Edinburgh – Athens of the North

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The iconic Edinburgh Castle standing on a volcanic plug, estimated to have formed some 350 million years ago.
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It was a prison in the late 18th century, and before that a fortress involved in the Jacobite Rising in 1745.

 

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On a good day you get a wonderful view from the Castle esplanade.
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Listen out for the bagpipes! Today he must have had very, very cold fingers.
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When you approach from Castle Terrace from the west you might already be in the Highlands. It dominates the city and attracts more visitors than any other monument in Scotland, but it is therefore very expensive to visit.
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Very close by are the bonny Ramsey Garden private apartments.
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The Camera Obscura is at the top of the Royal Mile (the round turret on the left of the skyline). The Palace of Holyrood is at the bottom.

The church-like building on the right of the skyline is now the Edinburgh Festival ‘Hub’. Built between 1842 and 1845, as the Victoria Hall, to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the building was created by architects: James Gillespie Graham and Augustus Welby Pugin. Curiously the building was never consecrated as a Church. In 1929 the Church of Scotland ceased to use the building and it became a temporary home for a variety of congregations. It was named the Highland Tolbooth St John’s Church in 1956, before falling into disuse in the 1980s. (http://www.thehub-edinburgh.com/about-us/history/).

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A series of narrow ‘closes’ on the left as you leave the Edinburgh castle, take you down steep steps to The Mound with the tower of New College (The University of Edinburgh) on the left here.

The snow on the hills of Fife, over the Firth of Forth, was visible to the naked eye in the far distance.

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The Lloyds Banking Head Office and the Museum on the Mound, focusing on money, coinage and economics, where you can view a million £s.
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A statue of a piper in a kilt!

The impressive, neoclassical buildings of the National Galleries, built by William Henry Playfair in 1859 at the foot of the Mound.

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Simple interior. January sees the annual showing of the JMW Turner paintings collection. They are only able to be displayed at this time of year when the light is dim so that they do not deterioriate too quickly. A gift to the city – free entry for everyone.
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Crossing Princes Street with its clothes, books and phone shops, look both ways for Rose Street running parallel and sandwiched between that and George Street to the north. It boasts some impressive concrete poetry (English, Scots and Gaelic) and plenty of places to drink and buy whisky.
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Continue down the hill and you have left the Old Town (the Castle etc) and entered the elegant New Town with its 1767-1850 Georgian style.

Visit Scotland website: https://www.visitscotland.com

For Edinburgh Castle opening times etc: https://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/

Edinburgh Camera Obscura: https://www.camera-obscura.co.uk/

Edinburgh National Galleries: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/

Newhaven Harbour, Edinburgh

Late Winter / Early Spring 2017 / January 2018

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January 2018.

Would you ever know that this gorgeous place is a mere 20 minutes bus ride (2 miles, 3 kms) from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh city centre? Found on the south side of the Firth of Forth, between Granton and Leith Harbours, it was James IV who created it in 1504 to build the warship ‘Michael’.

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Once a thriving fishing village, today’s piscary community is tiny compared with the fleets of the past. Well known for its oysters (until 1890), and once involved in whaling, it was Scottish folk songs about the herring business which first bought it to my attention.

The hard working women and girls who gutted and sold the fish from door to door in creels (baskets), are immortalised in songs such as Caller Herring (1798, words by Caroline Nairne and music by Nathaniel Gow) and Song of the Fishgutters.

Newhaven fishergirls pose with a creel. Photo by Hill and Adamson. 1840s

There is one boat I see regularly unloading it’s crab cargo, and the articulated trucks which carry the iced fish up and down the country are parked by the fish market in the eye catching red Victorian buildings where the museum used to be. There is a retail fishmonger there nowadays, Welchs, with its astonishing array of fresh and frozen sea food and associated goods.

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This conservation area somehow manages to sit cheek by jowel with the imposing Chancelot Mill, the happily situated Holiday Inn, and ecologically designed supermarket, none of which contribute in any way to the architectural beauty of the area.

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as you can see!

But you can find a very friendly welcome, comfy surroundings, and the best raspberry scones, freshly made cakes and affordable all-day breakfasts (sitting-in or to take-away) at The Haven cafe on Lindsay Road.

There are other sights to see in the area: a beautiful, wee community garden by the wall plaque.

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You can also find the upmarket Loch Fyne Oyster Bar; and the David Lloyd health club where you can swim outside in a heated pool right beside the seaside. There’s lots of accommodation, particularly air bnb (see below).

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The famously expensive Edinburgh trams do not come here, though there was a time when they were planned to. Now, however, there is an airport bus (number 200) which takes you to your flight in just over an hour.

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The old church is now the very popular Alien Rock, climbing wall.

This area was part of a massive re-development reputed to be the size of Edinburgh all over again, going to be built on the docks and reclaimed land between Leith and Granton. The economic situation put paid to that, but there are some impressive tower blocks (Western Harbour for example) around which you can wander in the wind and some rocks where people picnic and fish with their hoods up.

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Western Harbour flats.
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The ‘secret’ beach – see if you can find it!

There is plenty to see whatever the weather: the water itself and the seasonal bird population; Inchkeith Island housing left-over battlements and a still operational lighthouse; and the view of Fife and its hills across the estuary. In the summer the massive liners disgorge their tourists who are ferried into the harbour to be whisked away by coach to see the castle. The coastguard from Granton Harbour (half an hour’s promenade to the west) are always buzzing in and out accompanying the visiting shipping from Denmark (oil tankers), Malta, the UK and further afield.

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Inchkeith Island, Firth of Forth.

Fishmarket Square is just opposite the Oyster Bar, a quaint place where a (sadly) one-off Apple Festival was held a few years ago.

The recommended pub in the area is the Dreadnought, 72 North Fort Street (the bottom end!) with open jam sessions, the ubiquitous pub quiz, and appreciated pizzas. It stocks local beers from the Leith brewery (eg Pilot), a permanent gluten-free lager from Brass Castle (the owner Toby’s brother’s brewery), plus guest and vegan ones.

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The Dreadnought independent pub stocking craft beer.

Caller Herring on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFtXrT5sxRk

Chronological map of Edinburgh showing Newhaven http://maps.nls.uk/view/74400069#zoom=6&lat=6345&lon=5409&layers=BT

Air bnb http://www.airbnb.co.uk

Growing Together, Community Garden in Newhaven http://www.elgt.org.uk/projects/community-gardening/5-1-5-newhaven

Alien Rock http://www.alienrock.co.uk/

You can see who is anchored in the Firth of Forth at any one time on this website: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ports/22435/United_Kingdom_port:FIRTH%20OF%20FORTH%20ANCH

Lothian Buses, airport services: https://lothianbuses.co.uk/airport

Inchkeith Island: http://www.abandonedscotland.com/the-island-of-inchkeith/

Paris 1, France

April 27 – 30 2017

Walk 1: Gare de Lyon to Villa Sainte Croix. 7kms 27.4.17

I arrived in Paris in the late afternoon after a soothing flight direct from Edinburgh. The security there was very trying: I rarely fly and so every time I do the rules have changed. It became apparent that you now have to fit all your fluids into one tiny plastic bag which has to be sealed. This meant I had to ditch several newly-purchased items, and if I ever have to hear that woman calling out to us ‘guys’ about these frustrating rules again, I think I might scream!

At Charles de Gaules, I was reminded how silly it is to change money at the airport because of the dreadful exchange rate, but I liked the clean, pink toilets – much better than any public ones in the UK.

After much deliberation, and a pleasantly warm sunbathe (yes, I am sorry reader, I rolled up my trousers although I drew the line at stripping down to my bra), I took the bus to Gare de Lyon (€18), and started my first walk across the city to the north.

There is a gorgeously lush clock tower at Gare de Lyon (67m high) with its pale blue clock face, smooth, grey-domed top part, and decorated within an inch of its life (no photo).

I love the Paris architecture in the evening sunshine.  Colonne de Juillet, Place de la Bastille

Remember to look left before I step out onto the cycle paths, I told myself, as I automatically looked right and only narrowly avoided a fleet of commuter bikes.

There are massive statues standing at the junction between each step of this walk: Places des République and Bastille, for example.

Place de la République

The corner cafés, familiar from so many movies, were filling up with after-work drinkers. It was becoming a fine evening – large groups of men were playing boules; fashionable guys riding mopeds were zooming in and out of the traffic and sliding to conspicuous halts in front of giggly groups of girls; stylish kids were streaming out of school in the weak sunshine; and of course there were traffic hold-ups contributing to the poor city air condition.

I particularly enjoyed walking along Avenue Deaumesnil, with its charming under-arches embroidery and fabric boutiques, art school, and book shops.

Walking on, I was surprised that I was not struggling at all with my large back pack after 5 months break from carrying it.

I came to the Place de la République with open-air table tennis and gangs of scateboarders extraordinaire. They performed their tricks with a nonchalant air, as soon as they knew I was watching, eager for an audience.

My tummy was rumbling as I approached Gare de L’est, so I tried out my French by buying that lovely sort of bread which is cool in your mouth and has air holes. I had to open the cheese packet with my teeth because of course you can not bring a knife to France on the plane.

At Barbés there were peanuts for sale, fresh garlic, and limes. The people sharing the pavements with me looked as if they might well have been doing dodgy deals. There were potentially dangerous disputes erupting at every turn. 

A wonderful array of restaurants from around the world lined the streets, and I could have very easily exchanged all sorts of things or bought a cheap phone or a yam, or got hair extensions.

And then, a few paces on, I segue into a new area and I am amongst a different type of pedestrian. It is now quiet, no excitable voices, the women wear red lipstick, and their heels clack on the tarmac.

 Great art deco-type decoration on this Louxor Palais du Cinéma, Boulevard de Magenta.

At Monmartre there’s a man living in a tent on a roundabout. The sweet odours of May 1st holiday posies, lillies of the valley,  are everywhere, as are the police and their guns – presumably as a result of all the recent terrorist troubles.

Time is passing and it was starting to get dark.  My frequent photo stops, memo writing, and Google map consulting has somehow extended the predicted 1.5 hours to 5, and I am grateful that my hosts are understanding when I roll up really late. There’s a meal waiting, wine on the table, and much kindness directed my way.

Walking without a dog: Edinburgh Cycle Paths

26th January 2107 – An aside!

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Most people in Edinburgh live pretty close to some green space* – a patch of grass for dog walking, a play-park for children (and teenage smokers), or the grander Holyrood Park with its famous Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. Underneath, well, at a lower level than the roads, is where the network of railways used to run, and much of that is now an intricate, and, let’s face it, often very confusing, myriad of cycle paths. But, we are very lucky to have them.

On a very chilly morning, when my phone said it was -2 degrees at 8.30am, I set off through Trinity for a meeting with wise Jenny. There’s a new Sculpture Workshop cafe, Milk, at the Newhaven end, offering welcome hot drinks and scones, and they have blankets for the very cold weather, which is  nice touch.

Three hours later, when the edges of the leaves still had white around them, I spontaneously chose not to return home on the pavements, but to take the path less travelled (know that poem by Robert Frost? see below for link), and I discovered that nature is at it again, preparing for spring.

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Walking engenders trust, because every step I take is a reassurance that the earth is steady underneath me. And when I walk in nature, I notice that it changes, and that those changes are cyclical, reliably so. And if I keep on doing that walking, I become reassured without even knowing it. Today is a reminder of that – all around me is shiny and green. Look carefully and the bluebells and snowdrops are poking their heads through! Whatever I do, good or bad, the seasons shift regularly, and the ground is still there when I put my weight down onto it.

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Walking is quiet, so the wildlife doesn’t know I am coming, and I am startled by a bird flashing out of the undergrowth; a squirrel makes a courageous leap across the path and lands on the thinnest of branches above my head, sweeping and dipping backwards and forwards and up and down, as it tries to regain its footing and run towards the trunk. It manages to save itself from plunging onto the tarmac in front of me. Just.

Traffic noise is in the background and thank goodness for that. I take an involuntary deep breath, and hear melodic birdsong, and a repeated shussh rustly sound, as if something is falling through the bushes beside me. It’s a mystery what’s caused it.

I saw a wren, yes, an actual wren, – so unusual that it must be a blessing. It was fluttering in the fetid-looking, standing-water in the sunshine. Except it can’t be fetid because then I see a lady blackbird, and a sparrow, and they are doing the same thing, so they must know better, and be on to a good thing.

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A wren. Picture from the internet

A lot of the cycle path is in the shade in winter, but there are patches of sunlight, and that reveals badger setts. The black ice sometimes stays on the path all day long and my bike has skidded in the past, tipping me unceremoniously and painfully over. It can be dangerous in other ways: two of my daughter’s friends were mugged a few years ago on another section, and so I am repeatedly warned against walking on these ways at dusk.

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Like the Camino, there’s a sense of a community along this network, with political or family-day-out posters on lighting poles. There is evidence of little kindnesses along the way: a rubbish bag that someone has put out to limit the mess, which is regularly emptied; a baby hat picked up and hung on a railing just in case someone comes back to look for it.

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There are runners, buggies, and sometimes both – mums and dads running with the push-chair; there are bikes, some side-by-side chatting as they ride; there are single and multiple dogs (now that there’s a rise in people who go house-to-house collecting the canines for walkies while their owners are out at work); there are young and old; commuters; and sightseers with sunglasses and binoculars. The other day I was overtaken by a ‘proper’ walker, with a backpack, striding purposefully with poles; and there are folk on the way back from Morrisons with their shopping.

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I walk on the tiny strip of grass by the side, and feel-hear a familiar, hollow sound underfoot. Not the clatter of my shoe on the hard surface, or the thud I get when I walk on the grass under the trees on Boswell Drive, but as if there’s space underneath the icy ground. And it’s springy.

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For an hour I walk, and I am unaware of the news, or my day-to-day worries. When I walk, news becomes surprisingly unimportant. Walking and feeling the ground solid underneath me then seems to help me write about what is real, not imagined. ‘Soon’ writes Frédéric Gros, ‘you have lost all knowledge of the world and its gymnastics’. p.81/82 in A Philosophy of Walking.

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*Study by Catharine Ward Thompson et al 2013: ‘Contact with green space in the environment has been associated with mental health benefits, but the mechanism underpinning this association is not clear. This study extends an earlier exploratory study showing that more green space in deprived urban neighbourhoods in Scotland is linked to lower levels of perceived stress and improved physiological stress as measured by diurnal patterns of cortisol secretion.’ http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/10/9/4086/htm

The Path Less Travelled by Robert Frost, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/44272

Edinburgh Cycle Paths http://www.cycling-edinburgh.org.uk/bike-paths.htm

Milk cafe http://www.cafemilk.co.uk/sculpture-workshop/

Walking without a dog: Forth Bridges, Aberdour, Edinburgh

Today’s walks – Aberdour: Silver Sands, tiny part of the Fife Coastal Path; Edinburgh: Lothian Road to Granton

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The journey from Edinburgh to Aberdour takes 31 minutes and it cost me £5.35 return (I have a Scotrail Over 50s card). What a bargain!

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Aberdour station has won many ‘best kept station’ awards. It is all co-ordinated in blue and white.

There was the new Forth Road bridge in all its glory! A yellow crane stood beside each of the uprights, and it was teeming with vehicles, and people in high-vis jackets!

It’s a bonny sight, and takes the number of crossings to three: the red rail bridge, buxom and with a reputation for needing a new coat every year; the old road bridge, swanky but showing signs of age; and now the elegant, silver-white virgin, as yet untouched. They all, more or less, connect South Queensferry to North Queensferry, and the views are impressive.

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Part of the red rail bridge in the lower corner
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That’s North Queensferry on the right

There used to be a train which trundled along where Lower Granton Road is now, taking passengers and goods to Fife, Dundee and beyond. It rolled onto a large piece of wood with rails, floating in Granton Harbour, and was sailed across to Fife, before it drove off and up north without anyone having to get out. How clever is that?!

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On the other side of the blue water, the white things all in a line, are the yachts in the harbour.

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Aberdour is an historic village in Fife – pretty, well-off, and you can see my flat from its sands. After work, I walked down to the beach and wandered east amongst the seaweed and rock pools (approx. 5 mins) smiling at dog walkers as I went; and then west to where the boats are moored, across the wonderfully named ‘Dour Burn’ (‘dour’ means ‘relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance’, and a ‘burn’ is a small river or stream) on the wee brown bridge. From there I joined the Fife Coastal Path onto the headland and around to the next bay. I am definitely coming back to walk that Path when I have time.

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The wee brown bridge..
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..across the ‘Dour Burn’.

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You will need proper boots as it is a steep, slippery climb.

There’s a municipal tourist board to help you identify the islands and hills you can see across the water, including Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags, the islands of Inchcolm (the one with the Abbey), Cramond (the one you can get stranded on if the sea covers the crossing before you get back), and Inchmickery. Apparently it is the latter which was said to resemble a battleship to scare off invaders during the war, although I thought it was Inchkieth (the one I can see from my yoga class and front room).

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This is the first walk I have had outside Edinburgh city since I returned from Yalding (Kent) where I spent New Year. First I got the scent of the sea, the sea plants, and the sand in my sinuses, and they cleared (fantastic after my cold); then, as I walked slightly inland, the whiff of the newly disturbed earth and the wet bracken. My respiratory system sighed with joyful relief!

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This morning’s hard frost had given way to a warmer 7 degrees by early afternoon.

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Everyone was very friendly. There were helpful directions, and a Scottish version of ‘Buen Camino’. ‘Enjoy your walk, she said, smiling. I have a fear of going the wrong way. I think it is because I never have enough time and so do not want to waste what I do have. As it was I ended up at the ‘Silver Sands’ car park twice.

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I spotted a bird of prey I could not identify. I kept seeing an unusually long body part as it turned around on the air current (neck? legs?) and hovvered in the sky above. I asked a man with binoculars and he kindly told me the difference between a sparrow hawk (red tummy), buzzard (‘very large’), and kestrel (pointed wings). I am still not sure what I saw, but it was the size of a large gull. He drew out his camera and sifted through several 100 photos before showing me a gorgeous picture of a robin silhouetted against a dramatic sky whilst perching on his hand (which, he explained, was poking outside the car window) .

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2.30pm. It is February after all!

I enjoyed a green tea and scone at the McTaggarts Cafe (was that where I lost my keys?). Good service, delicious cakes, WiFi – recommended.

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Here’s another shot or two of the station. Only I can wax lyrical about a station, but it is so pretty. And it’s got a blue and white pot on a barrel (almost like a museum-exhibit, it could have come from friend Lesley’s kitchen), a most interesting clock, and a greenhouse. I have never seen a station with a greenhouse before. The man in red (can you spot him?) was potting up the containers while I waited for the 3.15.

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There is more to Aberdour than I that. There is a castle, at least one church, an obelisk, and a shinty club, so I recommend you stay there for a couple of nights.
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I gave a very enjoyable Shiatsu to a client after my return (or did the keys drop out of my pocket on the train?), and then I had my second walk of the day.

It was raining heavily all through the 50 minutes it takes to get home, indeed my shoes and coat are steaming on the radiator as I write. My toes got wet as I traipsed the first few streets, and the pools of water in my trainers had spread to my insteps by Stockbridge. Eventually my heels were soaking too – that was when I was passing the Botanics – but inexplicably they were still warm. And what a lovely walk it was. I had loads of creative ideas (eg I decided what my book is going to be about, and I came up with an alternative topic for the Eastwood House residential), and even if I do not get my keys back I will manage somehow.

There are no photos of this walk as it was dark, but I will take the opportunity to moan about the lack of street lighting, especially on Doune Terrace and Gloucester Street. And I will leave you with the last, lovely photo of the beautiful, blue, Firth of Forth. Sweet dreams!

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The Fife Coastal Path http://www.fifecoastalpath.co.uk/

McTaggarts Cafe https://www.facebook.com/McTaggarts/

Aberdour, Visit Scotland (I like my photos better!) https://www.visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/aberdour-p239011

Granton history http://www.grantonhistory.org/harbour/harbour.htm

granton:hub, Madelvic House (where I learned about the harbour’s history) https://grantonhub.org/