After Dark

As we move deep into autumn and winter knocks at the door, that means it is getting darker earlier and earlier each evening. This isn’t all bad, of course, because that means I get to take night shots just by walking home from work of an evening. This was the world’s largest memorial to a writer, the great Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument, last night, at “Blue Hour”, that brief, magical twilight moment when the sun has set, the eastern sky is dark but the western sky still has a pale, blue light to it from the vanished sun below the horizon, one of my favourite times of day during autumn and winter, especially as that light quality in the sky silhouettes Edinburgh’s old buildings:

Scott Monument at dusk 02

This is looking west from Waverley Bridge, across the now-dark Princes Street Gardens towards the Mound, where the National Gallery of Scotland (on the left) and the Royal Scottish Academy (on the right) can be seen, with the western sky just fading into darkness, the last burst of colours before full nightfall:

The Mound - Blue Hour

Zooming in a bit more from the previous picture, the large, plate-glass, brightly-lit windows you can see below the Royal Academy are part of the Playfair extension which lies under the plaza on the Mound between the two galleries. It was completed a few years ago and connects both structures underground with more exhibition and work spaces, plus a cafe and restaurant by these windows, looking out into Princes Street Gardens:

darkening skies, bright windows

Last night on my way home from work, the iconic old Bank of Scotland building which stands at the top of the Mound by the road which curves up from the Georgian-era New Town to the medieval Old Town above on its volcanic ridge. There was a large crescent Moon rising in the early evening sky, and from this perspective it looked as it it were right above the dome on the bank building, so I had to get a shot of it. These are the sorts of things you just get to see walking home from work when you live in Edinburgh. Not a bad commute, is it?

Edinburgh Moonrise

Doo’cot

This charming old doo’cot is part of the estate around Elcho Castle in Fife, just a few miles from the River Tay:

Elcho Castle Doo'cot 02

The inside is slowly being colonised by nature, ferns and creeping plants growing out of the stone nest ledges of this hive-shaped old dovecot, which gave it a particular beauty, I think:

Elcho Castle Doo'cot 07

And looking up through the open roof to the sky beyond I liked the effect it made, and it just seemed like a scene that would work better in monochrome, so I switched to B&W mode on the camera and positioned myself looking straight up to get this:

Elcho Castle Doo'cot 06

Cloisters

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.

Cloisters 04

Cloisters 01

Glasgow University 04

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.

An Edinburgh View…

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:

An Edinburgh View 01And down into the old Grassmarket area, which contains inns that were old even when Robert Burns came to stay in them, and beyond to the large bulk of the Edinburgh College of Art An Edinburgh View 04

And historic Greyfrairs church and kirkyard, witness to some pivotal moments in Scottish and British history

An Edinburgh View 05An Edinburgh View 010

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

An Edinburgh View 07Herriot’s School, looking very much like what you would expect to see if Hogwart’s had an Edinburgh branch An Edinburgh View 012

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)

An Edinburgh View 015And 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 An Edinburgh View 016

An Edinburgh View 018Ah, 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. Edinburgh Old Town panorama vid

Moonrise Kingdom

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).

winter moon rising over Old Town

Edinburgh, city of hills and spires…

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…

Edinburgh, city of hills and spires
(pic from my Flickr, click to see larger version on there)

Spring skyline

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:

Edinburgh skyline, spring sunset 02

Edinburgh skyline, spring sunset 07

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:

Edinburgh skyline, spring sunset 09

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…

Edinburgh skyline, spring sunset 04

Scott Monument, spring evening

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…

Scott Monument, spring sunset 01

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…

Scott Monument, spring sunset 04

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)

Scott Monument, spring sunset 010

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.

Isn’t she pretty in pink?

Jenners department store, the grand old dame of Edinburgh shopping, lit up pink at night to highlight the breast cancer awareness, something they’ve done for the last few years – quite a nice touch.

Isn't she pretty in pink 01

Close up of some of the handsomely sculpted caryatids on the richly decorated facade of Jenners

Isn't she pretty in pink 03

More nocturnal Edinburgh

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):

Balmoral Hotel and Calton Hill from Mound

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:

Balmoral Hotel clock tower

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:

spire silhouettes

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:

statue, star, castle

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:

nocturnal National Gallery of Scotland 01

And at the front of the the National Gallery, with banners hanging between the pillars before the front entrance:

Nocturnal National Gallery of Scotland 03

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:

Bank of Scotland building at night 02

Colours

Riddles Court, sunny day 02

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.

Riddles Court, sunny day 01