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.



Carol said...

That last photo is superb - what a composition!

I find central Glasgow much safer-feeling than it was back in the 70s and 80s. I haven't really been to Edinburgh at night - nor even much at all. My area of Yorkshire went like Edinburgh - no Yorkshire folk any more etc - and I AM complaining about it! grrr! Wouldn't be so bad but most of the folk who've invaded said they moved to Yorkshire as they loved the people - the very people they've displaced!

Not only would you get wet feet if you got the tides wrong, but you might end up with a cold, unsheltered night out! You'd have to hope there wasn't a rave on that night...

Anabel Marsh said...

I’ve never done that walk to Cramond. Another one still on the list!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I suppose it is a natural reaction when any one nationality feels threatened or displaced by another coming in but that has occurred throughout the history of cities and cultures worldwide. Twenty years ago when I was travelling, hitch hiking, and holidaying abroad in Europe most folk I met then- foreigners- showed great kindness, patience and willingness to help strangers, like myself, with only a very basic understanding of the language. I remember thinking then it was far more tolerance and patience towards strangers in the way of lifts,translating information, and open friendliness than most travellers speaking only a little English would receive in Britain. Historically, we have always been a hostile, cold country towards outsiders yet we travelled the globe with the intention of exploiting the riches of other countries for our own ends. It's what put the Great in Great Britain after all.
I have read that with the increasing un-affordability of London and the South East many English folk, young and old, are selling up and retiring to Edinburgh and Glasgow or getting onto the property ladder here. I'm NOT happy with that... as they will probably change Scotland by voting CONSERVATIVE at every new election :o)
Goodbye the NHS and the UK welfare system- flawed as it is. Hello another decade of cuts, food banks, and austerity.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
It's worthwhile along with the River Walk.

Ian Johnston said...

Really enjoyed this series Bob, lots of information and some great images. The Goosanders here are very wary (as well they might be on salmon and trout rivers); they're off as soon as a human shape appears so it's interesting that they're much more comfortable on the Almond. Really good image of Fettes College - what a place!

Andy said...

Hi Bob - been catching up on your blog from the past few months (busy at work has restricted my reading time). Enjoyed all your Glasgow reminiscent wanders, trips to Skye and the Lakes etc and this visit to Edinburgh. Cramond and its river and island another spot I had no idea about. Like you, I've really come to enjoy urban wanderings in the past few years, always something interesting to see even away from the tourist spots.
Blogger is playing hard to get as well now - had to install a new browser so I could leave a comment!

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ian

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy.