gang trigly

The easiest of Edinburgh’s hills (and therefore the first of my seven walks) is Castle Hill – the volcanic plug sitting at the highest point of the street that runs through the heart of the city’s old town and which is known as the Royal Mile. Our ascent (which, incidentally, covers a Scots not an English mile, and is therefore slightly longer) began at Holyrood – the site of the new parliament and the old palace. On one side of the street are the signs of monarchical privilege:

(the Queen’s golden unicorn rears it’s hooves above Arthur’s Seat / Mead Mountain)

And on the other, those of democracy:

(Hugh Macdiarmid’s poem Edinburgh is one of many set into the walls of the Scottish Parliament Building)

I was accompanied by Tom and our good friend the Mule, who is visiting this weekend. The Royal Mile abounds with much “Traditional” Scottish fayre – you just can’t move for bagpipes, whisky, tam o’ shanters, and tartan of questionable quality and authenticity. . .

This particular bagpipe shop is the real deal, though.

Further up, we passed the memorial statue of Edinburgh poet, Robert Fergusson (who you may remember from this post and whose poem, Braid Claith, provides today’s title). I was pleased to see him striding down the Cannongate as we were striding up, and stopped to say hello. Across the road is the White Horse bar which always puts me in mind of Dr Johnson. While staying here in 1773, he threw a sour glass of lemonade out of the window and almost got into a fight with a waiter. Things seemed a little quieter outside the Cannongate pubs today.

Here we are near the former site of the grim Old Tolbooth prison. . .

And speeding onward and upward as Cannongate turns into the High Street. . .

Walking became more tricky on the Lawnmarket (toward the top of the Royal Mile). Here the level pavement gives way to uneven cobbles which are difficult to pick one’s way over with a wonky leg and stick. The crowds are also dense and unpredictable – tourists struggle with their suitcases and drift in and out of gift shops. . .

Approaching the castle, we resisted the temptation to shake hands with a William Wallace who seemed much more obliging than pugnacious. . .

I was tired by this point, and it was great to reach the castle. By now, it was noon, and had turned into a lovely day . . .

I had a rest while Tom and Mule went to find some “traditional” Scottish ice-cream. Then it was time to head back to Holyrood again. While the gradients on the way up actually weren’t much of a problem, I found those on the way down much harder to manage. Descending is tougher on the knees and hips, and mine don’t have much stability as yet – I felt a little vulnerable and unbalanced negotiating the steep sections of the High Street, and by the time we were back on the Cannongate I was very tired indeed. Having been out and about for a few hours, however, fatigue was only to be expected, and overall I was very pleased with my progress up and down this first hill. I’ve only been walking on the flat with my splint and stick so far, and I was concerned about managing the gradients. But though the Royal Mile was certainly a little tough for my bad leg, I could walk up and down it no problem. Next week, however, I shall attempt Calton Hill – a shorter climb, but,with lots of steps and uneven ground, a steeper and much trickier affair.

Thanks for the photos, Mule!

eighteen

Behind today’s advent calendar door is Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, photographed in 1915 by Frank Hurley. This startling image — which suggests the engulfing beauty of the Antarctic landscape, as well as the vulnerability of the ship (and all things human) within it, features in an exhibition I saw recently at Holyrood. Hurley was a superlative photographer of texture, and his images of the breaking up of the Endurance after it became trapped in the ice are particularly startling and powerful. I was even more drawn, though, to the terrifying quietness of Herbert Ponting’s images of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. The brutal materiality of some of these photographs was quite gripping, and tremendously moving. It will be no surprise to you that I spent a lot of time focusing on what Scott’s party were wearing: their socks, their sweaters, their balaclavas, their skins and fur. I am reading lots about the history of outdoor wear at the moment, as well as being in the process of making some for myself, and I will say more about this another time. Anyway, if you are in or near Edinburgh, I heartily recommend you go and see this super exhibition. If not, you can enjoy it in a virtual sort of way through its excellent website (and accompanying audio commentary / podcast). Meanwhile, we are off to our own landscape of ice and snow today to celebrate Tom’s birthday in true Highland style. Hope you have a lovely weekend!

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