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


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

I wonder if this house’s number is 6?

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:

Prisoner house 01

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?

Prisoner house 02

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.

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 01

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 02

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 04

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 06

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 07

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 010


I’m enjoying some time off and lo and behold the grim, gray weather of the weekend vanished to be replaced by gloriously sunny, spring-like weather (although still pretty cool, if not actually frosty in the shade). Good lord, good weather on a week off? Gasp. And it’s that beautiful, golden quality of sunlight at this time of year, not the brighter, bleaching sunlight of summer (well, when we get sun in summer in Scotland…) while the air still has that clear quality from winter, a combination which is especially good for taking photos, I find, especially of some buildings. Yesterday the sunlight was complimented by a wonderfully clear sky, like a blue crystal dome, utterly cloudless, as I decided to head down to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Despite the fact I have lived in the city since the start of the 90s I’ve rarely been down to the Botanics, mostly because it’s never really been near where I lived or worked, nor is it close to any friend’s home I might be going to or any other place I might be visiting.

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 02

I ended up spending hours walking through the greenhouses, from the lovely original Palm House (above), which dates from 1834 and is a splendid example of the glass, iron and steel construction the Victorian period pioneered so spectacularly. Still gorgeous today – especially on a bright day – but imagine how much more impressive this structure must have appeared to the Edinburgh citizens of the 1830s, who lived in a city of tall, impressive stone buildings.In the Old Town towering stone tenements used the limited space effectively but also make for shadowed canyons; even the New Town with its Georgian splendour and much larger windows and wider streets still would not have this quality, a space flooded with huge amounts of natural light sparkling through glass suspended from a seemingly frail – but actually very strong – slim latticework of iron. Being midweek it was fairly quiet and I often had entire glasshouses to myself and it was delightfully peaceful.
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 07
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 09
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 10
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 16
I shot far too many photos as I toured through the various public glasshouses (there are others which are for research) from the Palm House through tropics and arid biospheres; I’ve only uploaded a few so far and will do the rest later, although I also shot a brief video in each of the glasshouses as I went through them and I’ve edited them together into a ‘virtual tour’:


Walking along the Union Canal near the old brewery, some new buildings I’ve seen being constructed over the last year. Wasn’t sure if they were small offices or going to be homes, but I’ve been told they are a modern version of town houses, although it looks like they have completed them just in time for them to lie mostly empty as no-one can get the mortgage to buy them. I walk this way quite a lot and I’ve shot this in colour and not really cared much for the resulting pics, but shooting in black and white (and my B&W shots are shot properly in B&W, not colour then greyscaled afterwards on Photoshop, it makes a difference – any of my Flickr pics you see in B&W were shot in B&W) I was much more satisfied with the result.

Union Canal new construction 1

(click for the bigger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr)

"Picture this"

Still on my rediscovering my love for black and white kick, took this shot in Edinburgh’s West End yesterday on my way to speak to the Book Festival folks, the dome of West Register House which is the jewel in the crown of the Georgian New Town’s beautiful and prestigious Charlotte Square. I took both a monochrome and a colour shot (mostly because the sky was such a lovely, clear blue) – which is better, do you think?

Register House from West End 3

Personally I think this scene is better served in monochrome. And yes, I know I could shoot once in colour and then create a B&W version in PhotoShop, but as I’ve said before I prefer not to retouch my pictures other than a little cropping, alter contrast etc slightly, basically no more than I’d have done in my dark room film days, so if you see it in B&W here then I shot in B&W. I think grayscaling from colour in a photo package just seems a little flatter somehow, lacks the kind of silvery glow you get from proper black and white. Anyway, I took both to compare them.

Register House from West End 2

and a slightly longer shot of the same scene taking in one of the gorgeous Georgian street in the West End with the dome rising above everything:

Register House from West End

More of the Louvre

Since blogger is grudgingly and slowly letting me upload some pics tonight, some more pics from Paris, still sticking with the Louvre theme:

I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid which now functions as the entrance to the Louvre, descending down into the pyramid to a vast space with the ticket desks, information and entrances to the various wings of what is probably the world’s most famous museum. Turn the other way and walk through the Jardin de Tuileries and you come out into a square leading your eyes up a line straight to the Champs Elysees and L’Arc de Triomphe.

heading into one of the wings with some of the Louvre’s astonishing amount of Classical material

Which includes the world’s original supermodel, The Venus de Milo. Who I believe is now romantically linked with Paul McCartney 🙂

La Joconde – the Mona Lisa, smiling for the many tourists. While photography seemed to be fine in most of the Louvre they did ask – as is the usual case in any gallery – not to use cameras in the rooms with the paintings, probably because so many idiots don’t know how to switch off their flash which damages them. Despite the fact I rarely use the flash I still kept my camera in my pocket for this wing, despite masses of tourists – especially the many Japanese – merrily ignoring the rule and firing camera flashes off right in front of the paintings which made me want to slap them round the head, bloody idiots. There were so many the curators didn’t even try to stop them. I broke my rule and did take one painting pic for this (no flash so I don’t feel to guilty) as people were standing right there in front of curators snapping away.

One of the things I really liked in the wings with the paintings was the fact that several artists had been allowed to set up their easels to paint their own versions of some of the works, something I found to be rather satisfying to see. Actually La Joconde wasn’t the most impressive painting there, famous as she is – the best work I saw (and there were many we didn’t have time to see properly, it is vast) was one that annoyingly I can’t remember the name of, but it reminded me of one of the Venetian paintings I raved about on here a few years back when there was an exhibition on at the Royal Scottish Academy. I wish I could remember the name or artist, but like a couple of the works I saw there it leapt out the frame at me, the colours, especially the blues, so amazingly bright and vibrant it was like the artist had painted Mediterannean sunlight right into the canvas, still pouring out of the painting centuries later.

In the Richelieu wing there was this terrific open space, essentially a sculpture garden indoors, with this amazing glass and steel roof (like a smaller version of the brilliant one now on top of the British Museum in London) shielding us from the elements so it felt like being outside but sheltered. Natural light floods this space and its twin further along the wing (these are the ones in the video clips from the other day) and a lot of artists were making the most of the light to sketch some of the friezes and sculptures; I’d imagine the statues would afford a great class in how to portray human anatomy and form and what a terrific space to draw in. Or take pictures in.

I love this space, I think I could sit here for ages

Inside the glass pyramid – I love the spiral staircase with no visible means of support (not even thin suspended wires); the column it is wrapped round is actually a lift. Its open at the top and the entire column sinks down – it doesn’t telescope down, the entire structure actually slides down into the floor, very cool!

As usual click the pics to see the larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream (only 184 in the Paris set so far, still a ton to add; no doubt many more Paris pics and vids to come!)

“Cities are like volcanoes, they always have to move. If they don’t they’re dead.”

This rather peculiar and somewhat nonsensical comment comes from Allan Murray, one of the architects behind the highly controversial ‘Caltongate’ scheme proposed for Edinburgh, which would see a major redevelopment of the Old Town leading to the Royal Mile, including demolishing some listed buildings (which also happen to be home to people as well as listed). Strangely enough the company behind this attempt to dump a pile of bland, featureless architecture in a historic World Heritage site has attacked the people opposing this ill-conceived plan as ‘thoughtless’, while commenting that it is right for democracy to have a say while then dismissing some 2, 000 complaints against them, from private individuals and from important heritage groups. Democracy obviously suits the developers only when it agrees with them, otherwise you are just being ‘thoughtless’ and emotional (gee, some folks will lose their homes, imagine being emotional over that?!?! Eejits).

The architect who came up with this strange ‘argument’ in favour of his development (which he obviously has a huge vested interest in) above is also responsible for incredibly dull, featureless modern creations in the city already, which have nothing in common with the city environment or any distinguishing features that would make them stand out from a hundred other developments anywhere else in the modern world, exactly the sort of boring design that makes our cities look so dull and repetitive, and which in a historic city like Edinburgh is worse than dull, it is cultural vandalism. We’ve had, huge, ill-advised developments dumped on us before and they still blight the city, it is completely right that people are wary of them, especially in an area like the Old Town. That caution doesn’t mean the city can’t continue to evolve and develop, just that we should be very, very careful how and where we do it and I get the impression the developers are more interested in money than protecting the community in that area and our historical nature. I’m not Prince Charles and have no wish to see only more Neo-Classical architecture, but in World Heritage sites like the Old Town and New Town it is always advisable to err on the side of caution. If a developer wishes to work in that area they should expect that, it shouldn’t be a surprise to them.

Oh and Mr Murray, volcanoes don’t so much move as erupt and explode. The ground around them may move as a result of their eruptions but the volcanoes themselves not so much (other than the ground moving by floating over the hot liquid rock below, but all ground does that). And I don’t think you want to include cities and active volcanoes in the same sentence because that’s a scenario which doesn’t raise connotations of flourishing life, rather images of destruction, so I’m not sure what point you were making there. Unless it was a Freudian slip acknowledging your oversized development in a sensitive area will be destructive and leave scars on the city for years, just like a volcanic eruption would. Quite why the council approved this in the face of mass rejection by affected citizens and heritage groups I have no idea; if I was a cynic I’d be checking for brown envelopes slipped under doors…

Doors Open Day

Tomorrow (Saturday 29th) is the annual Doors Open Day for Edinburgh, when people can get into buildings and areas of buildings that aren’t normally open to the public. It’s pretty interesting and also free so accessible to anyone – certainly every place we tried last year proved to be pretty busy with folks making the most of the opportunity. The Cockburn Association has all the details and there is also a Flickr stream for last year’s Door’s Open, which, I’m rather chuffed to say, also has one of the photos I took on it after the organisers asked if they could use it to help promote the event – hopefully I can get some more pics tomorrow with the new camera this time. I’m looking forward to wandering round with some friends poking into parts of my city that I don’t often get to see.

Doors Open

And as another Festival fades away (although the city is still busy with tourists – that ebbs and flows according to season but never actually stops) there are still more things to look forward to, including this year’s Doors Open Day on September 29th. That’s when many buildings, a lot of which the public normally don’t get into (or if they do there are parts they never normally see) allow people in free to explore their city and appreciate its culture, architecture and history – its really a great day, getting to see things in buildings you pass regularly but had never seen within. And I was quite pleased when I was asked if a couple of interior shots I took at last year’s Doors Open could be borrowed to be used for illustrating this year’s. You can get details from the Doors Open page on the Cockburn Association site here.