A Tango in the spring sunshine

Walking through the Grassmarket this afternoon, the busy square of pubs and restaurants right below the Castle’s southern flank (some of the pubs there were centuries old even when Robert Burns stayed in them during Edinburgh visits). Gorgeous, bright, spring day, pubs and restaurants all busy with tables outside, locals and tourists alike enjoying the weather. And then I just happened across a group holding an open-air Tango session:

spring tango 02

Right there in the old square, right below the Castle, couples dancing happily away in the spring sunshine, dappled by the new leaves on the trees. Seemed like it was begging for some black and white shots, so I started snapping away. A lot of the pics I had to junk – would just get lined up and focused on one couple and another pair of dancers would step into my line and I’d end up with a photo of their backs! But I got a few successful shot…

spring tango 03

spring tango 04

spring tango 05

spring tango 07

spring tango 08

spring tango 011

spring tango 012

This lady in the pics directly above and below looks familiar to me – I’m sure I don’t actually know her, but her face looks familiar and I have a feeling that perhaps I’ve photographed her before at some other event in Edinburgh, but given how many thousands of pics I’ve taken it may take a bit of browsing to verify! Anyway, while I was clicking away, I got this shot as she danced with her partner and looked right at the camera with this wonderful, big smile (one of those really good smiles, the kind that isn’t just the mouth moving but the eyes and the whole face smiling). Joyful scene to just come across all these people so happily dancing away in the sunlight in the middle of the Old Town.

spring tango 06

You are here….

Taken by NASA’s Cassini probe earlier this month, the planet Earth is a bright pinpoint of distant light, viewed through the magnificent rings of mighty Saturn. Stunning.

This reminds me very much of one of my favourite photographs from space exploration, the famous “pale blue dot” image taken almost three decades ago by the Voyager craft, when the late and much-missed Carl Sagan argued for the probes, now passed the outer worlds, to be turned around and take a perspective of our world and our solar system, a “family portrait” as Carl put it, giving us a view that no human had ever seen before in all the ages of the world. In that image our world was even smaller, not even a full pixel. It gave a vastly different perspective on human affairs – those who consider themselves so important because they are rich, powerful, connected, from this distance – a small one in astronomical terms, vast in human terms – they mean less than nothing. Perhaps world leaders should all take a moment to look at such images and think about them for a moment… (via BoingBoing)

Spring has sprung

Out walking along the nearby Union Canal a few days ago, the first properly spring weekend of the year – we’ve had nice, bright days but usually still cold, this was sunny and also warm for the first time in the year. Beautiful light and the welcome return of colour to the world after the long, dark winter. It happens every year and yet each year it still seems like some wonderful magic as the dullness of winter suddenly gives way to a riot of vibrant colours:

spring has sprung 04

spring has sprung 01

spring has sprung 03

I have always found the way light reflects from water to be entrancing, and as I walked under one of the canal bridges the bright spring sunshine was bouncing off the water and creating a flickering, rippling dancing pattern of changing light on the stonework. I had taken a photo then thought it would be better in video mode, just to capture the quality of the patterns and movement. In still photo mode it looked better in monochrome (I’m not a fan of altering my pics in PhotoShop, so when you see a black and white photo from me, it means I shot it in B&W, not colour then change in PhotoShop. I know I could do it that way, but it feels better to me to shoot in B&W if a scene feels like it works better in mono, rather than just greyscale it afterwards in an editor), and fortunately the video mode in the new camera allows me to shoot in mono as well as colour, so I took a few seconds:

water under the bridge vid

Singing to the sea

Singing to the Sea 01

Singing to the Sea 02

Earlier in the month, down on Portobello Beach on a very blustery, cold day, wind howling in off the Firth of Forth. I was having a walk with my chum and his hounds when we saw this group in white robes, who got out of their car, walked down to the beach then facing out to sea they began to sing. We couldn’t understand the words, but it had the feel of a religious ceremony, and although we didn’t know the words (and despite the biting, cold wind!) their song sounded joyful. My friend had seen them in previous days that week doing the same thing, singing out to sea. We still don’t know who they were or what the significance of singing towards the sea was. A friend online said he saw a religious group do something similar when working in Africa, but he didn’t know why they did it either. Anyway, it was an unusual and intriguing thing to see…

Singing to the Sea 03

Singing to the Sea 04

The Bridge

Burntisland 01

Since I have a few days off to use up, I took the train up the coast, crossing the mighty Forth Rail Bridge and round the coastal rail route to get off at Burntisland for a wee while. The railway runs right by the beach there, on a raised embankment above the promenade and the beach (quite a bit of this line hugs the Fife coast so you get some good views on your trip). There are tunnels under the line leading from the parkland behind it to the promenade.

Burntisland 02

Being early afternoon on a weekday in March it was pretty quiet, mostly either parents with very young kids or senior citizens and the odd dog walker – tends to be a bit busier in the warmer weather of spring and summer!

Burntisland 010

Burntisland 011

Standing out (braving some seriously heavy wind, especially in an exposed position!) on a jutting bit of headland that projects out by the bay where the beachfront is I could just barely make out the volcanic bulk of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth, but it was too hazy to get a decent shot. Looking up river the haar had settled in too, and the bright light had turned grey (one of those days of sun, overcast, sun, overcast, always changing), and the bridges were barely visible through the mist and haze, although the iconic shape of the Forth Rail Bridge (often just referred to around here as “The Bridge” and everyone knows you mean the rail bridge and not the nearby road bridges) was just apparent, the diamond-shaped cantilever section like the humps of some vast sea serpent rising from the waters. Here you can see it and the 20th century suspension road bridge a bit further behind it, although the new Queensferry Crossing, now almost complete, is hidden by the mist. In the foreground you can just make out Inchcolm and the shape of some of the buildings on this island’s 12th century abbey (which you can visit via a Forth cruise – well worth the trip):

Forth Rail Bridge 014

Forth Rail Bridge 015

On the ride home I decided to jump off at North Queensferry for a while before heading back across river to Edinburgh, and walked down the steep slope to where the village nestles around the northern base of the Forth Rail Bridge, right by the banks of the Forth.

Forth Rail Bridge 01

At this side of the river you can walk right under the end of one of the vast “diamond” shapes of this massively over-engineered cantilever structure, and despite the now bitingly cold wind it was worth the chill to walk down by the lapping waters of the Forth past this iconic piece of engineering that has become a landmark.

Forth Rail Bridge 02

Forth Rail Bridge 07

This was the view standing right under the northernmost diamond, looking straight across the river through the Meccano Set of girders – you can see the next diamond shape behind it through the forest of red steelwork:

Forth Rail Bridge 08

It’s a massive Victorian structure, hugely over-built (a reaction to the earlier failure of the Tay Bridge), and you know it is large, I mean you can see if from parts of Edinburgh for goodness sake, you can see the top parts of the diamond shapes from the main Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line. But there’s nothing quite like going underneath a structure like this to really get a sense of the sheer size and strength of it. It’s like standing under the Eiffel Tower, but turned on its side. Magnificent piece of history and engineering.

Last light of day

Quick shot from the family mansion yesterday while I was through visiting dad. Sun declining rapidly, the vast geological bulk of the Campsie Hills already fallen into deep shadow, only a single bar of copper light from the setting sun across the summit line of the hills, the low clouds curling over the top and glowing in the last few moments of light. Only lasted a short time, light, hills, clouds just so, ever so briefly, glad I managed to capture it:

union of cloud and hills blessed by last rays of the day

Edinburgh from above…

Recently on a day off the sun came out to play – a low-in-the-sky winter sun, soft and golden light and long shadows. So I decided instead of going off to the cinema I’d go for a photo-walk, originally planning to walk up Calton Hill (which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote was one of the finest spots to take in views over our city) to take some photos looking out over Edinburgh. But on the way there, on a sudden whim I diverted into Princes Street Gardens and did something I haven’t done for years – climbed the Scott Monument. Several hundred narrow, spiral stone steps winding their way up over two hundred feet. Pretty exhausting, and, especially in the final third, pretty claustrophobic – the final couple of twists of the topmost steps is so narrow I couldn’t fit unless I turned side on! Not for anyone who gets dizzy easily, or fears enclosed spaces (and obviously not for anyone with no head for heights). But worth all the effort and discomfort, because two hundred feet up you get tremendous views over the ancient, volcanic geology and cityscape of Auld Reekie:

Edinburgh from above

Edinburgh from above 01

Jenners old department store with its richly carved facade normally towers over me as I walk along the street, peculiar to be looking down on it, rather than up…. As ever, click on the pics to see the bigger versions available on my Flickr page to see more details.

Edinburgh from above 04

Looking towards Saint Andrew Square and the tall column of the Melville Monument – normally I have to look up at this, but from the top of the Scott Monument I could zoom in and take a pic of the statue at the top from a straight-on perspective rather than angled up from the ground. In the background in the distance you can see some of the modern apartments which have sprung up in parts of the old dockside areas down in Leith, by the mighty Forth.

Edinburgh from above 05

Edinburgh from above 08

Looking eastwards towards the huge Scots-Baronial architecture of the Balmoral Hotel, which started life as one of the great Victorian railway hotels. The clock tower, a landmark on the Edinburgh skyline, has a timepiece which is actually set a few moments fast, by tradition – to encourage travellers to hurry down the stairs in front of it in time to catch their train in the station below. As with the Melville Monument I normally have to take pics from an angle looking up from far below, but from this vantage point I could zoom in and take a photo looking pretty much straight on for a change.

Edinburgh from above 09

Edinburgh from above 014

The great bulk of Arthur’s Seat, the enormous extinct volcano which sits right at the heart of the city, with the palace and parliament nestled at its feet, the whole lying in a royal park – you can go not just for a “countryside” walk but a decent bit of hill-walking here without leaving the city centre! And the views from the top are pretty spectacular too. Part of the ancient volcanic topography which gave Edinburgh its unique cityscape, it is also one of the places which inspired the modern science of geology, with Hutton wandering around Arthur’s Seat as he began to form some of the first understandings of how our planet is shaped over vast eons of time. And it’s a pretty spectacular piece of scenery to have right in the middle of a capital city – I rather enjoy looking at it each day on my way to work.

Edinburgh from above 018

The low, now rapidly setting winter sun casts shadows and warm tones across the western side of the New Town, with the tall, triple spires of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, more landmarks on the city’s skyline, almost silhouetted in the declining sunlight.

Edinburgh from above 019

And the view looking downwards towards Princes Street below!

Edinburgh from above 020

looking up

And here’s what I had to clamber up to take those pics – over two hundred feet of a Gothic rocket, like a stone version of Thunderbird Three. I have always thought it exceptionally civilised that this enormous monument – the largest monument anywhere in the world to a writer – is not dedicated to some king or general, but an author, a teller of tales, of stories and books. Given that my Edinburgh is built as much of the printed pages as it is history and geology and architecture (look here, Robert Louis Stevenon’s home, there the Sherlock statue marking where Conan Doyle’s family house was, there the pub where Inspector Rebus drinks in Ian Rankin’s novels, there the spot where the early encyclopedias and dictionaries were published, there a cafe where a then impoverished single mother huddled for warmth and wrote her tales of a boy wizard, here the Writer’s Museum, there the Storytelling Centre, over there the largest literary festival on the planet). The Scott Monument itself boasts dozens of sculptures from top to bottom, characters taken from Sir Walter Scott’s many books. Literature in stone.

A misty day on the hills

clouds and hills 01

clouds and hills 02

Out with dad a few days ago, overcast and grey, not ideal for taking photographs, but on the other hand this winter’s day saw the clouds come down low to curl around the the summit and the upper slopes of the Campsie Hills like a soft, silk scarf. And then a little later I saw this beautifully carved old Celtic Cross in the kirkyard of the old (sadly fire-damaged) kirk at Lennoxtown, and taking the right angle the cloud-shrouded hills in the background, and I couldn’t resist taking another photo…

Cross, clouds, hills

Winter sun and rising mists…

Dad and I were out and about last weekend, glorious golden winter sunlight, sun low, low, low in the skies now (sunset is now well before 4pm as we move into winter, and the longest night/shortest day is still weeks away). From the top of the Tak Me Doon Road between the Carron Valley and Kilsyth we got these views looking down, the last of the sunlight warming high ground on one side, the other in shadows because of the low sun, the temperature differential creating beautiful, soft, ephemeral mists, but not actually at ground level, hovering a bit higher up, like a blanket of light mist draped over the valley below:

winter sunlight in mist 02

I couldn’t resist this – seen in the last half hour or so of the short daylight, this bare, winter tree silhouetted against the mist, which was turning this beautiful warm copper colour as the sun rapidly declined in the east:

winter sunlight in mist 03

winter sunlight in mist 04

A little earlier we had been round the back of the Campsie Hills and past the Carron Valley reservoir – again the mist rising in the gap between weak winter sunlight on one side and shadows on the other, and again hovering not at ground (or in this case water) level but several feet above it. Utterly gorgeous to take in; while I’m glad some photos came out I’ve got to say they don’t really do justice to how it looked to the naked eye. To say nothing of the feel of it – peaceful, very, very quiet, hardly any other cars passing on the rural road, no town noises, no wind that day, only the sound from some waterfowl, the amber winter sunlight, the long, long shadows and that soft silence, the world screened out by the hills around us:

Carron Reservoir, winter day 05

Carron Reservoir, winter day 04

Carron Reservoir, winter day 01

And one last one, from earlier in the afternoon, from the top of the Crow Road on the Campsie Hills, looking west down into the valley below – all this just a short car ride from the busiest city in Scotland…

winter sunlight in mist 05

Some more night views

Been sorting out and uploading some more shots I took on a long (if somewhat chilly) winter photo-walk around Edinburgh at night recently – with the sun being down not long after four in the afternoon it certainly makes it easier to take dusk and night shots without having to wander round town with camera and tripod late in the evening. This is the Ensign Ewart, a centuries old pub named for the soldier from the Scots Greys who took an Eagle standard from one of the French regiments during the Battle of Waterloo. It is also the highest pub in the city, being right at the top of the Royal Mile, yards from the Castle Esplanade (where Ewart is interred under a large memorial):

The Ensign Ewart

From the entrance to the Castle Esplanade, looking down right from the start of the Royal Mile, which runs down from the Castle along the spine of the steep volcanic ridge the Old Town is built upon, to the Palace of Holyrood at the bottom end. You can see the 19th century attraction of the Camera Obscura on the right, still a big draw with tourists today

Camera Obscura at night 01

And there’s the Outlook Tower of the Camera Oscura on Castlehill, quite a prominent landmark:

Camera Obscura at night 02

A view from high up in the Old Town looking down and across the Georgian-era New Town – in the upper centre you can see the green dome of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and in the distance the Firth of Forth, with a moored oil rig near one of the yards on the Fife side of the river (click to see the bigger versions available on Flickr):

Dusk over the New Town

The distinctive Ramsay Garden block of very expensive apartments, right by the edge of the Castle Esplanade, high up on the ridge of the Old Town, a mixture of Scots Baronial architecture with some more unusual additions. This is the view from the Esplanade at dusk, the front of the structure is a major landmark on the Old Town’s steep-sided facade as viewed from down below in the New Town:

Ramsay Gardens at night 02

Down in the Grassmarket, this is the French Connection, a Scottish-French food takeaway – from the looks of the second picture the bloke inside had spotted me lining up my shot!

The French Connection 01

The French Connection 02

A little late night art-browsing for this couple on Victoria Street:

the nocturnal habits of art lovers

Boswell’s Court at the top of the Royal Mile, named for Doctor Boswell who lived there, a 17th century group of structures yards from the Castle, although much modified in the Victorian era. Doctor Boswell’s more famous nephew, James Boswell, biographer of Samuel Johnston, reputedly dined with the grand man of letters here. It is now home to the Witchery, a posh restaurant and supposedly the most haunted dining place in the city.

Boswell's Court at night 01

Boswell's Court at night 02

And some views of Edinburgh Castle from the Esplanade, just a little after the winter sun had set, still a tiny glimmer of light in the western sky behind the Castle – was much darker to the naked eye, but more obvious in a long exposure pulling out as much light as the camera could soak up:

Edinburgh Castle at dusk 01

Edinburgh Castle at dusk 02

Edinburgh Castle at dusk 03

And the Castle gates, now closed for the night, guarded by the stone sculptures of two of Scotland’s greatest historic heroes, Sir William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, instrumental in the Wars of Independence back the late 1200s and early 1300s:

Edinburgh Castle at dusk 05

Night vision

As autumn slips into winter the sun declines into the western sky earlier and earlier each evening now, setting a little after four in the afternoon now. So longer, colder, darker nights come in once more, but it’s not all bad when it gives you sunsets like this in Edinburgh – the sphinxes on the roof of the Royal Scottish Academy watching the sky becoming an Impressionist painting for just a few, brief moments, sun already gone but a last splash of colours across the western sky before the final fall of night:

winter sunset, Edinburgh 03

A lot of people paused to watch as Edinburgh Castle was silhouetted by the dying of the light:

winter sunset, Edinburgh 02

Despite the cold I went for a photo walk, and ended up spending over two hours taking night shots. Most still to be processed, but here are a few I took around Victoria Terrace:

Victoria Terrace at night 01

The terrace is in the Old Town and overlooks Victoria Street, which curves down steeply from George IV Bridge down to the Grassmarket. There are several bars and restaurants at one end of the terrace – if you go into the front of those establishments from the Royal Mile or Johnston Terrace (behind the Castle) you seem to be going in at ground level, but because the Old Town is built on a steeply sloped volcanic ridge, when you come out their back door to the terrace you find yourself looking down over several more levels below. It’s a good place to see the different levels Edinburgh’s geology forced the architecture to take.

Victoria Terrace at night 02

Victoria Terrace at night 04

A lot of people don’t even notice the terrace above Victoria Street when they visit, quite easy to miss, but if you are in town it’s well worth a quick wander along, night or day, because it offers some unusual perspectives on the Old Town and views across the heart of the town, such as towards 17th century Heriot’s School, which here looks like the Edinburgh branch of Hogwart’s:

Victoria Terrace at night 05

And now it is dark before I leave work each day I get views like this walking up the Royal Mile:

Royal Mile at night

Stormy weather…

Down at Portobello this afternoon, grey, windy, stormy, high tide being pushed even more by the wind, causing the waves to smash into the sea wall with mighty booms, like roaring thunder…

crashing waves 01

And then often hitting the sea wall with such energy it was forced up and along, fountaining upwards to rise up and over then splash down onto the promenade

crashing waves 02

crashing waves 03

While people were enjoying watching it splash up and over, although they would then dart backwards with delighted shrieks

crashing waves 05

Naturally I used the bigger zoom on my new camera to take these – I wasn’t getting that close!!

crashing waves 06