Yuletide Edinburgh

It’s Edinburgh, it’s a few days before Christmas, and with the short days, long nights and the sun have set before 4 in the afternoon it’s the time of year to enjoy Edinburgh’s nocturnal aspect, and how lovely Edinburgh is in the long, dark, winter nights – here’s the view from North Bridge, which connects Old and New Towns, spanning the valley between them, with the massive Waverley railway station way below (you can see the station’s glowing glass roof on the lower right of this pic; on the far left the Fruitmarket Gallery right above the tracks on the edge of the station, City Art Centre across from it, up towards the centre the domed Bank of Scotland building and behind it Edinburgh Castle standing sentinel above its city. Down on the right, centre the neo-Classical National Gallery of Scotland – as always click to see the larger versions on my Flickr site):

And a close up on Edinburgh Castle at night – if you look at the larger version you can even see people standing on the battlements looking down into the city. This was about twenty minutes after the sun had set, and the western skies were splashed with magnificent reds and purples silhouetting the floodlit Castle for just a few, brief, magical moments, before the skies darken for the long night:

And one more of the Castle, this time taken from down in Princes Street Gardens, which gave me the angle to get Ramsay Gardens (the very expensive apartments right next to the Castle on the left) and the big Christmas tree on the Mound into the shot):

The annual festive fair and market is in the Gardens and the Mound at this time of year. Right by the towering Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument is a huge fairground ride for Christmas, basically like an old chair-o-plane ride on steroids, the difference being when this starts to spin around swinging out the hanging seats below the canopy it goes high – very high. Take a look here – the Monument is over 60 metres in height and you can see the ride goes up only a few metres short of our great literary monument, couldn’t resist trying to get an angle to fit in both, glad dad gave me a small gizmo to mount on top of the tripod, little ball-socket thing that you can loosen and tilt to easily through a variety of angles, very, very handy):

Looking along the lower part of the Gardens towards the flank of the National Galleries of Scotland – the part you can see here, the large, brightly lit plate glass windows are actually underground for the most part. The main building sit on top of the mound, but it extends underneath the plaza in front of the building, including this side which is exposed by the valley of the Gardens, and here there is a cafe, restaurant, meeting rooms and more, plus a connection to the nearby Royal Scottish Academy, which you can see the edge of above and to the right:

And here’s a view of Princes Street Gardens with the festive fair and Christmas market, taken from the steps leading down the Mound:

I love this old double-decker carousel (or gallopers, if you prefer the nice, old terms for such rides), gorgeous looking, ornately decorated piece of work:

Over in Saint Andrew Square there are more market stalls, a circular ice rink in the centre, with a round temporary bar in the middle of the rink, and also this splendid old Spiegeltent theatre:

Here’s a view of the circular ice rink from the small footbridge they added over it:

And there’s an ice rink – a more traditionally shaped one – in the Gardens right by the Scott Monument too:

And of course as well as food and drink stalls there are many selling items of all sorts from clothes to jewelry to, of course, Christmas decorations:

All combines to fairly brighten up the long, cold, dark winter nights.

Little Green Van

Walking along the promenade at Portobello, Edinburgh’s seafront, just after sunset, the owner of the Little Green Van was closing up his food and drink stall for the day. I didn’t have the tripod with me as I thought we’d be home before dark, so improvised, sat the camera on the seawall, set the timer on a long exposure and was pretty pleased with the results – not bad considering it was an improvised night shot

The Swan

A few days ago I took a black and white photograph of a swan on the Union Canal, close to my home in Edinburgh. I’ve taken plenty of shots along the canal, including many of the swans, ducks and other wildlife that enjoy the waters, but this one, for some reason, has proved to be incredibly popular on Flickr. A simple shot, last hour of daylight (sun setting so early this time of year) giving some great reflections, and a swan which instead of paddling along was drifting, slowly, as if gently dozing, or perhaps lost in admiring its own reflection. I lined up to fit in both swan and reflection and took a pic, posted it up one evening last week, to discover by the next evening, less than twenty hours later, it had received over six thousand views. It’s now sitting just a shade under nine thousand. It had, like my recent Edinburgh in Blue Hour shot, made it onto Flickr’s Explore front page, so a lot more people saw it than usual, but even so I’m blown away with how many views, I’ve never had any shot gather to many views in such a short time (and so many favourites too). I’m also slightly puzzled – don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely picture, but I think I’ve taken many that are far better and they never got that sort of reception. Guess you can never truly predict what people will really like, and I never take a photo with number of views in mind anyway, I take them because I see something interesting, or unusual, or beautiful, and I want to capture a little of it and share it. And if people really like it even more than usual, then I’m quite happy, if slightly puzzled, but certainly happy and satisfied too…

When we remember…

The Remembrance Garden is open in Princes Street Gardens, serried rows of small crosses and poppies lined up in silent regiments around the enormous pillars of the Scott Monument. I took a few photographs last weekend as it was just opening ahead of the Remembrance Sunday weekend this weekend, volunteers from Poppy Scotland were still hammering a few more of the small crosses into the ground:

The smaller crosses are made for people to leave personal messages on – families of the fallen, old comrades and friends, some from conflicts long gone, a relative fallen at Arnhem in WWII, but not forgotten. There is a special section this year for more recent conflicts such as those lost in the Afghanistan campaign, bearing photographs of the fallen:

And there was one which had the simplest but most touching, hearbtreaking message that brought tears to my eyes:

A reminder, if any ever was needed that behind Big Historical Events, behind the bloody-handed politicians who make the decisions but never risk their life or that of their own, always someone else’s son or daughter or husband or wife, behind all the media pundits and their endless analysis filling the 24-hour rolling news discussions, behind all of that, individuals, ordinary people, taken from those who loved them, leaving them behind with a hole in their lives, in their hearts, a grievous wound that they will carry all the rest of their days, those left behind as wounded in their own way as any harmed on a battlefield. Again we can only wonder when the human race will learn.

The blood red fortress of the night

Crossing North Bridge (which spans the deep valley between Edinburgh’s Old Town and the Georgian-era New Town) a few nights ago I noticed that the Castle was illuminated in this deep red shade – as it turned out it was to mark the annual Poppy Appeal leading up to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, although given it was the week leading to Halloween the colour scheme worked quite well for that too… I was going from work to my book group, so didn’t have the tripod with me, so improvised, setting up a long exposure on the camera, setting the timer then sitting the camera on the parapet of the bridge. Not ideal – it is angled and with double decker buses rumbling over it frequently it vibrates, not what you want when trying to take a long exposure night shot, took three or four but only this one came out reasonably (click to see larger versions on my Flickr):

Edinburgh – ‘blue hour’

It’s dark well before I leave for work at this time of year, but while some complain about the increasingly long, dark nights I see it as a chance to enjoy the city’s nocturnal face, and to take some more night shots. I was lucky enough to be walking home from work at just the right time this week to capture a ‘blue hour’ shot – a phrase used by some photographers to refer to catching an early night shot, when most of the sky has gone dark but there is still just a tiny glimmer of pale, blue light in the western horizon. Walking up the Royal Mile which runs east to west and slopes upwards along the spine of the volcanic ridge the Old Town sits on, the sky above and behind me was already dark, but just a little light still to the west, and of course on a long exposure on the camera is seems much brighter as it spent a couple of minutes drinking in the scant light. I love capturing these moments even mroe than a full night shot, you get the illuminated street scenes of a busy night-time city but also that little blue light to silhouette some of the buildings too. This image must have been shared somewhere, because my views for it went crazy on my Flickr stream – over 2600 views in less than 20 hours of posting, which is pretty satisfying. Click the pic to see the larger versions on my Flickr:

Indigent Gentlewoman…

I noticed this shiny brass plaque on a very posh building in a rather expensive (even by Edinburgh standards) section of the city – it is a real charity, “The Royal Society for the Relief of Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland”, and I was hugely amused that something with such a title still existed in the 21st century…

Edinburgh as Scotland decides her future…

Edinburgh is buzzing tonight – Yes and No campaigners out, all seem to be in an almost carnival mood, and our ancient capital is also awash with massed media from all over the world and in addition to many flags – mostly Union flags for the No and Saltires for Yes – there is a sprinkling of foreign flags, notably Catalonian flags and many from Catalonia are here tonight, exuberant, watching closely, offering support and wondering if they will get their much-desired chance for a proper referendum that would decide if they stay or depart from Spain.

In front of Saint Giles Cathedral tonight, appropriately enough in Parliament Square, close to where the original Scottish parliament met before the Act of Union in 1707, the flags of Catalonia and Scotland re-created in coloured glass and fluttering candles. Turnout for the vote is huge, reports say, polling stations now closed as I write, the counting begins, by tomorrow we will know the outcome.

Even the world-famous Greyfriar’s Bobby statue has had a makeover, with a natty new doggy coat in tartan all dressed up for the Independence Referendum!

Scotland decides

So today I and millions of fellow Scottish citizens decide on the issue of staying in the Union or returning to a state of independence, the most important constitutional decision in three centuries. I said months ago I thought it would be far closer than the previously  (over)confident No camp thought it would be, but I had no idea just how close it would become this close to the wire… I’ll cast my vote first thing before going to work, no way I will miss this. I decided a long time ago how I will vote, not on nationalistic lines, or from jingoism or feelings towards Westminster but mostly drawing on what I think is the most important thing, what I consider to be the most democratic outcome for Scottish citizens, that gives us the fairest form of democratic represenation.


(aircraft vapour trails crossing above Edinburgh Castle, creating a Saltire-like image, a floating, ephemeral version of the Scottish flag in a blue sky above the great castle at the heart of the capital)

I have held off from talking about it here because far too many people from politicians in London who ignored most of it for two years (until recently!) to that useless parasite of modern society, the opinionated but brainless celebrity, have been busy trying to tell people how they should think and vote. And while I have (surprise) strong opinions, as I tend to do about most things (Neil Gaiman once commented I was opinionated, but in the good way), I have no desire to try and influence anyone. This is not a decision anyone should try to make for you, not foolish, interfering foreign politicians (yes, Mr Tony Abbot, you and others), not the London government, not celebrities (especially those who don’t even reside in the UK most of the time), this is our decision, for Yes or for No, our nation, our ancient nation, and our choice.

And afterwards… Afterwards, whichever way the result goes, no rancour, no discrimination, no in-fighting, we are, as the grand old Scots saying goes, all Jock Tamson’s Bairns. And recall the words of our great Scots makkar and artist, Alasdair Gray, “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” Whichever way the vote goes, work for ever more change – because change doesn’t stop because life is change and we can’t stop it as long as we live – change that makes for a better nation, because our nation is ancient and it was passed to us and we will pass it on to others, hopefully changed for the better each generation.

More Festival pics

With being so busy and also doing some stuff with the book festival I clean forgot to post some more of my photos from Festival time in Edinburgh


(these performers were from a production of Oliver Twist – presumably an alternative Nazi bondage version of Dickens!)

And of course I shot some at the Book Festival


(Bryan Lee O’Malley signing in the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet a few hours before I talked to him on stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival)


(from left to right, Kate Charlesworth, Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot at the Book Festival)


(Ken MacLeod and Mike Carey signing after their Book Festival talk – Ken I’ve known for many years, Mike I have known but only online so at last we got to meet in person and have a nice drink and natter after the event)


(Mike Carey again, this time talking comics at the Book Festival with Isabel Greenberg and, on the right, Stuart Kelly)


(Nick Hayes – left – and Reinhard Kleist – on the right – after the talk I chaired with them at the book fest, a very good evening)


(between events it’s nice to sit in Charlotte Square at the book fest in the literary-themed deckchairs)


(night-time at the Edinburgh Book Festival)


(and the traditional 45 minute classic fireworks concert launched from Edinburgh Castle which marks the end of the Edinburgh Festival season. Didn’t go all the way into Princes Street and the crowds, instead took these from bridge over the Union Canal near the regenerated area)

Festival time

Orange fish-headed people walking along Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile? Ah yes, it’s time for the Fringe…. And that means I end up taking even more photographs than I usually do! Here’s the batch from the first few days of this year’s Festival:

Isn’t this just one of the best smiles you’ve seen??

Zombies on the streets!

And there is sexy retro sci-fi space-babe action too!

And some folk have a different angle on things…

It’s Monty and the Funtastic Bucket Man!

Masks…

And then their masks came off…

Carnival

The Fringe – the world’s biggest arts festival – and the main Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh Book Festival start in August, but we’re currently already in the Jazz and Blues Festival, which kicked off last weekend with with a carnival style parade along a packed Princes Street on a very hot day, then down into Princes Street Gardens afterwards where some performers put on shows in the Ross Theatre (open air theatre in the gardens, right below Castle Rock) and others did little bits on the parkland around the theatre too.

I loved this very colourful costume and the lettering round his tuba:

Of course, being Edinburgh as well as exotic musicians and dancers we had a pipe band:

This is how busy the Ross Theatre in the Gardens was after the parade:

Asian performers waiting to go on stage in the Gardens:

Performers relaxing on the grass after the parade

Celtic warrior woman putting on sword fighting display while band plays

Didn’t catch this foreign band’s name, but they were belting it out and really getting the crowd going