Some huge cranes were catching the evening light recently, which drew my roving eye to take a few snaps, zooming in closer until it looked like giant Meccano sets in the sky. The declining evening sunlight also made them cast enormous shadows onto some of the modern buildings at the end of the Union Canal too, which was just begging for some monochrome shots.
Dad and I had a wee trip to the rather splendid Falkirk Wheel at the weekend. Originally the Forth and Clyde and the Union Canals met here, linked by a series of eleven locks descending the slope. As the canals declined in the late 19th and early 20th century, the locks were finally demolished in the 1930s. As the canals were regenerated in the late 90s and early 2000s (both the waterways and the adjacent towpaths turned into walking and cycling networks), the Falkirk Wheel was created to reconnect these coast-to-coast canals once more. An elegant and practical piece of engineering, this rotating boat lift uses about as much energy as it takes to boil a kettle to lift and lower all that structure, water and boats. Beautiful piece of engineering, which I think can stand proudly with those magnificent 19th century engineering icons. I can imagine the ghost of Brunel looking at this and nodding in approval.
The low winter sun was good for light and for shadows:
The massive construction over the former (hideous, glad it is gone!) Saint James Centre, viewed from nearby Calton Hill, creates a sky forest of cranes, two shots taken just half an hour or so apart at dusk then full nightfall:
Here’s an interesting one for those of us who turn into excited ten year olds when we see a classic steam locomotive, an old film documenting the building of an LMS Princess Royal class mainline loco. I’ve seen one of these engines under steam, they’re beautiful, elegant machines, fascinating to see one being built from pieces of molten metal and the hard work and sweat of the skilled workmen:
And here’s the Princess Elizabeth, a Princess Royal class in that lovely LSM maroon livery, under steam at Carlisle:
Since I have a few days off to use up, I took the train up the coast, crossing the mighty Forth Rail Bridge and round the coastal rail route to get off at Burntisland for a wee while. The railway runs right by the beach there, on a raised embankment above the promenade and the beach (quite a bit of this line hugs the Fife coast so you get some good views on your trip). There are tunnels under the line leading from the parkland behind it to the promenade.
Being early afternoon on a weekday in March it was pretty quiet, mostly either parents with very young kids or senior citizens and the odd dog walker – tends to be a bit busier in the warmer weather of spring and summer!
Standing out (braving some seriously heavy wind, especially in an exposed position!) on a jutting bit of headland that projects out by the bay where the beachfront is I could just barely make out the volcanic bulk of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth, but it was too hazy to get a decent shot. Looking up river the haar had settled in too, and the bright light had turned grey (one of those days of sun, overcast, sun, overcast, always changing), and the bridges were barely visible through the mist and haze, although the iconic shape of the Forth Rail Bridge (often just referred to around here as “The Bridge” and everyone knows you mean the rail bridge and not the nearby road bridges) was just apparent, the diamond-shaped cantilever section like the humps of some vast sea serpent rising from the waters. Here you can see it and the 20th century suspension road bridge a bit further behind it, although the new Queensferry Crossing, now almost complete, is hidden by the mist. In the foreground you can just make out Inchcolm and the shape of some of the buildings on this island’s 12th century abbey (which you can visit via a Forth cruise – well worth the trip):
On the ride home I decided to jump off at North Queensferry for a while before heading back across river to Edinburgh, and walked down the steep slope to where the village nestles around the northern base of the Forth Rail Bridge, right by the banks of the Forth.
At this side of the river you can walk right under the end of one of the vast “diamond” shapes of this massively over-engineered cantilever structure, and despite the now bitingly cold wind it was worth the chill to walk down by the lapping waters of the Forth past this iconic piece of engineering that has become a landmark.
This was the view standing right under the northernmost diamond, looking straight across the river through the Meccano Set of girders – you can see the next diamond shape behind it through the forest of red steelwork:
It’s a massive Victorian structure, hugely over-built (a reaction to the earlier failure of the Tay Bridge), and you know it is large, I mean you can see if from parts of Edinburgh for goodness sake, you can see the top parts of the diamond shapes from the main Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line. But there’s nothing quite like going underneath a structure like this to really get a sense of the sheer size and strength of it. It’s like standing under the Eiffel Tower, but turned on its side. Magnificent piece of history and engineering.
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.
When I was a wee boy my dad got me an enormous train set, the best toy I boy could have, especially fun since he’d often help me set it up and run it. I was lucky enough to have a whole bunch of engines and my favourite was the Britannia, a great mainline steam loco (and a bunch of Pullman coaches for it to haul). Long, powerful, graceful, elegant, it was my childhood ideal image of a mighty steam engine from days now gone. And here I was with my dad again looking at the real thing – not silent and static in a museum, but breathing steam and smoke, belly full of fire, steam whistle shrieking as she prepared to depart, a sound that only a few decades ago would have been heard all over these islands.
The watching crowd almost vanished between bursts of steam exhausting out
And the crew get ready for departure
I edited a couple of brief video clips I took between photos – the video isn’t great; my camera is a great stills camera and even though the video mode has full HD, widescreen etc it also has very annoying autofocus that is too twitchy and keeps trying to refocus itself while shooting which tends to ruin the images a bit (doesn’t help the light was in my lens instead of behind me either), but it does capture those fabulous sounds, including those deep ‘breathing’ whump, whump, WHUMP! sounds as she steams out, slight wheelspin as she does. I love those sounds.
Been browsing through the fascinating Retronaut website quite a bit recently, all sorts of images from yesteryear, be it old catalogue ads, Max Sennett’s 1920s bathing beauties, old footage from the 1890s and more, well worth bookmarking and browsing through. This is one that caught my eye, some fabulous photos documenting the construction of the Eiffel Tower.
There’s something fascinating about seeing some great landmark construction in its early stages – I remember thumbing through a book I used to sell in my old bookstore which was a photographic history of the mighty Forth Rail Bridge (not dissimilar to La Tour Eiffel if you stood it up, I suppose, both huge Victorian era steel structures, immensely strong yet elegant, both still perfect over a century later, both now indelibly marked onto their respective nation’s psyche and identity).
Seeing just foundations at an area you know well but not yet with its primary landmark, then seeing pics of a partial structure, incomplete yet with enough there for you to recognise as it slowly takes shape into the iconic structure we know today…
And here are some shots of La Tour I took myself over a century later:
Look at the sheer size of the legs close up – if you click on it to go to my Flickr page you can look at the larger version for details, you can make out the staircase inside the legs, a staircase I was walking up ten minutes after taking this photo. Sure, we took the lift from the first floor to the top, but for the first section we walked up through all that metalwork, it’s the best way to experience La Tour if you go.
Looking right up inside the tower:
And here’s a short video I shot standing directly underneath the tower:
Some of the huge wheels which wind the lift cables:
Looking down at how tiny the people look below – and this is just from the first level, not the top!
View from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the City of Light spread out hundreds of feet below:
And looking towards the Champs Elysee, you can see the Arc du Triomphe clearly here, shot from hundreds of feet in the air above my beloved Paris:
And there is old Gustav Eiffel himself – well a waxwork anyway, in a cabin with his blueprints for La Tour on the very top of his magnificent tower:
And here’s another short video, this time from the top, looking across the Parc de Champs du Mars, past the Ecole Militaire towards Montparnasse and the (rather ugly) modern towerblock of the Montparnasse Tower (one of the few large modern buildings in the historic area of the city centre – after this blot they stuck mostly to putting the modern skyscrapers outside the historic area in La Defense):
“Made it, Ma, top of the world!”
God, I miss Paris, I so want to go back and walk her streets and explore her many boulevards, galleries, bookstores, museums, bars…