Anent fouer bardis, quha hauen on Corstorphyn wrutten. A short round up of four writers of local interest…
Diana Hendry’s poem Timor Mortis Conturbat Me takes its name from David Lindsay’s Lament for the Makars (c. 1500), which uses the phrase as a refrain. It means “the fear of death disturbs me”, and the original poem refers to the numerous writers that Lindsay had once known, but had died. One of these is Roull of Corstorphine (whence Roull Road).
Hendry’s poem is somewhat different in tone, and muses on her own future death. In one verse we are asked:
“Will it come on the way to Corstorphine Or when sitting on the loo? Will I need a lot of morphine Will a bottle of brandy do?”
Juliet Wilson, aka Crafty Green Poet. here writes here about the White Lady.
Wilson also has a blog and a Twitter account, which often includes material and photographs of Corstorphine and the surrounding area, especially of nature, flowers etc
Corinne V. Davis
Davis lives in Corstorphine and is author of the children’s series “Ralph is not…”- e.g. Ralph is not a Superhero (2010), Ralph is not a Vampire (2010) and Ralph is not a Spy (2011). She has written for pleasure since her childhood, and worked in education which is partly where she has found the inspiration for some of these books.
Which Beatles song was written in Murrayfield, and what is John Lennon’s connection to the area?
Every so often in researching Literary Corstorphine, I have come across a biggie. John Lennon is one of them. His records still sell, his sentiments & behaviour still piss some people off, and he continues influence on so many aspects of life. He is instantly recognisable, unlike so many other musicians one forgets in the bat of an eyelid.
And he was not the only Beatle with Edinburgh connections.
Although best known as a singer-songwriter, Lennon published three books, namely “In his own Write” (1964), “A Spaniard in the Works” (1965), and the posthumous “Skywriting by Word of Mouth” (1986). Each of these is a collection of various different occasional pieces, short stories and nonsense writing. You can see Lennon’s Irish heritage in full force in these with their brilliant wordplay, and biting sense of humour, which more than make up for the lack of any sustained narrative.
Lennon was also a voracious reader from an early age, reading everything from Broons annuals to highbrow novels.
Jock Lennon & the Silver Beetles
You may not be aware of John Lennon’s connections to Edinburgh. In fact he was a huge Scottophile, and loved visiting here. In his final years in New York, he would write, “I miss Scotland more than England,” and even sign his letters “Jock Lennon”.
The Beatles may have been more Scouse than Scots, but they did have some pretty solid connection to this country. McCartney famously sang the praises of Mull of Kintyre, where he lived for many years. The band also made their very first tour around northern Scotland, around small towns such as Keith and Forres. Moreover, the “Fifth Beatle” and the one who gave the band their name, Stuart Sutcliffe was born in Edinburgh.*
There is a whole book on the subject – The Beatles in Scotland by Ken McNab . It is worth a read, and I have used It to find some of the information here.
A lot has been written on John Lennon’s unsettled and complex childhood. Although he was often getting into trouble, this was not entirely the fault of his own.
John’s father was always away at sea, and he had to be taken away from his neglectful mother Julia, to live with his Auntie Mimi and Uncle George who raised him as their own. While Mimi and George were a more positive influence on John, he still relished any time away from Liverpool, due to his family situation. He would often go and visit with his Aunt Mater, who originally stayed in Fleetwood, and became particularly close to her son, Stanley Parkes who was seven years older than John, and would take him to cinemas, to gigs and generally show him around town.
Auntie Mater later remarried a Scottish dentist called Bert Sutherland, and moved up to Edinburgh with her children, the Parkes. Every June, John would get on a bus to Edinburgh, and would be picked up at the station by his cousin Stan. Mr Sutherland also had an ancestral croft at Durness, and John would sometimes go up there with them after stopping off at Edinbugh.
Whether John Lennon matched up to the social standards of Murrayfield is not recorded, but Ormidale Terrace is certainly a step up from some of the homes John had lived in Liverpool.
According to Stanley Parkes:
“John, cousin Leila and I were very close. From Edinburgh we would drive up to the family croft at Durness, which was from about the time John was nine years old until he was about 16.”
It was while such a stay at 15, Ormidale Terrace that Lennon wrote the B-side to Paperback Writer, Rain. Looking out of my bus window just now, there are no prizes for guessing where the inspiration came from. On one such day, Stan says John and Leila sheltered from the rain in the grand doorway of the romanesque Murrayfield Parish Church.
According to the Edinburgh Evening News, Marlene Wood, the current owner of the property:
“John Lennon’s stay at the house was recorded on the particulars when we bought it, but we never really made anything of it. We thought it was a laugh.
“When we first moved in, surrounding neighbours told us of how Lennon would often visit his aunt who lived in the property, both as a teenager and with his wife Yoko Ono. One day I was out and Stan Parkes, John Lennon’s cousin, came around to the house and it was the woman who was looking after my children at the time that answered the door.
“My husband and I struck up an e-mail correspondence with Mr Parkes afterwards to find out more about the house’s history.
“But he couldn’t really remember much, only that John Lennon had written Rain there and that he used to hang out in the cupboard under the stairs a lot – because that’s where the phone was.”
The story does not end there. It is said that around 1980, not long before his murder that John was actually considering buying the house. Whether this would have happened is moot. He never did. Stan however, did move around a bit, going off to live in Currie, and eventually ending up on the shores of the Firth of Clyde.
Other Beatles sites in Edinburgh
Roxy Cinema (now the Bed Shed), Gorgie Road – John’s favourite cinema in Edinburgh, which shut in 1963.
McDonald Road, where Stan Parkes had his garage. John would sometimes gets his cars serviced here.
Lizars, formerly on Shandwick Place – John and Yoko were photographed near here after buying a pair of binoculars.
Claremont Crescent – Stuart Sutcliffe was born here June 23, 1940. It was he who suggested the name of the Beatles but is not part of the Fab Four line up.
Chalmers Street – Stuart Sutcliffe was also said to have lived here.
Currie – Stan Parkes also lived around here, and on one occasion, John visited the local RS McColls to pick up a packet of cigarettes. The shop assistant fainted.
Bus station – The young John used to arrive here every June on a bus from Liverpool to meet his Edinburgh relatives. Stan Parkes would pick him up, and take him over to Ormidale Terrace. While Ormidale Terrace probably looks much like it did then, the bus station has changed completely.
Edinburgh Airport – then known Turnhouse. The Beatles flew into here on more than several occasions.
ABC, formerly on 120 Lothian Road – the Beatles played gigs here, and met up with the Lord Provost. When he asked them for a donation to a charitable fund, John suggested pawning his gold chain.
Scotch House, on Princes Street – John and Yoko went here to buy tartan outfits for their children.
Roseburn Park and the Water of Leith – given their proximity to Ormidale Terrace, it seems likely John would have played around in these places or got up to other things. Did he use the chippy down the road? Nip in for an underage pint somewhere else? Who knows!
Stuart Sutcliffe was born in Edinburgh on June 23, 1940, but moved down to Liverpool as a child. He was a talented artist, and it was he who named the Beatles, and also instigated their stint in Hamburg. Sadly, he would die there in 1962 – it is hard to imagine what effect he would have had on their later direction. Lennon called Sutcliffe “my alter ego… a guiding force.” Various sources name Sutcliffe’s home in Edinburgh as having been on Claremont Crescent in the Broughton area and/or Chalmers Street.
The US single cover is taken from Wikipedia and is covered under fair use, as this blog post is non-profit and it promotes sales of the Beatles music. It will be removed under request.
“What passing bells for these who die as cattle?/ Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”
Yesterday marked the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s arrival in Edinburgh. The great English war poet had been sent to Craiglockhart Hospital to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on by his war service.
His time in Edinburgh was short but fruitful. He wrote a lot of poetry here, and befriended various people who greatly influenced him, notably Siegfried Sassoon. What is less well known is that he also taught here at Tynecastle High School in Gorgie.
After leaving Edinburgh, he spent some time in England, and was sent back to the front in 1918. He was invalided out again, for a short period, this time for a gun shot wound. After that he returned to the front line, and died a week before the war ended. He was only twenty five.
Owen was born in Oswestry in 1893, a town technically in Shropshire, but with a then partly Welsh-speaking native population. Even the house he was born in – Plas Wilmot – had a name which was half-Welsh and half-English. Owen himself was not a Welsh speaker, but some people have argued Welsh metre influenced his poetry.
Wilfred’s father worked for a railway company, so he moved regularly around the north west of England. Other places in which they lived included Birkenhead in the Wirral, and Shrewsbury in Shropshire. In Shrewsbury, he became a pupil-teacher. He tried to enter the University of London, but his family could not afford the fees. Compared to Siegfried Sassoon, he came from a relatively humble background.
“Voices of boys were by the river-side. Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.”
Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1993) is a fictional account of Owen’s time in Edinburgh. In an interview eleven years later in Contemporary Literature she states that:
“I felt like I had got myself into a box where I was strongly typecast as a Northern [English], regional, working-class, feminist – label, label, label – novelist.”
This is something many Scottish authors can probably sympathise with (not to mention all the other groups on the list). Barker’s book certainly broke her out of that mould and it became the first part of a trilogy.
Regeneration deals mostly with Owen’s time in Craiglockhart Hospital, as well as his friendships with other figures such as Siegfried Sassoon. Tynecastle is out of the mix.
The film version came out in 1997, and to be honest, even though I have seen the film twice, it has not made a deep impression on me. Owen is played by the actor Stuart Bunce. The film ends with Owen’s body being retrieved from the battlefield, and Captain Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) reading The Parable of the Old Man and the Young in tears.
Tynecastle High School
“Children are not meant to be studied, but enjoyed. Only by studying to be pleased do we understand them.”
While Edinburgh’s private schools are very good at celebrating famous ex-pupils and staff, our state schools tend not to. Thankfully, this has started to change.
Tynecastle High or “Tynie” might not be the first place you’d associate with famous poets, but the school has a few other surprises.For example, the series House of Cards is a massive hit in the States, but it would probably never have been made if the British series hadn’t succeeded. The British series starred Ian Richardson – another Tynie ex-pupil. (If you want to read about Craigmount’s cultural connections click this link)
The school put up a plaque to Owen in 2014. This is actually in the new building. The school he would have taught in is across the road next to the football stadium. It was actually built in 1912, so it would have only been several years old when Owen taught there.
“But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”
Owen has been a huge influence on poets after him. Even song writers – Richard Jobson of Dunfermline punk band the Skids was a great fan, and even used the title of one of Owen’s poems Dulce et Decorum Est for one of their songs.
When one hears about WWI poets, I think it is best to bear two things in mind:
That there were many other poets at that time. Owen is one of the best, but we should try and remember some of the others as well.
Many of those who quote the poetry of Owen and other war poets, or promote it, are sometimes doing it for their own ends. Owen would not have agreed with some of them at all.
Wilfred Owen’s poetry will probably be taught to schoolchildren for a good while to come. It was at school that I first encountered his poetry, and I think most people do. I have mixed feeling about poetry being taught in schools:- for some people it might be the only time in their life they experience much poetry, but for some it can also be an off-putting experience, and they will never want to look at poetry again. I was lucky. I mostly had good English teachers who made me love poetry, much like I expect Mr Owen did with his pupils. But not everyone does.
If you’re revisiting Owen, I recommend reading him out loud or listening to some of his poetry on Youtube.
The picture of Wilfred Owen is out of copyright, and so now free to use.
Tynecastle High School. Original uploader was Warburton1368 at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Quintin Jardine is one of Edinburgh’s most prolific crime writers. I’ve lost count of all the books he’s done, since like his co-genreists*, he manages to produce several each year. I have posted about Quintin Jardine before on this blog (click here) and talked about my sighting of him in the Gyle Centre…
Anyway, it would seem that he likes the Roseburn Bar, which appears in at least two of his books, and is something of a local landmark.
First, we read of the Roseburn Bar in connexion with Scottish-Irish-Italians in Stay of Execution (2004, Bob Skinner series, book 14):
‘”At which point,’ said a voice behind them, ‘you all breathe hearty sighs of relief and head for the Roseburn Bar.’ They turned to see Mario McGuire…”
And there is another reference in Poisoned Cherries (2002, Oz Blackstone series, book 6). If the council gets its way and turns Roseburn into a cycleway, then taking this route will actually be impossible:
“‘Who, me or him? Anyway, I’m telling you now. Anna Chin works for Torrent, okay. Where does that take us?’
“‘Nowhere of itself,’ said Ricky, as he took a right at the lights, past the Roseburn Bar, but it’s a connection. It has a pattern of a sort…”
So does the Murrayfield Bar get a look in too? Or the Murrayfield Hotel? I’d like to point out at this point I have no professional connection to the Roseburn Bar. It does have some great sporting pictures on the wall, and some fine traditional fittings though…
I’m told that across the road, in Tesco, that there is a book swop. So if you happen to pop by the Roseburn Bar on account of my literary research, you’ll be able to pick up some reading material there.
Ravelston Dykes also turns up in Jardine’s work.
Personally speaking, the Dykes is one of my favourite streets in Edinburgh – not for the housing on either side, but the magnificent avenue of trees which puts on a grand show every autumn (don’t worry the council is getting rid of it gradually).
Although it is a bit of a rat run, it is not a road which leads anywhere directly, but sits neatly between two major routes. Skinner’s Mission (1996, Bob Skinner series, book 6):
Martin peered through the night glasses, looking eastwards along Ravelston Dykes Road, then down the hill where it swept up from Queensferry Road, the northwestern approach to the capital.
Ravelston Dykes is hemmed in by private schools on three sides – Stewarts Melville to the east, Mary Erskines to the north and St George’s to the south. It is well heeled to say the least, and there is no prospect of the likes of me living there in the near future. As Blackstone’s Pursuits (1996, Oz Blackstone series, book 1) reminds us:
We found the address with no difficulty at all. In the back of the car, we still had a copy of the Evening News which carried the report of his identification, complete with a photo of Chez Kane. Even for a stockbroker, it looked quite a place. It was a big villa along Ravelston Dykes, one of those streets in Edinburgh where the poor folk aren’t encouraged to get out of their cars.
Irvine Welsh’s Filth has a less flattering reference to Ravvie Dykes. It is fairly clear that Filth, and its sequel Crime (2008), are send ups of the likes of Jardine, Rankin etc, with a more cynical eye on our police. Both Jardine and Welsh’s view of policing is somewhat archaic – since the merger into Police Scotland, Edinburgh’s police seem to prefer using helicopters to ground forces. I seem to be making a few more political points than usual, but that’s probably due to being inundated by leaflets over the last six months.
There are some other, older literary connections to the Ravelston area, but you’ll have to read the book of Literary Corstorphine to find out.
* Is “co-genreist” an actual word? Probably in the USA no doubt!!!
How much do you know about the Water of Leith? Edinburgh is unique among Scotland’s major cities in not having a major river running through its centre. But Edinburgh does have its own river. It wends its way quietly through the suburbs, an provides a corridor for wildlife and an inspiration for poets. It is also a river which shares its name with some surprising places.
“Oh, Water of Leith! Oh, Water of Leith,
Where the girls go down to wash their teeth;
And o’er the stream there is a house right knackie,
Of that grand old man, Professor Blackie.”
McGonagall? Possibly since some folk say this is apocryphal, but as we shall see later, William McGonagall (1825-1902) actually did write a poem about the Water of Leith. A pity since the image of women washing their dentures in the water is such a striking one.
“On love, on grief, on every human thing,
Time sprinkles Lethe’s water with his wing.”
Again, this is not quite what it might appear, but more on that later.
“Water” in the name is Scots for a medium sized river e.g. Afton Water or Douglas Water, somewhere in size between a “burn” (as in “Roseburn”) and a larger river such as the Esk, Almond or Forth. The “Water of X” form is a calque from the Celtic word order, and tends to be more common in northern Scotland.
At first sight, the Water appears to take its name from the port of Leith. Or does it? Numerous towns in Scotland are named after rivers, or more especially their mouths, which make for good harbours. Amongst these one might mention Aberdeen, Inverness, Ayr and smaller places like Inveresk. Leith itself is outwith the scope of Literary Corstorphine, but hopefully this article will be of interest to some of the folk down there.
The name “Leith” itself is a bit harder to interpret – it is almost certainly from Brythonic (old “Welsh”), and may mean either “grey” or “flowing”, or something else entirely. It is probably related to the name of the Leithen which flows down to Innerleithen.
Edinburgh has been nicknamed “the Athens of the North” from time to time, but the Leith certainly sounds a bit like the “Lethe” (Λήθη – roughly “Lee-thee” or “Leh-theh”), one of the famous five rivers of Hades, the ancient Greek world of the dead. These were:
Acheron – Joylessness
Cocytus – Lamentation
Lethe – Forgetfulness, drinking its waters would wipe your memory.
Phlegethon or Pyriphlegethon – Burning, similar to the western view of Hell.
Styx – The river which shades were famously ferried across by Charon.
So when people say we live out in the Styx, they are certainly not far wrong. If you drank the waters of the Lethe, you would end up forgetting everything. As Fenton Johnson (1888–1958) wrote:
“Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles around. Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.”
Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) wrote in his poem, Spleen:
“II n’a su réchauffer ce cadavre hébété Où coule au lieu de sang l’eau verte du Léthé“
(“He failed to warm this dazed cadaver in whose veins
Flows the green water of Lethe in place of blood.”).
If you think none of this is relevant to our own Water of Leith, you would be far wrong. At least one person of note has associated places in Edinburgh with classical and biblical locations – literally – but you’ll have to buy my book to find out about that.
Ah, McGonagall, what can I say about him? The worst poet in the world? I don’t think so, but he was pretty bad-in-a-good-way. Now, again, I stray a wee bit out of our area – but his River of Leith is damn good:
“The water of St. Bernard’s Well is very nice, But to get a drink of it one penny is the price. I think in justice the price is rather high, To give a penny for a drink when one feels dry.”
Apparently, said spring water tastes like the finings from a gun barrel, but since I have tasted neither, I can’t comment on this comparison. And if you are molested by the bother of “dull care”, be minded that:
The scenery is so enchanting to look upon That all tourists will say, “Dull care, be gone.” ’Tis certainly a most lovely spot, And once seen it can never be forgot.
“Then away! away! to the River of Leith, That springs from the land of heather and heath, And view the gorgeous scenery on a fine summer day. I’m sure it will drive dull care away.”
If Edinburgh is “Athens of the North” and Dunedin is “Edinburgh of the South”, what is the relationship of Dunedin to Athens? Or the Lethe?
As you may know, quite a few places named after our Fair City. The best known one is Dunedin in Otago, New Zealand on the South Island. They went to a lot of trouble trying to remember the Old Country and there is a Corstorphine there and a Water of Leith to boot. Edinburgh, in return, has named an industrial estate in Canonmills after the city.
New Zealand’s Water of Leith was originally called Ōwheo and is culverted along much of its length. (Edinburgh appears to be trying to do much the same with the section of the Leith in Murrayfield.)
Edinburgh’s Water of Leith – 22 miles/35 km long, flows north east into the Firth of Forth (North Sea)
Dunedin’s Water of Leith – 9 miles/14 km long, flows south east into Otago Harbour inlet (Pacific Ocean).
This is not the only Leith in the southern hemisphere. The icy island of South Georgia, once famous for its whaling stations has its own Leith Harbour. Leith Harbour has a brook running down into it, but I haven’t been able to find out what it’s called.
Corstorphine Loch and a few other names
You may remember from a recent post that the ending of Stevenson’s Kidnapped mentions:
“We came by-way over the hill of Corstorphine; and when we got near to the place called Rest-and-be-Thankful, and looked down on Corstorphine bogs”
These bogs were the remains of the old Corstorphine Loch, which used to run from by near the Leith, over to the village of Corstorphine. Jamie and Ailean Breac walk over Corstorphine Hill to avoid these bogs, and also unwanted attention.
This loch would have fed into the Leith, and the Leith too would have returned the favour by feeding it with the occasional flood. The ancient Water of Leith seems to have been fairly sluggish, a situation which has been rectified by a series of weirs.
A few of the names along the water of Leith.
Balgreen – Baile is a common place name element, meaning a farm or village e.g. Balerno, Ballingry. Nothing to do with “ball green”, although that’s probably appropriate with the playing fields being there now. It’s actually a Gaelic name, meaning sunny (Baile na Grèine) or gravelly farm (Baile Griain). The element Bal- (baile) can be found down the road in Balerno, and turns up as Bally- in Ireland, and Balla- in the Isle of Man. The exact same name crops up near Ecclesmachan and Murieston in West Lothian.
Coltbridge – Originally refers to Cotts or Cottages that were built in this area. Cotts can also refer to parcels of land.
Riversdale – a modern ersatz name meaning merely “river valley”.
Roseburn – Apparently just “rose” (the flower) plus “burn” (as in small river) e.g. Blackburn.
Saughton – The “saugh” bit rhymes with “loch”, and is Broad Scots for a willow tree (seileach in Gaelic).
Stenhouse – The last bit “house” doesn’t appear to refer to a “house” at all. Older records call the place “Stanhope Mills”. Stanhope was the surname of the folk who held land there in the 16th and 17th centuries.
All three names are possibly connected to water – saughs (willows) like growing by water, gravel turns up near rivers, and “mills” speaks for itself.
Cors in Welsh means a marsh (in Gaelic, the word is còrrsa or càrrsa), which fits the bill well. This word often becomes “carse” in Scots.
Dean further down means a sunken valley. It is often “den” in Scotland and comes from the Anglo-Saxon denu.
In my recent post on Muriel Spark and her uncle Harry Camberg , I mentioned that she states in Curriculum Vitae that “He was buried in a Church of Scotland graveyard at Corstorphine.”
Frances Macrae tried to find the grave to no avail. Since then, I have found a Harry Camberg – on this war grave website, which includes a picture of the grave, and its bilingual inscription (English & Hebrew).
The Harry Camberg listed is buried (if I am reading this correctly) in Sandymount Cemetery in Springboig, Glasgow, in the Jewish section. He died on 30th March, 1922, and was in the HLI (Highland Light Infantry, I’m presuming). This ties in with how he doesn’t seem to be listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, because he died four years too late to be considered a war casualty, and also Spark’s claim that he died of delayed reactions to poison gas.
So what was Spark up to here? Did she genuinely misremember the event? Was she trying to hide/play down her Jewish heritage? The Church of Scotland reference makes sense in that regard.
Cruickshank was born on 15th May 1886 in Montrose. The chart gives the time of day as 6:00 pm but I suspect that is a rounded figure. This makes Cruickshank, a Taurus.
According to another website (link here) , Taureans are
“known for being reliable, practical, ambitious and sensual, the people born under the Zodiac Sign Taurus have an eye for beauty. They tend to be good with finances, and hence, make efficient financial managers.”
It then goes on to say
However, like everyone else, a Taurus also has both positive and negative
I don’t profess to know much about Cruickshank’s financial situation. She never married and spent a number of years looking after an elderly mother. However, she did buy Dinnieduff, a very pleasant house
in Corstorphine. That perhaps was a decent investment. Houses round there are worth a bit these days.
As for “beauty”, she was a poet, and supported other poets and artists. So that much is true.
Anyway, I think this is probably more than some people will be able to stomach already. For those who are enamoured of astrology, her birth information appears above, and you can research it to your hearts’ content.
During my researches, I have found several interesting links between our area and Muriel Spark (1918-2006). Spark is one of my favourite Edinburgh writers – and is best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Like Walter Scott, or Robert Louis Stevenson, she probably needs little introduction. The Guardian has described her writing style as “waspishness, its spirit, [with] its curiously posh-Scottish camp”.
Curriculum Vitae (1992) is her autobiography, and has been criticised for the various things which it does not deal with. However, it is also one of her most interesting works, particularly to folk who are interested in her Edinburgh background.
In Chapter 3, we are told:
“…My father’s younger brother, Harry, died of the effects of poison gas to which he had been exposed in the trenches during the First World War. I remember my Uncle Harry only as being first young and merry, next, suddenly thin, bent and ghost-like and very soon afterwards not there at all. He was buried in a Church of Scotland graveyard at Corstorphine. Some of my father’s sisters accompanies his wife, Bessie, and my parents to the funeral; they came afterwards to our house, wearing black clothes.”
WWI still casts a long shadow over our world, and it is one that seems to have grown ever longer since the centenary commemorations. None of its survivors are still with us.
The cover image provided is under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the estate, illustrators and publishers shall understand is used in good faith, and for the promotion of said work.
You might not associate north west Edinburgh with long distance walking trails. Here are two which pass through it, and both are named after major writers.
John Muir Way
The great Scottish-American conservationist, John Muir (1838-1914) once wrote:
‘Going to the woods is going home, for I suppose we came from the woods originally. But in some of nature’s forests, the adventurous traveller seems a feeble, unwelcome creature; wild beasts and the weather trying to kill him, the rank, tangled vegetation, armed with spears and stinging needles, barring his way and making life a hard struggle.’
The John Muir Way only supplies a few of these challenges. It has its share of “rank, tangled vegetation”, “spears” (brambles) and “stinging” (nettles), but the badgers, foxes, deer and rabbits are unlikely to bother you. Other than the route named after him, I am unaware of any other connections between him and this area. (If you know of any I shall be pleased to hear from you.)
This trail starts in Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde, and finishes at the East Lothian town of Dunbar, where Muir was born and raised. It traverses the Central Belt, taking in the likes of Strathblane, Cumbernauld, Falkirk and Linlithgow in the west, and Prestonpans, Aberlady, Gullane and North Berwick in the east.
In the middle, we find Edinburgh. The Edinburgh section of the John Muir Way is a “Curate’s Egg”. It is hard to see what what the great man himself would have thought of some of it. Muir was very much a man of the wilderness, and it takes in far too many busy roads and built up areas. Edinburgh has a lot of green spaces*, and you’d think it would be fairly easy to hop from one of these to another avoiding most of these.
There is a beautiful section leading from South Queensferry along the coast to Cramond. Then, it travels from Cramond along the back of Barnton, and ends up going along a bit of Queensferry Road on to Clermiston Road, up past the hotel. This route not only manages to bypass the northern woods of Corstorphine Hill, but leaves out Clermiston Tower, which is one of the most interesting local landmarks, and which is dedicated to Walter Scott. It then goes down by Rest-and-be-Thankful, cutting down Balgreen Road, and joining the old railway path near Pinkhill. From there it follows the tramline for a short distances, backs up on itself, going into Saughton Gardens, follows the Water of Leith up to Slateford, and eventually heads down the canal, completely bypassing Craiglockhart Hill, before crossing Bruntsfield.
It is fair to say that the Edinburgh route is bizarre in a way that only bureaucrats could have dreamt up. Signs for the route appear and disappear in various seemingly random locations all over Edinburgh and it is hard to work out how the route joins together from them alone. Somewhere around Portobello, the route begins to become fairly simple again, and follows the coast of the Firth of Forth until it reaches Dunbar.
The second route is the Stevenson Way, which is based around the journey taken by David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart in the novel Kidnapped. It does not appear to have official recognition (correct me if I’m wrong).
I feel that Robert Louis Stevenson would approve of this route a bit more than John Muir might do of his, even though the two routes share a considerable overlap in the Edinburgh area
The Stevenson Way is certainly dramatic: it starts in the Inner Hebrides, crosses Mull, Glencoe, the barren wastes of Rannoch Moor, before descending through the Trossachs, across Bridge of Allan and Stirling, and across the Forth Road Bridge to the Hawes Inn in South Queensferry, and thence to Edinburgh. It is much more well thought out than the John Muir Way.
The east end of the route crosses Corstorphine Hill, which is mentioned near the end of the novel:
“We came the by-way over the hill of Corstorphine; and when we got near to the place called Rest-and-be-Thankful, and looked down on Corstorphine bogs and over to the city and the castle on the hill, we both stopped, for we both knew without a word said that we had come to where our ways parted […] Then I gave what money I had (a guinea or two of Rankeillor’s) so that he should not starve in the meanwhile; and then we stood a space, and looked over at Edinburgh in silence.
“‘Well, good-bye,’ said Alan, and held out his left hand.”
The route doesn’t really take in Drumbrae, but it is worth repeating that Hoseason Gardens and many of the streets behind the Drumbrae Library are named for people and places in the novel. An obvious finishing point for this route would be the statue at Western Corner. The final place mentioned in the novel is not Rest-and-be-Thankful itself, but the Linen Bank, which is where David goes to get his savings.
Walk and be Thankful
There are numerous other options within a short distance – the Pentland Way and the Fife Coastal Route. The Southern Upland Way is less than an hour’s drive away, and manages to take in some of the remotest scenery in the south of the country… We are spoilt for choice, so what are you waiting for? Get yer boots on!
* When the council doesn’t destroy it or block off access to such green spaces for months on end. Part of the Water of Leith pathway near the Dean Village has been shut off for three years, and another section through Roseburn & Murrayfield has been blocked off for months. Likewise the Union Canal towpath near Thorneil Village has been inaccessible for a while. As for the council’s idea of tree surgery – let’s not go there!
The John Muir Way sign is taken by me, but is free to use.
Big Gold Dream broadcast on BBC 2 last night discussed the Edinburgh & Glasgow post-punk scene. It featured interviews with Clermiston’s own Tam Dean Burn, Russell Burn, and Davey Henderson.
Craigmount High, cultural hothouse
You might laugh when I say this, but Craigmount High in the seventies produced some pretty amazing people. Big Gold Dream featured three of them: actor Tam Dean Burn, his brother Russell, and Davy Henderson who were responsible for groups such as the Dirty Reds, the Fire Engines and the Sexual Objects. Tam later became better known as an actor, but he was a rock musician back then too. There were some amusing anecdotes on the documentary – including how one of them had to trap and sell rabbits from Corstorphine Hill in order to pay for his first guitar. And how he still owes them money.
Although they were not featured on the documentary, it is worth mentioning that they were not the only significant people to attend Craigmount around this time. Others included:
As you can see, a lot of these folk were contemporaries or near contemporaries. Craigmount had a particularly well respected drama department back then headed up by Ken Morley.
Big Gold Dream
Every music documentary raises more questions than answers. What is the actual difference between post-punk and New Wave anyway? Is there one? Are they just punks in denial? Big Gold Dream never answered this. There were quite a few of the usual tropes you find in such documentaries – the messanic messages (music was crap until whoever it was came along), middle aged rock stars wearing sunglasses indoors (two of them in this case) and of course the messages about how drab Edinburgh was in the 1970s… just to hit the last point home, there was some grainy footage of Edinburgh shown, most of it apparently shot fairly recently. I was amazed though that no one moaned about prog rock on the programme – I thought that was practically obligatory on punk docs.
The drabness of the Scottish seventies seemed to carry over into most of the groups’ dress sense. Even today, many of those being interviewed appear to wear sombre clothes – greys and blacks, like mourning clothes. The clip of the Rezillos offered some brief respite from this drabness. It is a drabness which still exists today, particularly in a lot of Edinburgh’s grey social housing. Edinburgh’s quasi-mods Josef K featured, still playing the rock star game (Franz Ferdinand would have been nothing without them and Gang of Four.)
There were some dubious claims too, e.g. that Scotland had invented indy music, or that punk rock had come and gone in the mid to late 1970s. Both of these can be easily debunked. Punk’s still here. Punk was around in the early seventies. There even used to be an old man who wandered around Edinburgh with a leather jacket saying “punk’s not dead” until a few years ago. As for indy, that was already in existence by the time this crowd came along. That honour probably goes to various American and English groups – the Damned’s indy single New Rose charted back in ’77.
Class was only mentioned once: Tam Dean Burn was keen to mention the working class credentials of the Edinburgh scene versus the more “middle class” Glasgow one. Coincidentally, the heavy role that the College of Art played in the whole thing was played down, although we did keep seeing shots of Keir Street (which i just behind it)
And one of my pet peeves – the annoying Central Belt habit of saying “West Coast” and “East Coast” reared its head. Whenever I hear that I tend to think of Oban and Aberdeen, but no, in this part of the world, people just mean the small bits of Scotland around Glasgow and Edinburgh. Strangely, none of the Fife and Dundee bands of this period were featured although they included such giants as the Skids. Edwyn Collins was absent, no doubt due to his stroke issues, although he was featured heavily in the promo materials and Orange Juice was mentioned a number of times.
Don’t go back
There is always something faintly ridiculous about older people trying to relive their teens. Given that I’m knocking on the door of middle age myself, and some of the people featured in this documentary are technically old enough to be my parents – and the grandparents of young adult children – you might see why none of this was really my scene.
It is always a pet peeve of mine that whenever I go to look up bands from the sixties, seventies and eighties on Wikipedia or Youtube, you see them in their more recent incarnations. I’m not really interested in seeing reunion tours. Blues, folk and jazz musicians can get away with it, but not punk rockers. Big Gold Dream spared us some of that. I made a rare exception for the Scars a few years ago in the Picture House. They were pretty impressive, their support bands not so much. Irvine Welsh was hanging around at the bar, bemused at the attention some of his younger fans were giving him. I said hello to Joe Callis out in the corridor…
My main memory of that Scars gig was a woman with a John Lewis bag slung over her shoulder.
There is a good parallel between post-punk of this period, and the scenes of America’s Pacific North West a few years later. Seattle, Portland and Aberdeen were drab, industrial, rainy port towns.
I think Big Gold Dream missed a trick here. A direct line can be drawn connecting the two, through bands such as the Vaselines, which Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain loved. Nirvana always had an interest in Scottish music, which in a round about way is how Shirley Manson migrated from Goodbye Mr Mackenzie into the internationally successful Garbage.
A major difference though is that Washington and Oregon had their own TV stations and proper media, something which has more or less evaded Scotland for the last few decades.
But grunge? Going into all that would prove that punk was still alive and kicking well after the seventies, something Big Gold Dream didn’t want to admit.