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When it looks like this from inside it’s time to get one’s skates on and get outside! It’s still decidedly nippy here, but there are sights and sounds that chase the chill …

Here is Queen’s Drive in Holyrood Park – 2 or 3 minutes walk from home in St Leonard’s Crag Tower in the trees on the left; Calton Hill with its fabulous views of the Firth of Forth straight on (the ‘new’ Scottish Parliament buildings just around the corner in this photo); Salisbury Crags and the famous Arthur’s Seat – an extinct volcano that erupted 340 million years ago – on the right

Edinburgh Geological Society’s website is a must. It says of Salisbury Crags: ‘The Crags are a single sheet of tough dolerite rock, which is about 325 million years old. This dolerite formed long after the eruption of the Arthur’s Seat volcano, by the process of magma intrusion deep underground – this was not a volcano.’

Heading down towards Duddingston Loch – this area has been a haven for good social distancing during the Covid-19 related lockdown of 2020 / 2021 as there are acres of space in which to exercise and thrive in sea-blown fresh air

Duddingston Loch – the ice rink of the famous Duddingston Curling Society (see below)

A tiny village with jaw-dropping recorded history – JMW Turner admired the Minister’s paintings when he visited, and Sir Walter Scott was a Church Elder here

‘In this house on 19th September 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart held his Council of War before the battle of Prestonpans’

I wonder how often conversation at the dining table here might have included ‘when Bonnie Prince Charlie …’ ?

‘Under the (Arthur’s) Seat beside the (Loch) Water makes a Home for A’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns’ – The Reverend John Thomson, Minister here between 1805-1840 referred to his parishioners as ‘ma bairns’ – hence the Scottish expression ‘we’re Jock Tamson’s bairns’

A village centre record of Bronze Age Settlements circa 800 BC

Jacobite Headquarters, 1745

Beautiful old Edinburgh signage

Duddingston Kirk

A reflective space

‘Fire made the seat beside the water’ – Arthur’s Seat, the volcano that erupted 340 million years ago!

‘Time like an ever flowing stream’ …

Kirkyard snowdrops

Similar to memorials found in Greyfriars Kirkyard – open and graphic acknowledgement of human mortality

Insignia Cornutorum – I haven’t found a record of what this means – and can proffer only a guess that a rough translation may suggest something along the lines of ‘cornucopia’ or ‘horn of plenty.’ I’d be glad to have any feedback from informed sources

Duddingston Loch from the Kirkyard

‘Here are deposited the mortal remains of The Rev. Macintosh Mackay. LLD (Doctor of Laws) – Minister successively of Laggan and Dunoon, at Melbourne and Sydney and at Target in Harris and Moderator in 1840 of the Free Church of Scotland. Born at Dilardbec, Edrachillis, Sutherlandshire, he died at Portobello 17th May 1873 in the 80th year of his age and the 48th of his Ministry. A man distinguished for extensive erudition; a humble Christian, an able Pastor, profound in his views of Devine Truth, rich in Christian experience, abundant and unwearied in labours, the first Gaelic Scholar of the day, he completed in 1828 the Highland Society’s Gaelic Dictionary. His life of self denial and devotion to his countrymen rendered his influence paramount among Highlanders and embalmed his memory in their hearts’

James Browne LLD Advocate, Author of “History of the Highlands” who died in April 1841 aged 48 – and his wife, parents, sons – one of whom drowned at age 16 in the Forth, sister (?), and daughter – the widow of James Grant, author of “Romance of War”

‘Sacred to the Memory of John Gerard of Rochsoles in the County of Lanark …

… Lieutenant-Colonel in the Service of The Honourable East India Company. Late Adjutant-General to the Bengal Army during all Lord Lake’s Campaigns: whose valour and ability drew forth the praise of Government and his Country at the Storming of Seringapatam in 1799. The Battles of Delhi, Agra and Laswaree in 1808 and the Siege of Bhurtpore in 1804, and who subsequently lived respected and honoured in his native Country of Scotland, and died at Edinburgh on the 17th April 1824 aged 59 years. This monument is erected by his eldest surviving son Archibald Gerard, February 1840′

Heathers about the entrance …

and the direction of sea and sky …

evening sunlight draws the colour in stone …

… and at the Kirkyard gate – the ‘jougs’ – a punishment collar (which probably encouraged some pretty good behaviour)

… a lantern unto Royal pathways …

… and a loch now designated as a bird sanctuary, one of the most tranquil imaginable …

… where some of the (huge) swans appear to enjoy noisy water skiing …

… and the buds of Spring conjure thoughts of future picnics and time to reflect ever more deeply on the enormity of the history of this place: did JMW Turner sketch a quick likeness of this scene, do you think?

… and onwards and upwards along Queen’s Drive heading back to the Crags and supper …

Edinburgh life. In the Spring of 2021

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Heavens, these little balcony plants have taken a battering in the last couple of days. I keep checking they’ve not blown away altogether. They’re sturdy little things though. Out of focus here, in the stiff wind. But rooted.

And it strikes me that I’m looking at metaphor. Humankind the world over has taken a battering in the last 12 months – illness, isolation, economic insecurity, death, bereavement and a share of consequent and wholly understandable hopelessness. Someone tweeted earlier today that they’d not been touched by another since last October!

We’ve checked our own sanity sometimes, thinking it too might well have blown away. We’ve had to learn to hope for the coming of a future that won’t include millions of loved ones; a life that makes demands upon us we hadn’t been anticipating.

But we’ve discovered afresh, albeit not always quite in focus, that even in the stiffest winds the life of our humankind has deep roots – deeper, perhaps, than we knew before. And Spring pushes forth 🌱

In his studio

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The birthday of a lovely friend this week has me reminiscing about parietal art, sketching and daydreaming beneath an ancient olive tree, at Cortijo Romero, high in the Andalusian mountains.

Rembrandt’s self-portrait The Artist in His Studio’ famously has the painter’s eyes blacked out. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669, wanted to tell us that he painted what he saw ‘from the inside.’ It’s as though light and colour flowed from his soul, down the length of his paintbrush, leaping into place on canvas.

That’s where love comes from – from mellow warmth on the inside to glowing aura ‘inside out.’

Many happy returns Penelope.

When all your desires are distilled you will cast just two votes: 
to love more and to be happy - Hafiz

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Sky blue Saturday

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Sunlight streaming through the arched window of the tower beckoned me early. A procession of the kings and queens of history passed before my eyes; poetry on walls and in the air; modernity and the murmur of a thousand conversations; the smiles of the many now looking to better post-lockdown outdoor days; Italian made coffee-to-go … weekend living on park benches, in café queues, spontaneous history lessons and Spring flowers appreciation, on foot, roller skates, bicycles and tricycles again …

Middle Meadow Walk, Edinburgh

still further reflections – past and present

IR6 • AR - Iacobi Rex 6 • Albi Rex 
• 1606 • Beati Pacifici 
James VI • King of Scotland 
• 1606 • Blessed are the Peacemakers
1677 • Behold how good a thing it is and how becoming well 
Together such as brethren are in unity to dwell 
It is an honour for men to cease from strife

Poetry set into the external walls of the Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood

The Abbey Sanctuary, The Royal Mile

The Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Abbey

HM Queen Victoria and HRH the Prince Albert

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

‘This heraldic panel was originally over the entrance of the Gatehouse which stood here.  
It bears the Royal Arms and IR5 for King James the Fifth’

… and home to candlelit recollection

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A lot to be grateful for

We’ve got a lot to be grateful for

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I’ve been standing in the courtyard of the Royal Apartments once occupied by Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband (of three) Lord Darnley – prompted thereby to early-hours follow-up on their extraordinary story. Mary squeezed more into her 44 years than, well, more than most of us – Queen Consort of France, Queen of Scots, and an alleged would-be Queen of England. The weight of history here in Edinburgh sometimes roots me to the spot – and possessed already of the mind of a magpie, the synapses of my ‘hard drive’ flash, flicker, and sometimes overheat as I mentally flit from one point of fascination, horror, awe or delight to a stream of others.

Hours later I bought coffee at Starbucks! An early evening amble for groceries (via the University’s School of Law, as one does) is a real-life stepping into Dr Who’s Tardis and travelling through time. One moment you’re thinking of an assembly of surgeons in 1697 and the next you’re using a computer chip to pay for bread and milk. ‘We’ve got a lot to be grateful for’ proclaims the modern Festival Theatre – and I’m instantly reminded of the extent of my ignorance. There’s so much to be grateful for in Edinburgh that most of us ordinary mortals couldn’t begin to enumerate for what or how much.

One of many things I’m mulling over with friends is the extent to which happenstance and the choices we make, or have made for us, lead onwards to unfathomable heights and breadth and depth – and entirely unexpected life-consequences … ‘time like an ever-flowing stream …’ There is a very real sense in which, the more we learn to ‘go with the flow,’ the more we begin to see the unlimited possibilities of an ‘eternity’ – what John V Taylor described many years ago as ‘tomorrow’s bread, today.’

And now I’m listening to the mellifluous voice of Merlin Sheldrake reading from his ‘Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures’ whilst the images hereunder remind me of venerable history’s being juxtaposed with modern art; the collaborating hands of nature in earth and sea and sky and plant and flower, of humankind, of the animal world, of an extinct volcano, and (even) of fungi (!) making and remaking us all, moment by moment.

Aye. We’ve got a lot to be grateful for …

Academia . Jacobi . VI . Scotorum . Regis
Anno . Post . Christum . Natum . MDLXXXII . Instituta 
Annoque . MDCCLXXXIX . Renovari . Coepta 
Regnante . Georgio . III . Principe . Munificentissimo 
Urbis . Edinensis . Praefecto . Thoma . Elder 
Academiae . Primario . Gulielmo . Robertson . 
Architecto . Roberto . Adam

Edinburgh University, Founded 1582
in the Reign of King James VI of Scotland
(or: The Academy of King James VI of Scotland
Instituted in the Year 1582 After The Birth of Christ)
Restoration undertaken during the Reign of His Majesty 
King George III in 1789
Thomas Elder, Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh
Dr William Robertson, Academic Head (Principal)
Robert Adam, Architect

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The amber in spirits

It’s a surprise to me, as someone with a lifelong allergy to alcohol, that a world of non-alcoholic spirits has been busy in the making while I haven’t been paying attention. And in late and warm fireside evenings in Edinburgh, with a glass of the marvellous and extraordinary Feragaia and Ginger in one hand, and a book in the other, the memory of my beloved old Dad comes to mind. And here lies the origins of my hankering for the occasional glass of Scotch I was never able, in practice, to aspire to.

Dad enjoyed the solitary quiet of the early hours sometimes. And in the way of such things, I found these quiet hours a good time to borrow from his time and attention. He’d often have a glass of Scotch near to hand, and a book. I remember once wondering how he could tackle the enormity of Edward Rutherford’s Sarum whilst his mind was slightly mellowed! These are special memories now. The warming of spirits that came with a glass of Scotch would call up songs Dad had known by heart for years, sung softly in the night.

And there’d sometimes be a little notebook to hand into which he’d pen the stanzas of poetry he’d long loved well. So as I can now enjoy a glorious late evening glass, here’s one of the songs I recall him singing; and as I revel always in books, old ones and new ones, many of them poetry, here, too, is one of the poems I remember him adding to the pages of that well thumbed notebook.

Remembrance doesn’t just come to us at set times and places. Sometimes memories are sparked by the way the light catches crystal, or the amber in spirits, or on the breath of a song, or the flight of a poem, or the wild blooming heather. Cheers Dad!

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, The Royal Canadian Air Force

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