Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Part I

Things have been rather slow, and very Scottish, around here because I took a trip with family to Scotland at the beginning of June. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, a bit of this and a bit of that, and plenty of interesting things to see.

We arrived in Edinburgh on June 2, very tired after the transatlantic flight. We did walk around a bit, though. Old Town Edinburgh has a very distinctive layout; the area is highly striated, so Old Town was built on what is more or less a big, long ridge of rock. It was a walled city, and Scottish troubles with the English meant that its walls were important far longer than with other walled cities. Because of that, the city did not start growing out of its walls until the eighteenth century, with the development of New Town. Until then, the population of Edinburgh was crammed within the medieval city, with the buildings growing up and up. It all sits more or less between Edinburgh Castle in the west and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and more strikingly, Arthur's Seat, in the East. We spent some time walking around Princes Street Gardens. The most striking monument associated with the Gardens is the 'Gothic Rocket', the Scott Monument. It is quite a striking piece. (You can click on any of the photographs for a slightly larger view.)

After Sir Walter Scott's death, a big design competition was held; all the best architects vied for the chance of making the monument. One of the competitors, though, submitting a design under the pseudonym, John Morvo, was George Meikle Kemp. He was a working man, not a fancy architect; he loved architecture and could draw well, but he was a carpenter and joiner, and he had submitted under a pseudonym because he was worried that his lack of credentials would harm his chances. The competition gave prizes to the top three entries, and Kemp's was one of them. But the committee couldn't decide which of the three was best, so it had a second round in which any of the three could be revised or improved, and Kemp's revisions of his original design were enough to seal his victory. He died before he ever saw it finished, though.

Sir John Robert Steell was the sculptor who was chosen to do the sculpture at its base.

In Princes Street Gardens there are a number of other statues and monuments of note. I didn't get a good shot of the David Livingstone monument, right next to the Scott Monument; here is one from Wikimedia Commons:

David Livingstone statue, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

It was done by Amelia Robertson Hill and erected in 1875.

Another striking monument in the Gardens was the Wojtek Memorial. Wojtek the Bear was a Syrian bear who was the mascot of the Polish II Corps in World War II; for accounting purposes he was officially enlisted (he eventually became a corporal), and he did some serious soldiering work, since according to multiple sources he helped move carts of ammunition at the Battle of Monte Cassino. After the War, he and his company ended up in Scotland, and Wojtek eventually retired and lived at the Edinburgh Zoo until he died in 1963.

Another noteworthy monument is the Scots American War Memorial, also known as The Call 1914. It was a gift from Scottish-Americans to the Scots in thanks for their service in World War I. The sculptor, R. Tait Mackenzie, was Scottish-Canadian who is most famous for his sculpture, The Ideal Scout, in Philadelphia.

The words scuplted on the monument itself end Ewart Alan Mackintosh's poem, "A Creed":

A Creed
by E. A. Mackintosh

Out of the womb of time and dust of the years forgotten,
Spirit and fire enclosed in mutable flesh and bone,
Came by a road unknown the thing that is me for ever,
The lonely soul of a man that stands by itself alone.

This is the right of my race, the heritage won by my fathers.
Theirs by the years of fighting, theirs by the price they paid,
Making a son like them, careless of hell or heaven,
A man that can look in the face of the gods and be not afraid.

Poor and weak is my strength and I cannot war against heaven.
Strong, too strong are the gods; but there is one thing that I can
Claim like a man unshamed, the full reward of my virtues,
Pay like a man the price for the sins I sinned as a man.

Now is the time of trial, the end of the years of fighting,
And the echoing gates roll back on the country I cannot see
If it be life that waits I shall live for ever unconquered.
If death I shall die at last strong in my pride and free.

Much less striking than either of these, but also of note, is the quiet Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial:

I didn't get a good picture of Ross Fountain, but accidentally got a picture of the top of the Ross Fountain with Edinburgh Castle in the background.

Later we went to Dunbar's Close Garden. On the way we passed the Kirk of the Canongate:

Canongate Kirk was completed for the Church of Scotland in 1691. Its churchyard is famous, although we didn't go in; Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, and Robert Fergusson are all buried there. I did later get a picture of it from up on high:

Right outside is the statue of Robert Fergusson, the eitheenth-century poet:

He is most famous for his satirical poem about Edinburgh, "Auld Reekie", and for being one of the first influential poets to write in broad Scots. There is something very engaging about this statue -- a young Fergusson striding purposefully yet thoughtfully. And if you look at other pictures of it, it looks very different depending on the light and angle. Sometimes he looks more pleasant, sometimes more serious, sometimes more distracted. Given the quality, I'm afraid I was surprised to discover that it was quite recent; by David Annand, it was erected in 2004. I think this is very much the sort of thing that public art should be, yet today so very often is not: it makes the world better, and the artist is not thrusting himself forward, saying, 'Look at me!', but lets his craft show through the thing itself.

A 'close' is a passage that leads from street to some kind of court or enclosure; there are quite a few in Old Town, most of them not going anywhere of significance. Dunbar's Close, however, hides Dunbar's Close Garden, a charming little garden neatly tucked away and easily missed. The place was a garden in the seventeenth century; later generations built on top of it, but in the 1970s they cleared out the buildings and decided to make it a formal garden, open to the public, in a loosely seventeenth-century style.

As I said, the garden is quite nice, particularly as a way to get away from crowds for a bit, but the location of the garden is in itself remarkable, since on one side it is bordered by the graveyard of the Canongate Kirk, and on the other side you can see Panmure House. Panmure House was the residence of Adam Smith from 1772 to his death in 1790.

Not far away you can see The Queen's Gallery, which is linked to Holyrood Palace, with Arthur's Seat rising the background and the ugly abomination that is the new Scottish Parliament on the right.

We also saw the Old Calton Cemetry (which I will save for Part 2) and the New Calton Cemetery. The New Calton Burial Ground was made in the nineteenth century when a new road required moving a number of graves from Old Carlton. About 300 corpses were reinterred there. It has a striking watchtower, which was built to deter graverobbers:

This memorial seems to mark the division between Old Calton and New Calton fairly well. Andrew Fyfe himself was moved here from Old Calton when New Calton was built, but his son John, whose memorial plaque you can see on the left-hand side, seems to be the first person who was interred (rather than re-interred) here.

Probably the most notable of the vaults is that of the Stevenson family, an engineering family who specialized in lighthouses. One still sees their lighthouses in various places. Robert Louis Stevenson is not, however, buried in the family vault in Edinburgh but far away in Samoa.

Not far away is the Burns Monument.

Not far away again is Jacob's Ladder. I couldn't get a good picture of it, in part because it was closed off for renovation and in part because it's just hard to get a picture of from the top. It's a very steep stairway between New Street and Regent Road; you can see a video of it here.

We ate dinner near St. Andrew Square, in New Town, so I caught a picture of James Clerk Maxwell:

The statue is fairly recent, since it was finished in 2008; the sculptor is Alexander Stoddart, whose work we will see again. Wikimedia has a version that has better lighting.

And that was a day.

to be continued

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