Wednesday 29 August 2018

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

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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.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Edinburgh. The Long Walk. Part Two. Edinburgh Quay. Blackford Hill. Braid Hills.

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Edinburgh's Union Canal at its end point at Edinburgh Quay. A nice spot with watery reflections on the canal, a few restaurants and bars/coffee houses and a line of boats. When I said in the first post Edinburgh hills revisited it was marking the fact that I'd been up them before but usually on separate day trips over the past decade- never in one go. I was more than happy to do them again and the fact that most of the walk would be new and fresh to Anne was more than enough for me.
In the post last week I mentioned 'Round Tower Land' in this area so here's a few examples around this canal basin district.
Glasgow has hardly any modern round tower type buildings and the ones that do exist are spaced well apart. It was noticeable in this area just how dominant and concentrated they were... hence- the round tower land labelling by me.

 But throughout the city it's a favourite theme on buildings here.
Even on newer residential properties. Until I started doing the blog I never fully realized just how different Glasgow and Edinburgh were, architecturally speaking, and why they evolved that way in the first place. West and East coast sea ports are the answer. Edinburgh always traded with Europe and the Low Countries- Glasgow with America and it shows in the architecture.
The main reason Glasgow had its immense period of growth, almost doubling its population every decade for a while and turning it into the UK's second largest city by the early 1900s with over a million toiling souls was it's lucrative trade with America, an influx of workers from the impoverished Scottish Highlands and Ireland plus its strong heavy industry base offering them tough working conditions but a hopefully brighter future.

By a lucky stroke of landscape and tidal currents plus stronger reliable winds sailing ships from Glasgow, the HGV's of their day, could beat east coast London based vessels by a full three weeks, travelling to the USA or Canada. Edinburgh had no hope of getting there at all, having to go via this canal, ruling out any sea going cargo ships, or sailing right around the north of Scotland- hundreds of extra miles and treacherous waters to cross. Even London had a 500 mile disadvantage before they  started that trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Liverpool fared much better but being located halfway up the country Ireland was in the way of hopping across in a straight line, a sizable land mass stretching from Islay in Scotland to Swansea in Wales. Not enough to stop them going and doing well out of it but still not the fastest dog at the racetrack. One pleasure of doing a blog (for bloggers themselves) is a free education if you have any kind of inquiring mind when you travel.
Being the Scottish capital (Edinburgh that is) with close ties to the EU the eye catching round tower in Strasbourg springs to mind here as a possible inspiration for 'round tower land'. The 60 metre high Louise Weiss building reputedly based on the Tower of Babel is the HQ of the European Parliament in that French city... also the European Court of Human Rights is based there, another round building very similar in style to these, except built slightly earlier than here. Just a thought that occurred while walking along.
 Glasgow, during its growth spurt, ended up looking more like New York, until fairly recently The UK city with the greatest number of hi rise apartment buildings. Both cities, New York and Glasgow may have influenced each other with a regular sailing connection established over a long period of time to absorb each others culture and styles.
Anne meanwhile was just enjoying the views and the fine weather so we walked for a few km along the most interesting stretch of this canal, as usual my good self cherry picking the best bits of Edinburgh for her with my hard earned knowledge over years of visits.
Young Adam, a Ewan McGregor film, is a dark study of a mean spirited drifter and sexual predator prowling the canals of Scotland who ends up a possible murderer. While I wouldn't recommend the film as a happy watch in any way ( brutal and intense.18plus rating.) it is one of the best I've seen for depicting canal life as it was, set in the early 1950s when canal barges and families still made a living shifting goods along the network. Over the years since I've watched it, mainly on cycling trips, I picked out all the location canal shots in it except one, which remained an illusive mystery I could never track down. This is it here and Anne immediately recognized it as she's watched the film as well, the last time fairly recently. High tenements on one side, long straight wall on the other. Bleak in the film, as it was a city of tall warehouses, grime, smoking chimneys, labour intensive industry and large factories back then- sunny and peaceful now. Amazing how much the world has changed in 60 years, before the age of regular affordable plane journeys for most humans when the planet was still unbelievably vast in size and not just 3 days away..
She enjoyed her walk along the canal but unbeknown to her I was watching carefully for our cut off point as the canal would lead us out of the city eventually so I was looking for a particular street that would lead us up to our next destination. As planned Merchiston  Avenue led us out at an angle to a bus stop on Church Hill where we boarded a bus for a couple of stops then alighted under our third hill of the day.
The Hermitage above.
Most folk visiting Edinburgh already know about Arthur's Seat but Blackford Hill and its adjoining gorge walk, the Hermitage of Braid, are less frequented, although still popular. It's a delightful open area of woodland, grass meadows, park pond, rugged gorge, cliffs and summit views... eventually topping out at 539 feet.
Anne had never explored this area either so was still keen although getting tired as we'd been walking for hours by this point.
Wildlife kept her interested. Kestrel here.
And pleasant open grasslands.
And a buzzard higher up.
A close up view of a woodpecker was a real bonus.
And the same buzzard flying over Morningside Church spire gave us a boost to the top.
Views from the grassy broad summit of Blackford Hill over the city are usually a feast for the eyes and this day was no exception. By now it was mid afternoon and warm so we sat up here for ages, people watching other visitors nearby and below, taking in the panoramas and then reading. Her a newspaper- me a new book.
There was a bit of a heat haze in the muggy air but distant views were still not bad. Arthur's Seat here. The highest of Edinburgh's seven hills. Named after 'King' Arthur, he of Camelot fame.
As it was so peaceful we sat up here for several hours and had a lazy long lunch in the sun. Anne even got chatted up by another summit dweller as we spent quite a lot of it apart: me taking photographs and moving around the hillside exploring everything, her partly stripped off, comfortably static, topping up her tan. Thankfully she didn't disappear with her new boyfriend and stayed put. I did have my doubts :)
Morningside Church spire from the summit sun terrace. Afternoon temperatures in the mid 70s.
Islands in the Firth of Forth. The sort of heat you just lie down and dream dreams into...
One thing that surprised me about Edinburgh before this trip was the headline that it was one of the lowest density city populations for its overall size. And the greenest. A surprise because walking in the old town through its tourist laden streets or viewing the urban areas from above it always seems such a densely packed jumble of buildings without many parks or woods within it. But the hills are the parks and being high and rugged with frequent small cliffs have not been built over yet. Only when you are up here do you realise how much open land is available within the city boundary. A view of the Braid Hills here, above, from Blackford Hill summit.
And another looking back over Blackford Hill towards a distant Arthur's Seat. It was this vast expanse of empty land sitting within the city boundary that I intended to take advantage of next.
To be continued.....

Anne's choice of video this time. Sorry, no Bryan Adams. No way.
But as an alternative song I also like.... here's a modern classic- with clever visual imagery. And a great catchy tune. Venus and Mars.

Friday 17 August 2018

Edinburgh. The Seven Hills Tour Revisited..... With a Difference. The Long Walk. Part One.

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The famous floral clock in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens was our starting point. The city of Edinburgh is built around seven distinctive separate hills, although being a very hilly city in general there's actually a lot more than that. The traditional Seven Hills race however takes around four hours and covers 14 miles but it's usually elite fell runners that take part in that. Not something I've ever been keen on although I was a fairly fast uphill walker in my youth but never felt drawn to multiple hill endurance events like the Skye Ridge in one go, The Three Peaks Race, or similar. I've always preferred taking my time and seeing the different landscapes properly to appreciate them rather than just as a passing exhausted blur.
So it was that Anne and myself left Glasgow, seen here, (Donald Dewar statue above. The very Ist First minister of Scotland.) and jumped on an early morning bus to Edinburgh, ending up an hour and a half later in Princes Street Gardens.
Our first hill was Calton Hill seen here with the Black Watch Memorial monument sticking up on The Mound.
And this is the bottom half of it. I was interested in this memorial because my father was in the Black Watch during the Second World War and got a free extended holiday in Italy during that time, mingling with Italian and German tourists on the beaches for the privilege of placing a towel down on the sand and claiming a spot for the UK. They then marched inland to see the wonderful villages and towns and sample some authentic Italian night life and cuisine. Eggs and chickens mainly but eaten on the move with a distinctly rustic DIY approach to cooking at times. Fresh farm food generally, foraged from field to plate within minutes.Sometimes sausages or steak, if very lucky. Shabby chic you might call it today rather than a fine dining experience. Tables, chairs and cutlery being optional. Bayonets used for stirring tea and catching dinner. Happy times on his first journey outside Scotland with the clan.
Castle Hill came next for us in the present day, another bump on the list. The complete list being Arthur's Seat, Castle Rock, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill, Braid Hills, Craiglockhart Hill and Corstorphine Hill. As Anne and Belinda had travelled through to Edinburgh over a dozen times in the last couple of years the novelty of the shopping streets and tourist haunts had worn off slightly but Anne was still keen to explore other parts of Edinburgh--- Belinda less so as she had her own friends to visit with.
After Castle Hill we ended up in The Meadows, A large expanse of open short grass which hasn't changed much in 100 years. Muriel Spark included it in her novel 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' about an Edinburgh teacher's strong influence over her pupils, well illustrated in this mural. This is one panel in a line of them along a wall.
I was a bit sorry for Anne it wasn't still springtime here as the crocus displays around the meadows are the best I've ever seen. She's seeing them now though... on here :)
Here's some more I made earlier.... in spring.
Another view of the meadows with Arthur's Seat behind. We'd both been up that previously (at night in another post) and that was probably where she'd got the Seven Hills idea from in the first place... as I'd sneakily sowed it there myself by pointing them all out individually as the sun set. Ideas are often like that... a secret grail quest planted in someone's grow...
The gift that keeps on giving.
Period buildings line The Meadows. This is one.
At the far end this spectacular church spire marks the end of green lawn and back to built up city streets.
Still within the Meadows District however was this place that really intrigued me. A curious blend of new and old architecture I'd first spotted a couple of years ago. As I've said before on the blog the only houses they seem to be building these days are always at the luxury end of the market. More profit that way for private companies as anything that could be sold off in the UK has been. Often assets formally owned by the taxpayer. Quartermile is a prime example of that change in building policy.
Modern glass and steel apartments/ penthouse towers, side by side with former period hospital buildings- also converted into luxury flats. The former Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. We had a good wander around here. It's an interesting place. Nice to see old period buildings retained but there definitely seems to be two parallel worlds operating in the UK today. Those unlucky folk ten years into austerity measures- still being told to tighten their belts and that there's never any money available.......for them........ and then there's this lot here. Wish I was in a different camp sometimes just for a change. Poverty is overrated.
I like moaning mind you... it makes me happy... and it's still free and not yet privatized. 'Use it while you can' my old mum used to say.... :o) I must come from bolshy stock, online at least, if not in person. Mild mannered I am in grim reality. I never rock the boat.  Full info and glamorous photo gallery of rooftop apartments here.
It says 'affordable housing' is part of this complex on the info brochure but we struggled to see any. What does that term even mean? A super yacht is 'affordable' if you have the money available to buy it. A bit like the 'green recycling' tag when two thirds of recycled stuff still ends up in landfill apparently for one reason or another. I presume the 'affordable flats' are the ones near the bottom in the previous photo with limited sunshine and no views. Cynical old me.
Anyway, it was an interesting place to wander around with fantastic views across the meadows. Some of the penthouse flats here change hands for one million pounds and upwards I'd imagine as it's a very desirable district to live in.
As you may have guessed by now we were not following the typical Seven Hills circuit- head down, charge on, but a leisurely variation of my own making as we were not intending to do all seven hills anyway.... just a greatest bits tour of the city with several new hills thrown in.
After exploring The Meadows we had a few busy city streets to cross around the Tollcross district before our next scenic highlight. One I had visited before by bike and Anne was keen on seeing for the first time. We both liked this yellow apartment building. A splash of colour really zings anywhere and catches the eye.
The Union Canal basin at Edinburgh Quay where it terminates within the city. Canal barges and a towpath walkway start here but it's not that easy to reach on foot from the city centre so the walk across The Meadows to here is a pleasant green alternative avoiding several km of busy streets and traffic. This area of old warehouses, meat market, factories and old brewery buildings has been extensively redeveloped. So much so that we christened it Round Tower land...
but I'll leave that for part two of our long walk......................... to be continued.

Edinburgh is not the only city/place to be built over seven hills. Here's the full list.