Saint Andrew’s Day

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:

Edinburgh Castle, Saint Andrew's Night

The roofs of Edinburgh

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:

Greyfriar's and Castle from Museum roof

Saint Giles from Museum roof 02

Edinburgh Castle from National Museum roof 01

Christmas greetings from Scotland

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!

Edinburgh Castle, snowy December evening
snowmen on the Mile

Snowy Edinburgh

On the way home this evening after the last book group of the year and a nice drink, passing Princes Street Gardens, the Christmas lights, snow, Edinburgh Castle… This is my view on the way home and one of the reasons I love living here in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

yuletide Castle

yuletide Edinburgh

Autumn in Edinburgh

Its Edinburgh, its autumn, its beautiful…

Scotland, Edinburgh, Autumn

As I was walking through the New Town with dad for Doors Open Day we looked up Castle Street and saw two jet contrails describing a huge Saint Andrew’s Cross in the sky above Edinburgh Castle. Legend has it that a vision in the sky before a battle 1100 years ago is the reason that the Saltire came to be the national emblem of Scotland (and one of the oldest national symbols in the world, I believe), so there was something especially magical about seeing this accidental creation above one of the great symbols of Scotland. Few minutes later or from a different vantage point and we’d not have seen this special view.

the Castle, the sky, the Saltire

Preparing for the Tattoo

preparing for the Tattoo
Some of the grandstand seating and control tower erected on the Castle Esplanade for the annual Royal Military Tattoo which takes place during the Festival in August and these days also gets used for some concerts before and after the Tattoo. Duran Duran and Florence and the Machine were on there on Thursday night – amazing spot for a gig, the Castle gates and battlements to one side, Edinburgh at night to the other sides below your view from the top of the vast volcanic Castle Rock. Alas, also very exposed to the elements and that evening we had thunder, lightning and torrential rain, which is the drawback to that sort of venue… I have been just once to the Tattoo, not really my cup of tea, although it is quite dramatic to see a massed pipe band at night come marching out the Castle gates, which are flanked by statues of the Bruce and Wallace, fire blazing in metal braziers on the battlements above. And at the end all the lights out, even the ones which floodlight the Castle, save for one spotlight and the haunting image and sound of a single, lone piper on the wall of this ancient fortress high above the city.

Out with a bang

And thus Edinburgh’s Festival season, the world’s biggest arts festival, comes to an end for another year with mighty explosions echoing across the city like the pounding of the Castle’s cannons as the traditional classical music and fireworks concert took place. I was lucky enough to be invited to my friend’s workplace which has a good view out towards the front of the Castle rather than standing with the 250, 000 others in the streets and hills of the city watching it all. It was a lovely late summer evening as we walked into the city centre, the last glow of the sun washing the stones of the Castle in a copper glow before finally fading into darkness, the stars beginning to appear in the sky above the floodlit fortress. An air of expectation from thousands of people waiting in the dark… The orchestra in the Gardens begins to play and suddenly the dark night explodes in light, colour and sound, incredibly ephemeral sculptures and flowers of light in the air, lasting only seconds.

I love fireworks – there are some things you never grow out of an a huge fireworks show is one of them. But fireworks launching into the sky from an ancient fortress atop a volcanic rock is something else again. I love living here. You can view the full set at larger sizes on my Flickr stream.

Dig that Castle

Interesting article in the Evening News today of an archaeological dig by Historic Scotland which has been going on underneath Edinburgh Castle, where they have been surprised by finding part of a two-metre thick defensive wall added after the attacks by the Covenanters and then that barrel of laughs that was Oliver Cromwell in the 1600s. The access tunnel used to explore this find under the Castle is, coincidentally, pretty much under where I stood on the Esplanade (where the Tattoo is held in August) to take the photos of the Castle by night a couple of weeks back with my new camera. Fascinating to think that with all of that history right in front of me there was even more hidden history a few feet below my boots.

Of course, with Edinburgh being built on a number of hills (which terrifies many an American tourist – walking around town is a shock to most of them, walking up and down hills is their nightmare) it means that much of what you see if built atop older structures. Recent relaying of cobbles on the Royal Mile (which runs from the Castle gates down the ridge to Holyrood Palace at the other end) revealed more bits and pieces from the 18th and 18th century (what passes for modern or recent history to us) and, famously, Mary Kings Close is an old street built over after plague and then rediscovered and now open to visit beneath the City Chambers.

Who knows how many other layers of deeper history lie below the Castle though? There is a reason why such a massive castle is built where it is, rising out of the volcanic rock, man-made structure and the hand of nature combining to create something which dominates the city (I love passing it every day to go to work – beats the hell out of passing high rise offices on your commute, doesn’t it?) and it is thought that some forms of fortified dwellings would have been there pretty much since people have lived in the land after the great glaciers retreated, carving out the hills and mountains that shape that land and the people; literally thousands of years of history beneath us, sleeping in the native earth, the ancient structures we see, old as they are, only the surface of a history stretching back millennia, through Scots, Celtic tribes, Roman visitors (who didn’t stay long) and back and back before even the Celts. Were there small groups fortifying that impressive rock back when the Callanish Standing Stones were being raised on the opposite coast? And if we consider the geological events which shaped these landforms we find we’re walking through not mere millennia, which flit past swiftly like birds, but the deep, deep time of the Earth itself; almost inconceivable timsescales we attach numbers to as if we really can understand a concept such as millions or billions of years. All of that comes together in what I see every day as I go past. I like that.

Edinburgh by night

It tried to snow today but alas it didn’t lie in the city. I decided to try out the new camera after work and took the scenic route home. This is Edinburgh Castle from the Esplanade, where they set up for the Military Tattoo in August.

One drawback to trying out the night settings of the new picturebox at the moment is it means taking my gloves off, so my fingers were chilled to the bone after just a few minutes of snapping, but hey, worth it – I mean that’s what you call a front door!

The Bank of Scotland Building on the Mound

Saint Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, complete with bagpiper still playing away for tourists even on a freezing January night. Just think, this is one of the spots I took my Fringe pictures from back in August.

Amazing what you can find down one of the many wynds and closes (that’s like an alley to non-Scots) sloping off the Royal Mile. I’d never seen this before – by day I’d probably miss it, but at night it was lit up and drew my attention to this painted wood ceiling in the close.

The Witchery, right at the top of the Royal Mile, a few yards from the Castle. Supposedly the most haunted restaurant in Edinburgh and almost impossible to book on Halloween. Now with eerie green lighting, so it really must be haunted!

The Hub, an old church turned into the centre for the Edinburgh Festival as well as a cafe (with a nice open air bit on the other side which is great in the summer, right round from the Castle) and a performance space upstairs (where you can see the blue ceiling through the window). Caught some nice concerts in there and on one memorably night HarperCollins plied me and some bookselling colleagues with lots of single malt, oatcakes and cheese at the launch for a new book on whisky. Like their lighting arrangement, makes the old church look rather demonic.


S n o w!

At last, after a mild, mild winter which just ain’t right (like msot Celts I’m suspicious of any winter where I don’t have icicles hanging from my ears, it makes me feel something is deeply wrong) we’ve been hit with some serious winter weather. Some good snow over Edinburgh today, but then it started to clear up just before I went home. Lucky me, it started snowing heavily as I walked home. Walking in snow is fabulous!