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…
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And the view looking downwards towards Princes Street below!
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.
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):
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
And there’s the Outlook Tower of the Camera Oscura on Castlehill, quite a prominent landmark:
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):
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:
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!
A little late night art-browsing for this couple on Victoria Street:
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.
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:
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:
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:
A lot of people paused to watch as Edinburgh Castle was silhouetted by the dying of the light:
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:
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.
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:
And now it is dark before I leave work each day I get views like this walking up the Royal Mile:
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…
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
While people were enjoying watching it splash up and over, although they would then dart backwards with delighted shrieks
Naturally I used the bigger zoom on my new camera to take these – I wasn’t getting that close!!
I regularly look through the archives on my Flickr photostream, and if I see any pics I shot on this day in previous years I will pick out a few and post them on Twitter. This one cropped up recently, taken in 2011. I was actually in the Dovecot Studios for Doors Open Day to take some photos and explore a bit – it’s an old public swimming pool, long closed and then converted into a great studio space for textile artists. Being an old pool it has a large glass roof which lets lots of natural light into the space where the swimming pool would once have been, which is obviously great for the artists. The upper walkway above what would have been the pool has been retained, and as I was taking some photos of the studio I noticed these two ladies at the other end of the walkway, and the way the natural light and shadows were around them was just begging for a monochrome shot, and as I had the camera out I zoomed in and took a quick pic.
I had almost forgotten I had taken this one until it came up when checking the Flickr archives, still quite pleased with it considering it was a quick shot taken on the spur of the moment just because the positions, light and shadow all seemed just right.
Made a new friend while walking down Middle Meadow Walk. Extremely busy at rush hour with folks walking home from work and legions of students from the nearby university, and here is this handsome wee chap darting around among the trees just a few feet from hundreds of people, most walking past without even noticing he was there. I love that little things like this can happen even just walking home from work in a bustling city:
It’s Edinburgh, it’s August and that means festival time – the city is bursting at the seams with the Edinburgh International Festival The Art Festival, The Edinburgh International Book Festival and, of course, the world’s largest arts festival, the Fringe.
And that means me taking a lot of photos, mostly on the Royal Mile, where the performers traditionally congregate to try to build an audience – with hundreds of shows you really have to fight for bums on seats at the Fringe, and a lot of shows often don’t get many while others sell out, so being noticed is all important, with many out in costumes and make-up, others perform small snippets from their shows on the wee stages set up along the Mile, and it’s just packed pretty much wall to wall on the section of the Mile along by the Cathedral. Happy hunting ground for taking pics, first year I have been using the new camera, which is still a bridge camera but with manual zoom and manual focus, which has been a real boon, much quicker and easier than relying on auto-focus, especially in a busy, chaotic street environment with lots of movement of folks.
As always click the pics to see the larger sized versions over on my Flickr photo stream.
That manual zoom and focus is proving damned handy for taking quick shots of moving performers, and the larger zoom means I can get in a bit closer for capturing this kind of shot:
Sometimes masks must be used to protect the innocent…
Plenty of singing on the Fringe too:
Not to mention dance:
And some enchanting smiles
Watched over by the Fringe Police! You picked the wrong festival to haul ass through, boy!
During the Edinburgh International Film Festival last week I saw a film called Cinema, Mon Amour, a documentary about a group trying to save an old cinema in Romania. Afterwards the Filmhouse very kindly gave us a short tour of the main projection booth – we had to be quiet and I couldn’t use the flash as another festival screening was going on below us (we could see it through the wee rectangular window in the booth). The pair of decades old cine projectors are named Kenneth and Sid – even in this bastion of arthouse and international film, the Carry On movies have influence!
Quite nostalgic for me to see these and hear them – the whirring sound of anaologue projectors is part of my childhood memories of cinema, and at home we had a Super 8mm cine camera as well as our 35mm still cameras, and we screened them quite often on long winter’s nights for the family. There’s something satisfying about old analogue tech like this, you can see it moving, see how it works. The Filmhouse must be one of the last cinemas in the city that retains the ability to show actual film prints as well as digital and properly trained projectionists. They were telling us about their skills, from being able to change from one projector to the other seamlessly mid-film, fixing broken celluloid to adjusting focus, ratio and even speed for different formats and eras (early films shot on hand-cranked cameras require a lot of skill to adjust the film speed, since their shooting rate varied as cameramen’s arms got tired. Lovely to see these magic lanterns which paint stories on a screen using nothing more than light…
I’m enjoying a few days off for my annual Edinburgh International Film Festival fun. Last night at the Traverse Theatre as part of the film fest they had an “in conversation” with French actor Dominique Pinon, who has appeared in a number of my favourite films over the years. One of those evening that reminds me one of the reason I love living here so much is that with our festivals everyone comes to Edinburgh at some point, writers, directors, actors, musicians, they all come here. I took a few photos with the new camera – sitting several rows up and back in a theatre so not the best place for taking photos, but out of the batch I shot a handful came out passably.
Walking around the annual Meadows Festival recently, beautifully bright, summer day, and I could hear old music drifting over the air. It was coming from this very handsome old HMV gramophone on a stall selling antiques:
Rather lovely thing to see and hear, especially in the park on a warm afternoon in the sun…