Today’s finished painting of Edinburgh in the snow. I’ll be submitting this for competition next month, wish it luck!
The view is from Regent Road looking across to Salisbury Crags on Arthur’s Seat. In the foreground you can see buildings of the Royal MIle obscured by snow.
I’ve deliberately kept it vague since that’s how it appears as you walk into a snow blizzard along Regent Road, which is underneath Calton Hill halfway down to the valley of the Royal Mile or High Street (my photo below from a few weeks ago) …
I also wanted to get across the ‘feel’ of the Old Town, with its medieval buildings and wood timbers, hence the exposed wood in the painting and roughened edges, blurring old and modern buildings. Some close-up details below showing texture …
Edinburgh has just been voted the most popular tourist destination in the UK, and living here can make us a bit blasé about the features that make the city so unique and appealing, but the recent snow seemed to bring everyone out of winter hibernation. Arthur’s Seat was thronging with folks enjoying the snow – kids on sledges, a plethora of snowpeople! I slid about in the snow with my pal Donald, and it was great to see and experience…
And although I felt thwarted in my plans to get to the Cairngorms this spring due to train cancellations, I ended up appreciating Edinburgh instead. It is truly beautiful in the snow, hence these recent paintings (I’m working on a couple more).
So for those of you who don’t know so much about Edinburgh, and in the spirit of internationalism (and let’s face it, without the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh would be a fairly boring place arts and people-wise, not-with-standing my dear Edinburgh family and friends!) I thought I’d include some brief words about Edinburgh’s history.
Briefly though, today I decided for the first time to check overall blog stats since 2013 and it turns out that visitors to this blog include folks from, in order of most views:
UK, US, Germany, France, Poland, Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland, Greece, Japan, Brazil, Belgium, Russia, India, New Zealand, Denmark, Columbia, Portugal, Dominican Republic, South Korea, Singapore, Quatar, Hong Kong, Austria, Norway, Mexico, Jordan, Serbia, Turkey, Romania, Brazil, Czech Republic, Finland, Chile, Pakistan, Hungary, UAE, Croatia, Slovenia, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, , Philippines, Malaysia, Luxenburg, Argentina, Taiwan, Georgia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovakia, China, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Malta, Nigeria, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Moldova, Albania, Panama, Vietnam and loads more going into vistor numbers under 50.
So, thank you to folks taking interest in an obscure Scottish painter’s blog!
Anyway, here we go with a condensed Edinburgh history (illustrated with my own photos) …
A condensed Edinburgh history …
Edinburgh’s dramatic landscape was formed by volcanic activity that took place between around 358 and 298 million years ago.
The view from Edinburgh in my painting above sits between two of Edinburgh’s extinct volcanos – Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. If my painting panned to the right you’d also see Edinburgh Castle on top of the volcanic plug that forms the base of the castle.
After volcanic activity ceased, the landscape was submerged under sea water. Sedimentary rock (formed by waves of sediment washed over the land by water over millions of years) then began to form the Salisbury Crags (the cliff seen in my painting and in photo to the right), which were gradually tilted up to their current dramatic angle as pressure eased after the ice age.
The ice-age sculpted Edinburgh’s landscape into the shape it retains to this day – for example the ‘spine’ that forms the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood House was formed by retreating glaciers dragging or depositing debris with them to create a trail behind each hill and mountain.
These rocky promontories must have had immediate appeal to early settlers as look-out spots; almost all of the summits of Edinburgh’s volcanic hills reveal signs of early bronze age people.
Although I’ve been walking around Arthur’s Seat since I was a kid, the fact that I now live so close to it has inspired me to explore more, and I’m beginning to get an ‘eye’ (with the help of my archaeologist friend Sabine!) for Bronze-age remains (shapes or patterns in the land as opposed to actual buildings) not to mention spotting Edinburgh’s early sites of worship, healing or spiritual interest – such as wells; the traces of which can be found alongside later Christian religious buildings and sites (more on this in later blogs).
If we’re thinking about a definitive beginning for Edinburgh though, it would clearly be the Castle Rock; easily defendable with its sheer basalt cliffs. It was called Dun Edin (‘dun’ means hill) and we know that there were settlers there from at least 850BC
As more people settled around the dun, or rock, the city would have grown in reputation as a stronghold or well-defended fort.
The castle itself (or the original building) was built from around the 12th century. To protect the growing city that began to grow along the ‘spine’ of the Royal Mile down to Holyrood Abbey, a wall (the Flodden Wall, remains of which can be seen today) was built around the city, and this was the catalyst for the distinct, tall buildings or tenements that lined the Royal Mile or High Street.
Builders built upwards, not outwards, because of the restricting wall. As centuries passed this created fairly unsavoury conditions (extremely unsavoury by today’s standards!). Packed into twelve storey tenements, Edinburgh’s effluent had nowhere to go and (readers from Edinburgh will groan with boredom at this point, having heard this story too many times) the oft-heard cry of gardez l’eau (pronounced GARRRDY LOO! with a strong Scottish accent!) rang in the streets as residents chucked the contents of their chamber pots into the filthy cobbled streets below.
(Edinburgh had long-held connections with France, for many reasons, hence the familiarity with French language)
Disease was rife, and no matter how posh you might be, you lived cheek-by-jowl with ordinary folks. On top of that, numerous open fires in such a small, over-inhabited space meant that the High Street was black with soot and smoke, hence Edinburgh’s nick-name of ‘auld reekie’ (old stinky).
This issue (for Edinburgh’s rich inhabitants anyway) was finally addressed when an architecture design competition was held in the mid 18th century and a young architect called James Craig won (I think he was in his early to mid-twenties at the time, I’m not fact-checking most of this but do correct me if I’m wrong!).
The plan was to create an entirely new area outside the High Street/Royal Mile, across the valley (which now contains Princes Street Gardens and Waverley train station) to the north of the old town, hence why this area of Georgian architecture is called ‘the New Town’ to this day.
All the filth that had accumulated in the Nor Loch (the loch or lake below and to the north of the Castle Rock) was dredged, this, and the detritus from building the new town, was used to form a bridge south to north from old town to new town.
This was called the Mound, and atop of this now sits two of Edinburgh’s most elegant buildings; Edinburgh’s National Art Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy of Arts (Stock photo above right, looking west along Princes Street).
Only the richest inhabitants of Edinburgh could afford this new luxury accommodation, so people in Edinburgh’s Old Town still had to muddle along with their chamber pots, and up to the 1970’s, the High Street was seen as a bit seedy. Nowadays, it’s the most distinct part of historic Edinburgh and the most popular tourist destination. It retains an extraordinary level of historical features, not disimilar to cities such as York, which was similarly ‘neglected’, thankfully, for the sake of history at least.
This brings us pretty close to the present day, but the18a and 1900’s were truly, literally, headier times to say the least. Maybe it was imbibing all that volcanic spring water, but Scotland’s Enlightenment (much of which was born from, or whirred around the hub of Edinburgh) is rightly perceived as impressive for a wee, chilly country in the north (read more Here)
As a born and bred Edinburgher, thinking about the sheer magnitude, depth and breadth of invention, creativity and brain power of Edinburgh’s Enlightenment days brings a tear to my eye!
Yet, as I wander around the slopes of Arthur’s Seat, the voices I wish I knew more about are those of Edinburgh’s less vocal past; ordinary folks who held sacred vigil at the wells of Arthur’s Seat, long before the hand of organised (politicised) religion silenced their voices and beliefs. We only know what their thoughts and beliefs may have been because of the numerous court cases at the time of the Protestant Reformation …
That will be the subject of my next painting series; the wells and springs of Arthur’s Seat. I know I’ve mentioned it several times, but it’s a bit ambitious, I’ve been researching alot – there is much mystery to reveal (genuinely, I’ve discovered some interesting, possibly new information about those times) and so I have now postponed the exhibition and event to the 21st June.