Sunday 31 May 2015

Dr Neil's Secret Garden. Duddingston Loch. Untamed Edinburgh. Help!

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
I've saved the best for last in this final post on the charms of Edinburgh. I wanted an honest and real kaleidoscope of the images, evolving thoughts and feelings during my long, action packed, but not unduly hard walking day tour of Edinburgh. The capital is a great place for walking or cycling with the River Almond, The Water of Leith, The Union Canal, Arthur's Seat, Braid Hills, Corstorphine Hill and Blackford Hill all within the city limits yet laced with a network of walking and cycling tracks with many more dedicated paths and lanes connecting through the busy urban areas to the coastal promenade. The view above though is the one that excited me the most. An enchanting and seductive unknown forest captured with the mint fresh tang of bright green leaves in various hues. My sweet Persephone reborn:the eternal debutant daughter of Spring twirling in all her glory once again. More than 40 shades of green on offer here yet grey is where the masses seem to flock and heap attention on today. My gain and their loss. A glance at the map revealed it to be Duddingston golf course which explains why I've never visited this unknown and compelling area before now. Never mind....we will meet very soon for the rotunda dance under bright starlight.
This area, facing south east, away from old Edinburgh, is a green and sylvan delight. Duddingston, where I was parked, could just be glimpsed at the bottom of the meadow, then Greendyke and Niddrie, where a giant called Gulliver used to reside, then the squat bulk of Craigmillar Castle, Liberton and  Gracemount fading into distant hills. A grand view, almost lycanthrope coated, obscured by thick forest of the type that usually exists in fairy tales.
Posted this particular link above because it is very hard to find any decent pictures of the popular public art sculpture which used to exist in the Craigmillar/Niddrie area. It was remarkable and unique both in size and in imagination yet despite being opened by Billy Connolly was mainly ignored by many in the art world and seems to have been forgotten, except by the locals. Jim Knowles appears to have been one of the few to capture it properly for posterity with his excellent kite photography so I hope he doesn't mind me linking to his site. If he does I'll remove it right away.  I only found out about this remarkable sculpture around five years ago as it was not widely publicized during it's lifetime as far as I know, certainly not in Glasgow as I don't remember it but maybe because it was by a former convict with a violent history and was situated in a deprived area as it was then before redevelopment. To me it's the concept that's important here years later, not the man behind it and I've often scratched my head at modern art works consisting of a few lines and a squiggle, yet supposedly worth millions. As soon as I saw this though my thought's were "Wow! Wish I'd visited it before it was removed." Yes, it is simplistic, straightforward, and "naive" but that's what makes it so special. A thing of wonder.

My next port of call was another Edinburgh secret, but one that tourists will be more interested in. As my car was close by I had a short tour of Duddingston village, which is very pretty with a lot of olde world charm and met a friendly local women who led me into Dr Neil's Garden which adjoins the loch's nature reserve. The garden is a real labour of love and packs a lot into its few acres on the north east side of Duddingston Loch. It was so extraordinary I wasn't even going to post it on here, given the unnecessary litter in a previous post, which was still uppermost on my mind but I relented when I noticed a message on exit which asked for donations and willing friends of the area and seemed to want some publicity as the garden is losing its grant from the NTS and maybe even its gardener.
Every little helps and this is a remarkable place. Like a setting from a children's fantasy film.
Loads of curving paths weave down a gentle slope to the edge of Duddingston Loch, and flowers, colourful shrubs, and exotic trees are everywhere.
A real delight.
Duddingston Loch from the garden.
Flower growing against a sun drenched stone wall in another nearby public area, which is sign posted.
Like Narnia, a mysterious alcove door in a hedge, not quite a wardrobe, reveals yet another display of flowers and a different aspect.
Many of them unusual.
Daisy carpet.
A path and yellow poppies above a forget-me-not border.  Link to gallery and info here.
I was further delighted on this amazing walk to find even this remarkable garden was not the highlight of my day. Next door, and maybe cared for by the garden staff or the locals in Duddingston, a brilliant wildlife scenario was taking place as the sun was going down and Duddingston loch revealed its true colours.
Who needs to go abroad with views and scenery like this right here in Scotland.
Geese herder in action on the path. I've heard of a pelican crossing but here you have to stop for Canada geese to walk past in line. Maybe I was just lucky here at this time. I usually am with wildlife though and the Rottweiler and the Alsatian mentioned in the previous post are now firm dating friends with yours truly.... but no pups are planned yet.
Animals of all sorts appeared.
Another drinker moth caterpillar eating grass.
A large and beautifully coloured beetle landed on my boot. At this point... out of the corner of my eye... I noticed a very strange sight. It was still broad daylight yet an amorous couple were having sex on the grass right in front of me. I was well aware Edinburgh was and still is a cosmopolitan and broadminded city as even in my teens Edinburgh had pole dancers and naked strippers in bars long before Glasgow entertained such frivolous and outlandish ideas. This was beyond the pale though. I was, to say the least stunned. Nay, outraged! "Black affronted" as Maw Broon would say. I froze on the spot- rooted to the ground like an embarrassed limpet! They didn't seem bothered by me being there at all, In fact, to make matters worse they were actually being watched by several others in the bushes and it wasn't even dark yet.
Which to photograph first? I concentrated my attention on the beetle as it was unfolding its wings to fly away and I didn't blame it with such shameless shenanigans going on.
Like a gull wing car or chitty chitty bang bang taking off it exploded upwards in a noisy clatter.
I couldn't believe all this activity was going on so close to Edinburgh's busy main attractions.
What would the Scottish Parliament make of couples having sex outdoors in broad daylight in a respectable suburb? Is it now a tourist attraction you can drive past in an open topped bus? Would the Queen approve?
Glasgow may have its problems but this was taking the "bohemian lifestyle" way too far.
Even the new buildings in the capital had an unnatural unwholesome curvyness to them that hinted at lustful carnal thoughts. As I watched astonished yet more couples appeared from nowhere and started getting jiggy with an audience watching every move and thrust. Was this how Edinburgh behaved of an evening? I blame that notorious festival and ever growing fringe every year for this drop in standards of decency. As a right thinking Glaswegian I was disgusted by this outrageous display in the racy suburbs and couldn't wait to get back to my own dear city where moral values are still cherished highly.
 I document these images only to show the viewers what really goes on in Edinburgh as the shadows... and other things... lengthen. Never in my puff have I witnessed such blatant debauchery. "Help ma Boab!" as Oor Wullie would say.

The courtship.
Out in the open.
The unconcerned onlookers.
Round two... or three... then 4... 5... 6... 7... 8... 9... 10 with multiple partners.
Sedate Glasgow has never looked so tame, appealing and peaceful and I couldn't leave Edinburgh fast enough. Must be because it's traditionally had ties to liberal Amsterdam and the Low Countries via it's ports facing Europe. Shocking stuff for a shy boy like me.
The End.


Thursday 28 May 2015

Lochend Park. Meadowfield Park. Our Divided Kingdom? Edinburgh.

                                            ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
As I don't get the chance to visit Edinburgh all that often these days (it's an 80 mile round trip and uses up half a tank of precious fuel) I decided to pack a lot in during my solo day visit. Teddy Bear Moon above.
Calton Hill. This folly adorned hilltop is well known to tourists and is plainly visible from the higher Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park but it was another less well known landscape that captured my attention off the tourist trail. From the summit of Arthur's Seat I could see a fairly large open green area filled with trees and a pond with islands and a ruined castle. I suddenly realized with a familiar,  but less frequent these days, thrill of the unknown, that this area close to South Leith was one I'd never visited before and it looked within walking distance.
The brutal architecture of St Andrew's House under Calton Hill. Although it has art deco embellishments it still reminds me of state buildings in Berlin and Russia. Statement architecture very much in vogue during the Hitler and Stalin era which is not that surprising as it was constructed from 1935 to 1939. Although rightly portrayed as the bad guys of history now, many high society types in Britain, Europe and the United States had a lot of admiration for Hitler and his achievements in turning the country around after economic recession and a lack of political vision. Over 1000 civil servants and government officials toil away in here
Although not the brightest bulb in the box long walks always get me thinking and I had plenty of inspiration and strange thoughts during this trip. Having not visited Central Edinburgh for a few years except for a wedding at Cramond last summer I was amazed at the amount of new building projects taking place. Tall cranes were everywhere and new build apartments were springing up in an already tightly packed central district. It looked like a Scottish Hong Kong in places.
In many ways Edinburgh is much richer than the, larger for now, post industrial Glasgow, being the capital of Scotland but also its financial and business hub, which is where the top jobs,wages and real money tends to get concentrated in today's economy. Edinburgh is Scotland's London, full of business people, top university graduates and intellectuals which was fairly obvious just walking around the streets, listening to snippets of conversation in passing. The subliminal direction of Modern art works, where to go for lunch with an eastern theme menu , debates about the best wine and coffee haunts, Westminster insider trading and support for David Cameron are not usually subjects discussed on the streets of Glasgow where most of the new build projects are student accommodation or new University buildings. Glasgow does have its own strong intellectual and university base which is probably larger than Edinburgh's but the capital has always given the impression of being more stylish, sophisticated and ever so slightly up itself whereas the general surrounding mass of working class Glaswegian's, like Liverpool, Newcastle or Manchester, tend to deter any pretentious conversation  or intellectual flights of fancy in public. Here it is given centre stage and applauded. Edinburgh is also much more cosmopolitan judging by the rainbow of different accents but even here they seem to differ between cities with Edinburgh attracting more of the cream and Glasgow the ordinary multi culture milk beneath.
Too much cream can be sickening though if you are not used to drinking such a rich diet and my bullshit and twaddle detector was working in overdrive. Most of the conversations I overheard seemed to be centered around money, spending, acquiring, or what you could buy with it and I was not paying particular attention to any one group just mingling on busy pavements or waiting at lights to cross main roads. A bit like Jeremy Clarkson promoting an £80,000 pound racing car as a bargain when I'm happy with a third hand banger that's reliable, doesn't leak water on my head, and I can get my bike inside with the wheel off. Who cares if it's cool or not. It's a totally different world although the Top Gear specials are entertaining.  
Rooftop gardens just seemed to emphasize the growing divisions in modern society between the have and have nots as last week I was visiting a friend at the new super hospital in south Glasgow then had a wander around nearby Govan to check out some details for my forthcoming new book. The last time I observed it looking so shabby and depressed was during the Thatcher era and you could tell a lot of people were suffering badly.
Desperate people tend to commit desperate acts and a polarized society is not a particularly healthy one. Unfortunately, it is the poor and disadvantaged who always seem to suffer at these times and central Govan resembled the cast of The Walking Dead with many limping or shuffling around from cut price shop to discount market and I'm not a stranger to this area. Is this the future of our divided kingdom? A polite and not so subtle ethnic cleansing and segregation, not of race, but between rich and poor.
Lion at Holyrood Palace. Interesting info at the end of this board description. Talk about getting your pound of flesh in a court of law!

It was actually a relief therefore to reach what turned out to be Lochend Park and get back to ordinary folk who, paradoxically, although they probably didn't have much, were less obsessed with money issues and competitive one-upmanship. The conversations here seemed to be more about football, what was on the telly, friends and family, and the park's youthful wildlife.
This park has a castle, a good path around a pond, a strangely submerged central island covered in water drowned trees and more wildlife than you can shake a hungry badger at.
Young coot.
Lochend Park Pond with Arthur's Seat in the distance.
Lochend Park and South Leith. An interesting oasis. Well worth a visit.

Being handy with wildlife and knowing Canada Geese and their feisty reputations inside out I cunningly imitated a large and rather fat boa constrictor to put them at ease. slithering closer across the short grass towards the young gooselings... geeselings... whatever. As an expert wildlife photographer well used to calming a multitude of beasts and other feathered reptiles and amphibians I was wondering why they suddenly appeared agitated and started displaying threat postures. Was my snake camouflage not working? Would a Komodo Dragon impression get me closer to this young brood and get them relaxed again? It was while I was pondering this option that I felt a sticky tongue lick my head and the hot breath and nose of a large Rottweiler enter my ear. It was higher than me as I was lying on the grass by this time to get a professional wildlife angle of the various wildfowl assembled. It's doggie pal, an equally large Alsatian investigated my horizontal body from the other side with its boisterous but slippy tongue. My head and face seemed to be a curiosity magnet for these two hounds with their wet intrusive implements but I held my nerve and position and concentrated on the shot.
The mutt's owner, a local lad, seemed equally curious about me.

"Whit ye dain tae aw thae wee ducks like?" Crawling aboot among them like a maddie! Ken, ah'll caw the polis if ye hurt them, ya muky pervert!"
I thanked him for his help then explained I was a renowned wildlife photographer of some standing, but was currently lying down to get a better angle.
"Dae ye dae requests?"
I looked suitably puzzled.
"Ma dug's coupons. " He explained. "fur a photie. A double dug selfie wi the wife in the middle, Ken."

I was not amused. " Firstly, my name's not Lichfield. Secondly, I don't do selfies. I'm above all that herd mentality fashion trend stuff." I replied sniffily..... "although I'm currently below it as you can observe." By this time certain liberties were being taken and I was no longer comfortable with my prone position. "Thirdly, your dog is romancing my shoulder sir! Vigorously!! Kindly call it away. It's disturbing the geese... and me."
"Suit yerself." He muttered, calling off his hounds who were still tonguing me with vigor and other unwholesome secretions. "Diaper! Mattress! leave the man alone. "
Not for the first time I wondered about the number of strange people I always seemed to run into when walking or crawling through the various districts of  Edinburgh. The place is stuffed to the gunnels with nutters!

My next port of call was Meadowfield Park which perfectly described it. A large open meadow on a rising slope under Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat. The views from here were panoramic over large sections of Edinburgh East and I was pleased to discover many districts here I've yet to explore. No tourists at all just local folk out walking dogs with unusual names.
From the park I identified three separate and fairly large woodland areas that I'd never been in and that same excitement of unknown lands and discoveries gripped me again and made my heart beat faster. New people to meet and new opportunities perhaps? I love exploring new places and having modest mini adventures... so you don't need large amounts of money to enjoy life. Just a zest for living and enough coinage to pay bills. Most ordinary folk don't require massive pay packets and competitive bonus structures and can get by fairly happily on modest amounts of income for a working week. It's not much to ask but even that is being slowly stripped away. Regular buses run from Glasgow to Edinburgh and this entire 4 to 5 hour easy walk can be done straight from Edinburgh bus station.
Meadowfield Park info board.
The old heart of Edinburgh. The Royal Mile District.
A view over the city.
 A second view of Auld Reekie or Edinburgh.
Heard this song a while ago but the video just seemed to sum up my gloomy mood when I found out the results of the election and another five years of Conservative cuts, more cuts, and persecution aimed mainly at certain sections of society. I'm not a rabid independence supporter as I think it's a can of worms yet to be opened and I don't trust any political party that much but hopefully the SNP can do better than Labour regarding the dismantling of public services under the illusion/delusion of reducing the deficit and growing the economy. Tax payers are already paying out for the banks and bonus culture, most charities and the renewable sector, what next? This video reminds me of the last time "robust negotiations" happened between Scotland and England during the Wars of Independence. As I've said before, having a Tory Government for a sustained length of time, given its previous history in Scotland, is just one more incentive for an independent country. Facing straight into the wind again without any shelter for another five years.