It’s now fully dark by the time I leave work, but I shot this just before the clocks went back, just after sunset, shot from the Northbridge which strides across the deep valley between the Old Town and New Town, Edinburgh Castle atop it’s great volcanic rock, silhouetted against the setting sun. I love the views I get simply walking home from work in my city…
… the day the guns fell silent on the unbelievable carnage of the Great War. Each year the fallen from that dreadful harvest of death are remembered by the nation on Armistice Day, and all those who have fallen since. The Garden of Remembrance in Princes Street Gardens, by the towering stone edifice of the Scott Monument, opens each November to honour their memory. Sadly recent years have seen too many new names added to the rolls.
The smaller crosses frequently have personal messages written on them by family, friends and old comrades, some from long ago (the other year I saw one which simply read “Uncle Alex, HMS Hood – gone some seven decades, but someone still remembers Uncle Alex and his 1400 odd shipmates who were annihilated in an insant on the pride of the Royal Navy), some from far too recent losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I zoomed in to take this one I saw that one of the crosses in the section for the Scots Guards that read “we miss you so much, dad and mum. We think of you every day”; some poor soul’s heart is broken, someone in power makes the decisions and sends the troops but they themselves never make any sacrifice, that they leave to families like that one. Perhaps it the sacrifice came from their own blood they would be less swift to send our forces into harm’s way.
One of the crosses on the left here was dedicated to a father and son – the father lost in 1918 at Arras, his boy lost in the war that followed that one, falling at El Alamein in 1942. The sheer bloody waste of life, the father dying in a war, perhaps he thought at least if we win I will save my wee boy from ever having to endure the same…
“Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.” the war poet Wilfred Owen.
It’s that time of year where it is now dark before I leave from work to walk home, but I don’t mind that – even when darkness falls Edinburgh looks wonderful and I enjoy walking night-time streets and taking in views like this, looking down from Granny Black’s steps to the Grassmarket behind the Castle, the blander new building on the far side of the square of the Grassmarket is a modern hotel, behind and above it you can see the wonderful old structure of Herriots school; these are all improvised shots, no tripod as was coming home from work so balanced camera on timer on walls and railings:
Another shot from Granny Black’s Steps, looking down into Kings Stables Road which leads off from the Grassmarket – the building in the background above with the very large, brightly lit windows is the back of Edinburgh College of Art:
Another one looking down into the Grassmarket – the steep steps you see lead up and come out at part of the old, historic Flodden Wall by Herriots School near the University; they also feature in the wonderful animated film by Sylvain Chomet, The Illusionist:
And this shot I have taken several times at different times of year with different cameras over the years, but when I see it like this I simply can’t resist taking another one. The Royal Mile runs east (from the bottom of the ridge at the Palace of Holyrood and now also the Parliament) west up to the Castle. And because I walk home westward at this time of year there is that marvellous quality of evening where it is fully dark but there is a lingering touch of pale light left in the western horizon, so as well as a night shot (another improv one – set timer in night mode, left shutter open, camera balanced on top of traffic bollard; I think about 2/3 of my night shots are improvised like this when I see a scene walking about town) you also get some light in the sky silhouetting the buildings. And with people walking about the busy street you also get that ‘ghosting’ effect, which I must admit I rather like. This is my walk home – isn’t it wonderful?
Stopped on the way home last night to watch the launch of the enLIGHTen festival in Saint Andrew’s Square, three weeks of contemporary writers responding to quotes by some of the great figures of that powerhouse period, the Scottish Enlightenment (a period which produced science, philosophy and art which still influences to this day). For the next three weeks their words, animated, will be projected onto various elegant buildings and landmarks throughout Edinburgh’s New Town (which we still call new despite being older than the United States – we reckon time differently here). One of our contemporary poets opened the events with a reading (always best way to experience poetry, being read out by the scribe):
My literary chum Sara, formerly of the Edinburgh Book Festival, explaining more of the event:
And as it started some words from the great Scottish philosopher David Hume scrambled slowly up the tall monumental column in the middle of the square as well as being projected along the base – apologies for the picture being fuzzy, the lettering was moving and as I had come right from work I had no tripod to steady it (although as the text moved the tripod might still not be enough to get a sharp image):
enLIGHTen runs from 6pm to midnight until March 18th – you can find a map of the locations and more about the writers on the official site here.
And while we’re at it, here’s one I shot earlier… This was from Carry A Poem, a similar campaign two years back from the Edinburgh City of Literature crew, where famous poetical lines were projected onto buildings in the city, such as this piece of Byron on the walls of the National Library of Scotland, fairly brightened up a winter’s night, walking home and finding a piece of poetry written in light on the pavement or on a wall:
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:
During my recent night photography session in Edinburgh I had a little fun prowling the dark bone orchards – this one looks quiet, dark, still, but actually it is Saint Cuthbert’s, which is right in the middle of the town with a very busy street just a few yards away. Up above you can see Edinburgh Castle, all floodlit while the massive volcanic rock it sits atop is in darkness, giving the illusion that the Castle is floating above the city like something from Gulliver’s Travels:
I field tested my rather spiffing new winter coat today by walking around for several hours from dusk into early evening with the tripod, taking some night shots of Edinburgh despite it being bloody freezing, new coat kept me nice and snug. Shot almost a gig of photographs so it will take a while to work through them, some landmark type pics, other everyday, or, in this case, everynight scenes, meant to spend an hour, ended up walking about for nearly 3 hours till I was back my end of town, stop into the local for a quick beer and warm up then home. Sorted a handful of pics from that large batch, here’s dusk this evening in Edinburgh, sun already set for a while, but still colour in the sky and that ‘gloaming’quality of twilight over the city as I stood on the Mound:
The huge dome of West Register House in Charlotte Square (near neighbour to the First Minister’s official residence), silhoutted against the western horizon just afte sunset, again shot from the Mound:
Looking east this time, down towards Princes Street and the magnificent Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument:
Close up zoom to the Scott Monument’s first floor, if you click to go to my Flickr page with this and look at the bigger version you can make out the stained glass windows which is in a narrow but incredibly tall room:
Heading out of the warmth of the flat to watch the fireworks erupt over Edinburgh Castle at midnight as December 31st 2011 (my birthday, as it happens) clicks over to become January 1st, 2012, watching from an old, humpackd bridge on the Union Canal near the flat with a decent view to the evening’s pyrotechnics. Naturally we came prepared with some sparkly stuff for the chimes at midnight:
And then the sky erupted into colours and great booms and thumps echoed across the night sky over our ancient capital, while we laughed at the nearby crowd of English students trying to sing Auld Lang’s Syne and mispronouncing Edinburgh dreadfully.
Happy New Year, folks.