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):
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.
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…
Last weekend went off with chum for drive over the Forth, ended up at Loch Leven (where, among others things, the castle on an island in the loch was once prison to that unfortunate lady, Mary Queen of Scots), then over to the Fife coastal route back home, paused for the traditional bag of chips on the seafront at Burntisland, then head for home. When you follow the coastal road out of Burntisland it goes up quite high and gives spectacular views across the mighty Firth of Forth, not least towards the wonderful Forth Rail Bridge, which rises from the waters like some Victorian steel sea beast:
That same vantage point also offers views of my home, Edinburgh, from a different perspective, viewed from the opposite side of this vast river which cuts its way right into the geology and coast of the land. In this one (if you click to go to the larger versions you can see on my Flickr pic) you can just make out Edinburgh Castle on the centre right of the photo, glimsped from the Fife side of the river looking over to the capital:
And in this view of the harbour, docks and new buildings around the port of Leith you can also see the Royal Yacht Britannia on the far left. Images are not as clear as I’d like but on max zoom shooting through a lot of atmosphere and over water so they were never going to be as sharp as I would like. Still a wonderful view to see parts of my city from that angle.
And here’s the distinctive shape of Arthur’s Seat, the summit and the outline of the Salisbury Crags, the vast extinct volcano which sits at the heart of Edinburgh and is visible for miles around, it and the the volcanic ridge it caused (on which the Old Town perches and the Castle sits at the highest point) and the other hills help give Edinburgh its spectacular background, like few other cities in the world. Also keeps you fit walking and cycling up and down all those slopes! That’s why we need so many pubs to take a little rest in… You can see from this why this area has been settled for thousands of years – Edinburgh Castle is an ancient and imposing fortress, but millennia before it was built our Iron Age ancestors – and probably even earlier peoples – had fortifications on the side of Arthur’s Seat, offering them security, natural fortifications and views across the land and river to Fife, and even down the coast to North Berwick. You can see from this why an early people would choose to settle there.
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:
It’s Saint Andrew’s Day again in Scotland, here’s a night shot I managed to improvise of Edinburgh Castle lit up in blue like our Saltire especially for the occassion. I was on my way home from my book group so didn’t have a tripod, but when I saw this I improvised, jammed the camera as best I could between some railings above Princes Street Gardens and tried to brace it to hold it steady enough for a night shot, helped by it being lighter than usual with all the snow we had at the time reflecting a lot more ambient light and after a few shots one finally came out reasonably well (click for larger image on my Flickr):
The traditional Winter Wonderland in Princes Street Gardens is up and running, the small fair and the German Market on the Mound. I felt very sorry for them during the heavy snow, all set up but with hardly anyone going round them due to the weather. Even the other night when I took some of these it was much quieter than it usually is, despite there being no snow for a few days. Bitterly cold, sure, but it always is in December when this is here and it doesn’t stop people, but a week to Christmas and even on late night opening there were people around but nowhere near as busy as I normally see it at this time of year. Still pretty to walk around though, the light and warmth and the smell of hot, spiced drinks and food against the cold, dark, winter night.
Just as I pressed the shutter the lady leaned forward with something from the stall and kids all smiled at just the right time. Sometimes you get lucky in street photograpy (and also lucky it came out considering it was night and it was all freehand and no use of flash)
Chocolates and sweeties!
Hot, spiced drinks warm the bones in the cold night
Looking across Princes Street Gardens, the ice rink down below in the valley, the National Gallery of Scotland behind it and above it all Edinburgh Castle.
It’s Saint Andrew’s Day in a very snowy Scotland and Edinburgh Castle has been specially lit with a pale, blue light, reminiscent of our Saltire. I managed to get a shot this evening on the way home from the book group tonight, no tripod with me as I had gone right from work to the group meeting, so improvised (as I do for most of my night shots!), jammed camera as best I could between the railings of Princes Street Gardens just above the Ross Bandstand. Seems to have worked, although it meant I couldn’t angle the camera as I’d like to get the whole thing in – did try that but camera wasn’t steady enough, came out blurred, so have to settle for this one – I do like the light in conjunction with all the heavy snow we’ve had, makes an eerie effect, almost like something from a fantasy film:
Recently I did something I hadn’t done before – in fact something I didn’t even know you could do: go onto the roof of the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. I’ve been in many times but I had no idea there is a large roof terrace (with native plant garden) that you are free to visit too. I’ve wandered around the museum many times but the signs to the roof aren’t too obvious and most folks in Edinburgh I mentioned it too didn’t realise you could go up there either. Lovely spot offering pretty much 360 degree views over the roofs of the Old Town towards the Mile, over historic Greyfriars Kirk, nearby Edinburgh University, the Pentland Hills beyond the city, Arthur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which rears out of the royal park right in the middle of Edinburgh, and, of course, the Castle. Again I find myself wishing I could afford to upgrade to the camera I have my eye on which has much more zoom power, but even so it was still a great and quiet spot to stand and take in the view and shoot a few pics:
After finishing work for the year I walked up a very snowy Royal Mile to the Castle gates. For the first time ever I had it all to myself, not another soul there for ten minutes, just me standing in snow that came over the toes of my boots, that soft scrunching sound that reminds you instantly of childhood playtimes in the snow. Just me and the cold and the snow and the Castle glowing in the night above the city, dusted with snow like icing on a historical cake. Below and around me views across the whole of Edinburgh, right out to the Pentland Hills. Freezing but incomparably beautiful. Merry Christmas from a snowy Scotland!