Exchange was full to the brim on October 20 as visitors flocked to the many stalls available at this year’s Scottish Vegan Festival.

The festival has been successfully running for the last two years and is the ideal event for vegans or those eager to learn more about veganism. Organised by Farplace Animal Rescue, an animal sanctuary and campaigns group, the Scottish Vegan Festival hosts a series of stalls including many hot and cold vegan eats, cosmetics, clothing and animal rights charities.

There are currently around 600,000 vegans across the UK and as the number of vegans increased by 350% in the last decade in Scotland alone, it seems to be a trend that will continue to rise in popularity. Whatever reason it may be — for, ethical, dietary or weight loss — there is a growing interest in how and why people should adopt a plant-based diet.

This rise in the number of people taking on a vegan diet means there is an increase in demand for vegan options, not just at restaurants, but in other public places such as schools and hospitals. ‘Go Vegan Scotland’, a group of volunteers who spend their time away from work trying to encourage others to see the benefits of veganism, was at the Scottish Vegan Festival campaigning for the introduction of legislation which would guarantee plant-based options on every public sector menu.

Barbara Bolton, a volunteer for Go Vegan Scotland, spoke about how the group approaches conversations about veganism with those who may be interested in or unsure of adopting a plant-based diet.

”We have information stalls where people approach us, ask us what they want to know about veganism and we try to have conversations with them to bring out what they think about other animals and whether or not they are truly comfortable with killing them when we don’t have to,” she said.

”Every time we buy a product that has come from an animal, whether it’s from their body or we have taken their eggs or their milk, what lies behind that is animal exploitation. So we tease out from people whether or not they’re genuinely comfortable that they’re spending their money, paying people to use and kill other animals for them.”

Barbara also emphasised that it’s important to approach veganism in a certain way in order to stick to it:

”If you think of veganism as a diet or a lifestyle, then you may find it challenging but when you understand what veganism really is, when you understand veganism is simply living in a way that respects other animals’ right to exist and that it’s about not exploiting and killing animals, then it will become much easier.”

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Lots of vegan treats were available on display including these Halloween inspired doughnuts. Photo by Olivia Hill.

The festival also provides small businesses with an opportunity to showcase their products in a suitable environment.

Emma Lean, from new independent clothing company ‘East Coast 88‘, said the festival was a great place to introduce people to their products:

”All of our t-shirts are organic, they’re all printed using water-based inks and they’re all  Fair Wear Foundation certified as well which means the people who have made them have been paid a living wage, they’re in a safe environment and they’ve got workers rights as well.”

”We wanted to get our name out there and we wanted to meet people who would be interested in buying the t-shirts. So we started coming along and I think this is our 3rd festival so far and it’s been the best one. The atmosphere here has been really nice, it’s really cool.”

The festival was heaving with ticket holders who had come along to try delicious vegan eats and buy the latest vegan-friendly clothes and cosmetics. But there were also a number of animal rights charities present, including OneKind, Scotland’s largest animal campaign group.

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OneKind sells vegan-friendly t-shirts to help fund their campaigns. Photo by Olivia Hill.

OneKind has held a number of successful campaigns including Scotland’s ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. Sarah Mackenzie, the events and volunteers officer, discussed its latest campaign.

”The campaign we’re running today is to stop the growth of the salmon industry in terms of salmon farming in Scotland. At the moment the welfare issues within the industry are unacceptable and we’re asking the Government to put a stop to the plans for growth before these issues are dealt with.”

There is a significant problem with sea lice (parasites that feed on the scales and flesh of the salmon) on Scottish salmon farms and mortality rates are extremely high; 11 million salmon died last year alone. If you would like to learn more about this campaign, click here.

The Scottish Vegan Festival will be back on April 7 and October 20, 2019. To keep up to date with the latest news, take a look at their website here.



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