Party on Princes Street

Dark and very wet in Edinburgh as they are doing the final preparations for tonight’s Hogmanay bash – maybe not the best weather for standing outside for a huge open-air party. I’m giving it a miss – been there and done that many times (was there right at the very first one) and now at my age can’t be bothered freezing outside for hours, queuing ages for the loo etc, better at my age to retire to the billiards room of my Gentlemen’s Club with the port and (chocolate) cigars… The traffic was utterly fubared by the closure of Princes Street for the party, an endless line of cars and buses all the way back past Haymarket (I decided to walk, rain or not, it was quicker), which makes me worry how bad my daily trip to work will be when the stupid tram roadworks hit Princes St soon – wouldn’t mind if it was useful, but the line won’t go near 4/5 of homes so its bugger all use to most Edinburgh folks… Anyway, shot a quick panorama just after sunset; you can see a camera crew setting up on a platform to cover it, the lights of the fair in front of the illuminated Bank of Scotland Building over on the left, the stage almost ready in the Gardens and the Castle above it all.

Two sides of the Castle

Going to work a few days ago, south side of the Castle as the bus goes through the Grassmarket, home to old inns where Burns once stayed. At this time of year in Scotland the sun is so low in the sky it doesn’t clear Castle Ridge in the early morning, so from the New Town side on the north it is silhouetted with the rising sun behind it. But from the southern view that same low sun, stretched out to a golden copper as warm as the morning air is frigid, washes across the ancient wall and makes the native stone glow with life against a clear, pale blue sky.

This morning, the north side of the Castle, looking from Princes Street, the battlements in shadow as the low sun hides behind the Ridge. Everything is covered in hard frost, from the plants in the valley of the Gardens below the volcanic mount to the walls of the Castle, glittering in morning light, sparkling as if millions of tiny diamonds had been dusted over the city. Beautiful.

Moments of transitory beauty

On the way to work, a glorious, almost perfect Scottish autumn morning; the sun is lower in the horizon and its light now stretched out to deeper, warmer tones than the harsher light of summer – we’ve entered the Golden Time. Our location north of the edge of Europe means our weather and climate isn’t always the nicest but it also means we are at the curve of the Earth to see the sun tilt further as the seasons pass us, from the height of summer to the low arc of the sun’s brief appearance in winter. At this time of year, when we are lucky enough to have a clear day, it means the sunlight becomes the most glorious golden-copper hue; against the older buildings constructed of great blocks of native stone rather than mere bricks it looks magnificent.

It looks even more beautiful against our nation’s natural beauty (and regardless of weather one thing Scotland has in abundance is astonishing natural beauty), the warm gold of the autumnal sun matching the colours of the season perfectly, the gold of the harvest being brought in, the leaves browning, crisping, drying, turning, falling. Yesterday morning an almost perfect autumn scene – clear, pale blue sky and the sun, low now in the sky, just above Castle Ridge, shining directly through the rich foliage of the trees in Princes Street Gardens as I passed.

The branches are still full of heavy greenery from summer, but already some leaves are turning, a mix of verdant green with touches of red, brown and gold, the trees equivalent of the man with just a touch of distinguished gray, perhaps. The low morning sun came through them from behind and lit them up, the green still vibrantly alive, the turning leaves glowing as if from inner fire, a last reminder of beauty and life before the long sleep of winter; Edinburgh Castle, her ancient stones warming in the morning sun, the backdrop to this and what a backdrop. It lasted only seconds, the juxtaposition of where I was, where the sun was in relation to me, the trees, but for a few seconds I saw pure beauty shining in a dying leaf and the play of shadows and sunbeams across the Castle. For a few seconds I had no cares in this world, lost in the ephemeral, momentary beauty of my homeland, glowing with the glorious light of an Impressionist painting but infinitely more lovely than any artist’s hand could capture.

Fringe time

Its Edinburgh, its August, its time for the first stirrings of the world’s largest arts festival. The Fringe starts officially over the weekend, but already most shows are in town and running their (much cheaper tickets) previews. The husband and son of Mel’s cousin are over from Norway and I met them all straight from work at the Pleasance, one of the main spots for Fringe life. Mel and I introduced the Fringe newbies to our laid back way of doing it, which is to park out bums on a seat in the cobbled courtyard of the Pleasance (a hub with dozens of shows going on all the time, from tiny rooms to proper theatre sized shows) and wait for the many people coming round giving out flyers and telling folks about shows until we saw one we liked and off we went to see Son of a Preacher man, a stand-up comedy with Markus Birdman, an aetheist son of a clergyman – it was brilliant and I highly recommend it if you’re going Fringeing.

Afterwards we headed back down to the Royal Mile to get some food at Wannaburger and as we approached the Old College Building we heard a powerful beat and decided to have a quick look. We found Binari, a Korean musical group pounding drums in the old quadrangle, the sounds echoing around the space as they performed a sound check, that wonderful, almost frantic and kinetic drumming and singing. And its just so cool that walking past somewhere you just come across something like this, but that’s what happens in Edinburgh at this time of year. Its a circus, its maddening, busy and crazy and at the same time brilliant.

Last time I was in this building was for the launch of a major Scottish history book in the gorgeous Neo-Classical space of the Playfair Library, this time it is Korean musicians in the quad filling the night with music. After we’d had a late meal we walked up the Royal Mile, even near 11pm still buzzing with people as the Fringe starts up then as we approached the top of the Mile we had another treat.

A rehearsal for the Royal Military Tattoo was finishing up at the Castle and the cavalry were leading their horses down towards the horse boxes to take them home. Imagine a warm summer night in the middle of the Old Town, lights from the Tattoo flickering across the Castle and bagpipes playing while the clip-clop, clip-clop of horse’s hooves come down from the Castle, creak of leather and clink of metal as cavalry troops lead their immaculately groomed animals down the cobbled street then round past the hub to the waiting transports. Even in Edinburgh this isn’t exactly an everyday sight.

How beautiful is this horse? Just think, this is all happening in the heart of a capital city at 11pm, with a huge castle right behind me as I took this while behind the horse you can see the floodlit Herriot’s School which at night looks like where very young wizards get sent before they are old enough to go to Hogwarts.

Even at that time of night you can see the sky just doesn’t get fully dark at this time of year. Shame I didn’t have the tripod to take these properly but obviously I wasn’t quite expecting this. A little bit on unexpected magic.

Limo at the Castle

I decided on a rare dry evening after work to walk up to Edinburgh Castle and take some pics of it while the seating is up for the upcoming Edinburgh Military Tattoo (it also gets used for some concerts before and after the Tattoo – Blondie played there last weekend. Scarily Debbie Harry is only a few years younger then my mum!). As I was taking pics this Daimler Limousine arrived taking someone into the Castle. I have no idea if it was a member of the royal family, or an official or whoever it was as an ignorant tourist stepped right in front of my camera as the limo passed me so she could take a pic. I wonder who it was?