She thinks her photo will make her look like a dingbat!!!! Not at all - and just to prove it here she is, at Edinburgh Castle. This was towards the end of our day together, after we’d done a fair bit of walking and exploring, blethering and being blown about by the wind Not for nothing is it called the Windy City!
We started off, having met at the bus station, by taking a walk to the end of Princes Street, up Waterloo Place heading for Calton Hill, but first we made a detour into the old Calton cemetery so Katrina could take a photo of the Martyr’s monument, the tall obelisk, left of centre in the photo below.
She has a family connection with one of the five 18th century campaigners for political reform, who were transported to Australia for their troubles, two of whom died of illnesses out there after only a few years.
The view up to Calton Hill is quite impressive, with the classical buildings of Waterloo Place making a frame for the National and Nelson Monuments. It was the Nelson Monument we were heading for, and the climb up almost to the top for views round the city. However just before we started climbing the hill, I had a discovery to make! I mentioned recently an ancestor, David Octavius Hill, who worked with Robert Adamson, pioneering the art of photography. I knew he had lived on Calton Hill but never knew where, but having seen a photo of the house recently, I was able to pick it out – the white house in the terrace! One of the gates in the wall below was the one Hill was photographed at in the 1840s.
The Nelson Monument was built to commemorate Nelson’s success at the Battle of Trafalgar, which, though it didn’t signal the end of the Napoleonic Wars, did establish Britain’s position of ruler of the seas (Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves…..). It was built to look like a telescope with its narrow tower at the top, wider section in the middle and an even wider section at the base.
There are several buildings on the hill, the one we had seen from below, Scotland’s National Monument, having been intended as a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, but which was abandoned when the funds ran dry. It seems like history could be repeating itself with the Edinburgh trams fiasco. Maybe one day it will be the trams and no longer this building that get the nickname of Edinburgh’s Disgrace!
Another of the Monuments on Calton Hill is the one built in memory of a 19th century Scottish philosopher, Dugald Stewart, and on the flat top of the hill is the City Observatory which you’ll see later as I didn’t get a decent picture from ground level – just a few steps to the right would have made all the difference!
You can see at the top of the Nelson Monument what looks like a cross but is in fact a mast with four directional points. Each day just before 1.00 o’clock a large ball is raised on the mast, and at 1.00 precisely, it drops down again – a signal to ships on the Firth of Forth to set their chronometers by. Of course in the early 19th century the Firth would be hoaching with sailing ships – the sea providing the main traffic routes before trains, cars and trucks came along. Nowadays you may see the occasional tanker on its way to or from Grangemouth or perhaps a cruiseliner heading for Queensferry, but there’s little else in the way of ships these days. We had time to climb the hundred and forty-odd steps to the top of the middle section, before 1.00 p.m.,to take in the amazing views of the city round about us.
and turning a little to our right we are now looking at the extinct volcanic hill called Arthur Seat – nothing to do with King Arthur, but from the Gaelic language which when anglicised sounds a bit like the words Arthur Seat. The name means Hill of either ‘the fairies’ or ‘the axes’! More likely to be the axes of a prehistoric settlement! Below the hill and its craggy outcrop, which was once a quarry, is the royal palace of Holyrood next to the now ruined abbey that was built by David I, King of Scots, in thanks for being saved from harm while hunting in the forest by the intervention of a white hart with a cross between its antlers. The royal palace came later.
Most of the white buildings comprise the incredibly expensive Scottish Parliament - designed by a Spaniard, as if we didn’t have enough Scots architects who could have done the job. Probably one of only a few Scots I DO like the building! I didn’t like the price though! The spiky white tent thing is an exhibition of our Dynamic Earth, which I still haven’t visited! In the foreground is the former Royal High School which was once earmarked as the debating chamber for the Parliament, before the choice of site was changed.
Further round again we were looking down on St Andrews House, Waterloo Place and Princes Street, with the castle on its own volcanic plug almost on the horizon. The top of the church spire to the left of the castle is the highest point of the city! Behind St Andrews House is the main railway station – I refuse to call it a train station – for the city. The line east runs below the castle and the question has been asked by tourists - “Why did they build the castle so close to the railway line?” Um, they didn’t! The castle dates back to around 600 A.D, though there is evidence of occupation of the rock itself going back to 900 B.C. In the great scheme of things the railway is practically brand new!
Round the monument platform again and on the windy side, we are looking west-ish, over the City Observatory with Observatory House on the left corner of the wall and a monument to architect William Playfair in the foreground at the right hand corner.
The distant water is the river Forth again but looking upriver to the Forth Bridges. Fife is the region across on the other side. I was keen to see the ball on the top of the monument raised, so we came back down the 140-something steps and headed outside, meeting the engineer on his way in to wind up the mechanism. We stood in the shadow of the monument and waited, till sure enough, the ball began to appear in view. Now, at the castle there is a famous gun that is fired daily at 1.00 p.m. and the joke is that when the gun goes off all the natives and local residents will check to see that their watches are correct. Actually, a lot of us do! I say “us” because I was born and brought up in the city, though I don’t call it home any more. The other joke is that the i o’clock gun is thought by some to shoot the ball down on the Nelson Monument. I was watching the ball as 1 o’clock approached… heard the gun go off and saw the ball drop down the mast again. Been there! Seen it!
As we headed back to the building to see the exhibition on the ground level we met John, the engineer again. We asked him about the size of the ball - probably about 4 or 5 feet in diameter - and how the mechanism worked. It takes 50 turns of the winder to bring the ball to the top – and he SAYS he waits till he sees the puff of smoke from the 1 o’clock gun at the castle before he releases it again! Now I really don’t know if he was just “winding us up”, but it used to be triggered by the clock at the observatory! Anyway, it makes a good story! John has been climbing the stairs there almost every day for the last 20 years. He had planned to do it for only a couple of years after taking early retirement, but he’s still there and looking as fit as a fiddle!
The exhibition, really just a series of information boards about the monument, the Battle of Waterloo and Horatio Lord Nelson, is set out on the walls of a series of small rooms that encircle the spiral stairs to the top. Katrina noticed in the largest room – still not that big, that there was a large hearth in front of one wall. There must have been a large fireplace, and so it had been, we found out when talking to the caretaker. Up till about 7 years ago, someone had actually lived in these ground floor rooms. The room with the hearth – and beautifully corniced ceiling – had been the living room and had had a wonderful Adams fireplace – which “walked” during the alterations and renovations to form the exhibition rooms. How tragic! I wondered if there were any photos of how the room had looked but it seems that there aren’t. We both decided we could have lived quite happily in the apartment in the monument – next best place to a lighthouse, i think was Katrina’s observation. I’d drink to that!
So, we had a final wee walk on the hill, round the outside of the Observatory, where this plaque on a bench made me laugh! Nice place to rest your weary… whatever, though! You can get some more information and photos of Calton Hill here.
Time for a bite to eat, so back we came to the St James Centre, where over a sandwich we carried on blethering! Not sure where to go next we wandered along Princes Street – poor old Princes Street, bring dug up yet again for the sake of the tram system that it seems no-one wanted in the first place – well someone obviously did…… We climbed the Playfair Steps alongside the Mound, turned into what is now being called Makars Court which I like as it’s the Scots word for writers, and it was called Writers Court till very recently. Here is to be found the Writers Museum dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.. Deciding it could be left for another day when there was more time to spend on it, we continued up to the castle esplanade. The sun was sinking and what a pretty sky!
Down Ramsay Lane – steepest road in Edinburgh, taking a quick peek into the quadrangle of New College (of Divinity) to see old Calvinistic John Knox on his pedestal, and then back to Princes Street and the bus station. There was a Kirkcaldy bus in, so there we parted company with a hug and a promise to meet up again soon. I waited till Katrina’s bus left, gave her a parting wave, and headed off to get my bus. It was a lovely evening and I took two last pictures as I headed for the top of the Bridges.
Thanks for a lovely day,Katrina. Look forward to meeting again - with or without all the bloggers, commentors and lurkers!
Talk again soon.