Friday, 14 September 2018

Edinburgh. The Long Walk. A Grail Quest. The Final Part.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
It took two local Edinburgh buses to get from Easter Craiglockhart Hill to Corstorphine Hill, the last summit on our seven hills of Edinburgh tour.
Edinburgh Zoo was our drop off point and by that time Anne and I were both refreshed and rested from our journey across the city with plenty of new districts observed from the upper deck. I've been in Edinburgh Zoo a few times now- £20 adults £17 concession.- so we didn't go in.
Corstorphine Hill contains the largest concentration of public access mature woodlands within the Edinburgh city boundary but on the zoo side it also has a few open slopes of short grass and meadows with views. The summit and the far side have no views at all only deep woods and paths snaking under them. A real 'Mirkwood' of a place and large enough to get semi lost in for a brief time.
The high flats of Wester Hailes and the outlying Pentland summits here from the open meadows, halfway up. Spotted a roe deer here, even though it's a popular hill for dog-walkers.
Being contrary we didn't stay in the open meadows long but cut across sideways on a  heavily overgrown back trail filled with brambles, thistles and other jaggy plants.
"Can you explain to me why on earth are we leaving a perfectly good easy grass path for this jungle hell hole?" Anne inquired, not without good reason as it was hard going through the undergrowth at this point and painful.
"All will be revealed shortly." I explained. "Trust in me." I hissed like the snake in the Jungle Book and increased my eyeball size with a fixed manic stare.
And it was revealed. Shortly after. A grazing zerbra. This little known trail leads past some of the zoo paddocks where you can see the inmates for free. Channeling a reminder of my old childhood psychiatric hospital grounds illicit explorations here made me all nostalgic and the thrill of seeing something you would normally have to pay for was an added bonus.
"Aw, poor wee bugger." Anne was smitten by this little convict.
" Typical Australian." I joked. "Happiest behind bars of some description."
I thought about it for a minute. "You know, we are incredibly lucky in this country. It might be cold and wet in summer but we don't get much snow for being this far north, it's green most of the year, and all our insects and animals are harmless. Sleep out on a hillside without a tent in Australia, or anywhere hot for that matter, and the stuff of nightmares will come to find you every night. I've seen it first hand. I've been there. Spiders bigger than apples- poisonous centipedes the size of spaniels- giant lizards that can take a leg off in one quick gulp. Last night was nothing. A few wee friendly British bugs."
"Aye, right enough." She conceded.
"Kangaroos." I pointed out.
" This is brilliant. How did you find this trail."
"Male intuition."
" Any other surprises up your sleeves H.P?"
Just then I noticed a small furry creature crossing the tree canopy above to a position within the enclosure.
"Yep. Himalayan Tree Monkey"
I pointed it out.
" That's a squirrel isn't it?"
"Nope, Himalayan Tree Monkey. It's inside the zoo so it must be an exotic species and I recognize it."
"Do they even have trees in the Himalayas?" She asked smiling, confident it was a squirrel but just a touch uncertain, knowing my knowledge of animals was far better than hers. This is a zoom so it wasn't as obvious a view as this, being further away.
" Yes, they do have forests in the valleys. It's a distant relative of the Yeti, mon cousine, like the difference between Giant Pandas and Red Pandas."
"Your talking bollocks again."
"Wouldn't be the first time. Had you going though. Didn't it. "

Although mainly covered in large mature trees there was one point, at the rest and be thankful, that views across the city opened up again and we could see our first hill of the trip. Calton Hill.
" That seems like a full week ago." Anne marveled.
" I'm told I have that effect on some people." I answered dryly.
"We've certainly packed a lot in."
"We have and it's not over yet."
We were now on the John Muir Trail, father of American conservation and long distance walking in wilderness guru, but brought up near here on the Scottish East Coast at Dunbar. This is a multi day route named in his honour and also features in the Robert Louis Stevenston book Kidnapped. Scotland has two famous 'rest and be thankful' hill stops- maybe more.
At this point we could have continued down the other side of Corstorphine Hill and walked to the sea at Cramond where I intended ending up originally. Many great walks end by the sea or ocean- so a fitting finish line but that was still a good distance away across urban, built up streets and traffic.
Instead, on an impulse, we boarded the no 26 bus, seen here, which took us direct from the woodland edge at Clermiston down to Portobello Beach instead. Edinburgh's seaside. It's one of my favourite local buses and I knew from the time looking at my watch the tide would be out when we arrived.
Portobello Beach. A fitting end to our walk............................................ only it wasn't.
Looking across the sands towards Joppa. I'd already done the Musselburgh to Portobello beaches walk, (a previous blog post) but had never attempted walking in the other direction- from Portobello to Leith so that was my new territory treat to myself.
"Oh bloody hell! How far away is that? Will it never end!!! " Anne wailed at the thought of the extra distance.
" Not far." I promised. " and a walk filled with seven modern wonders.I guarantee it."

" Ta Raaaa. A Portobello mermaid." I stated halfway along the coast 20 mins later.
" Is that it."
"Yep. The First Wonder. Looks a bit like you. Three fingers and a thumb. Are you sure you've never been spotted on the beach sunbathing?"
"Cheeky ********."

"The Second Wonder. As in how come these places are almost invisible to society at large." I elaborated. " A deliberate look away attitude and silent collective agreement to ignore anything going on there as a 'necessary evil'. I've seen them in various countries abroad and they are usually in the worst part of any landscape as a punishment- boiling hot empty deserts- fetid swamplands- remote plains- bleak moorland in our case- really out of the way places deliberately picked so that most people never see or visit. Out of sight- out of mind. The modern version of the old asylum hidden in the woods."
" Mmmm. Never thought about it like that." She conceded. "Hey, how come you know there's seven wonders on this coast if you haven,t been along here before?"
" Yes, I wonder that as well. And behold!. The Third Wonder appears! Thank you. I like your style."
She had to laugh at that.
"Exploratory platform. Wonder what they are drilling for?" I raised an eyebrow and silently mouthed 'The 4th wonder.'
" I wonder how long this walk is?" She asked, playing along "Where exactly are we going now?"
"Remember I promised you a grail quest as well as a seven summits mystery tour?" I asked.
"Well, here it is. The biggest mystery of the trip."
The remarkable facts in this short link.

On a previous no 26 bus ride I had been intrigued and stunned to get a brief glimpse of this monument looming over the rooftops of a residential district, far away from any of the usual tourist haunts, other monuments, and completely isolated in a cosy suburbia of low bungalows miles from the city centre. No greater oddity exists in Edinburgh.
" Now that is a real wonder." She admitted.
" Biblical marble story panels. The Red Sea drowning the Pharaoh's troops, horses, and chariots."
"Amazing decoration." My companion agreed.
" The Song of Moses and Mirriam, rejoicing after the enemies of the Israelites have been heavily smited by God. Totally cuffed rotten by the hand of the almighty into submission."
"A worthy end to a great walk. Why so many bare breasts in classical sculpture though?" She wondered. "and why did they always use marble for people back then?"
"Ah, that is The Seventh Wonder." I declared. "Humans were actually made of solid marble back in that time and often went about topless because they never felt the cold. Why do you think classical figures are always carved in white stone and half undressed. Always. It's just art imitating real life. Or the ubiquitous saying "They were hard in those days." What do you think they really meant by that? It's a well known fact. Look at the people of Pompeii. Real life ancient humans. Touch them. Stone not skin. Obvious and simple. Ancient history. Fascinating stuff. The Marble Age. ...Just like in the near future we will be half human and half machine combined. It's happening already with the sleepwalkers consent. The Cyborg Age is now upon us."
And so it was told.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Edinburgh. Easter Craiglockhart Hill. The Long Walk. Part Four.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
After our night's sleepover near the summit of the Braid Hills in Edinburgh, seen here in the above photo, we descended down a green ribbon of trees, gorse and lanes next morning towards suburbia. You can see our exact route here. From the masts walking down diagonally rightwards along the ridge line to where the houses break the woods, then trending back again after a couple of streets right to left across the middle of the photo via Braidburn Valley Park. We then followed another green corridor (sunken and hidden from view in this photo) from the large tree on the left, past the red golfer then climbing upwards again towards Craiglockhart district. This last stretch was on urban pavements but as it was surrounded by the Merchants of Edinburgh golf course on both sides, Greenbank Drive then Glenlockhart Road might as well have been out in the countryside with any large houses set well back and mostly hidden from view with straight lines of mature trees and quiet walkways deceiving any travellers that they were in a city environment at all. A very pleasant street walk with a difference.
The first sizable beside the road development we did pass, not obscured by woodland, was a modern upmarket enclave estate with one road leading in and out. Normally I wouldn't bother exploring these places but our curiosity was heightened due to the fact that the central core of restored buildings seemed to be much older than these modern faux period imitations.
This turned out to be the case and afterwards I found out why. One great thing about the internet is that it allows anyone to play detective and I found this very interesting indeed, especially as it has extra info on larger buildings we encountered later on that day. From a place to be feared in past times by Edinburgh residents to this tranquil spot today. Illuminating info in this link.

Butterfly bush in the enclave.
Some type of ornamental Hydrangea going by the leaves.
We continued on our way, still cocooned from the reality of being within a city environment by our pleasantly sylvan surroundings. Only big money has this effect- to hide the urban reality of city housing/lifestyles and disguise it instead within a park like setting.
The same complex from above.
The next prominent building we passed travelling up the same green corridor was this one ...Napier University. This is only one part of it as it has other buildings scattered around this district. It also has a hill, Wester Craiglockhart Hill, which we didn't climb on this occasion, as it's not on the official Seven Hills list. It's near neighbour, Easter Craiglockhart Hill was down on it and this was our eventual destination but it was proving illusive walking in from this direction. The older period part of this building was originally Craiglockhart Hydropathic then used to treat shell shock victims after the First World War including famous war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

I wanted to show Anne the pond, now a local nature reserve, but originally constructed in the late 1800s for curling I believe, a very popular sport in Victorian times with colder winters and reliable thick ice. Good for ice skating as well.
Another view of the pond.

Part of the Craiglockhart tennis complex where Andy Murray used to train. Getting new courts and resurfacing work here.
From this point a steep direct ascent through the woods brought us out onto the grassy upper slopes. Anne was not best pleased by this line of ascent as easier, longer paths contouring uphill at a more gentle incline were available but I was keen to see the views while it was sunny and bright... and I didn't have a hangover to deal with :o) You can see this direct route up the hill in the first pond photo. It looks very steep. It was. This wall came in handy for aiding upwards progress. I am officially " A b******d" according to my disgruntled companion- a title I wear with pride.
....and the views were spectacular. Looking out over the western end of Edinburgh's suburbs. You will notice more space, more trees here and developed more recently so not as tightly packed as the city centre districts. The more upmarket the area the greener it gets. Not complaining as some of my best urban walks are in these areas. I've always loved them since childhood when we used to visit relatives near Pollok Park in Glasgow and they lived beside a castle in an area just like this. That was me smitten for life. Wildlife, mature woodlands, and great architecture combined. The holy trinity for me. I just think of them as extra parks in any city. When you think about it cities are the real custodians of ancient deciduous woodlands- not the countryside.
and moving left to right. Edinburgh's golden acres. The spire of Fettes College, an independent private school (more a small exclusive university for the top tier of society rather than an ordinary bog standard college) Donaldson's School for the Deaf with its green turrets ( now being converted into luxury apartments) and St Michael's Parish Church in Slateford district. If ever a photograph had a gold star attached to it this is the one.
Anne was not so pleased however when I pointed out our next and final hill on the list.
"What! That is miles away from here! You are joking!!!"
As it was a genuine mystery tour I had our only map and she was bravely resisting the urge to look it up. Nothing worse than knowing where you are going :)
This is a real un-zoomed view of Corstorphine Hill, our next and final summit on the list- and she was right... it did look miles away. We had already been walking for a couple of hours to get to here and had enjoyed a breakfast on the move.
"Don't worry. Fear not." I explained. "We can take a bus from here to there at the bottom of this hill. Save the legs. No more street walking for you today my grape guzzling princess."
"Aye, very funny."
So we sat on the summit bench and admired the view. Bottles of fizzy drink had been bought earlier at a local shop near Braidburn Valley Park and I still had a packet of six rainbow cookies which I'd brought from Glasgow. (Chocolate chip cookies with different coloured smarties  embedded on top and very tasty. I had been saving them for our final celebration summit but she looked in need of a sugar boost and special treat right now so we split the pack and had three each.
The zoom on my camera was as good as a pair of binoculars so I used it on the final hill on the list. You can see a plane descending to land at Edinburgh Airport here, also the Holiday Inn Hotel (grey building surrounded by woods) and just above and slightly left of that the sandstone mansion house within the grounds of Edinburgh Zoo, which takes up the left hand slope of Corstorphine Hill. And a small chunk of the new bridge over the Forth.
Moving around further to the west in the city I recognized the high flats of Wester Hailes, another of my favourite places in Edinburgh and one I've cycled through many times.
At this point I'm going to go off at a tangent however as I visited Easter Craiglockhart Hill twice in the same year, several months apart. Once with Anne in late spring and a few weeks ago in early autumn, hence the ripe apple photo and others. Going over the various hills with Anne we both spotted this elaborate confection in stone from our Braid Hills summit viewpoint with what looks like a golfing clubhouse below it. At that time I assumed it was just part of Napier University as my map showed they had a campus in that area so we didn't think to go there and explore it as we had more than enough on our plates already. After our summit rest we carried on down past the pond and on to the next hill.
It was only when I looked it up later and discovered it's history and the fact that it was now empty... that I decided a return solo visit was on the cards. In truth it drew me in like a magnet as I've always been fascinated by old buildings and this one encapsulated everything that is magical about great architecture. The famous first lines from Colridge's Xanadu sprang to mind here almost unbidden. A magical fairy tale castle on a hillside. Although elaborate and extravagant inside and out the truth was very different I soon discovered. The former Craighouse private asylum, also built in the late 1800s in the style of a grand country hotel as this psychiatric institution was for wealthy paying guests so no expense was spared. A category A listed building and now undergoing renovation into luxury apartments.
Spectacular bird's eye view location shots in a slide show here. Also click ...The Development- History to view classical interiors

Surrounded by woodlands on all sides it's not easy to find close up as its only seen properly at a distance or right beside it. I've been around psychiatric hospitals all my life, in one way or another, but luckily not as a patient. There was one fairly close to where we lived as children growing up and of course the large grounds full of woods and streams had great adventure potential although it was supposedly strictly off limits for reasons we could not really understand properly at that time. A bit like the repulsion/fascination aspect of urban myth haunted houses in any locality although in our case the dangers were real and obvious- just not to us at that time. On bike rides over the last four decades the curiosity/attraction of these places has never dimmed and often in the countryside I've came across large remote empty mansions and explored them, including Bangour Hospital near Livingston- not so much one psychiatric hospital building as an entire township of separate individual units with internal roads, bus stops and shops. The Adrien Brody film The Jacket was made here about the dubious pleasures of full sensory deprivation and extreme restrictive confinement, locked, still alive, into a metal morgue drawer: strapped down and unable to move in any way until released days later. A strange, dark, but admittedly memorable movie about a little known treatment taken to extreme limits in this instance.
 These places are usually set in lovely peaceful surroundings however, full of abundant nature - often a stark contrast to events happening inside. (as it was not in use the last time I visited it may well be developed into......... luxury housing at a guess) It puzzled me at first how there could be so many rich folk in Central Scotland in the million pound and upwards house market until I read an article about a sharp rise in upwardly mobile people moving out of London and heading north. With the price of houses down there you could sell a comparatively modest dwelling and buy a detached mansion and grounds up here and still have cash left over to live on. According to news reports London seems to be getting more violent by the year, clocking up more murders than New York recently which may be a factor. I have noticed houses prices in Edinburgh, even in the outer suburbs are around ten percent higher than Glasgow's equivalent properties when matched together.
Murrayfield stadium. Home of Scottish Rugby.
Oxgangs and The Pentlands.
Although written in less enlightened PC times I've always liked this powerful song which I first heard in my teenage years early 1970s. Although Ziggy Stardust was the LP that propelled David Bowie into the major league it was his song writing ability on earlier albums like Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold The World that captivated me the most, then as now. Unusual subject matter for that time when these places were still very much 'out of sight out of mind.' and a taboo discussion area even today although DB had a well documented reason for his interest due to a family connection. Almost a wish fulfillment in the upbeat lyrics here that never matched the grim reality, sadly. Somewhat ironically, many of the greatest thinkers, artists and creative talents of each new generation might well end up here at some point. Probably the thing that separates them from the rest in the first place leads them to be more susceptible. A nostalgic gem and still a masterpiece. Fantastic descending guitar work on this song which helps to sets the tone while the lyrics rise up as a counterbalance. Although the title is All The Madmen women traditionally make up the largest percentage of mental health patients in most countries, no surprise when they often shoulder the biggest burdens in any society, bringing up children...and husbands, working and housework combined, social restrictions on lifestyles, sexual abuse, in marriage or out, and harsher judgements regarding conduct etc etc... Also troubled men are far more likely to commit suicide rather than seek help or talk about it.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Edinburgh. A Night Out. The Long Walk. Part Three.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
The reason we were hanging around, killing time on the summit of Blackford Hill, is that we were planning to break walking around all six of Edinburgh's Hills into two days. Four hills the first day and two the second day. ( We were skipping Arthur's Seat as we'd climbed it at Christmas.) Salisbury Crags seen here, above, from Blackford Hill Summit.
The volcanic lump of Berwick Law and Portobello area.
St Mary's Cathedral with the afternoon heat building.
Platinum Point Flats and a ship in the Firth of Forth.
Of all the seven listed hills within Edinburgh arguably the Braid Hills, seen here, are the least frequented by normal walkers. With golf courses running along both slopes on this small hill range it is only the central spine that is open to non golfers and several paths crisscross that  area culminating in the twin masted summit at 675 feet. Prior knowledge of the terrain made me think this was the best place to split the walk  so we were timing it to arrive here around nightfall.
Looking back at Blackford Hill, (single transmission mast,) from Braid Hills.(two masts... and an easy way to tell them apart from a distance) The two hills run into each other connected by the Howe Dean and along with several adjoining golf courses make up a sizable expanse of undeveloped ground- mainly short grasslands dotted with gorse, occasional trees and cliffs.
I always see birds of prey here. Another Kestrel. Along with foxes, stoats and buzzards. Prime mice, vole and rabbit country.
The path up is fairly wide to start with then changes to grass slopes higher up but always at an easy angle... a straight line route is found to the summit situated between the Braid Hills Driving Range and Meadowhead Farm.
Once near the top views opened up towards the Pentlands, a higher hill range just outside the city limits which has an artificial plastic ski slope at one end. Some spring snow still left despite the heat.
A good view of it here with only a couple of folk skiing down it. It gets much busier in the winter time and functions like a real resort when under snow. The plastic surface is much faster when its wet, after rain.
By this time it was fairly murky conditions and we only had to wait another hour for dusk. During the Perth trip at Christmas I realized I didn't have much of a back up if I missed the last bus home other than staying in a hotel or B and B/guest house so for £10 I had bought a cheap lightweight 3 season sleeping bag and I had a torch with me. On impulse I bought two cheap identical sleeping bags, which I now had in my rucksack, ready to use. These could be compressed right down to grapefruit size, a handy piece of equipment to carry along for emergencies although at that price I was not expecting much in the way of quality or heat retention. Really just meant for festival type summer camping trips. The forecast was for a dry clear night and as it hadn't rained for ages the ground was bone dry short grass... so no tent was necessary. I'm pretty sure camping is frowned on up here anyway, being withing the city, so we were sleeping under the stars using just bags and a shower curtain (my own) as a ground sheet/and or rain/ dew cover. No camping gear or stove either, just three sets of assorted cold sandwiches. It was a warm night so no big deal.
We picked a spot near the summit on short grass but semi hidden and away from the path network.
I was keen to try out my sleeping bag and Anne had agreed to it as unlike me she had to pay for buses city to city and for local routes. Although OK with it she couldn't really afford accommodation expenses on top of bus fares or doing the hills separately on day trips, money or free time wise which is why it was a one go event.
She'd never slept out before under the stars without a tent to go into and even for myself, a camping veteran, going completely tent-less was a handful of times only novelty.
What the Braid Hills look like from a distance. Rural but also suburban. This is only one part of the range in view.
We had to wait for the last dog walkers and stray locals to depart before we could relax and settle down properly- the hill all to ourselves. There was no sunset to speak of- it was too murky for that so it just got dark, slowly but surely.
Anne was disappointed with that sunless east coast performance so here's one I made earlier over on the west coast.
 My companion had a surprise waiting when darkness fell as we settled down side by side in our sleeping bags. A sizable bottle of wine appeared from her rucksack and two packets of cashew nuts.
"That's very generous." I  complimented. " I wasn't expecting that. Perks of being a tour guide."
" No, that's for me- get your own stuff."
Later on she relented and I was allowed some of the swally although she drank most of it. I've never been a wine fan. I then swapped two chicken sandwiches for a packet of nuts as she was starving, and quietly bitching about the outdoor life in general by the time midnight came around. ( Lying on the bare ground was admittedly colder and less comfortable than having a soft sleeping mat under the body and we did wake up sore and less refreshed as a result.) I was just relieved we had no midges, clegs or rain to worry about. Even though it was a short night we didn't get that much sleep... or I didn't, being still sober and a light sleeper usually.
We had a lot of visitors during the night- first an inquisitive fox... then a noisy owl, then a pest of a cat that wouldn't go away and came back several times to sit a few feet from me, silently watching, staring at my unprotected nose, even licking it when I nodded off briefly. A prelude to eating my face I presumed if I didn't put up a fight so I wanted it gone.
Despite being apprehensive beforehand Anne slept away no bother thanks to being half pissed. A wise move. I don't drink much these days and can go for months without alcohol. Changed times. 
In the morning we packed up, leaving nothing behind obviously, and made our way down off the far end towards Braidburn Valley Park. I only picked this green oasis on the map as a pleasant route towards our next hill but it turned out to have strong literary connections, as seen here. Before it was a park it used to be a shallow glacier formed valley with two farms in it, containing an ancient pathway leading from city to the Pentland Hills. No doubt useful for driving cattle and sheep down off the heights towards the hungry masses.
Info board here.
The hotel where Miss Jean Brodie stayed- in the famous book by Muriel Spark.
Looking back towards the Pentlands from the Braidburn Valley Park. Not having had any breakfast, (as someone scoffed it the night before,) a clear headed, bright eyed Pooh Bear and an ever so slightly hung over mumbling Piglet made for a shop selling rolls and bacon... or eggs or hot sausages... or anything else for that matter. Food was a priority... this tour guide could easily swallow a toasted Heffalump... it wouldn't touch the sides.   Braid Hills just seen in the distance here, below.... A memorable night...

To be continued... 

Incredible to think the fastest elite runners can do the entire seven hills race and the 14 miles  2,200 foot ascent and descent course in under 2 hours. Mind boggling stuff and you can see an interesting short compilation video of that full event here. Never mind, we still enjoyed our taking it easy version. I've always preferred walking to running myself, even at school, and I was in a running team then and fairly good at it for that level but never a serious long distance running fan at any time.  Different strokes for different folks.