Winter sun and rising mists…

Dad and I were out and about last weekend, glorious golden winter sunlight, sun low, low, low in the skies now (sunset is now well before 4pm as we move into winter, and the longest night/shortest day is still weeks away). From the top of the Tak Me Doon Road between the Carron Valley and Kilsyth we got these views looking down, the last of the sunlight warming high ground on one side, the other in shadows because of the low sun, the temperature differential creating beautiful, soft, ephemeral mists, but not actually at ground level, hovering a bit higher up, like a blanket of light mist draped over the valley below:

winter sunlight in mist 02

I couldn’t resist this – seen in the last half hour or so of the short daylight, this bare, winter tree silhouetted against the mist, which was turning this beautiful warm copper colour as the sun rapidly declined in the east:

winter sunlight in mist 03

winter sunlight in mist 04

A little earlier we had been round the back of the Campsie Hills and past the Carron Valley reservoir – again the mist rising in the gap between weak winter sunlight on one side and shadows on the other, and again hovering not at ground (or in this case water) level but several feet above it. Utterly gorgeous to take in; while I’m glad some photos came out I’ve got to say they don’t really do justice to how it looked to the naked eye. To say nothing of the feel of it – peaceful, very, very quiet, hardly any other cars passing on the rural road, no town noises, no wind that day, only the sound from some waterfowl, the amber winter sunlight, the long, long shadows and that soft silence, the world screened out by the hills around us:

Carron Reservoir, winter day 05

Carron Reservoir, winter day 04

Carron Reservoir, winter day 01

And one last one, from earlier in the afternoon, from the top of the Crow Road on the Campsie Hills, looking west down into the valley below – all this just a short car ride from the busiest city in Scotland…

winter sunlight in mist 05

Night vision

As autumn slips into winter the sun declines into the western sky earlier and earlier each evening now, setting a little after four in the afternoon now. So longer, colder, darker nights come in once more, but it’s not all bad when it gives you sunsets like this in Edinburgh – the sphinxes on the roof of the Royal Scottish Academy watching the sky becoming an Impressionist painting for just a few, brief moments, sun already gone but a last splash of colours across the western sky before the final fall of night:

winter sunset, Edinburgh 03

A lot of people paused to watch as Edinburgh Castle was silhouetted by the dying of the light:

winter sunset, Edinburgh 02

Despite the cold I went for a photo walk, and ended up spending over two hours taking night shots. Most still to be processed, but here are a few I took around Victoria Terrace:

Victoria Terrace at night 01

The terrace is in the Old Town and overlooks Victoria Street, which curves down steeply from George IV Bridge down to the Grassmarket. There are several bars and restaurants at one end of the terrace – if you go into the front of those establishments from the Royal Mile or Johnston Terrace (behind the Castle) you seem to be going in at ground level, but because the Old Town is built on a steeply sloped volcanic ridge, when you come out their back door to the terrace you find yourself looking down over several more levels below. It’s a good place to see the different levels Edinburgh’s geology forced the architecture to take.

Victoria Terrace at night 02

Victoria Terrace at night 04

A lot of people don’t even notice the terrace above Victoria Street when they visit, quite easy to miss, but if you are in town it’s well worth a quick wander along, night or day, because it offers some unusual perspectives on the Old Town and views across the heart of the town, such as towards 17th century Heriot’s School, which here looks like the Edinburgh branch of Hogwart’s:

Victoria Terrace at night 05

And now it is dark before I leave work each day I get views like this walking up the Royal Mile:

Royal Mile at night

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:

the great stone spine of Scotland 02

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.

the great stone spine of Scotland 03

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.

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 015

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 04

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 012

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)

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 018

Chocolates and sweeties!

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 016

Hot, spiced drinks warm the bones in the cold night

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 022

Toys!

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 025

Sausages!

Edinburgh, Christmas 2010 01

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.