Slumped inside my big, black winter coat on the upper deck of the bus at 7am this week, heading along Princes Street. Pitch black – the sun won’t be up for another hour and a half at least. In the east the v-shape made between Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat as you look along Princes Street frames a tiny bar of deep, cherry red against the darkness, signalling a distant sunrise on it’s lethargic way. The city is at it’s darkest in these last couple of early morning hours before the dawn. The floodlights which normally bathe the Castle on the Rock or the monumental buildings aren’t on; the Xmas lights are all off (save for the huge tree on the mound) and you become aware of the large areas of deep darkness. There are few structures along the south side of Princes Street because of the large area of the Gardens which lie in a valley between the Old and New Towns and this also means few streetlights on that side either. This means there is a huge area of darkness, deep and unknowable right in the middle of the city, as if there was a strange shadow lying there. Raising my tired head the dim outline of the Castle and above it, visible only because of the lack of the normal lights was a slender sliver of crescent moon, right above the battlements at 7am, shimmering as clouds past in front of it then cleared once more. So little foot or road traffic then either, the whole city is at it’s darkest and most quiet, a very different face from the usual masks the city wears by day or night. You can feel the age of this ancient city’s stones, like a deep, dark presence which normally slumbers in the rock beneath the streets, in the old lanes and caverns and homes that were built over and then over again during the long, long centuries. The midnight hour may be the Witching Hour but the deepest, darkest time is in the heart of the Scottish midwinter, a few hours before a pale dawn.