The great stone spine of the land

Out at the weekend with dad, visiting Field of Bannockburn, the memorial to the incredibly pivotal battle which secured Scottish independence against the violent Plantagenet tyranny spreading across the British Isles, and changing the way the history of these islands would play out. The sun came out from behind the clouds and in the distance, looking towards Callendar we could see this magnificent site:

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Where the already impressive hills of Scotland start to rise into majestic mountains, still covered in winter snow but now basking in early spring sunshine, glittering and shining, gateway to the Highlands, the great stone spine of Caledonia and a reminder that our Scotland boasts the most beautiful scenery in the whole of the British Isles.

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the great stone spine of Scotland 04

City at dusk

Still dark by the time I leave work now, but only just, reached that time of year where there is still that glimmer of light in the western horizon for a few brief moments after the winter sunset. Walking down Cockburn Street, which curves steeply down from the Royal Mile to connect Old Town to the New Town, trying out the new camera’s low light mode (handheld, no tripod) and got this:

Cockburn Street, dusk

And crossing North Bridge last night, again sun not long dipped below the horizon, giving this view westwards across Edinburgh, the great Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument silhouetted on the skyline:

cityscape at dusk

Spring blossoms in December…

Walking home today after a frankly dispiriting and depressing birthday (you know it’s not going to be a special day when the post arrives with several bills and no cards, not inspiring and it was downhill from there – should have stayed in bed and waited for the day to go away), passing the trees in the playground of a nearby school and more examples of how the bizarre weather is affecting plants: blossom petals appearing on the trees.

spring blossoms in December 01

These would normally be a March to April sight, but although we’ve been battered by gale-force storms repeatedly this month and lashing rain and floods, and despite those driving winds being bitingly cold, the actual ambient temperature has been way above what we would normally have in Scotland at this time of year. When I was home last week dad pointed out shoots of Daffodils pushing through the earth in the garden, this week I see spring blossoms in December. Strange weather, lately…

Blue Hour

It’s dark well before I leave work at this time of year, but those short daylight hours and long, dark Scottish nights are not entirely bad news, because it means I get views like this “blue hour” shot looking up the Royal Mile (although I should add that western horizon was black to my eyes, the pale blue only came out with a long exposure):

Royal Mile, blue hour

Moonrise Kingdom

I was out taking some night shots in Edinburgh this evening – I say night, but actually I started around half past four in the afternoon as the sun has set by then at this time of year! Looking over from Princes Street Gardens to the Old Town on its volcanic ridge I could see a half moon rising in the winter night over the Bank of Scotland headquarters on top of the Mound, where the road snakes up from the New Town to the Old Town. Magical scenes like this are one of the reasons why I love living in Edinburgh, it has the most beautiful cityscape in the world (click to see larger version on my Flickr).

winter moon rising over Old Town

First snow

First snow pics I’ve taken this winter, just a very light fall in Edinburgh on Sunday – nothing like this time last year when we were knee deep and basically dealing with very heavy snow and ice for weeks on end. Just a little bit scattered across the town, like these patches on Arthur’s Seat today at dusk:

Arthur's Seat, December day, first snow

And as we drove around a slushy, icy road in Holyrood Royal Park past Arthur’s Seat I saw this pale moon rising at dusk over the ancient rocks; shot out of window of friend’s car, amazed it came out…

midwinter moonrise

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day

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):

Edinburgh Castle, Saint Andrew's Night

Winter poem

A friend at LittleBrown publishers asked to use one of my photographs to go on a newsletter from Scots author Alexander McCall Smith, to accompany the Winter Poem:

That there should be winter, that this hard light
Should fall over a December Scotland,
Should make the sea gray, like steel, and the land itself
A rock rising from metalled water;
That there should be empty skies,
Free of protecting cloud, too cold
Even for that; that there should be
A vapour trail of some great jet heading west
To the colder shores of Greenland, Labrador,
Northern neighbours to us, distant cousins
In our marginality and our pursuit of fish;
That all this should be in a land that in summer
Is so soft and wet with drifting veils of rain
And filled with deer and clouds of midges
And the rich fecundity of ploughed fields
That will yield gold barley and whisky
Beyond the barley –

Scotland is a country of the north,
Everything here cries north; north the natural
Orientation of all our signs, our habits;
I sometimes wish, I confess, for a life spent
In the scent of wild thyme and olive trees,
For evenings when one might stroll
Slowly about a square and watch pigeons
Launch themselves into Italian air
From some tower dreamed up
By some High Renaissance imagination;
That, though, is not where we are from
Or where we are destined to be;
Our place is north, our natural gravity
That of a land that is an afterthought
To Europe, a land that comes late
To so many of the parties it’s been invited to,
But which we love with all our heart,
With all our heart.

Winter doesn’t make us better, then, or worse,
But enables us to find ourselves again,
Because it forces us to be quiet, obliges us
To listen to the coursing of our own blood;
Winter reminds us that warmth
Is not something we find naturally,
Some gift of munificent nature, but must be made;
That we should make in Scotland
A small place of warmth, a small country
Of kindness to others, of brotherhood,
Is what our poets have been striving to say
Since they first gave voice to song.
That we might find this, in winter,
In the ice and the cold is a local miracle,
Is a particular joy.

Iron road to the Highlands 20

The photo, by the way, was shot by me just under 3 years ago on my way to Inverness as the train moved up through the Cairngorms national park, past snow covered mountains, white-dusted trees and the occassional deer walking by the edge of the railway line. I shot some photos through the window glass, not sure if they would work or not. This particular on was taken as the train crossed a bridge and as I did a flock of birds soared into the frame for good measure. I got lucky and the shot worked, despite shooting through a window.

Christmas market at night

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.

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Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 04

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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)

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Chocolates and sweeties!

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Hot, spiced drinks warm the bones in the cold night

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Toys!

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Sausages!

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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.

Edinburgh in the snow

Crikey, the improvised night shot I did of Edinburgh Castle covered in snow and lit a special blue for Saint Andrew’s Day on the 30th (see here) has now had over 800 views on my Flickr page in just 4 days. To put that in perspective my normal views average for my whole Flickr stream is around 750 – 900 a day, depending on if I have just posted something that gets a lot of interest, or if it is something tied to events people are following (like during the Edinburgh Festival, my Fringe pics viewings were mental). But 800 odd views in 4 days? Pretty please with that, especially for a picture I improvised by jamming the camera between railings to get a decent night shot when I didn’t have a tripod. And talking of improvised night shots, here are some more I shot around town in the snow on the way home. This pair are from North Bridge, which spans the valley between the Old and New Town, the first looking along Market Street and the edge of the Waverley Station, past the City Art Centre on the left and towards the Mound with the Bank of Scotland’s impressive headquarters and the Castle in the background:

snowy Edinburgh from North Bridge 02

And this one towards Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument, over the roof of Waverley Station’s west side; you can see the lights of the Winter Wonderland (very appropriate given the snow) and the lights of the German Christmas Market:

snowy Edinburgh from North Bridge 01

And this one is taken a couple of minutes from my work, it’s the Royal Mile in the snow, again improvised (being sans tripod) by simply setting the camera up on timer and sitting it on one of the bollards that stops vehicles using the Mile most of the time and letting it go. Quite pleased with this one, actually, given it was so improvised, like the red of the traditional (and now rare) British telephone box against the snow. Hard to believe just 12 weeks or so back I was shooting incredibly busy Fringe scenes here with wall to wall tourists and performers doing their bit to attract folks to their shows:

Royal Mile, winter night

And away from the night scenes here’s some from a snow walk around the Water of Leith then along the Union Canal; this is where the train viaduct and the canal aquaduct cross the Water of Leith, near the visitor centre:

Water of Leith, winter 08

There were plenty of snowmen around but someone had created a whole snow family here, sitting on a fallen tree trunk by the Union Canal in Harrison Park, as if they were watching the ducks and swans using the small part of the canal that wasn’t yet frozen. It had been a bright day but then suddenly faded and this snowy mist rose in the background, giving everything this eerie blue light quality which I thought was like the sort of light quality they use in movies when they want to hint it’s spooky or it’s night, or it’s night and spooky, but it’s the way it was, I don’t use Photoshop to fiddle my pics. The Guardian’s Edinburgh blog picked up on this one and featured it on Monday, which was rather pleasing:

three snowmen by the canal

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