After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.
After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.
Cammo is one of the most interesting parts of Edinburgh yet it is little known to many of the residents. The old estate is a designated Local Nature Reserveand apart from a wee bit of encroachment from Barnton, has a very rural feel to it, with ploughed fields and numerous trees.
There have been a number of proposed new developments in the area. These are controversial and have been a mainstay of party political leaflets over the past few years.
House of the Shaws?
In Simon J. Baillie’s excellent book, The Private World of Cammo, he suggests that:
“It is rumoured that Robert Louis Stevenson visited Cammo, and was inspired to use Cammo as the basis for the ‘House of the Shaws’ in Kidnapped. Distances mentioned in the book correspond to the distance between South Queensferry and Cammo. It has, however, been difficult to find any concrete evidence to support this claim.”
The great house itself is mostly gone, and its stables ruined. With a little imagination, the whole area feels like the ruins of some lost city, with weeds growing out of the stonework. There is also a reflecting pool (incorrectly referred to as a “canal” in some sources), which has been cleared recently, and an interesing tower a little way from the main buildings. The lodge house has survived and is largely intact.
Blog round up
I spend a lot of my time looking at other blogs and websites about this area. Here are a few that have dealt with Cammo over the last few years.
The Radzikowska Blog (2016) describes Cammo as “a place that enchants in all seasons.” Ms Radzikowska proves this point with a selection of beautiful photographs.
Lothian Life (2007) takes a wordier approach, and gives a lot of detail about the history and architecture of the estate. It states:
“Meadow, marsh and woodland rub shoulders with one another, making Cammo an important habitat for a variety of wildlife as well as a pleasant recreational space.
“No longer just for the privileged, Cammo has become a haven where every member of the public can come to relax, explore, and of course to enjoy the beauty and diversity of nature – and all just minutes from the heart of Scotland’s capital city.”
Real Edinburgh (2011) provides a few more insights, including the curious standing stone, which no one seems to know the exact age of. As it says, “A complete mystery as to why this is here at all. There’s no markings of any kind but it’s a fair sized stone!” This blog contains a number of black and white photographs of the area.
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.
How about this excerpt from Walter Savage Landor?
“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:
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.)
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.
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.
Does the public notice public art? Not much in South Gyle it would seem, and there is a lot of it.
“We were on assignment, trying to kill two birds with one stone. Destroy a piece of corporate art and trash a franchise coffee bar.” – Fight Club
In a memorable scene from the film Fight Club referred to as “Operation Latte Thunder”, a group of urban guerillas decide to destroy a franchise café by rolling a giant spherical corporate sculpture into it. The whole thing goes awry, ending up with the death of one of the main characters.
A similar hatred of corporate artworks is exhibited in the Simon Pegg vehicle, The World’s End. It is about a school reunion – and pub crawl – gone horribly wrong. The characters spend much of their time moaning about the changes that have occurred since 1990. One of these changes is an oddly bland looking metal figure about twenty or thirty foot tall. It features heavily in the plot later on, and not in a good way.
South Gyle is full of corporate and public artwork, some of which is more successful than others. Many of these artworks lack plaques, or any other obvious indications, as to where they came from. In these cases I have had to use nicknames or guess.
There is an odd sense of Soviet-style decay about some of these areas. For sure, the USSR fell in 1991, and a lot of these places seem to date from the early to mid nineties, but the decay is already there.
I apologise again for the quality of some of these images!
Our journey begins on the South Gyle Access road, opposite Forrester Rugby Club. Here to the west, we see our first sculpture, a set of stainless tubes, which I call “the Pan Pipes”, reminscent of the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik.
From the Flassches Yard (industrial estate) side, we see that the artwork is complimented by the inclusion of three metal bollards, which align perfectly with the symmetry of the Pan Pipes. The South Gyle Access side is obscured somewhat by a set of three young pines. It is unclear if the Pan Pipes are solar-aligned or not.
From here, we can proceed in two different directions:
South Gyle Crescent
The first section of South Gyle Crescent takes us past one of several food vans. The first one is called the Chargrill Company, which sells a selection of hot meats and sits outside the College of Animal Welfare. (A similar juxtaposition can be seen over on Hanover Street where a branch of Oink Hog Roast sits above a health food store offering various vegan products).
Across the road, a bit further down is a Chinese takeaway van, which for some reason is called “Noduru”- a Japanese word, and which is also written in pseudo-Hiragana (a Japanese script). Japanese/Chinese – these daft westerners will never know the difference!
Behind one of the buildings, we find three endearing sculptures, one of a pigeon and two other birds. Their effect is somewhat undermined by the boarded fences nearby and the wasteland beyond, part of which is guarded by an entry post which would have not been out of place on the Iron Curtain.
Sie verlassen den Amerikanischen Sektor… Papieren bitte!
We then walk down South Gyle Crescent, past the flying saucer like Bank of Scotland buildings, the well-hidden Edinburgh University archive library, until we reach a small roundabout, and the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Turn left here and you are on Redheughs Avenue.
Here we see easily the greatest artwork in South Gyle, Eduardo Paolozzi’s Wealth of Nations (1993). It is nicknamed by some people “the Chiseller” due to its proximity to the big bank building and the objects in its hands. Below its feet is a quote from Einstein, “Knowledge is good, but imagination is better”. If you’re going to look at any artwork in this area – check this out, and the herms of the poets in Edinburgh Park.
Further down on the left (south), one finds another sculpture outside an RBS building, this one I call “the Screw”. Perhaps another banking metaphor. I have never been right in to look at it, since there is a security guard posted at the gate, and hmm…
We then reach another roundabout, this one an attempt at some kind of Zen garden, basically gravel and large rocks scattered at random controlled by weedkiller.
Edinburgh Park has a different feel to it. It begins just after “the Screw”, and is leafier. Most of the trees here too are stunted though. The bus shelter pictured used to have poetry on it many years ago, but this is all gone. There is a history of Edinburgh on it (and near another bus shelter further down), but you are more likely to see adverts for yoga here than literature these days.
Down at Loch Ross, the pond in the middle of Edinburgh Park, one can find the herms of numerous 20th century Scottish poets. Along with the Paolozzi behemoth, these are the most interesting artworks in South Gyle. This is the herm of Meester W.S. Graham. Another poet can be seen in the foreground. If you wish to know more about the sculptures, or see more pictures, you’ll have to buy the book!
“Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Cygnet-fying nothing…” – Shakespeare (kind of).
Wildlife occasionally wanders into Loch Ross. I have seen swans, geese, oystercatchers, moorhens and frogs in this area.
This could be just about anywhere…
And yes, I had to photograph one of these. We paid enough, didn’t we?
How’s that Zen Garden working for you? (It is unknown if the owners of Nudoru Chinese takeaway contributed to this landscape sculpture in any form.)
The Gyle Centre
The artistic contents of this carparks include a kinetic sculpture which no longer moves…
A mottled cube called Concrete Jungle by Alan Watson (1994)…
Stacked Stades by Marion Smith (1994)…
A former fountain and waterway, now filled in with plants…
A giant chessboard near the bus stops, which I have never seen anyone use in over twenty years… although you can apparently request giant chess pieces inside the centre.
There is also a metal relief map of the Gyle Centre.
Who knows what this is? The plaque is missing and no one has bothered replacing it for years on end. Note the face at the top. Presumably 1994 like the rest…
Veil by Jake Kempsall (1994)…
Fossil Tree by Bill Scott (1994)… a hard one to photograph, surrounded by bins, lights and hedges.
Ian Hamilton Finlay?
Near the Gyle Centre Petrol Station, we encounter this structure. The basic form suggests a Greek temple. Inside are a set of Stelae which resemble Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work. The inscriptions are hard to read but refer to the likes of Ariel and Hesperus. These deserve a return visit from me, but I didn’t have much time to look at them. I have seen them many times before, thought they were just bollards and never properly considered them.
Appendix: The Badlands of South Gyle
This is the area to the north of Edinburgh Park Station. It is not really worth visiting. Here you can find numerous spaces which have been empty for years. There is a large substation, with some trees, what look like crosses between bomb sites and rice paddies. Happily this area has been colonised by spiky teazles.
More bizarrely two hotels overlook this wasteland.
Teazles – dipsacus – a plant formerly used in wool carding and a good coloniser of the badlands.Other flowers and rushes have colonised a few areas.
Burdock and broom…
And here is a mysterious pay car park in the middle of nowhere.
And a rarely used putting green near Loch Ross and the Edinburgh Park Central tram stop.
A little bit of ultra-local non-literary history and a bit of an anorak post. I hope it is of interest to somebody.
South Gyle was once described to me as a “new town” . I can’t disagree with this assessment. But over the next couple of posts I will look at a few aspects of its history, with a very dodgy camera – and my apologies for that.
Recently, however, I think I have uncovered an aspect of
Old South Gyle
What are some of the oldest features in South Gyle? Given that most of the area was truly a marsh, there is very little evidence of ancient settlement.
There were a few farm buildings here in the recent past. Most of which have gone, except for a stretch on South Gyle Road which I mention later. The railway line was built in the nineteenth century, but appears to have gone numerous improvements and South Gyle Station was opened in 1985. Except for the section on Glasgow Road, most of the other buildings in South Gyle originate in the late twentieth century.
The bypass dates to the 1980s.
South Gyle Road
Currently, South Gyle Road runs westwards from Meadowplace Road on the edge of Broomhall, and continues more-or-less in a straight line through the Wester Broom Estate built by MacTaggart and Mickel in the 1970s. To its north west is South Gyle Gardens and Gylemuir School which I imagine to be ’70s or ’80s in origin.
South Gyle Road then crosses South Gyle Station. The station itself was opened in 1985, but the bridge looks to be earlier. At South Gyle Station, the road is blocked to large vehicles. On the other side, it provides access to the South Gyle Mains estate again built by MacTaggart and Mickel, this time in the late 1980s-early 1990s. “Mains” is equivalent to the “home farm” south of the Border. (The same company has built estates at the Paddockholm near Station Road, and another in Craigmount – their post-1980s architecture is distinctive and partly based on Scottish baronial.)
On one side of the road, we see a row of farm workers cottages, covered in beautiful red ?pan tiles, which has survived well into the present day. I’m guessing that these date from the 19th century, although they may incorporate even older features.
On the other side, we find Gogarloch, named after the marsh. The streets here are named “Syke” (a ditch), “Haugh” (a meadow) and “Muir” (moor or heath). This was formerly “Westholme” and was built in the mid 1990s by Wimpey. The rest of the road curves round to become Gogarloch Road, and the so called west end of “South Gyle Road” is swallowed up in an extension of the Gogarloch Estate and is blocked off.
Finding a ghost hedge?
It is always great to see trees flowering in this area. While the cherry trees along Meadow Place Road are fantastic, I also like seeing the hawthorns in bloom. They are the real Queens of the May. They are often known as “quickthorn”, because they can produce a spiky hedge fairly rapidly – certainly faster than beech, but not as quickly as leylandia perhaps. That said, it is often hard to age a hawthorn tree, because they don’t tend to produce a single large trunk.
In old Scottish folklore it was considered bad luck to cut down hawthorn trees. (A similar taboo applied to dookits/dovecots – which is probably why Corstorphine’s dookit has long outlived its castle.) While I doubt the hawthorn tradition is well remembered in Edinburgh, I was amazed to see that some local trees may have survived the MacTaggart & Mickel and Wimpey developments of my lifetime.
Recently, when I was passing the South Gyle Roundabout, I noticed a solitary hawthorn flowering in the middle of it. What drew my attention to it, was that it seemed to line up with other hawthorn trees that ran along the south side of South Gyle Road. South Gyle Road is blocked off to the rounabout now, but sure enough, where it was blocked off, there was another hawthorn. The roundabout itself presumably dates to the 1990s.
The flowering hawthorn in the middle of the South Gyle roundabout.
Here I have taken a shot from the end of South Gyle Road. There is another hawthorn here in the vegetation, which lines up with the one on the roundabout, and some of the others further down the road. South Gyle Road is blocked off from the roundabout.
Looking in the other direction down South Gyle road to the east, one can a couple of flowering hawthorns. They are surrounded by other trees, presumably planted by MacTaggart and Mickel, or maybe Wimpey. It is unclear whether the hawthorns were but they seem to line up with the other ones. (The road curves around to become Gogarloch Road near the red car.)
The same two hawthorns from the back. There is no hawthorn hedge on the other side of the road.
Continuing further down, where South Gyle Road curves off and becomes Gogarloch Road, there are no hawthorns at all.
Further down the road, on the same side, they reappear. This is the first real “hedge” we see on this road heading east since it consists of several trees.
There is another grouping of them, they seem to be tidier, but it is unclear if these were planted more recently or are original parts of an older hedge. These look younger.
Here you can see the old cottages on the left which are the oldest buildings in this locality. Opposite them, the best preserved piece of hedging can be seen. This is definitely older than the South Gyle Mains estate, but perhaps not as old as the cottages. This may be the only bit of very old hedging, but it does seem to line up with the hawthorns further down, and even the one on the roundabout, suggesting they date back to when it was a mere farm track.
The same section photographed from behind… apologies for the glare.
And the same section again, looking back westwards from over South Gyle Station carpark.
There’s a big row of them there. These are mixed in with elderberry trees and do not look well managed. Certainly in the nineties it was possible to see the remains of what looked like an old farm fence with posts and barbed wire, possiy dating back to when the South Gyle Mains really did have a “mains”.
Finally there appear to be two lots of hawthorns next to the station.
This hawthorn between the gates does not look like much, but before the gates were built it used to be two or three times the height. I used to call it the bag tree, since bits of old shopping bags used to flutter around in its upper branches.
Finally, there are some along the embankment before the bridge. It is unclear whether these date to the building of the station in 1985, or back earlier to when the bridge was built.
This is the view of this row from the other side. It is not so clear due to the camera problems. The other trees appear to be beech.
Lastly, down the side of the railway line, along the path which leads from the station carpark to the Gyle Centre, there are some other hawthorns mixed in with other trees. These I can date with reasonable certainty to the 1990s. A few older specimens may have remained by this stage, but most of the specimens appear to be younger and their trunks are smaller. This section appears to be unconnected with my suspected ghost hedge, and is a complete mess and badly maintained.
So any literary connection? Well, I could add William Neil lived further along South Gyle Road, but that is for another day.
One that got Away
“Of Brownyis and of Bogillis full is this Buke.” – Gavin Douglas*
You know when you think you’re (almost) finished, and something else comes up? Well, recently I was delighted to find out about Belle Robertson’s quirky Book of Beasties, which should appeal to cryptozoologists and local historians alike.
This one fell into my lap, due to my involvement in a Leith soundscape/walking tour, which Citadel Arts Group have been running. Liz Hare (or was it Stewart Emm?) of Citadel had made a few photocopies of articles which s/he thought were of interest. An Evening News article on Book of Beasties appeared amongst them, since it discusses the inappropriately named “Fairy Boy of Leith”. It turned out from this article that Belle Robertson is based in Murrayfield, and grew up in Corstorphine which falls within the remit of this blog and my forthcoming book Literary Corstorphine. As stated earlier, I don’t just aim to deal with Corstorphine proper, but also the surrounding areas. (The illustrations are by Canadian artist Larry MacDougal.)
Anyway, it looks as if I’m going to have to update the Literary Corstorphine book, again, before it comes out. Belle Robertson will get an entry, as will Book of Beasties, and she’ll have to be mentioned in the entries on Murrayfield and Women’s Literature.
This one also came in slightly late for my Halloween post, but it looks as if it shall entertain folklorists, cryptozoologists, local historians, monster hunters, ghost watchers, older children, fantasy fans, and Scottophiles alike. The review in the Press and Journal states:
“Fusing fantasy and Scottish history, this enchanted book of sketches and stories will appeal to children and adults alike with a universal story-telling appeal. Legendary creatures making an appearance include the Giant of Bennachie, the Unicorn of Stirling Castle and Morag, monster of Loch Morar.”
The Evening News mentions “The White Stag of Holyrood”, “the Pentland Imp”, and that the book “examines the otherworldly creatures said to haunt the hills, glens and cities of Scotland – from naughty imps to bone-crushing giants.” It further states that Ms Robertson got the idea “after living in Brittany and seeing how the French** celebrated their local myths.”
Belle Robertson says “Visualising Scottish myths and legends is a part of our history – but we’ve sort of lost it. We really do have such a strong Celtic culture and we don’t really do that much with it.” This is perfectly true, and I totally agree with this sentiment. In the recent referendum debate, philistinism and ignorance of our history were visible on both sides. The mainstream media is dismal on this score, and sadly, as are some of the books documenting the local history of this area. As for our Celtic identity – this seems to be sadly conflated with Glasgow football, and New Age misrepresentation!
Placename origins and Murrayfield info
Murrayfield was originally called “Murray’s Field”, and was originally a polo ground. The whole area has various different sporting connections, most notably rugby union. Apart from rugby, there is an ice rink, which hosts the Edinburgh Capitals ice hockey team, bowling clubs, a tennis club, and on the grounds surrounding the stadium, you can often see cricket and football being played.
The stadium has been mentioned in numerous books about rugby – too many for me to track down or even mention – and has also hosted association football (Hearts are based nearby at Tynecastle, and “borrowed” the stadium for a while), the lacrosse world cup, American football (when the doomed Claymores were still in existence), and even the rival code of rugby league.
The cover image provided is under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the author, illustrator and publisher shall understand is used in good faith.
* As quoted at the beginning of Robert Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter.
** The Bretons are a Celtic nation who pre-date the French state by a number of centuries. Although France has made a very good job of assimilating Brittany/Breizh, I strongly would dispute whether they are “French”, even if some self-identify as such!
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.
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.
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.
Submission (1997), a novella by Paul Reekie, in the Children of Albion Rovers compilation.
Kelly got her degree. Replying to an advert in the paper she was a salesperson in a car showroom in Corstorphine. She got the punters interested… aye you know… Old Rab comes around later and gets them to sign. Teamwork. How was the parlance? ‘Close the dead’.
While there is no car showroom in Corstorphine proper these days, there is one up on the Glasgow Road, between St Thomas Episcopal Church and the Marriot Hotel. This is a Jaguar showroom. This is not necessarily the showroom in the novella, but it could be the inspiration for it. I gather from certain sources that Submission was the problem piece in Children of Albion Rovers and had to be altered for legal reasons. However, I doubt the contemporary Jaguar car showroom was the legal reason. Some of the more delicate readers of this blog will doubtless be horrified by some of the language in the volume, but you can’t say you weren’t warned. This blog aims to discuss all the writing from this part of the world, not just the stuff from the “easy reading” section.
There used to be another briefly, on St John’s Road where the sign salesroom is now. But as I understand it, that was a place where one could rent classic cars, rather than buying them. This probably post-dates Submission anyway.
Paul Reekie was really a Leith writer, well Fife originally, and the obligatory Hibs fan. He was also what you could call a “difficult person”. Not in a bad way, but stubborn, and holding fast to his beliefs.
Difficult people often remain difficult after death. They can remain thorns in the sides of the people who disowned them. Or those who try to co-opt them after death. Memory is a tricky thing, but a written output helps keep that going a little longer.
Paul Reekie’s name has appeared in print a number of times more recently. And why? Austerity kills. Not just the body, but the soul too. Reekie appears regularly in lists of people who have been killed by vicious austerity policies. The fact that he was known by Irvine Welsh, Kevin Williamson and Alan Bisset etc. means that he has had a higher profile than some of the other victims. Photographs of him a few years apart show a shocking physical decline, aging much quicker than he should, partly the result of government inflicted stress.
“Paul Reekie is definitely seen as the ‘one that got away’, probably the biggest talent in a gifted group of Edinburgh writers that emerged in the 90s, but the least known, and one whose influence on the others has only become more apparent through his absence.” – Irvine Welsh
Reekie’s output was tiny, but he just won’t go away. The name “Reekie” puts you in mind of the whole city, both Auld and “Neu”. In a tribute to Paul Reekie, Welsh wrote that it was not surprising how little Williamson got out of him, but how much. The fact that he had champions like these, and appeared in Children of Albion Rovers anthology alongside better known writers means he won’t just scarper off and fade away like certain forces wish he would. In fact, I’ve talked about him several times recently with various groups of people. I never got to meet Reekie, but I know of him through friends and acquaintances we had in common. And that is how the collective memory works.
A memorial event to him at the Book Festival turned into pleasant anarchy. In one corner you could see generic festival goers, who had obviously seen it “on the programme” and wondered what they’d stumbled on. In another football fans who may have never attended any other events there before or since. In another friends and relatives. And then on stage, writers who came all the way from Japan next to Leith characters. One minute it was poignant, with folk practically in tears. Then drunken football songs, which somehow managed to avoid sounding as tribal as they normally do. The staff themselves looked even more confused.
Paul Reekie may well have the last laugh. And I hope he does.
Given that we had quite a few common acquaintances, and even friends, it’s amazing I don’t remember meeting Paul Reekie. Yet I’m coming to think that I probably did, at a Burns Supper at the former Postal Worker’s Union near London Road. Given that he was apparently sitting at a table with friends of mine, I must have spoken to him. Given that I remember relatively little of the proceedings, I must either blame the alcohol, early onset dementia, or some kind of extra-terrestrial encounter. (All of these are apparently common causes of memory loss.)
I find this kind of thing frustrating. I’ve met a good few writers through one thing and another. Still I would prefer to remember Paul Reekie, than my brief encounter with Robin Jenkins at a Waterstone’s book signing many years ago. I’ve never been able to bring myself to read any of Jenkins’ work since. A shame since Ionce enjoyed it!
Would a memory of Reekie have the same effect? Nah, I suspect something of himself came over in his work…