Ghosts, UFOs and other such things

pubsignThe one, and possibly only, Samhainn post.

An old area always has ghosts. The White Lady is the most famous local one – giving her name to a local pub. She is said to roam the area around Saughton Road North and Dovecot Road. Despite having walked, run, cycled and driven these roads, at all hours of the day, for a number of years I have never seen her. You’re more likely to see the Legless Drunkman of a night. I suspect she’s a bit shy, and appreciates neither the bright orange street lighting nor the twenty four hour traffic of the modern age.

Her tale is a run-of-the-mill ghost story. According to the sign on the pub, it is “named after Lady Christian Nimmo, known as ‘the White Lady’, who killed her lover, James, Lord Forrester, in August 1679, with his own sword. On the day of her execution, she wore a white hooded gown [as one does]. It is said that the ghost of the White Lady could be seen under the sycamore tree where the murder took place.”

The sycamore is no more. But its leaf has become a kind of a logo for Corstorphine.

According to some people it was supposed to be a cross-class relationship, so I doubt whether it would have worked out. (Which would mean Christian Nimmo was not a “Lady” but a “lady”, if you get my meaning). Other people say she was married, and others that she was his niece! Like a lot of ghost stories, one gets a sense of “haven’t I heard this somewhere before?” and you’ll hear the same kind of thing up and down the country.

The Forresters were actually a very dull family, and this ghost story is one of the few stories of interest about them. Despite this, they gave their name to Forrester Road, and a couple of miles away, an area called locally “Forresters” (home to Diane in Trainspotting no less), which in turn is next to Forrester High School.

Sculpture in the White Lady
Sculpture in the White Lady

Old Corstorphine does indeed seem to be doomed to destruction. The old castle got knocked down, leaving behind the doocot, and the Dower House. The sycamore whose leaf can be seen on railings around the area was blown down some years ago. Many of the old graves in the old kirkyard have been smashed up and flattened by the council. And of course the CYCC is now a burnt out shell. (I could list various other commercial and architectural mistakes in the area, particularly on St John’s Road!)

In some cultures, the desecration of graves (whether for “safety” or not) would be considered enough to bring down a curse on an area, and would explain such events.On one of the few occasions I’ve actually been inside Corstorphine Kirk, it rained tiny bits of plaster dust every time the organ was played. I had to brush my shoulders and scalp every few minutes as if I had a severe case of dandruff. No idea whether this problem has been fixed or not, but it was not endearing. I can’t imagine this makes the local spirits happy either.

holywell
The Lady Well, to be found to the back of Dunsmuir Court.

Ladywell House, and the streets nearby, take their name from an old holy well (pictured). It’s hidden behind a small council estate, but to be honest, there isn’t much to see anymore. Featherhall may also take its name from this water source. The lady in question here is the Virgin Mary, and presumably before that some local pagan deity.

But if you want genuinely eerie – try Corstorphine Hill in the dark. The street lighting peters out there, and the trees close in…There are many rumours of sinister nocturnal ceremonies up there. The hill also features in a book on Scottish UFOs – and eldritch lights and objects continue to be seen up that way by various people. But it is worth mentioning the flight path to Edinburgh Airport does pass near there. Just as creepy – and in this case indisputable – is the former nuclear bunker to be found on its northern slope, now masquerading as a roads depot. It has, however, gained a bit more notoriety in recent years – and I include a link about it below. It features in one of Charles Stross’ novel, Rule 34.

Further Reading

  • Ron Halliday – UFO Scotland (discusses Corstorphine Hill etc)
  • Charles Stross – Rule 34 (novel featuring nuclear base and Clermiston)
  • Sue Walker – The Burning (novel set around the area of Dovecot Road)

Links

Advertisements

A Cuddie and an Ass

corstorphinekirk

Robert Cuddie (1821-1876) was a minor poet – more unkind folk might say poetaster – from Corstorphine. His work is mainly of local interest and published posthumously in 1878. I have been unable to track down any of his collections, and the only reason I know of him in the first place is that he gets a mention in several of the local history books.

His poems include The Corstorphine Games, and The Rival Bellman. Cuddie worked locally as a postman taking letters from Corstorphine up to Gogar. He also worked in the local library. I believe he still has relatives in the area.

When someone once made fun of his name, his retort was:
Though baith the twa o them are in
A rather stupid class:
A line micht still be drawn atween
A Cuddie and an Ass.

“Cuddie” is a nickname for a donkey, due to their pre-Reformation connection with St Cuthbert. “Cuddie” is also used to refer to racehorses, either in irony or in ignorance. The name “Cuddie Lane” (and variants) is often used for narrow roads and can be found in suburbs such as Colinton and Morningside.

As a point of interest, it shows that Broad Scots was still in strong use in the 19th century in Corstorphine, not something that can be said today.And just because we’re all Americanised now, don’tassume “ass” here means someone’s backside.

The Rival Bellman is about a spat between the ringers of Corstorphine Church and what is now the United Reformed Church.

Sadly, Cuddie seems to be one of the few Corstorphine poets to be noticed in the local history books. More’s the pity, since he’s not the best. Helen Cruickshank is much better, and underrated. She gets some attention in some of these books at least. William Neill – perhaps more South Gyle – is also much better and doesn’t get mentioned at all AFAIK. Both Cruickshank and Neill wrote in Scots – Cruickshank in the dialect of Montrose, and Neill in that of South Ayrshire and Galloway. Unlike them, perhaps, Cuddie was local born and bred.

Place name stuff

A few of the old street names in western Edinburgh are preserved intact, such as Kirk Loan (church lane), but most are semi-Anglicized, such as

* the Paddockholm (i.e. Puddock Holm, frog marsh/island), the location of the old Corstorphine railway station.

* Redheughs (Reid Heughs), in South Gyle, former HQ of the Royal Bank, before they went to Gogarburn.

Others have been completely anglicised, such as Dovecot (Doocot) Road and Coltbridge (originally Coltbrig). Bucking the trend, some modern developments have made an effort to use Scots elements e.g. East Craigs(rocks/cliffs), South Gyle Mains(home farm), Gogarloch Syke and Hill Park Brae(slope/hill). However, it is questionable how many younger locals would know what any of these terms mean. Many Edinburgh folk have started to pronounce “loch” as “lock” in the last decade or two, so would probably say Cuddie’s “micht” as “mict” or “might”. A number seem perplexed by the likes of “haugh” or “heugh”. These are words that appear in local place names, and were used by ordinary people in the Lothians for centuries. That is, until the BBC came along, and so called “education” – both of which have worked hard to destroy Scottish culture deliberately, and largely succeeded.

Picture credits

Church of St John the Baptist (M J Richardson) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Byron and Scotch Reviewers

byroncalder

“I have dined with a handsome and charming young man – a face of eighteen, though his age is twenty-eight, the profile of an angel, the gentlest of manners […] When this young man enters an English drawing room, all the women immediately depart. He is the greatest poet living, Lord Byron. The Edinburgh Review against which he has written an atrocious satire, says that not since Shakespeare has anyone been so great at depicting the passions…” Stendhal

Ah yes, so to Byron, who is often said to be an Englishman, and sometimes considered to be a Scotsman. Expressing extremely Scottish sentiments in Lachin y Gair (Dark Lochnagar, 1807), confirms the latter idea, but the poem On English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) is frequently used to support the former.*

The “Scotch reviewers” in question were the writer(s) of the Edinburgh Review, who had slated Byron’s poetry collection Hours of Idleness shortly beforehand. One of the targets in EBSR was Francis Jeffrey, who lived at Craigcrook Castle. Craigcrook Castle is on the north east side of Corstorphine Hill, near the modern golf course. It is questionable whether Jeffrey actually wrote the article attacking Byron’s work, but certainly he was a great opponent of Romanticism. I’ll return to Jeffrey in later posts.

There are a couple of other local Byronic connections.

Firstly, Angus Calder, who is buried on Corstorphine Hill. He wrote several works on Byron, including a text book for the Open University and edited the collection pictured. Calder was an advocate for Byron as a Scottish, or at least a partly Scottish, poet. Byron’s Scottish background is something which barely merits a few sentences in many of the books about him.

115617_1a34c64a

Secondly, James Pittendrigh Macgillivray who was responsible for the statue of Byron outside Aberdeen Grammar School (pictured). MacGillivray lived in Ravelston Elms, coincidentally not far from Craigcrook Castle. He was also a minor poet in his own right, and is buried at Gogar.

Notes

* The word “Scotch” did not have the same negative tinge in those days. It was used frequently by people on both sides of the Border. Burns himself used it, and not in a bad way)

Picture Credits

Aberdeen Grammar School, with Byron Statue. (Colin Smith) / CC BY-SA 2.0