Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Edinburgh. Craiglockhart. Hermitage of Braid. Blackford Hill. Arthur's Seat.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
Part two of my cycle ride across Edinburgh. I left the Union Canal, seen above, just as the cycling was getting more enjoyable... i.e. I didn't have as many pedestrians to worry about on the tow path, having left the masses behind around the fashionable Edinburgh Quay area and only the more determined walkers and cyclists were left out here.
A strange jigsaw puzzle of a sculpture in the Tollcross district.
At Slateford Bridge I turned off the Union Canal, as I already knew what the rest of it looked like out to the city limits and instead headed through the Craiglockhart district, past Napier University, part of which is shown above, as I knew this was a quiet road leading up over a slope with open land and a golf course on both sides. This meant I could even cycle on the pavements if the road traffic proved detrimental to healthy living. All the Edinburgh Universities have a good reputation and competition for places in any of them can be fierce with top grades required.
During the war Craiglockhart Hospital conducted pioneering experiments with patients suffering from shell shock (see Mike's comment at the end of post) so I've included a link to this here.

Where I was heading now was the summit of Blackford Hill, 539 feet high,(on my map) and the Hermitage of Braid gorge below it. I've been up here before, it's not as popular as Arthur's Seat, as its lower and further away from the city centre but I knew it had fantastic panoramas over the city and the Hermitage of Braid gorge is enjoyable at any time of year. As I've carried my bike up the wooden steps to the summit before and I knew I could cycle through the gorge on a wide path this was the place to be for a photographer as the sun was starting to burn the morning mist away. Blackford Hill summit viewed across the Merchants of Edinburgh Golf Course, and with a name like that you know its going to be rather posh. From my own point of view golf courses in a city are magnets as its all open land with great views, good cycling on empty pavements with no built up areas intruding, and normally quieter roads and traffic. The nearby Braid Hills, also covered in golf courses, are another favourite of mine to explore by bike or foot with a network of unexpected trails around the edges and good scenery.
The Hermitage of Braid gorge is worth a visit with nice walking trails through it and it connects into the grasslands, meadows and volcanic uplands of Blackford Hill Nature Reserve and Park.
Hermitage of Braid Visitor Centre. Link below to Hermitage, Blackford Hill, Braid Hills info, and more  panoramic city views.

Once on the summit I had lunch and a drink of juice gazing out over the capital city of Scotland. The glass and steel elevated luxury apartments of Quartermile were highly visible landmarks in an otherwise stone built old Edinburgh view but they did highlight where I'd cycled through the wide and open 'Meadows' area which could only be seen from here as a thin line of trees in front. Although Edinburgh has majestic city views and iconic skylines in every direction its tightly packed into a relatively small area due to volcanic plugs like Arthur's Seat, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and The Edinburgh Castle Mound taking up most of the space. Glasgow, although not as scenically attractive overall has many more parks and open spaces within it and from any hill within the city looks like a green forest with occasional urban development sticking out.
Green Glasgow above, A city rising within a forest. The big difference between the two cities lying a mere 30 miles apart on west and east Scottish coastlines is that Edinburgh is built around and flows under bare volcanoes, 400 to 800 foot high, forced into tightly packed clusters, whereas Glasgow sprawls in glorious abandon over a sea of low drumlins 100 to 200 foot high. Both cities have their own special merits but Glasgow from any angle looks as if its being consumed by deciduous forests lapping all around it, even in the roughest housing schemes. It's well named 'the dear green place.' Dear in this instance meaning much loved as Edinburgh is the more expensive city for visitor attractions as Glasgow's museums and many of its galleries and exhibits are still free to enter due to its age old policy of culture being made available for all to visit, which I'm sure they'd like to change in this age of rising costs and seemingly endless austerity and council cut backs.
The lack of trees is not something you notice walking or cycling around, as Edinburgh has plenty of attractive parks and gardens within it but in distant views it does look tightly packed whereas Glasgow's sprawling outer districts especially, with more space to play with, had the luxury of keeping most of the original surrounding woodlands intact or planting new trees on almost every street which are now at full height and maturity. A misty Central Edinburgh here.
Calton Hill monuments from Blackford Hill.
Looking over the city to Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat. Salisbury Crags being the distinctive line of vertical cliffs rising above steep slopes.The Radical Road walking path runs halfway up, travelling parallel along and below the base of these cliffs. Once, centuries ago, Holyrood Park was a heavily wooded and lawless area inhabited by banished men, kicked out of the young city growing around the Castle and Royal Mile district to fend for themselves on the outskirts of society if they committed foul deeds in an age before prisons. In later centuries they just built large schemes or housing estates instead on the margins of society :o)
Edinburgh Castle sitting on its volcanic plug base dominates the views from Princes Street on the other side. This is a zoom from Blackford Hill, viewing it from the less familiar southern angle.
The cluster of tall spires from churches around West End and Lothian Road district.
An upmarket suburb of Edinburgh below Blackford Hill. This was where I was heading next as posh suburbs usually have quiet wide streets perfect for cycling along and I was able to reach Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat again by freewheeling down Blackford Avenue into Grange Loan, then Newington and Holyrood Park Road without much traffic getting in the way.
The University of Edinburgh (Pollok Halls) campus must tick every overseas students dream of "Scottish-ness.  "Oh wow, a real castle as a gate house and entrance."
By now Arthur's Seat was heaving with tourists and I was glad I'd arrived here early to get a parking place. Scotland's Munros and more popular attractions seem to get busier year on year, and even in the depths of winter this summit is usually packed every day throughout each season. Rightly so as its an amazing experience and viewpoint and totally unique. In winter or even summer it can be a dangerous place for the unwary as surprisingly steep cliffs surround this 822 foot bare summit of slippy basalt if you stray off the main tourist path, which now has ridiculously thick double chains as a guide running up it.
On the other side from the chains the ground is much steeper and in hard winters I've came down this side with crampons on and been glad of them as hundreds of feet had compacted the snow covered path into sheet ice yet tourists with city shoes and other inappropriate footwear still travelled down this narrow zig-zag, often on hands and knees, once they found out how slippy it was underfoot yet kept coming. Enjoyable for me too on a couple of occasions as attractive unaccompanied girls are usually not so relieved or delighted to see me but on this occasion a few were extremely grateful for any assistance and advice I could offer getting them down safely past the cliffs. Always a bonus to a well equipped mountaineer with a spare walking pole to hand over for additional reassurance. The comprehensive and proud history of Edinburgh, its scenic landmarks, and  its volcanic origins were usually not so well received as a running commentary as attention was often focused on the next ten feet of downward progress rather than the wonderful views I was pointing out at each hairpin bend above the cliffs.They were perfectly safe however with me and I've not lost one yet as an unofficial mountain tour guide :o)
Steep slopes on Arthur's Seat, still one of the world's most studied volcanoes over the longest period of time.
A full view of this magnificent little mountain which often seems far higher than its given height.
Cycling down  through Holyrood Park under Salisbury Crags back to the car. A great circular tour that only took around 4 hours to complete, or 6 with rest stops to explore each highlight properly. Even with my slow level of touring ability and relaxed nature, as I'm not a head down, crack on type, it's amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike in a short period of time. All the hills described have separate car parks for walks under them but you have to get there very early these days to find a space. With numerous apps and internet info this is a major problem now everywhere on a sunny day and makes me appreciate the lesser hills like Corbetts, Grahams, Marilyns and the unfashionable stuff we do even more as we usually avoid any crowds, traffic or parking problems. If we see another car or anyone else on the hill it's a rare event and a cause for celebration.
I like people for photography purposes though. My own little army of matchstick men and women always brings any photograph to life and gives the landscape some scale. The End.
Arthur's Seat history, geology, other photos and further interesting info here.


Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Nice one. I enjoyed that. Some I knew, some - probably most - I didn't. Great photos. I have yet to climb Arthur's Seat. I do remember seeking out old Craiglockhart hospital when I was working in the city once, specifically to see where 'the talking cure' had been administered. The present Mrs Britain being Glaswegian means I have to be particularly wary of tribal loyalties, but I do find that Edinburgh has a cosmopolitan buzz, which I enjoy. Glasgow's museums are amazing, as is the policy not to charge entry - like many of the big museums and galleries in London, in fact. Compare that with the tourist magnet that is York - an expensive place, I think. I wonder if they've considered a residential qualification for free entry - visitors probably expect to pay something.

Carol said...

So, you often let tourist girls grab your pole! ;-)

Like your distinction between Glasgow and Edinburgh - you make Glasgow sound much more attractive there with its forested drumlins rather than the more sterile landscape around Edinburgh. Never thought of any of that before.

Must have a look at that gorge and Blackford Hill if I ever get to Edinburgh. As Richard spends an awful lot of time there, I really should go with him sometimes...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Mike,
Thanks for that insight into the Talking Cure at Craiglockhart. I've always had a non academic interest in mental health problems and how the brain works so I've included a link. I had a wander round the disused Bangour Village Hospital in West Lothian a few years ago after it closed and they filmed "The Jacket" there. Also certain books like "The Silent Twins" by Marjorie Wallace are so haunting and unusual they stay with you for decades after you read them. I suppose I've also a personal interest and a desire to find answers to questions that have intrigued me since my own childhood.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Yup, always a gentlemen though. Each city has its own merits and I like them both equally without picking a winner. Many years ago I was on the summit of Arthur's Seat at night in mid winter wading through knee deep snow with the moon and stars above and the lights of Edinburgh below. A fantastic feeling to be in the middle of a bustling city yet float high above it. I still enjoy every new trip out there as it is a great city. You could easily do Arthur's Seat, Hermitage of Braid, Blackford Hill and Calton Hill in one day with access to a car. As good as any mountain trip.

Kay G. said...

This really does look like a great place for some great walks! I hope to make it to Scotland one day!

Linda W. said...

Once again, I enjoyed your tour and information about the two largest Scottish cities.

Carol said...

I wouldn't be taking my car to Edinburgh I don't think. Train for me if I'm visiting a city...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay, You would really like Edinburgh. Loads to do and see within a short distance and several 'Stone Mountains within the city.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Linda,
Having a few minor problems with my internet connection recently but it seems to be better now hopefully.