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.
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.
Walking along the gorge of the River Almond by the weir and ruined old mill by Cramond, big chunks of ice floating in the river, large, flat sheets which the ducks were using to sit on, and huge rows of icicles hanging down from the overhanging rocks like enormous fangs. Couldn’t resist taking some pics and shooting a brief video 360; the roar of water over the weir and the current in the river below it were both very strong, presumably with some of the snow and ice melting into it (going to be a lot more of that over the UK when the cold snap actually lifts properly). The temperature was actually slightly better during the daylight hours today than it’s been recently, but on the banks of the nearby Forth the ferocious wind felt like it was straight from the Arctic. Still, at least it was good for the kite surfers who were having fun when we passed along the windswept and still icy prom.
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.
Walking along the Water of Leith, once a river full of industry, now a beautiful country walk in the middle of the city (and with some incredibly expensive properties dotted along it) we stopped to watch a heron wading for fish, its long legs moving in that slow, deliberate manner of wading birds. Right in the middle of Edinburgh. This is one of the reasons I love living here. The water of Leith passes fairly close to me and you can walk along its shady trees and use it as a quiet, off-road route to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and the Dean Gallery. Apparently some otters have moved back into it a bit further upstream from me, near the Water of Leith Visitor Centre (by the Union Canal aquaduct and rail viaduct), but I haven’t been lucky enough to see them yet.
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.