Who wrote this?

See if you can recognise today’s poem

In Corstorphine’s Ancient Heart

In Corstorphine’s ancient heart, where sighs
The village breath turned mist o’er sacred ground;
A sense of yore pervades – a fragrant sweetness clings
To venerable stones and prickly dykes and banks,
As if with loving arms to shield and watch
That hallowed tea room, snug among the trees.

Gaze on the grey estate where bards of yore
Dreamed golden dreams of bonnet lairds and dames,
And the holy Kin, their hearts a’gleam for auld St. John,
Lurk in the shadows, robes and cassocks whispering
With secrets old upon their parted lips.
Corstorphine, none can ken thy hallowed haunts
But humble hearts and kind, that wake to kindness still.

The ancient yew, gnarled guardian of the Kirk,
Casts brooding shade upon the stones below.
Through chancel dark and vaulted portico,
I hear the sounds of ancient prayers and hymns,
The Stones forgotten lie and whispers low
Of ghostly figures clad in bygone garb.

No simple fame in poems sung or spoken
Shall shape the essence of the village heart;
The bards must sigh, their feeble voices rippling
Like wayward wind in autumn’s golden glades,
And weave their words with fingers all a-tremble,
To catch a glimmer of the past that lingers.

Corstorphine lies within the Western wing,
Beside the iron tracks of progress fast –
Yet hums a simpler, joyous tune of yesteryear,
Insulated from the city’s bustle grim
By sacred crowds of silent sainted trees
And whispers low ‘midst ancient walls of homes.

My plaintive heart belongs to thee, sweet village old;
The truth I find within thy shroud of green and stone,
In moments lost amongst the time-worn paths,
That wind through mossy gardens, past eldritch gables,
And churches steeped in tales of saints and knights,
Now sleeping sound in grassy beds unknown.

Oh Corstorphine, let me praise thy hallowed name,
Sing thee a song that echoes through the leaves,
Inscribe thy beauties in eternal verse,
And paint thy living portrait with my words:
The air that whispers, the trees that watch above,
The village heart that beats with quiet grace,

Within my soul, I find thy resting place.

Any guesses?

Let’s look at a few of the clues:

  • It seems that the writer is disinterested in modern Corstorphine.
  • The author does not know Corstorphine well.
  • Although there are mentions of “auld St. John” and “bonnet lairds”, there is not much of a Scottish flavour to the work. I am not aware of anyone locally who would qualify as a “bonnet laird”. A bonnet laird was someone who controlled a very small piece of land that would supposedly fit under a bonnet on a map.
  • “Autumn” is used instead of “Fall”, so not American.
  • I don’t know of any tea rooms “snug among the tree, but there are a few “prickly dykes and banks”, if you hunt around. Perhaps the writer was thinking of the Gift Tree Café on Station Road?
  • The word “village” seems to appear many times.
  • Clichés galore!

So who wrote it?

Answer: no one. A friend in the Borders texted me this. He went to the Chat GPT Bot’s website and requested a “heartfelt poem about Corstorphine in the style of Norman McCaig”. It feels as if the AI program was more interested in the Normans than the McCaigs.

Here are a couple of other works. One on the town of Newton Stewart, in McGonagall’s style, and another about a hamster in the style of Ted Hughes. For whatever reason, the AI seems to be much better at writing Hughes… and knows more about Newton Stewart than Corstorphine.

Beautiful Town of Newton Stewart (After William McGonagall)

Oh beautiful town of Newton Stewart,
In the County of Wigtown late shall we forget;
Thy lovely verdant banks and noble River Cree
Doth calme the soul and nourishes the heart with glee.

Near the river banks, ye Auld Brig stands with pride,
Built in the Seventeenth Century, an emblem of thee;
Where many passers-by might cross the lovely River Cree,
Which meanders gently like a silvery stream of thee.

Oh Newton Stewart, thou verdant town of beauty,
Your ample countryside would fill lovers with a sigh;
The lush and fertile land and the prosperous farmsteads,
These does set hearts aflutter for what the harvest begets.

The magnificent Galloway Hills doth grace thy skirts,
And o’er these hills the heather grows, like a fragrant sea;
Near them, the elegant winding River Cree doth flirt,
With thy charming banks, like lovers cradled with glee.

Gaze into the distant horizon with anxious eyes,
Ye might find red deer roaming, feasting on the heather;
Yon hills are theirs, lively maidens and stags so wise,
Nature’s gifts, they deserve praise from us together.

Thy neighbouring Galloway Forest Park is a wondrous sight,
Oh Newton Stewart, adorned with beauty near the viridian night;
Where cometh from every corner there, fine attractions meet,
The grounds for horse riding, cycling, and walks so sweet.

And hark! The famous Dark Sky Park doth offer beauty rare,
Where celestial wonders quite marvelous unfold in front of thee;
Galaxies, nebulae, and constellations ascending into the air,
Oh! what a wondrous sight the human eye is privy to see.

Be thy homage paid to keen and gallant sportspeople of Newton,
Where football, rugby, and cricket are played with spirit high,
And the mighty roar of supporters echoes through the air,
Like a clan of proud warriors with their songs jubilant and fair.

Oh Newton Stewart, thou art more than just an earthly gem,
Enriched with history, enchantment, culture and pride;
Ye stand, resplendent o’er River Cree or calm vale of green,
In the County of Wigtown, beauty and charm shall ne’er be denied.

For Hammy (In the Style of Ted Hughes)

Beneath an age-coiled sky seething,
Seeping sods of sheep-smells, earth-moon-dust
A shaggy spirit bestirred the clockwork dawn,
Which pulsed with mouse-cries sworn
To the spindle of the Milky Way.

This burrow of moon-wind and hay-bale hug,
This warm, star-buried pit of silent scuttling,
Gave birth — Hammy!
Who amidst a lineage of alchemists,
Plucked from the blind black-wheel of Time
The gossamer thread of his birth-rye chew,

His head was a globe with eyes of liquid pin-curiosity.
Within those darts shone the sunset sublime,
Last flares of day licked at the cooly-wind swept universe,
Eager to consume the descent to ether and ecstasy,
Unraveling shards of solar thoughts.

His feet, scratching at the veil of our dreams,
Knitted anew the myth-road of the moon.
A dancer, a kneader of shadows and spirits,
A faultless murmur-beast on holy night.
What mystery pulsing, in whiskered heart?

Every night, the oracle of the cage spun his wheel,
In a seamless circle of cyclic riddles,
Bound to the gleaming moon-spoked cage of stellar mystery,
Hammy the Conduit of Heaven and Earth,
The heart of dawn-fire flows and accelerates.

Like a time-worn prophet he wore the vestiges of his ancestry,
Threadbare as the moon-soaked night,
Each dusk he wore, he disrobed the day,
As Orion shed his belt onto the fate-stirred wheel,
And Hammy, consumed by the spinning reflection of his truth,
His kind eyes brown like the soil.

A life of revolutions,
A sun sparking, winking,
A celestial nova,
Bathing in his own nebulous debris,
A Cosmic Solipsist.

A captive lighthouse,
His light vibrated the worlds concealed
In egg-wind and the cosmic husk,
A will clinging to the birthing thread,
The umbilical cord of history’s obscurest moment.
Unblinking the doors,
The apocalyptic awakening of a cage undone.

Unfettered, our Hammy of untethered dreams,
Nibbling at the edge of eternity,
Inch upon inch,
The circle closing,
The treadmill ending,
He lays within the palm of Orphic hearts.


The Memory of History

This is an old piece I have kept in draft form for several years. I was reluctant to post it because of the controversial nature of the subject and it is still rough around the edges. These are merely a few thoughts of mine on the matter. My aim isn’t to offend anyone.

October and November 2018 were interesting to say the least. The WWI centenary brought out so many family stories… Oral history. Documents. Photographs… Such a heavy weight of history to be revived, debated, and maybe soon forgotten. And not all of it has followed the official version of events at all.

I’ve written about the novelist Muriel Spark and her uncle Harry Camberg twice, who was not counted as a casualty of WWI since poison gas exposure took several years to finish him off after the war itself had ended. And of course, Wilfred Owen as well, who taught locally, and who ended up dying in the war.

My own experience

Does history mean anything without memory? Or does it only become history when it passes from living memory? We’re at the stage where all those involved in WWI have passed on. Now we’re into the next generation of memories, which consists of second hand accounts. My own links are tenuous. I did meet people who were around at the time, but I was so young that it is nigh on impossible for me to me to remember much about them.

I regret in some ways I know so little about my own relatives’ involvement in WWI. My paternal grandfather was a non-combatant due to his line of work, and my father a small child. My mother’s father was unlucky enough to fight in both world wars, and lucky enough to survive both of them. I have a picture of him in uniform from the second, but nothing from the first.

This broken chain continues with my great uncle George. I don’t recall hearing anything about him growing up so I had to fill in the gaps myself. George died at the Somme in his early twenties – which is quite old compared to many of his comrades in the trenches – and I’ve found a grainy picture of him which shows a man with a pinched, gaunt face. I can only guess at what produced that look on him. He would have witnessed terrible things happen to those around him, and lost many friends. His diet would have been limited, as would his sleep on some days. I know his rank, and where he served and died, but not much about him as a person.

The official version… the real version?

WWI is more controversial than WWII in many ways. From this point in time, over a century later, the causes of WWI are less obvious. Historians will give you explanations about treaty obligations, military buildups, economic issues and so on, but that’s only part of the story. Nowadays, many will stand in silence each November and talk about pride and respect, but the people who lived through those times had a much more complex and personalised understanding of them. I think WWII now fills the cultural space that WWI did when I was little, with those times being right on the edge of living memory.

It is fair enough to say that many have formed a view of both wars which is based on Hollywood. This naturally takes an American viewpoint. British media has attempted to tackle it, often with mixed results. 

The only recourse we have now is to look at old diaries and books. Photos will tell us part of the story, but not all the story, because some were officially approved (fact checked?). Sometimes you can glean a few things, as I say about the photograph of my great-uncle George… but most inner thoughts, feelings, relationships and even pastimes of the period are lost to us.

The writings of Wilfred Owen and Muriel Spark, who I mention above, give us a much deeper and rounded understanding of those times than official documents, war memorials which give us names and dates. There are numerous memoirs and writings from that time I will never see, and many things remained unsaid.

But even our understanding of WWI is much more simple compared to those in other places.

In Belfast, for example, it means radically different things to the two main opposing groups there. For unionists, WWI represented the ultimate test of loyalty to Britain, the Empire and the Crown, and they are very proud of it. For republicans, it would lead to the Easter Rising, the partition of Ireland and the setting up of the Free State. There too, no doubt, there will be a significant younger contingent who have little interest in WWI.

For Russians, WWI represents the collapse of the Tsar’s government, and the birth of the Soviet Union, two things which their country is still trying to process under Putin. For the Serbs, it is even more complex – they often get the blame for starting it, but they also suffered some of the highest casualties by percentage. For the Italians and Japanese, the legacy is even more complex: both nations were on the winning side in WWI, which in turn led to them being on the losing one in WWII. In the first, they were allies of Britain, and in the second enemies to it. For Germans and Austrians, the commemoration of WWI history is even more complicated for obvious reasons.

WWI may end up in similar territory to the Napoleonic Wars in the modern memory. Remembrance will take a very different form in decades to come as the ties grow weaker. 

The British Army of the Killing Times in the Winter of 1685 #History #Scotland

“Edinburgh – Nine companies of the King’s Regiment of Footguards in and about Edinburgh.
Four squadrons of the King’s Troop of Lifeguards at the Canongate, Dalkeith, Musselburgh, Corstorphine and adjacent places.”

Jardine's Book of Martyrs

On 10 December, 1685, General William Drummond wrote a memorial of the winter quarters appointed for the King’s Scottish Army, aka., the British Army, until further orders.

The modern regiments descended from these regiments are @scots_guards, @2_SCOTS

‘The winter quarters appointed for his majesties forces till furder ordor:
The Kings troop of guards, consisting of four squadrons, att the Canongate, Dalkeith, Musselburgh, Christorphin and the next adjacent places.
The regiment of horse consisting of sex troops.
The collonell at Jedburgh in Tiviotdale.
The leivetenent collonells at Drumfreis in Nithsdale.
The majors at Glasgow in Clidsdale.
The Earle of Balcarres at Calder and Bathgate, by turns, in West Louthian.
The Earl of Airlies at Mauchline, Newmilnes, Mayboll annd Kilmarnock, by turnes in Aire-shire.
Lord William Douglas at the toun of Kirkcudbright.
The regiment of dragoons consisting of sex troops.
The collonells troop at Drumfreis in Nithsdale.
The leivetenent…

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William Morrison – Corstorphine Esperantist

And now for something completely different.

[…] Mi diris decidan adiaŭon al la libereco, al la rilata juneco, al la facila paŝo, saltanta pulso kaj sekretaj plezuroj, kiujn mi ĝuis en la alivesto de Hyde.

I […] bade a resolute farewell to the liberty, the comparative youth, the light step, leaping impulses and secret pleasures, that I had enjoyed in the disguise of Hyde.

Literary Corstorphine hasn’t just been about English-language literature. For example, I’ve covered works in French, Gaelic etc on here and in the book. I probably would cover a few more languages… if I understood them. So now for something completely different. – Esperanto! If you don’t know what Esperanto is, I’ve included some information at the end. 

I was reading The Early History of Esperanto in the United Kingdom a few months ago, by Bill Chapman. It seems to have been published this year, but is an interesting, if anoraky, historical resource. Among other things, Chapman lists people whose addresses were listed in Esperanto publications in the late nineteenth century and pre-WWI period. There are quite a few names and addresses listed from Edinburgh. One of them is a William Morrison who lived at Ardgour (54 Belgrave Road), a very upmarket house just down from Corstorphine Tennis Club.

If you’ve read Literary Corstorphine, you’ll find William Morrison (1843-1937) is no stranger to us. As I state:

“[He] wrote two volumes in the critically acclaimed and highly popular “Famous Scots” series – “Andrew Melville” (1899) and “Johnston of Warriston” (1901) He was also the author of “Milton and Liberty” (1909)

My researches suggested Morrison was a churchman. Mr Chapman suggests that Morrison was a wine merchant. Both of these occupations fit well with Esperantists of the time – there are a number of churchmen listed in Chapman’s book, and a wine merchant would do a lot of overseas trade, so may have an “international” outlook.

Am I confusing two separate people? Hopefully not. Their addresses match.

Bill Chapman mentions that Morrison had translated The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, another writer who gets a good mention in Literary Corstorphine. Moreover Stranga Kazo de D.ro Jekyll kaj S.ro Hyde (1909) is still easily available online, or in a print version (see picture). For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to Morrison’s translation as “Stranga Kazo”.

Esperanto in Edinburgh and Scotland

What did Morrison’s  neighbours make of all this? His wife Sophia* is also recorded as an Esperantist, which suggests she was on board with it. Going through the addresses, I couldn’t find any others in Corstorphine. Leith seems to have had one or two as well. Esperanto in Edinburgh seems to have been largely a middle class undertaking (this was not the case everywhere).

Less than five years after Stranga Kazo was published, the First World War came along. One can imagine the idea of an international language drew very polarised responses in those times.

One of the best regarded Esperanto poets was a Scotsman from Dollar – William Auld – although he is barely known in his own country. Translation was a common mode of growing Esperanto literature – Robert Burns was one of the major early targets. And as we have seen Robert Louis Stevenson was too.

Bill Chapman

I had intended to contact Mr Chapman, and thank him for his work, and pass on my comments. However, I was sorry to hear out that he had passed away earlier this year. Here is a link to an online Obituary of Bill Chapman

What is Esperanto anyway?

What to say about Esperanto? I know a lot of you are probably familiar with it, but for those who aren’t… I think it is one of those strange things, which always hovers around society, but never quite makes it into the mainstream. It is on the one hand a lot less prominent than when I was a boy, and yet paradoxically, more easy to find on the internet. It’s one of those things which inevitably leads to a lot of ill-informed and controversial opinions, which is what I’m going to give.

Esperanto was a language devised in the 19th century to bring about world peace. It was felt that a new international language would be neutral, and increase understanding. Whether it has achieved that goal, or ever will is moot. It is an international language, but one with a thin spread.

If you’re eagle eyed, you may have spotted it on Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” or even the early episodes of “Red Dwarf” where the character Rimmer tries to learn it.

Esperanto’s quirks even influenced George Orwell, whose aunt was a devoted Esperantist. Esperanto sought to cut down on vocabulary, much like Newspeak in 1984 – one way it did this was to eliminate most antonyms or “opposites”. Like Newspeak, Esperanto has no separate word for “bad”, instead you have to say “malbona” which literally means “ungood”. Orwell saw this as a type of thought reform. Whether language does this is moot. The concept is known as the Sapir-Worff hypothesis. Esperanto has few native speakers, maybe a few hundred. The billionaire businessman and political activist George Soros is among them, although reportedly he rarely uses it now. Draw your own conclusions.

I can read a little Esperanto, with the help of a dictionary. The main problem is that it is full of false friends – words that look like others in different languages but have a different meaning. Its supporters say it is easy to learn. This has not been my experience. I learn languages by hearing them and there is nowhere I could go to hear Esperanto in a natural setting.

It has essentially fallen into the same trap as Gaelic in Scotland. It does attract some interest, but as Sorley MacLean once said, “it has a great future, as a hobby”. The difference with Gaelic is that, while it draws fire from some Scots, it is a badge of pride for others. Esperanto tends to be the domain of a small group of older people in my experience, but is very much a hobby in many cases.

It has also drawn some comparison with fictional languages such as Klingon, Na’avi and Dothraki (from Game of Thrones). It is debatable as to whether this is flattering. It is ironic that a language given so much to international community seems to have ended up as another subculture, albeit a harmless one.


* Not to be confused with the celebrated Manx folk song and folklore  collector Sophia Morrison!

Also, my apologies for any formatting errors in this post. WordPress has just introduced a new editing system… this is the first time I’ve used it.

Image credits

The image is taken from the Evertype print edition of Stranga Kaza which came out in 2014. As usual, no commercial infringement is intended. There is a link to their website below.

External Links

The Age of Sail in Everything: the Kidnapped monument

Some great photographs here of the Kidnapped statue. As featured numerous times on Literary Corstorphine.

Adventures in the Age of Sail

Since I’m limited to local topics, I went off to see something which I’ve often passed on the bus but never stopped to look at properly – the Kidnapped monument at the foot of Corstorphine hill.

The monument is technically to Robert Louis Stevenson, who is thoroughly Victorian, but the setting of the book is Georgian, and one of the characters historical enough – Alan Breck Stewart, who served in both the Hanoverian and Jacobite armies over the course of 1745, and was later found guilty for a murder he very probably didn’t commit.

As well as the statues there’s some fancy metalwork in the fence depicting the characters.

The setting of the monument is somewhere near where the two characters parted for the last time, although this second Rest and Be Thankful is much higher up the hill.

We came the by-way over the hill of Corstorphine; and when…

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Corstorphine as ancient religious centre

Does Corstorphine have a hidden past as an ancient religious centre? A collegiate church, two holy wells, the Knights Templar and a name that seems to be of religious origin… There seems to be a case for stating that Corstorphine had some significance as a spiritual centre in the distant past.

The early history of Corstorphine is extremely murky, and little research has been done into it. Historians have been more interested in what happened a hundred years ago than a thousand. Personally I find some the older history more interesting. It is unfortunately a bit speculative, so I hope readers will forgive me, but as always I aim to try to create new lines of enquiry.

Of Cors

First off, the name Corstorphine. The etymology is uncertain but several of the suggestions point back to a religious origin. “Cors” may well be related to a large standing cross that once stood here – these used to be far more common – or it may be alternatively a crossing of the marsh, or the marsh itself.


Secondly, the wells namely the Physic Well and the Ladywell. It is unusual for two holy wells to be in such proximity and they are within a quarter mile of the old church.  The “phine” aspect of the name is also intriguing. In my book, I suggest it is related to the holy wells in the area. The Welsh for a well is ffynon, which is very similar – Holywell in north east Wales is Treffynon. It is notable that William Dunbar when he wrote Lament for the Makaris rhymed “Corstorphine” with “Aberdeen”. This may suggest a different pronunciation in past centuries, or merely an attempt to link two poets called Roull.

The etymology of Ladywell is again controversial. First sight suggests a pre-Reformation dedication to the Virgin Mary like Motherwell; however there is also Ladiebridge (Ladiebrig?) down the way, and some suggest this is related to “lade” which is a slow running stream. These holy wells were invariably pre-Christian in origin. People would have come to them for healing and as a minor pilgrimage.

How old is Corstorphine Kirk?

How old is Corstorphine Parish Church? Well, we can ascertain the site is a former island surrounded by marshes and lochs. This tells us nothing definite in itself, but such locations were often holy sites for the Celtic church, which had a penchant for islands, hillocks etc, which were often pagan sites beforehand. The church may have served visitors to the two holy wells or been an additional site in its own right. This is indeed speculation, but it would put the church’s foundation back into the first millennium, possibly during the period Iona was sending missionaries to the Northumbrian ruled Lothians.

Then we have the Torfinn question. There is no record of such a person being linked with Corstorphine, but “Torfinn’s cross” is a tempting derivation too. (But note the Celtic word order). Did a Torfinn set up a religious site here? It is not an uncommon Norse name. The usual speculation is that it belongs to an Earl of Orkney, Thorfinn the Mighty who lived 1009?–c. 1065, put the name back around a thousand years. The Lothians were taken by Scotland around 1018, and Thorfinn was related by marriage to the Scottish royal family. He appears to have been very religious, going on pilgrimage to Rome and Christianising the Northern Isles.

Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller

Another clue may be found in the dedication of the church to St. John, which is where we get “St John’s Road” from. St. John was the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller (KHs). The Hospitallers took over much of the land that the Knights Templar (KTs) had formerly controlled, after they fell out of favour with authority. The church in Torphichen in West Lothian is an example of a nearby church which was transferred from the KTs to the KHs. Sure enough, in the Corstorphine area, we find Templeland Road, named for the Templars who owned it.

The KHs were notable for providing hospitality (note the etymology of that word) and also for providing medical care (which may tie in with the local Holy Wells). And of course, the St John’s Ambulance service was famously set up by them.

Collegiate Church

Corstorphine Parish Church is also an example of a collegiate church. A collegiate church is not exactly a cathedral, but it is a few levels up from an ordinary parish church – and would have been served by a series of canons. It is clear a lot of money was spent on the project. This was probably a prestige project for the Forrester Family who had nearby castle, but also possibly symbolic of the area’s Pre-Reformation religious importance. After the Reformation, it would have reverted to an ordinary local church, but an unusual looking one at that.

The hidden delights of Cammo

Real Edinburgh

Tucked away on the extreme west of the City in the upmarket area of Barton is a hidden gem of Edinburgh. The Cammo estate, several acres of woodland, meadow and historic buildings would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was here. Heading out to the Forth Road Bridge on the A90 turn right just past the Barton junction and you’ll be on the doorstep of Cammo. There’s loads of history surrounding this place which Google would be more than happy to inform you about but apart from that, just spending time exploring this fascinating place is time well spent.

Among the places of interest to find in Cammo are the remains of Cammo House, the water tower, old stables, standing stone, ornamental canal and walled garden. It might well take a few visits to find them all but it’s a place worth visiting again and again. Top…

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A Council of Angels


Sean Marshall is an American writer, and I met him and his family when they lived on Murrayfield Road. He gave me a copy of A Council of Angels back in 2018, just before he moved back to the States. (He got a free copy of Literary Corstorphine in return!) Although I meant to post this back at Christmas time (which may have been more appropriate), we could probably do with a few angels just now…

A Council of Angels

Bass Martinez has achieved the Californian Dream: a successful businessman during the week, and a surfer at the weekend. But when a drunk driver smashes into him, this world collapses overnight. He becomes depressed, withdrawn and lonely, and is forced to question his values.

Unknown to him, four angels have been watching him and have decided to intervene. They help him to understand and forgive the man who did this to him, and to find a new purpose.

A Council of Angels is life affirming and positive. It is not aimed at the Christian market specifically and never stoops to being preachy.

It is available both in paperback, and as an e-book: ISBN 1791368255

Picture Credit

The image used is for promotion of the book, and will be removed on request.

External links