From the other side of the Forth

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:

Forth Brig, spring evening 01

Forth Brig, spring evening 02

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:

Edinburgh from the other side of the Forth 03

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.

Edinburgh from the other side of the Forth 02

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.

Edinburgh from the other side of the Forth 01

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

Autumn bounty

Scotland, autumn; the sunlight is stretched out in our northern kingdom at this time of year, a soft, golden light that makes the stonework of old buildings glow copper and bathes the world, as if a tin of self illuminating copper paint were splashed across the world. It is the most beautiful time of year in Scotland. And as the trees beging to turn and green is joined by reds and golds before falling from the trees into ever growing piles (which beg to be kicked into the air). And as the “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness” bears out colourful fruit, an autumn bounty, I couldn’t resist sampling some as we were walking in Holyrood’s royal park by Arthur’s Seat. As these glowed in the golden light I took a photograph; a few seconds later I had scoffed many of them, delighting in the tangy, juicy taste and the childlike pleasure of sticky, purple stained fingers and lips.

autumn bounty 01

Sunset song

The view from the top of Arthur’s Seat last night as the sun set across the city, dipping down over the Forth towards the hills of Fife. My friend Gordon decided on a whim to take Bruce the dog for a walk since it was such a fine evening and I went along – and this was the view we found as Bruce ran around looking for rabbits. I’m surprised this came out – no tripod, handheld and looking right towards the setting sun, I thought it would come out blurred and glared out. At the very top were tourists as well as locals enjoying this sight, as the world turned copper in that magical transition zone between the light of day and the dark of night, that magical realm of twilight when the Fair Folks were believed to come out to play in our world. I wonder, did our distant ancestors stand on this spot after the retreat of the great glaciers had sculpted the land, looking out at this view, praying for the sun to return.

I shot this brief video from the summit to give a 360 panoramic view; just think, this is a view millions of years in the making. Continents moving, crashing into one another to raise the mountains that shape Scotland, volcanoes born and then dying, glaciers passing, carving the world, people arriving, building, changing. I love that we have an extinct volcano right here, in the middle of a Royal Park in the heart of the city (I don’t love how I huff and puff going up it these days – in my 20s I cycled up and down this all the time easily). And Arthur’s Seat itself is part of our history – from the mysterious small coffins found here with little, rudely carved dolls in them (some think they were left as memorials to to Hutton, standing there pondering the mystery of the rocks themselves and forming ideas that would give birth to the science of geology and our modern understanding of how our magnificent world formed.

Walking through time: Holyrood Palace

The Palace of Holyrood with Arthur’s Seat in the background, viewed from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, by James Valentine, thought to date to around 1878.

The Palace of Holyrood, the ruined Abbey and Arthur’s Seat from Calton Hill taken by me, spring 2007.

I found this online recently as I was sorting out some of my photographs to upload to my Fotolog and Flickr sites. Despite the history Edinburgh isn’t changeless, but obviously it has more than its share of places which do remain almost the same than most cities and sometimes you find photographs of buildings and streets which are almost the same today.

Imagine both pictures as portals to two different spots in history; imagine you could use them as the travelling points between those periods, to walk from the picture from now to emerge from then, to find yourself standing on Victorian-era Calton Hill, caressed by the wind, local worthies enjoying a peramabulation past you, lots of smoke rising from buildings in those days, a mix of tall masted ships and new fangled steamships visible down on the Forth an at the Leith docks, and perhaps Hill and Adamson, the great pioneers of early photography setting up one of their experiments with this new camera device, using the ‘pencil of nature’. How lovely would it be if you could do that? I suppose I will have to make do with living and working around the sites, which is, in its own way, walking through time every single day.