I’ve been meaning to take some photos around the gorgeous old cloisters that divide the two main quadrangles in Glasgow University for ages, and as I was visiting nearby Kelvingrove then walking past the Uni with chums on the way to Ashton Lane (a regular haunt from the old days, lovely wee cobbled back street with indy cinema, bars, restaurants and cafes), we paused at the uni so I could get a few shots.
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.
It was the annual Doors Open Day at the weekend and as I usually do I went out exploring. Walked from the lower east end of the New Town back up through the Old Town and to Tollcross before going for a break, several hours of walking, exploring and of course taking photos as I went. I shot a gig of pics, still culling out the duff ones, but one set I processed quickly and uploaded to my Flickr, a set shot from a vantage point I didn’t even know existed. One of the places taking part in Doors Open was the old India Buildings, which used to be offices, including the civic registry office (so there was often a lot of confetti outside the doors). At the moment it is mostly empty, plans in hand to redevelop it into something cultural hopefully, so there wasn’t a huge amount to see inside (apart from a lovely central atrium). However once through a suite of empty, dilapidated rooms on the topmost floor there was a narrow spiral staircase in a corner, only wide enough (just) for one person), which lead up to a small attic room. And as I was thinking, is that it?
I noticed outside the open window a very, very small stone balcony, invisible from the streets way below, so narrow it was only wide enough for one person, so I clambered out the window and along it, and oh, what a hidden and wonderful surprise… Views across half the Old Town of Edinburgh… Including this view of Edinburgh Castle:
And historic Greyfrairs church and kirkyard, witness to some pivotal moments in Scottish and British history
Nearby across the roofs was the lantern top of the enormous Central Library – I’ve been to several literary events in that space (multiple level library room with all those windows so high up flooding it with natural light), but I’ve never seen it from this perspective before
North over curving Victoria Street to the Royal Mile and the distinctively coloured historic structure of Riddles Court, which I’ve visited on previous Doors Open (amazing interiors)
And a view down into Victoria Street, which curves downwards from George IV Bridge down into the Grassmarket, and which is a splendid spot for observing the multiple levels Edinburgh’s Old Town architecture exists on as it straddles the steep slopes of the great volcanic ridge which runs down from Castle Rock to the palace. Normally I am looking up at this scene of multiple levels curving around and above me, but this time I got to look down into it all – quite wonderful experience to see it all from the perspective of the eagle’s eyrie
Ah, Edinburgh, you can still surprise me after all these years living here and give me such lovely presents to point my camera at (coincidentally I noticed I just passed the 12,000 images mark on my Flickr photo stream over the weekend). There’s history and geology and literature and more embedded into this hilly, volcanic terrain and towering, ancient structures which rise from the rocks (and often cut deeps into them too, to a world below…), such a remarkable city, no wonder I love living here.
I was out taking some night shots in Edinburgh this evening – I say night, but actually I started around half past four in the afternoon as the sun has set by then at this time of year! Looking over from Princes Street Gardens to the Old Town on its volcanic ridge I could see a half moon rising in the winter night over the Bank of Scotland headquarters on top of the Mound, where the road snakes up from the New Town to the Old Town. Magical scenes like this are one of the reasons why I love living in Edinburgh, it has the most beautiful cityscape in the world (click to see larger version on my Flickr).
A view from the Queen’s Drive as it curls around Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano which dominates Edinburgh and which millions of years ago defined it’s geology, making it a city of many levels, hills, valleys. And wherever you look down on the city from the a high vantage point, many stone spires, grounded in the native bedrock but reaching to the heavens above…
Walking home from work, for once the sun had come out, end of the day in very early spring, sun already low in the sky now dipping towards the western horizon, casting copper light and long shadows over Edinburgh’s spectacular skyline:
A zoom in on some details of the crowded roofs of the tall buildings of the Old Town, with the spire of the Tron Kirk visible on the Royal Mile, rising above them, the peak of Arthur’s Seat prominent in the background:
I thought this one worked as a sort of cross-section of the Old Town, showing off the old structures which descend the steep sides of the volcanic ridge which the Old Town lies on – it’s a city of many levels, Edinburgh, and that’s before you consider what’s below ground too…
The beautiful, almost wedding cake architecture of Ramsay Gardens, surely one of the most unique set of dwelling places in the British Isles, sat literally right by the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Old town’s volcanic ridge, commanding views out across the 18th century New Town towards the mighty Firth of Forth, seen here catching the last rays of a spring day sun…
Walking home from work a few evenings ago, chilly and yet such gorgeous light quality – a pale blue dome of sky above and the stretched out, amber light of the sinking sun splashed over the city creating a soft glow on the old buildings of Edinburgh. I love the changing quality of light we experience in our northern kingdom, especially spring and autumn. As the warm light touches the ancient stone it produces a beautiful colour, and the low sun creates both light and long, contrasting shadows, which against the blue of the sky makes it irresistible to my camera…
I’ve taken many photos of the great Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument over the years, but walking past it on an evening like this I find myself compelled to pause and get the camera out again, shooting yet another version of it, but each time it is a little different, so I can’t resist…
One of the grotesques projecting from the first floor balcony of the two hundred feet of literary monument (and yes, it is a grotesque, not a gargoyle – it’s only technically a gargoyle if it also functions as a water spout)
And Sir Walter still looks upon the city, reclining in marble splendour between the massive stone ‘legs’ of his towering monument. I always think that the fact in a city full of remarkable buildings and monuments one of the largest (indeed the largest literary monument in the world) in the city is not to a king, queen, duke or conquering general of imperial grandeur, but to a writer, well, I think that’s very, very civilised.
A few more shots from my recent nocturnal camera stroll around Edinburgh – shooting from the Mound, looking east toward the very posh Balmoral Hotel (originally the North British railway hotel from the golden days of rail travel), with Calton Hill behind, the telescope shaped tower of the Nelson Monument visible on the right background and the National Monument, meant to be a replica of the Parthenon but they ran out of money; over the last couple of centuries or so various groups have tried to find the money to finish it but I doubt they ever will and most of us would rather they didn’t, it is part of the city as it is (also a nice reminder about hubris and that overweening desire to build grand, triumphant memorial architecture just to impress):
If you are visiting, Calton Hill is one of the best central location from which to take in views of Edinburgh, along Princes Street past the Balmoral, over to the Castle, Old Town, down to the Palace of Holyrood, or down the coast to North Berwick. The great Edinburgh author Robert Louis Stevenson, in his Picturesque notes described the views from Calton Hill:
“Of all places for a view, this Calton Hill is perhaps the best; since you can see the Castle, which you lose from the Castle, and Arthur’s Seat, which you cannot see from Arthur’s Seat. It is the place to stroll on one of those days of sunshine and east wind which are so common in our more than temperate summer. The breeze comes off the sea, with a little of the freshness, and that touch of chill, peculiar to the quarter, which is delightful to certain very ruddy organizations and greatly the reverse to the majority of mankind. It brings with it a faint, floating haze, a cunning decolourizer, although not thick enough to obscure outlines near at hand. But the haze lies more decolourizer, although not thick enough to obscure outlines near at hand. But the haze lies more thickly to windward at the far end of Musselburgh Bay; and over the Links of Aberlady and Berwick Law and the hump of the Bass Rock it assumes the aspect of a bank of thin sea fog. ”
And a close up of the clock tower on the Balmoral; by tradition the clock is always set two or three minutes fast to encourage people not to tarry on the way to their train at the station below:
Looking west this time from the same vantage point on the Mound, a little up slope from the Church of Scotland Assmbly building, zoomed in here on the bulk of the Caledonian Hotel (another very grand posh, former railway hotel, at the opposite end of Princes Street from the Balmoral. In the foreground the spire with the clock on it belongs to Saint Cuthberts, a very unusual (for Scotland) kirk which is more Eastern Orthodox than traditional Scottish in design. Above and behind the flank of the Caledonian you can see the multiple spires of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, shot just half an hour after the sun had set below the horizon, but there was still some colour in the western skies:
Down on Princes Street, by the West Princes Street Gardens, looking up past the statue of 18th century poet Allan Ramsay towards the illuminated, ancient stone walls of Edinburgh Castle, with the first star of evening visible over his shoulder:
From the Mound again, looking down on the National Gallery of Scotland. I elevated the tripod as high as I could but couldn’t clear the tall railings in front of my vantage point, but now I actually find I like them in there, act like a border for the bottom of the image and slope down nicely right to left leading the eye into the photo:
And at the front of the the National Gallery, with banners hanging between the pillars before the front entrance:
Another one from the Mound, looking up where the road curves up above the National Gallery past the Bank of Scotland’s headquarters before turning up and over the Royal Mile:
Bright, sunny, warm autumn day, really bringing out the colours in the historic Riddles Court, even in the small confines of the wee square of the court between the towering tenements of the Old Town, right off the Royal Mile, the sun still managed to creep in to light up the wonderful colour on this building and nature even kindly provided me with a lovely blue sky to contrast it against it and a few shadows from a neighbouring tenement.
Going up the Fife side of the Firth of Forth the other weekend, passing through Limekilns, saw this old house with a tower. My eyes were drawn upwards to the “witch’s hat” roof on the tower:
And look what the weather vane on the top was – perhaps this is where Patrick McGoohan’s Number 6 went to after he left the Village in The Prisoner?
“Be seeing you“
It was the annual Doors Open Day in Edinburgh last weekend, where you get the chance to explore buildings you normally don’t get a chance to. Of course the new camera came along with me – I’m still sorting pics from it, but here are the first few, all from the mid 19th century New Register House at the start of Princes Street, where all the centralised records of births, marriages, deaths and various other records (such as the National Archives and the Lord Lyons Office in Scotland are). This domed rotunda from the 1860s has metalled shelves to reduce fire risk – its curving shelves on the floors apparently run to miles of storage, rising up 90 feet to the dome above. There was an interesting talk during which the chap showed some of the records held there, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s birth record and Rob Roy’s will. Between the various buildings there are three lovely domed rotunda buildings lined with bookshelves. I do like domes – both aesthetically and from a practical engineering point of view they are wonderful creations.