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.
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.
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.
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.
(click for the bigger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr)
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?
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.
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: