Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Port of Leith. Newhaven. Ships. Sea. Edinburgh's Mural Wall.

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After our walk down the River Almond Walkway and then the Causeway Crossing over to Cramond Island it was still fairly early, due to our dawn departure from Glasgow- around lunchtime- mid day. So we jumped on a bus for a few stops to here. Dean Bridge. The highest point above the Water of Leith Walkway, with great views down into this deep river gorge. It was also near here that I obtained the previous post's photograph's of Fettes College and Stewart's Melville College while Anne had a seat, a rest, and a sandwich.
Refreshed, she was then ready to tackle the next highlight of our trip, which was down into this impressive gorge then along the bottom, following the stream, down to Leith and the docks. You can just make out the walkway here in this photo. It's also impressive at this point, looking up from below, enclosed by the surrounding cliffs, period architecture, and rising woodlands with Dean Bridge an almost impossible lofty span above your head. It makes you really appreciate the skill, vision, and ambition of Edinburgh's stone masons from that previous era of building to create the wonderfully elaborate city around you today.
It's only a few miles from Dean Bridge down into Leith, passing the Botanic Gardens on the way. This is us just reaching the edge of Leith here where the widening stream/river and several canal/dock offshoots create a mini Venice or Amsterdam.
As it was a still, quiet, winter's day fabulous reflections covered the water surface here- so much so that it seemed entirely possible to walk across the river on solid ground as it was a perfect illusion- not a single ripple to break the spell at this point. A mind deceiver as good as any desperate witch could cast from the stake.
Even the house styles here look European- low countries architecture a big inspiration through past trading links.
Mary of Guise,  (see photo detail of canal barge) ruled Scotland for six years, despite being a French Catholic as she was married to King James of Scotland in 1538, Scotland and France having much closer political ties then than today, mainly united to counter the threat of an English power grab. The auld enemy of both countries for centuries past. Mary was the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots who succeeded to the throne as a baby when her father, King James died. Mary of Guise, ruling Scotland as regent, attempted to turn Scotland into a mainly Catholic country, in line with France, but this plan set her daughter on a collision course and eventually sealed her demise at a later date as an adult, when the Protestant religion gained the upper hand.
The waterways of Leith. Always something of interest to see here... and at the adjoining Port of Leith.
Vos Defender. Port of Leith. A standby safety ship.
Twins. F S Bergen and F S Crathes. Both are offshore supply ships.
F.S Pegasus. Another offshore supply ship for the North Sea- presumably connected to the oil industry.
    Fingal. A luxury floating hotel berthed here at the docks. We both liked it down here. Much quieter and far less hectic than central Edinburgh's packed tourist streets yet still plenty to see. Plenty of room to stretch and breathe. Although only a couple of miles away Leith feels far more like the real Edinburgh I used to travel into- a different world- where the locals live.    If I visit a Scottish town or city, I like that regional difference- very obvious in both Dundee and Kirkcaldy, when I travel on the local buses there, often just for the enjoyment itself as much as any exploration purposes and bask in the delights of the local lingo, taking pleasure in noticing small but distinctive cultural changes. That doesn't happen much in central Edinburgh anymore, where Scottish, or even English is not the dominant culture/language in the district within the tourist zone, except in the tartan and bagpipe shops, selling the popular tourist image of Scotland abroad.  Same as if I travelled to France or Italy I would try to find and immerse myself in the authentic local culture there, rather than sit for the entire trip in a British theme bar. If I've had too much local culture to handle or just plain homesick Brit bars are good bolt holes of familiarity to step into but on the whole I prefer to see the real thing when abroad so I can't really blame any tourist for doing the same :o)   Mind you, outside of the tourist zones, on the outskirts, like any city or town, Edinburgh becomes more dangerous. Less safe. Mainly because you are surrounded by locals.
Not around the Port of Leith itself, which is still a tourist magnet with its shipping and ever changing sea traffic but in the housing estates and nondescript back streets... so that was where we went next :)
A row of tugs/pilot boats at rest. Oxcar and Seal Carr belonging to Forth Ports, Scotland's biggest and busiest waterway complex nowadays and the UK's 3rd largest port authority, apparently. Always something different to see around the Port of Leith.
An older gable end Leith mural. A bit faded now and hard to make out details so I've restored it here to its former glory and colour, depicting all the trades and local industry that took place in Leith in former times.
A view of Leith Flats and Arthur's Seat behind them.
Between Leith and the neighbouring coastal district of Newhaven there exists a no person's land of waste ground, small factory units, and a few chain fences bordering silent, deserted back streets, empty over-spill lots and outlying docks. This is where we found Edinburgh's mural wall. Unlike the one in Glasgow, near Finnieston, where invited artists painted elaborate murals on the railway arches with a presumably strict no graffiti remit...... Edinburgh's  main (apparently unofficial) mural wall seems open to all with far less control over content. A long high wall runs parallel to the coast with another smaller wall beside it. Graffiti is the dominant feature but a range of different murals can also be found walking along it.
It's not really a tourist haunt. But we both enjoyed it.
It had enough interest to keep our attention. As there's no community or housing nearby and it's basically empty waste ground, similar to the old velodrome at Meadowbank, which is now demolished, it's not hurting anyone, and it gives a blank canvas for aspiring artists.
This particular artist also has an archway design on Glasgow's mural wall. Because most artists use pseudonyms I didn't realise the majority were male until this was pointed out- probably because of where street art originates from. ie quiet back streets, possibly painted at night or early morning, remote areas... but this is changing now with more public art commissioned legally.
 All out nuclear war. Fun and games for all the family.
A different style but still very good. I've always been interested in art which is the main attraction for me in open world games as the landscapes there are so convincing and improve every year, along with story and characters. So much so that they now surpass many big mainstream films for entertainment in certain cases as you can watch and enjoy them as films. What Remains of Edith Finch. Full film..... My Name is Kara: Detroit Become Human (No Commentary)... Firewatch. The Movie..... Bioshock Infinite....The Movie.... The Last of Us. Cinematic Playthrough.... being the proof of that.
All of them far more interesting and enjoyable than the last four/five years of Dr Who, the recent  remakes of War of the Worlds (dull, done far better, more enjoyable with Tom Cruise film) His Dark Materials (listless and miscast, done far better as a film in The Golden Compass, which should have been a continuing trilogy IMHO.) and far, far better and more thought provoking than any Transformer or Fast and Furious films.
A few political murals. My own take on Brexit is that it will be bad for Scotland, prices will rise accordingly, and it's largely pointless now anyway. We will only be swapping EU controls for a larger USA dominance. With a climate change crisis, spiraling population levels, and mass animal and insect extinctions in the near future it's a bit like Nero playing his violin while Rome burns. A costly and long running distraction from what really matters.
Never mind. It's only a simulation after all. We can always reboot the game and start again with a fresh planet. And get it right next time.
And a nice nurse to cure all ills.
Sick tortoise.
I liked this one as it used the slim edge of the wall to get its message across....
The bottom half... living in the shade of the skyscraper city.
And onwards to Newhaven... to be continued.....

By the way... for anyone interested in spectacular and very clever street art from around the world you should check out the link in the right hand side panel. S.A. Utopia. Little People, 3D worlds and full length gable murals inside. Stunning work in a variety of countries.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Cramond Island Gallery. Edinburgh Day.

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A female goosander with reflection on the River Almond walk in Edinburgh. Both diving ducks used the current in this river to aid catching fish, the female and green headed male bobbing easily and completely unconcerned through the numerous rapids and mini waterfalls, keeping pace with us walking on the bank as they dived repeatedly for their breakfast. Once they reached the coast a mile and a half downstream they flew inland again, back up the river- presumably to repeat the process.
Grey squirrel with nut. We on the other hand left the land based creatures behind to do the logical continuation of the river walk- which was over the marine causeway to visit Cramond Island. Lying a mile off the coast in the busy Firth of Forth, Cramond Isle has to be approached at low tide, unless you want wet feet, as at high tide the access route is deeply submerged by the incoming tide.
This is the start of it here. As the Edinburgh bus took longer than expected we were lucky to make it but as I'd promised Anne, who had never been on it, that we would visit, we set off at pace along the concrete. Like every other popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh these days it was mobbed with sightseers speaking dozens of different languages, which is a routine experience on any bus trip now, even in less cosmopolitan, but still rapidly changing Glasgow. Which at the moment still does feel like a Scottish metropolis. The crowds did take some of the thrill and mystery away from the island as on my first visit here alone, after a nearby Cramond wedding, I crossed to the island by wading ankle deep in the departing sea- no problem for a hill-walker used to wading mountain streams but I did get to explore and enjoy the island to myself before the next group across the causeway arrived. Anywhere in the world it is always better visiting tourist attractions or beach walks when they are quieter to get the full castaway experience, especially small islands.
Barnbougle Castle on the Firth of Forth coastline. A fortified tower house rather than the older style of medieval drafty castle built when times were less turbulent and the landed gentry could risk more comfort and light giving windows at the expense of  impregnable defensive measures and a far more unpleasant spartan existence in the older models of castle. Anne is a big fan of Outlander so she enjoyed this walk for the views over the Forth  Estuary. Although supposed to be a Scottish Highland TV series most of Outlander was filmed across the Central Belt of Scotland. i.e The Lowlands. This made perfect economic sense with the studios based in Cumbernauld and dozens of different castles, stately homes, grand park landscapes and old cobbled villages a couple of hours drive away. If it was filmed entirely in the Scottish Highlands this would necessitate much longer drives, overnight stays for cast and crew, and huge production costs. Even the scenes set in France and the USA were mainly and convincingly filmed in the Central Belt  and in Edinburgh and Glasgow, using French and American styled buildings and parks. So much so that I've already been to 95 percent of the locations used in the TV series without even trying to visit them- just through decades of wandering and natural curiousity to visit new places- much to Anne's disgust... as  she's only at 25 percent of locations visited :o)
Barnbougle Castle, (originally dated 13th century but extensively remodeled in the late 1800s  and now a popular upmarket wedding venue)  was not used in Outlander--- but I've visited it as well a few years ago....just in case...
Cramond Island itself, once you are on it, is not that special or remarkable. A low scrubby circular lump with several World War Two concrete bunkers and other defensive fortifications, usually awash with graffiti and broken glass bottles. As it's easily reached twice a day at low tide millions of folk have been on it- even for overnight raves in the past- so it's not exactly in pristine condition- but the seabirds love it- the restricted access gives some excitement- and the views from it are always excellent.
A docked ship with the Kingdom of Fife behind. It was slightly misty with a weak winter sun but I did my best- photography wise - in less than ideal light for capturing clear images.
At low tide several miles of open sand is exposed making another great walking experience from Cramond to Granton. You can return along the seafront promenade.
The hunt for food on the estuary sands.
Docking piers on the Firth of Forth. Numerous tankers and other ships pass up and down this busy sea corridor with the massive oil refinery at Grangemouth, Leith Docks, Inverkeithing and Rosyth generating steady shipping traffic all along this natural water highway. So usually plenty to see. Several rocky islands also lie in the Firth of Forth, most of them adorned with World War One/Two defensive gun emplacements and lookout bunkers.
Inchmickery is the nearest to Cramond Isle and heavily fortified, so it resembles a battleship from a distance. The iconic Forth Rail Bridge, built in the 1880s and still in use today for modern trains would have been a major target for German bombers. It lies a few miles further up the coastline. The Fife town of Burntisland and The Binn (hill) rising behind- which makes a great and unusual circular walk up to the summit then along the low tide beaches on the return journey.
With the tide coming in fast we had little time to explore the island in full but at least Anne had been on it and I did not think she would appreciate continuing our Edinburgh explorations with wet feet.
It was still around the freezing mark out the sun and the tide, when it turns, comes in at speed. When that happens it does not take long for the causeway to disappear under the waves.
This is it with the tide coming in. I've put a white line where the high tide mark is so getting back at that point would be a submarine affair.
The distinctive dragon's tail attached to the causeway is a WW II torpedo boat preventive barrier to stop anyone or anything slipping past at high tide. The main Firth of Forth channel would have been guarded as well with panels placed between these concrete pillars to seal any gaps in the barrier. You can see the high level mark here with the change in colour. So more than a wading job if you get stranded on the island as tidal currents are also evident here when the sea floods in. You only get an hour or two on the island between tides but 15 to 30 minutes is enough.
Tide rushing in- time to leave the island again.
On the way to our next destination I steered my wayward but still dry footed companion past several impressive Gothic piles. Fettes College- built in the late 1800s where the great and the good send their children to get an education .. and hopefully establish the necessary connections to land up within the UK's best paying professions. Scotland's equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge. An independent private boarding school within its own wooded grounds and a fantastic building I've long admired from afar. I did cycle into it once years ago and was promptly told to 'naff off'' by a strict but not unfriendly caretaker. Back then I did not know it was private grounds so my moth like attraction was innocent curiosity for a fine looking structure, soaring from the woods, and nothing sinister. A private ice rink, outdoor swimming pool, rifle range, and running tracks adorn the forest setting so it was just as well I was turned away in case I was shot as an unruly oik.
Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's Seat. A distant view in winter sunlight. Although everyone says that Edinburgh is generally safer than Glasgow at night as regards gangs, muggings, threatening behaviour etc. the huge year round crowds in the busiest Edinburgh streets must cause its own problems...  in the way of trips, falls, heart attacks, and traffic accidents. Princes Street, The Royal Mile, George Street, York Place and the Grassmarket area all have potential hazards for the unwary visitor. The continuous trams and buses for a start with pavements sardine packed with tourists who fill every available inch of walking space. In that respect Edinburgh resembles Italian Venice with very few local Scots seen or heard around the central district. A world famous Disney style theme city rather than an actual living neighbourhood of resident, resilient Scots, where overseas tourist voices and dozens of different languages probably outnumber the locals 100 to one. Scottish voices or even spoken English in the main tourist streets, (unless you visit the shops or talk to the homeless folk, still sitting at every street corner, is conspicuously absent from central Edinburgh. Even Polish is not as dominant as it once was. I've been coming here on and off since the 1960s and it doesn't really feel that Scottish anymore if I'm honest. It did back then but now it's a world city with a world population. Not a criticism just an observation of changing trends from many different visits at different seasons of the year. Glasgow's mix is changing as well with 30,000 new arrivals in the last few years- just not as fast as Edinburgh.  Edinburgh has very successfully repackaged it's attractions to a worldwide audience that must bring in millions of pounds to the city coffers every year. I watched a recent TV programme called. 'Choose Life:Edinburgh's Battle with Aids' set in the 1980s Trainspotting era when Edinburgh's outer council estates, many of them grim,depressing, grey places to live,  made Edinburgh the Aids and heroin capital of Europe with more deaths per head of population than 1980s New York and many times greater than UK capital London. Having always had an interest in deprived council estates and colourful urban areas I had many happy wanderings through 1980s Edinburgh but just like the Glasgow schemes of old  most of Edinburgh's outer estates have been either flattened or redeveloped. It was a very different city then- something I had almost forgotten until this programme brought it back. Mind you, most of the trappings tourists love about Scotland, sold on the Royal Mile- like multi coloured tartans for every occasion and name, playful haggis, heather, furry coos, Scotty dogs in kilts, and mini Loch Ness Monsters developed as part of the original Scottish Highland theme park when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert re-modeled the now tamed Highlands into their own idea of Highland Scottish rural life. It probably bore as little resemblance to the departed Scottish clans as that image does today for most ordinary modern Scots. Even as a teenager growing up in the 1960s it felt distinctly dated- a bygone era. I've only wore a kilt twice, at weddings, and a childhood spent watching heather, haggis, bagpipes and claymore TV shows featuring 'Donald where's your troosers' every other week put me off that image for life.

George Heriot's School- seen from the castle. Another fee paying independent private school of which Edinburgh has many ( I've been escorted out of most of them over many decades of exploration, politely of course :o)- this one dating right back to the 1600s and a building that must have witnessed a great many changes in the evolution of the surrounding city. As have I over the years with my modest interest in architecture and landscape design. With a current resident city population just under 500,000 this must swell with tourist numbers to close to one million folk within Edinburgh at any given week throughout the year. Which may explain the constant noise of emergency service vehicles during our last night time visit. Falling or tripping onto hard cobbled streets, dark, sloping, dimly lit, lanes, and dozens of steep stairs between levels,which help to give central Edinburgh its unique character and period charm, must also stretch the emergency services to its limit.
A view here of the always packed pavements of the Royal Mile leading up to Edinburgh Castle and the weird triple kerb on the right hand side- a depth oddity you always have to be very careful of in this location. Several double or triple kerb pavements exist in Central Edinburgh and they are a pure menace, even when you are aware of them. York Place has a similar layout of unnerving drops between pavement and road. Trams, buses, and busy traffic are other constant hazards- along with the surprisingly rocky Arthur's Seat  and Calton Hill, occasionally covered in slippy snow and ice in winter yet climbed routinely year round in trainers or fashion shoes. So although Edinburgh may feel safer than Glasgow.... accident wise.... Glasgow is far easier to negotiate for tourists.
So enjoy this wonderful city and it's many architectural attractions... but keep safe out there. Stewart's Melville College. Built in the mid 1800s. An independent, fee paying, etc etc...
And a small plane against a rainbow, back in Glasgow.


Saturday, 4 January 2020

River Almond Walk. Cramond Village.

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This is a view of the River Almond, which is where we started our walk on a day trip to Edinburgh a few weeks ago by bus. After reaching the city centre we took another local bus out to Cramond, a small picturesque village situated on the western outskirts of the city, where this fairly broad substantial river reaches the sea.
A view here of our route. We being Anne and myself. Getting off the bus a few hundred yards from Cramond brig (a period stone bridge across the water) we had to walk down to the river via a quiet lane, surrounded by a shallow wooded gorge.
The temperature overnight across the Central Belt had dropped to minus 5 with a hard frost so these little ponies looked pleased to see us- coming over hoping to see food and/or company. Obviously, we didn't feed them as they had hay and stables in the field but we did give them some encouraging words.
Even today it's a largely undeveloped rural location- only a few upmarket detached houses and cottages intruding on nature. A bit gloomy due to the surrounding tree cover  in the shady dell but here we found this modest memorial.
A lonely spot so we assumed it was some kind of animal, going by the name and age but it was a marker for a little girl.
Her story here.
We continued our walk down the river with the edges of Cramond's suburban sprawl visible at one open point before we dropped back into the wooded river glen.
A scenic location with some nice reflections. Anne had not been down here before so the steps leading over several large cliffs barring the way came as a surprise.
I, on the other hand, remembered doing this route on my bike years ago and having to carry it up and down them, thinking it was better as a walking trail. This came near the end of a long circular bike tour around the city so I was getting distinctly feeble by the time I reached this unexpected obstacle course in the way.
In a few places the River Almond is a rock gorge falling vertically into the water, which is why the steps have to find a route over the top of the cliffs instead.
Another set of stairs. These add some excitement and variety to what otherwise would be a flat walk.
Several ruins and ancient stone docks can be spotted, giving historical interest. During the Industrial Revolution any navigable rivers, like this one, boasted mills and factories along the banks. This one was an iron foundry, apparently.
Rapids at some points could power mill wheels but would also deter boats so either this was as far as they reached or some dredging occurred in the river.    200 years can make a big difference to landscapes though. Lower down, just before Cramond Village, several large stone docks can be spotted, on the now unoccupied bank of the river but at one time this would have been a substantial additional mooring/repair/living location, which may even be older than the Industrial Revolution in origin as, unlike Cramond,  it would have been largely hidden from the sea and any raiders prowling the coast.
As this info board and several others show Cramond was once a strategic military outpost for the  Roman Empire. The remains of a large Roman fort lie within the grounds of Cramond Kirk and Hall. and several carved stone sculptures have been found in this vicinity from that time, including one pulled from this very river, at this very spot.
The Roman occupation of Scotland did not last very long, compared with the occupation of flatter, richer, more settled, England. From the beginning the warlike tribes of Caledonia had the terrain on their side, north of the Antonine Wall, and every Roman push further north paid a heavy tribute in dead bodies with hit and run guerrilla tactics perfectly suited to the wild mountains, deep forests and swamps in what was then, still, a largely untamed, un-drained, wilderness.  The battle for this furthest frontier of Roman rule only lasted 25 years before they gave up and retreated behind the more substantial  and better defended Hadrian's Wall built across Northern England. Trouble in other parts of the empire, heavy losses here, and poorer quality lands further north made it a prize hardly worth attaining, except for the pride of conquest.
"Look - I don't believe it! A seahorse! " I pointed suddenly and excitedly below my feet as we reached the river mouth and the end of the Almond walkway. "You don't see one of them every day at the coast. Quick before it disappears! "
Anne hurried over to have a look.
"Aw, you are ******* me!. Not funny!!!"

"I had you going there- admit it ! You was proper 'little girl' excited. Oh' let me see the sea horse Daddy. Skip skip skip !!! Hand claps thrown in "

A rueful smile from my companion. " I hope you're proud of yourself. You dream dasher! You do get them in the UK. I've seen a programme all about them last year."
A smile back. " I remember. See, I do listen."
"How about an eider duck then? " I indicated a nearby swimming bird where the river and sea merged.
"Nah. Not as good."
"or how about a Redshank and a Little Ringed Plover?
"Turnstone." she corrected. "maybe." Anne now has a bird book on her travels, not trusting my judgement anymore. I wonder why.
"Plover." says I back.
" Turnstone."
"Greenshank". We both agreed after a collective bird book look at this one.
"That does not beat a seahorse though." She murmured.  "Where next brave leader?"
"Onwards." I gestured to the misty coastline. " I have a plan all laid out for you. Follow me into the sea my skippy Princess...."
"Out there lies our destiny for today.... we shall feast on water and in the seabirds...."