The Seven Hills of Edinburgh

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Central Edinburgh from Corstorphine Hill, 1824.

In some religions, it’s seen as a bad thing to compare oneself with others all the time. If this is a sin, it’s one that Edinburgh, and the lovers of Edinburgh, are extremely guilty of.

Edinburgh has been likened to Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, the great three cities of our classical consciousness. I don’t know Rome well, but Athens and Jerusalem both feature a rocky hill in the centre, with the Acropolis on one, and the former Temple on the other. (Now two mosques, but I’m not going near that subject.)

Now and then the comparison is to less famous cities. Tom Stoppard’s play “Jumpers”, for example, has a cynical character refer to Edinburgh as the “Reykjavik of the South”. I can’t help but think this is a bit unfair to both cities. On the other hand, Reykjavik has produced reams of extremely underrated literature, so the comparison is not entirely unflattering.

To keep up this classical pretence, Edinburgh has long made a dubious claim to be built on seven hills. Anyone who knows the city well can probably identify many more than that, and I know I certainly can.

As an old poem has it:

Abbey, Calton, Castle grand
Southward see St Leonard’s stand
St. John’s and Sciennes as two are given
And Multrees makes seven

This really isn’t that much use as a mnenomic though, because it is a little hard to unpack.

Someone older, and wiser and/or more intelligent than me might be able to make better suggestions, but here is my interpretation of this riddle:

  • Abbey – Presumably Arthur’s Seat as it is by the old Holyrood Abbey. Or Blackford Hill?
  • Calton – An easy one.
  • Castle – Another easy one, but so buried in the city it is sometimes easy to forget.
  • Multrees – My guess is the slope on which the New Town is. It isn’t Calton Hill as it’s already been mentioned.
  • Sciennes – the old Burgh Muir (Boroughmuir)?
  • St Leonard’s – This one has me stumped. Somewhere around Rebus’ police station?! Or is it a reference to Arthur’s Seat/Salisbury Crags?
  • St John’s – Corstorphine Hill, due to St. John’s Road and the Auld Kirk. But obscure.

Corstorphine Hill was formerly known as Corstorphine Craigs, which suggests it was traditionally considered to be more than one hill. This name is retained in names such as “East Craigs” and “West Craigs”. But it is more of a unity than Holyrood Park, which depending on how you count them either has several hills, or just the one.

Footnotes

  • If Edinburgh is “Athens of the North”, and Dunedin in New Zealand is the “Edinburgh of the South”, what is Dunedin’s relationship to Athens?

 

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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

 

Goodbye Centurion!

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Goodbye Centurion!

It’s been all change on the local pub scene in the last decade or so. The latest casualty is the Centurion Bar, long a landmark on St John’s Road, and which is featured in the book of Literary Corstorphine.

Bedroom Secrets

The Centurion provided the scene for part of Irvine Welsh’s Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006):

“Brian Kibby pulled his lumbering, shivering bulk into the Centurion Bar on Corstorphine’s St John’s Road. On entry he was hit by a smoky fog even more pervasive and impenetrable than the frozen fog he’d emerged from.”

This was obviously written before the smoking ban, which occurred a year or two after it was published.

The Centurion and other Locals

What to say about the Centurion? Well, I was never one of its drinkers, to be honest, so perhaps I’m partly responsible for its demise. Still, I hope all of the staff find new jobs in the near future.

Since mid 1990s, we’ve seen the following changes:

  • The Gyle Inn has shut. It stood near where “American Golf” is now.
  • The Rainbow Inn at Drumbrae, now a very good Indian restaurant.
  • The Corstorphine Inn, “the Corrie”, has had many changes made to it, including having its skittle alley ripped out.
  • The Oak is now gone, and replaced by the Torphin.
  • Agenda has been replaced by the White Lady.
  • The Carrick Knowe Inn is now called the Terrace.
  • The Maybury Roadhouse has ended up as a casino.

The obvious culprits are chain pubs such as The Corstorphine Inn and The White Lady, which have various means to outcompete their smaller rivals.

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A blurry picture of the new mural at Westgate Farm, South Gyle

Winstons is still happily with us, and a new carvery has opened in South Gyle called “Westgate Farm”. Then there’s another two, hidden up the hill in the housing of East Craigs – the Mid Yoken and Clermiston (the “Clerrie”). I’ve never been into either of these.

The bars of Roseburn and Murrayfield seem to do well enough – helped by the regular influx of sports fans and concert goers to the local stadium and ice rink.

External Links

The Scots Tongue in Corstorphine

Today is the European Day of Leastcraigswyndgreyanguages ( #edl2017 ), and so I thought it appropriate to write a little about the influence of Lowland Scots on the west of Edinburgh. There are a few folk locally who have used it in writing such as Helen Cruickshank, but the spoken language is fading away a bit. You can hear bits and pieces of it here and there, but it is no way as broad as some places out in the countryside.

I’ve written a bit about Gaelic already, and I include some info on that in the links below.

Areas and (former) physical features

  • Broomhall, Broomhouse – “Hall” and “house” are common elements in the Lothians, and would have presumably have been “ha” and “hoose” originally. “Hall” may be a corruption of “haugh” in some cases.
  • Carrick Knowe – The first part is a Celtic word for a rock, and the second related to the English word “knoll”. Presumably these were the same feature.
  • East Craigs, West Craigs etc – “Craig” is a loan from the Celtic word for rock.
  • Gogarloch“Loch” is a loanword from the Gaelic word for “lake”.
  • GogarmountMount has two meanings 1) similar to “muir” below, from the Gaelic “monadh”, and 2) is confused with the English for mountain, leading to names such as “Beechmount”.
  • Gylemuir – A muir is a moor, or a grazing area near a place. Barnton used to be known as “Cramond Muir” for similar reasons.
  • Roddinglaw“law” is a type of hill.
  • Roseburn“Burn” meaning a small river, although Gogarburn probably deserved the name better.
  • Saughton“Saugh” means a willow tree.
  • Stank – Common word for a drainage ditch (Gaelic: staing)
  • Wester Broom – The words “Wester” and “Easter” are more traditional than “Western” and “Eastern”.
  • Wester Coates“Coates” means “cotts”, small houses sometimes used for animals.

Streets

  • Broomlea Crescent – A lea is a low lying field.
  • Burne Cruik – A very recent name (2010s), which means the bend of a stream or river. There hasn’t been anything like this round there for a while.
  • Gogarloch Haugh – A modern name. Haugh means a meadow or the land in the bend of a river. The “gh” should be guttural. There are a few other “haughs” around Edinburgh including “Deanhaugh” in Stockbridge.
  • Gogarloch Syke – a syke is a type of ditch or spring.
  • Hill Park Brae – The “brae” is a bit redundant here because of the first bit, but means a hill or slope. This is a recent name. “Drumbrae” is a Gaelic name.
  • Kaimes RoadKaime(s) means a steep hill. Certainly applies.
  • Kirk Loan – Church Lane
  • Manse Road – A “manse” is a church minister’s home.
  • PaddockholmPuddock + holm, i.e. a dry piece of land in a marsh, which frogs live on.
  • Ravelston DykesDykes means walls.
  • Redheughs Avenues
  • Roull Road – named for Roull of Corstorphine, a mediaeval poet who wrote in this tongue.
  • South Gyle MainsMains is the main farm of an estate. Davidsons Mains nearby used to be called “Mutton Hole”.

A few previous articles on Scottish languages

Cramond Island, Forth Bridges etc

Going through the Oxford Guide to Literary Britain and Ireland yesterday, I found a few interesting things. Most of these weren’t new to me of course, but some of them were relevant to Litcors.

Take for example, Kathleen Jamie’s poem Cramond Island. The following excerpt appears in the book:

Most who choose the causeway cross
for a handful of years
turning back before the tide
cuts them off.

Reading of Rebecca West (who I mentioned previously on this blog), we find she spoke of “the Scottish blight that ruined my early life.”

It also mentions Tom Stoppard’s play Albert’s Bridge (1967). which is based on the Forth Bridge, and in which we are told “Young Albert is charged with the task of painting the Forth Bridge” which would take him years to complete, if indeed he ever completed it at all.

External link and a footnote

By a nice bit of serendipity, I see Edindrift has beaten me to a post on Cramond Island today…. Here’s the link:

As seen on Social Media!

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The logo for now.

Firstly, many thanks to all the people who read this blog, I appreciate your support. Over the last couple of months, this blog has had more people looking at it than the entirety of 2016! I hope you enjoy it, and find it informative.

It’s certainly been a year of surprises – my post Ghost Hedge in South Gyle? which I thought no one would be interested is my second most read post, while The Last Days of Don Revie which I thought would be popular amongst football fans is one of my lowest.

Literary Corstorphine can now be found on:

  • Facebook (link here) –  Links to blog posts, old and new, plus other occasional items of interest. If you wish to get in touch with me, this is probably your best bet.
  • Twitter – (link here) I will mostly use this for publicising blog posts and events.

Both of these formats have their issues, but they have provided this page with good free publicity. The main problem is that people like/dislike/read the post itself but don’t actually read the blog.

 

 

 

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

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

Ghost Hedge in South Gyle?

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.

  • A bronze age sword was found in the former Gogarloch. This was presumably a a votive offering to the loch.
  • In a previous post (link here), I mentioned that Roman coins have been found in the area, and it has been claimed that a Roman road ran near it. There are one or two pre-Roman remains, but that it for another time.
  • Geoff Holder in The Little Book of Edinburgh, mentions that when Wester Broom was being built that the footings of an old castle were found, but there seems to be no contemporary record of the edifice.
  • The Knights Templar held land just to the north east of the Drumbrae Roundabout. No idea whether they had any in this area.
  • Last but not least, in my post Phrens like these, I also discussed the connection of the Brothers Combe and their connection to Redheughs.

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.

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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.

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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.)

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The same two hawthorns from the back. There is no hawthorn hedge on the other side of the road.

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Continuing further down, where South Gyle Road curves off and becomes Gogarloch Road, there are no hawthorns at all.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The same section photographed from behind… apologies for the glare.

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And the same section again, looking back westwards from over South Gyle Station carpark.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.