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.
Musselburgh harbour at very low tide – looks almost like you could walk out off the beach and right into the harbour mouth – I don’t recommend it, tried that once at low tide, but the sand near the entrance becomes increasingly ‘sinky’ and unwilling to tolerate the weight of any creature heavier than a mudlarking bird
I’ve understood how the tides work since I was a boy reading my astronomy books, but even now as an adult I still find it a little bit magical that somewhere like a harbour can become absolutely empty of water, the boats left on the mud, high and dry, tilted over on their keels, awaiting the return of the water to float them again and make them useful.
Chap sitting by the sea wall looking out, while the harbour mouth awaits the salty kiss of the returning tide…
Meanwhile nature makes good use of the changing conditions tidal spaces bring each day (twice), with birds probing at the wet sand in the harbour floor with their specially adapted long beaks, looking for supper. Odd to see them walking pass the bottom of the hulls of boats knowing that in just a few hours this will all again be submerged, the floor hidden and the boats bobbing up and down on the water. The birds had colouring on their feathers that made them blend in very well with their surroundings, had to wait for them to walk near a small muddy pool to try and get some contrast to make them stand out even this little amount:
Sometimes you just come across the simplest scene – a woman sitting with her back to you, looking at the sea, a couple walking in the background on the beach, low winter sun casting long shadows – and somehow you think hey, this would make a decent photo. I have no idea why but in colour I just knew it wouldn’t look like much, but shot in black and white it suddenly had something…
This afternoon, down where the River Esk flows out into the mighty Firth of Forth in Musselburgh, looking back across a very swollen high tide towards Edinburgh and the hills as the sun set behind the city and turned the world copper. Funny, but although I’ve been on the beach on the opposite bank many times I hadn’t been to this spot – just near the race course, behind the some houses, where there’s a bit of a peninsula made from the clinker and ash from the nearby power station. And for some reason right next to the junction of the two rivers there’s this giant blue arrow in a small park. Why? Turns out that it was originally put there right next to the river to let RAF bomber crews line up for their bombing run on a floating target out on the Forth. I had no idea this was here.
Down to Portobello this afternoon with my mate and his dog to let him have a run around off the leash on the beach (the dog, not my friend), only to find what was a cold wind in the city centre of Edinburgh was a howling gale coming right off the North Sea at Porty, whipping the waves up into big foaming gray peaks and slamming right into the sea wall so hard they splashed right up the side, across the Esplanade and hit the wall of the structure on the other side. That was when we decided to walk around the block at the worst bit Pictures are a bit fuzzy, the wind was so high my camera lens, glasses and my face were all getting whipped by flying sand granules and salt spray, had to clean them repeatedly but within minutes they just got covered with a film of it again.
Many of the islands – or inches as they are known – in the Firth of Forth sport structures to fortify them from throughout our long history, most notably additions for the two World Wars to protect the vast, strategic river opening into the North Sea and the important Rosyth Naval Dockyard a little further upriver. You can see structures from 12th century abbeys to 1940s blockhouses on the various islands. Legend has it that this particular one just off Cramond had its buildings specifically arranged to create the illusion of the silhouette of a Royal Navy destroyer. On a murky, overcast, misty day like this one it has to be said it does look remarkably like a destroyer in profile and its hard to believe that’s coincidence. I’d imagine a U-Boat captain peering through a periscope, probably at night or under cover of fog, seeing this would probably reversing engines schell! Which was probably the idea.
I’m usually more inclined to motorbikes than horses as a mode of transport (I think horses are beautiful creatures, but I prefer a mode of transport without a mind of its own), but riding along on the surfline on a sunny beach does look wonderful.
Just a brief experiment with me sticking the camera out the window to capture crossing the Forth Road Bridge – even on a warm day my hands were chilled to the bone by the time we got across because of the wind and the slipstream, but it seems to have worked reasonably well so probably worth it. The much more impressive Forth Rail Bridge (often simply referred to as ‘the Bridge’ because it is so iconic) is off to the side, a fantastic piece of Victorian over-engineering.
Workers on that mighty piece of Victorian engineering, the Forth Rail Bridge, have spotted a pod of Orcas swimming past them in the River Forth, right up past Edinburgh. There are seals on some of the islands in the Forth, which may be attracting them, although it is remarkable to see them swimming so far upriver. That would be a sight to cheer you up on the commute from Fife to Edinburgh, wouldn’t it? How cool is it that a couple of miles from my door there are killer whales swimming in the river?? And why couldn’t those darned Orcas arrive over the weekend when I could get out there with my camera?!?!? Mind you, I suspect the local seals have a somewhat different view on this.