“This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club.
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Photo: Su Leslie 2013
It feels particularly appropriate to be writing about my hometown on Hogmanay. Edinburgh is – for the world at large – the city most associated with this Scottish celebration of New Year.
I was born in Edinburgh, though I’ve never really lived there. It’s a town I experience in soft focus; an idealised place of ancient history and learning. I want to belong, but I don’t really. I can feel distain for the endless shops selling novelty kilts and postcards of the castle to tour bus crowds, but I have a visitor’s excitement at every street corner and close, every church and gallery.
“Auld Reekie – wale o ikla town”
— Robert Fergusson
It’s a city of instantly recognisable architecture; the castle set high on the remains of a volcano and Scott Monument – the neo-gothic monument to Sir Walter Scott.
I love the way the city is bisected by the railway line and Princes Street; the crisp, orderly New Town to the north, the medieval old town of haphazard buildings and narrow closes to the south. It takes only minutes to walk from carefully planned and laid-out squares lined with neo-Classical and Georgian buildings, fenced parks and statues of the worthy – to the jumble of centuries’ worth of urban life that is the Old Town.
“… You peep under an arch, you descend stairs that look as if they would land you in a cellar, you turn to the back-window of a grimy tenement in a lane:—and behold! you are face-to-face with distant and bright prospects. ”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes
Riddle’s Court, 322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Photo: Su Leslie 2013
When I’m there, I imagine a giant game of hide and seek where I could tuck myself away down some cobbled yard and not be found for days – if ever.
“It seemed to him a very Edinburgh thing. Welcoming, but not very.”
― Ian Rankin, Exit Music
Riddle’s Court, 322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013
If I were ever to set a story in Edinburgh (and I’d be in wonderful company – from Robert Louis Stevenson to Muriel Spark, Kate Atkinson and Irvine Welsh), it would be in the old town. Not because I don’t love the rationality and intellectualism of the New, but because rationality and intellect are my everyday life and if I’m going to commit to fiction it has to allow me to explore the aold structures and narrow doorways of my subconscious.
On Hogmanay I wish you all good fortune and fulfilment for 2014.
Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh.
This post was written as part of the Phoneography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally. My choice this week – architecture.
Here are some other posts I enjoyed:
iPhoneography Monday: 12-30-13