Roull of the Road

William Dunbar’s Lament for the Makars (c. 1500) is a litany of the great and good Lowland Scottish poets of the 15th century who had passed on before him. Many of them were known to Dunbar personally. Roull has another claim to fame – he is arguably the earliest Edinburgh poet – although whether you wish to class Corstorphine of the time as Edinburgh, and whether you wish to discount the ancient Y Gododdin is another matter.

In the poem we find the following verse:

“He hes tane Roull of Abirdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphine;
Two bettir fallowis did no man ſé:
Timor Mortis conturbat me”

(He [Death] has taken Roull of Aberdeen,/And gentle Roull of Corstorphine;/Two better fellows did no man see: the fear of death disturbs me)

It is interesting here that “Aberdeen” and “Corstorphine” rhyme here – is this a forced rhyme, or did people actually pronounce “phine” as “feen” back in the day? Who knows?

If you’re from Edinburgh and “Roull” sounds vaguely familiar, you’d be right. It is the name of a quiet street wedged between Carrick Knowe and Broomhall. The street itself is named after this “Gentill Roull”.

Sir David Lyndsay

Lyndsay’s early work The Testament and Complaynt of our Soverane Lordis Papyngo (1530 – “The testament and complaint of our sovereign lord’s parrot”), pays direct homage to Lament for the Makars and mentions the poets “Quintyng, Mersar, Rowle, Henderson, Hay, Holland“. “Rowle” is one or other, or both, of the Roulls, and it is possible that their work were still widely known at the time.

Stewart Conn

Poet, playwright, and the first Edinburgh makar, Stewart Conn has written a whole work on Roull of Corstorphine, which is included in his collection Ghosts at Cockcrow. As Stuart Kelly wrote in Scotland on Sunday back in 2005:

“With his almost trademark filigree assonances and half rhymes, wry asides and sudden details, Conn conjures up the lost poet Roull of Corstorphin, and gives him the loveliest lines about marriage I’ve read for a while: “Loving you for what you are – / not just for what you were.” Anger, art, angst, guilt and guile, the humane and the human are all here. Conn is currently Edinburgh’s makar: they’ll have to search long and hard for a worthy successor.”

Diana Hendry

Roull is not the only Corstorphine link to this poem, as I pointed out in my post, 4our Poets on Corstorphine. Contemporary poet, Diana Hendry has used Lament for the Makars in a slightly different way. 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?”

The full poem can be found by clicking on this blue link.

Lament for a Maker (sic)

The poem also provides inspiration for a detective novel, Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker (1938), in the Inspector Appleby series, which was republished in 2010. The novel refers to the Roull verse at least twice:

Erchany is still the enchanted castle; only the enchantment has grown murky as one of great-uncle Horatio’s poems, and the enchanter, great-uncle Horatio’s sometime crony – is with Roull of Aberdene [sic] and gentill Roull of Corstorphine.

Playing by the Roulls

Not a great deal is known about Roull. There are one or two poems which have been attributed to him, but like many writers of his period, most of his oeuvre is long gone. We can piece together a few things about his possible origins.

The surname has at least three possible origins:

  • A version of the name “Raoul” or “Reuel”, related to the name Ralph and Rollo.
  • A corruption of the Gaelic name”Riaghail” (anglicised “Rule”, latinised “Regulus”). Kilrule (Cille Riaghail – the Church of Rule) is one of the old names of St Andrews, and Crossraguel near Maybole takes its name from the saint.
  • A corruption of the Norse name Rögnvald (Ronald or Raghnall). This might seem like a lot of consonants, but in some of the Nordic languages, they seem to have been swallowed.

The name is not very common these days, but when it does crop up, it is often in the form “Rowell” or “Rowle” (Rowling? Maybe not).

It seems that the earliest recorded Roulls in Scotland were in Aberdeen, and on this basis, it has been suggested the Roull of Aberdeen and Roull of Corstorphine were related, or perhaps even the same person.

We find a Thomas Roull recorded as a burgess of Aberdeen in 1416, and as provost in 1426. In 1465, William Roull was recorded as a notary public and burgess of Edinburgh.

In the 1470s, we find Roulls in Cramond. A 1471 charter records a “William Roule” as a fabro (craftsman?) in a charter relating to Cramond-regis, and in another charter of the same year, we find a William Roule (probably the same person) and an Alison Roull. Cramond seems to be the main link here. Over the next few decades, the Roulls can be found in places such as Dalkeith, Fife and Roxburgh – they seem to have been mostly an east coast family.

James Brown (see acknowledgements) sent me the following some years ago:

“In her 2-volume work The Poems of William Dunbar (Glasgow 1998) Priscilla Bawcutt mentions that the two Roulls are unidentified although one is presumed to be the author of The Cursing, a blackly comic poem dated before 1503 (see Maitland Folio Manuscript, no. xlvi). For scanty biographical notes (possibly on Roull, see J. W. Baxter, William Dunbar: a Biographical Study, Edinburgh 1952: 229-34)”

Mr Brown further suggests that “Gentill Roull” may have been an illegitimate son of John Roull, prior of Pittenweem, and that the stigma of his illegitimacy may have led him to become a satirical poet.

The Book of Lost Books

So what does this leave us with? At least two poems, by my reckoning, neither of which can be attributed to our Roull with certainty.

Stuart Kelly’s 2012 work The Book of Lost Books includes a short discussion of Roull of Corstorphine:

One poem in the Bannatyne Manuscript is called ‘The Cursing of Sir Johine Rowlis/Upoun the steilaris of his fowlis‘. Whether that Sir John lived in that Edinburgh suburb or the granite city has never been determined. He may even be a third Roull.

This, of course, is The Cursing poem mentioned above.

Like many matters in Corstorphine’s history, the Roull story probably merits a lot more investigation.

Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to James Brown of Baltersan in Ayrshire for most of the information on the Roull family he managed to find for me way back in 2009. Many thanks!

External links

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It’s here

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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.

Umbrellas of Edinburgh (2016)

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As an old Tennents’ advertisement used to have it, Scotland is “where umbrellas go to die”. Edinburgh is no exception, but in this case, the umbrellas in question are a collection of poems and a few short prose pieces about Edinburgh from Blackness to Portobello. Some of these come over as sturdy golf umbrellas, but some of them are cheap & nasty and a bit blown in.

Umbrellas resembles This Collection, which came out in 2009, and which I reviewed on this blog earlier. There is also a degree of overlap in the authors, notably Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir and Rob A. MacKenzie. That said, Umbrellas seems to have a bit more money put into it, although its publishers Freight have been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.

As this blog is unrepentantly local, I’m going to concentrate on material relevant to Corstorphine and the surrounding areas.

Her Last Laugh by Iyad Hayatleh

This is a very personal poem talking about loss, exile and family relations amongst the Palestinian Diaspora set in Edinburgh Airport.

Animals by Theresa Muñoz

This poem attempts to link the characteristics of zoo animals to the author’s own:

Like honeybees we danced — like hippos we gorged
Like pigeons we homes — to our sea-facing house

Vanishing Points by Andrew J. Wilson

This poem is specifically about Corstorphine and attempts to set the area’s history in deep cosmic time. Some of the images work very well:

A run away wallaby
Waits at the bus stop

Others not so well, e.g. “spawn of the tongue twisters” puts me in mind of some shapeless prehistoric monster that H.P. Lovecraft might have written about, probably not the intention.

Nothing is guaranteed to “trigger” Literary Corstorphine more than some of the etymologies of Corstorphine. In this case, “Coriestiorfionn” is not only a misspelling, but a misspelling of a misspelling, based on “Coire Stoir Fionn”, which is highly dubious. I discuss all this in the book!

Amphitheatre by Andy Jackson

This poem’s about a game at Murrayfield. This piece contains some of the most interesting poetry I’ve seen about rugby – or most sports. Players are “pudding-headed pachyderms” (an animal image more successful than any in Muñoz’s poem) competing in “the night mine of the scrum”.

(Fans of heidbaw will be delighted by the Zen and the Scottish Long-ball Game poem which immediately follows it about Tynecastle, which talks about “Sloop John B-tuned witticisms”. A reference to the Famine Song, sung by people who don’t realise large numbers of Protestants died in the Irish Famine.)

Ath-Thogail by Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir

The poet discusses the task picking up his children from school in Tollcross, something many parents will relate to. The school is, of course, the Gaelic-medium primary that used to be there.

As with a lot of Gaelic work these days, there is a mystery about why some words are translated from English, but some aren’t – Tollcross is translated, but Haymarket isn’t, “sweeties” are, but “crisps” aren’t. But this is no matter, as most of the readership will be judging the poem on the English version beside it.

Uisge Beatha by Anne Connolly

Last but not least Uisge Beatha is an English-language poem about the Water of Leith. It contains descriptions of the tennis club down by the river and lines such as:

“But there is a melting in the March-bound air that irrigates

For me it’s one of the more interesting poems in the collection. And I’m biased towards anything which features herons.

External Links

 

John Lennon in Edinburgh

 

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The door of Murrayfield Parish Church, where John Lennon and his cousin Leila once sheltered from the rain.Whi

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.

Paperback Writer

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.

I discussed George Harrison’s more indirect link in another article.

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Ormidale Terrace, former home of Stan Parkes and his stepfather Bert Sutherland

 

 

Lennon, Parkes and Sutherland

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

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  • 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!

Footnotes

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.

Picture Credits

  • 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.

Further Reading

  • Healy, Douglas – John Lennon in Edinburgh
  • McNab, Ken – The Beatles in Scotland

 

External links

Quintin heads for the Roseburn Bar

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…Show me the way to the next Roseburn Bar…

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.

Chez Roseburn

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.

Ravvie Dykes

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Quintin Jardine himself..

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.

Footnotes

* Is “co-genreist” an actual word? Probably in the USA no doubt!!!

Picture Credits

External links

Water of Leith, River of Death

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In spate, near Riversdale and the ice rink.
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What’s up ducks?

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.

Name

“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.

Lethe

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.

William McGonagall

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McGonagall!

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.”

Down Under

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Upper reaches of the Water of Leith, Woodhaugh, Dunedin

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.)

A comparison:

  • 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.

Picture Credits

External links

Harry Camberg found?

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.

Free libraries for Corstorphine?

Free libraries are all the rage – why don’t we have one here?

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Cobden Terrace, off Dalry Road by Haymarket – a DIY free library.

 

As council libraries close across the country, and Amazon, Google and Project Gutenberg* collectively conspire to remove the hard copy book from our lives, it is always a delight to find something which bucks the trend.

There are a few exceptions to this trend. The ersatz books, the arty books, the coming of the print-on-demand local literary history book… and of course the various book swops and free libraries… Corstorphine has its own book swop group on Facebook – see the links below. There are others, but they come and go.

Council libraries are free (as is the National Library),  but they are paid for out of taxes and liable to closure by the whims of (local) government.

In an earlier post, I discussed the matter of introducing a small theatre into Scotland, here perhaps is another idea we could use to improve our area.

Free libraries in Edinburgh

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Botanic Gardens (east end)

Most of the free libraries I know of in Edinburgh, are in a small section just to the north of the New Town. One is on Scotland Street, another is near the Stockbridge Colonies, and another is in the Botanic Gardens. All three of these appear to be from the Little Free Library, a charity run in the States. However, the price range seems to be steep, running into hundreds of dollars. But as someone wryly pointed out to me when I mentioned this to them, “Any decent jyner cud knock one o thaim up.

According to Edinburgh Spolight, there is a fourth, in Starbank Park in Trinity. It’s not a part of town that I visit very often, so I haven’t had a look at it.

Today, I found yet another, on Cobden Terrace colonies, one of the side streets off Haymarket. This one was “upcycled” from an old piece of furniture.  This is perhaps the cheaper option. I am not sure if it’s an appropriate bit of furniture for the job but it is nicely painted up and it’s the thought that counts, right?

There are probably others out there, and certainly a few shelves of books for swopping in various shops, cafes etc. In many parts of Scotland, such as Athelstaneford in East Lothian, you can see old red phone boxes getting used.

Upsides, downsides

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Teviotdale Place, the Colonies, Stockbridge (near Glenogle Swimming Pool)

The upside is that a lot of free reading material becomes available, and if you’re having a clear-out, they are a place you can put some of your unwanted/used books. They are a place where hopefully they shan’t be destroyed – I know from experience that charity shops dump a lot of their donations if they can’t sell them. If people knew just how much I think they might think twice about donating.

Also:

  • The writer may not get money but you can enjoy books you might not buy.

The downsides are as follows:

  • Potential for vandalism. You have to place such libraries away from would-be neds and trouble. A residential side street works better than a thoroughfare.
  • Some people take books out and do not give back. This is especially the case with the free library at the Botanics, where many of the people taking books out are tourists, who remove books and never give one back.
  • Monoculture – you can end up with books of one variety, often “chick-lit” and Aga Saga, but also thrillers and murder mystery.

There is also the issue of neds. In other words, you have to put the library into a spot where some eejits are not going to come and destroy them.

Footnotes

* Project Gutenberg is a force for good, unless you are a second hand bookseller or publisher of old books. The website is worth checking out. See links below for details.

External Links

Muriel Spark & WWI

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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.

Picture credits

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.

External Links

Walking ways

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.

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The Zoo’s Back Fence

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.

Stevenson Way

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An inaccurate drawing of “Rest and be Thankful” showing the sea lapping over Blackhall and Arthur’s Seat in Stockbridge.

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

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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!

Footnotes

*  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!

Picture Credits

  • The John Muir Way sign is taken by me, but is free to use.
  • The image from Kidnapped is out of copyright.
  • Rest and Be Thankful (Ronnie Leask) / CC BY-SA 2.0

External links