Here’s another quick piece of art I thought I would share with you. My lovely neighbour has had her second little boy, and so I drew and painted a card to welcome the new wee soul to the world. The idea of storks bringing babies always fascinated me as a child, and when my son was born he had what the midwife called ‘stork marks’. They faded away during his first year of life, but they made me smile whenever I noticed them hiding away under his soft baby hair.
I was struggling to find my Christmas spirit, so we headed into the heart of Edinburgh to see how the place had been decorated this year. I hoped that the bright lights and smiling faces would jump start my festive feeling and here are a few of the shots I took. These are in and around the Christmas Market in Edinburgh’s Princess Street Gardens. Taking night shots isn’t something I have done much of, but I like the slightly blurry way some of the shots came out. It was incredibly busy, I think they haven’t laid it out quite so well this year and so there are lots of bottlenecks as you walk through. This was rather frustrating at times, and reduced the photo opportunities considerably! This shot is taken from the Eastern gate of the gardens looking across Waverley train Station to the beautiful New Balmoral on the corner of the Bridges and Princess Street.
This shot was taken looking up The Mound, from the edge of the National Gallery. The swept over Christmas tree made me smile, a casualty of the storm which blew through Britain last week, but it managed to hold on. The tree is a yearly gift from the people of Bergen in Norway, and it marks the special friendship between the two countries which was forged during the Second World War. When Norway fell in 1940, there were over 7,000 Norwegians based in Scotland, fighting alongside the Scottish regiments, known as the Norwegian Brigade. It’s a lovely tradition I think, so thank you Norway for our lovely tree.
This is one of hundreds of wooden stalls in the European Market, selling food, drink, crafts and Christmas decorations. As you wander around in the cool night air, a wild array of delicious scents drift in the air. Around this stall the smell of chocolate was very strong, giving way to coffee, and then the spices of mulled wine as we moved among the offerings.
This stall filled the air with the wonderful scents of a traditional Christmas, dried orange, cloves and cinnamon. The fruits and spices were woven into beautiful and colourful heart shaped wreaths. It reminded me of Christmas past, when I would sit with my grandmother covering oranges with cloves, and the sweet scent would linger on my hands for days.
This is the ice rink, filled with children and adults alike, whose eyes were wild with excitement and fear, depending on their blade skills. This year it’s over looked by Edinburgh’s famous department store Jenners, which you can see in the background, but I preferred it placed lower down in the heart of the gardens. It gave a lovely view from above of all the fun on the ice, and was far less crowed around its sides.
Finally here are some magical trees of light, forming a dazzling avenue through the shops which lead from St Andrews. Square towards St James shopping mall, and the bus station. I thought it was beautiful, like a fairy tale wood, and it left me feeling full of Christmas wonder. I will post more Edinburgh Christmas shots over the next couple of weeks, so I hope you enjoyed the wee taste.
Wandering around Edinburgh, you will come across a lot of ancient symbols. They are carved into the stone of the old buildings, but are often overlooked, their meaning lost in the passage of time. Noticing and understanding the meaning of these symbols will unlock all sorts of interesting stories and links, deepening your understanding of the place and her people. One of the most common symbols scattered around Edinburgh is the unicorn, you will find them sitting high on important pillars and gate posts. This is because the Unicorn is the symbol of Scotland, it represents the spirit and soul of the nation, which in turn flows through her people. The unicorn itself symbolises purity of heart and ferocious fierceness. These qualities are said to be embodied in Scottish people, who value truth and honesty, and will fight fiercely to defend the weak and the underdog.
In the days before the internet, and even before radio and newspapers, information was fed out to the people via town criers who spoke the current news and royal decrees. They did this standing on the steps of Mercat Crosses all across Scotland , which were stone pillars topped by unicorns. The unicorn symbolised the truth of the words he spoke, but also represented the authority of Royalty. The unicorn is seen on the royal arms of Scotland supporting the royal crest, and since the union of the crowns in 1603, it is also seen on the British Royal Arms. The unicorn was joined by the lion of England and so we have the symbols of Britain’s soul and those of her people, the lion and the unicorn.
When you see these stone beasts, you will also see a shield, which bears the crest of Royal rule. The symbolic creatures of the nations souls remain unchanged through time, but the symbols on the crests they hold have gone through many changes. Understanding the meaning of the symbols on the crest will help you to date the carving. Before the union of the crowns, when the Scottish King James VI inherited the thrones of England and Ireland from Queen Elizabeth I, the crest of the Scottish Royal Throne was the red lion rampant.
You’ll find him perched on top of the royal crown all around town, and you’ll see him on the shields held by the unicorn and the lion. The motto of the symbol of royalty and royal rule in Scotland is “in defens”, which stands for the idea “when I act to defend, God defends me”. This cheeky lion is still the symbol of Royal Rule in Scotland, but he has been joined on the shield by the symbols of the English and Irish thrones, respectively the three recumbent red lions, and the golden harp. This symbolises the fact that one person historically has the right to sit and rule from these three thrones. When Mary Queen of Scots was on the throne here, the shield was shared between our cheeky rampant lion and the dolphins and fleur de Lille of the French Throne. Sometimes she even used the lions of the English throne! to make her point that she felt she should also be sitting on that throne. So these symbols can be seen as political propaganda of their day.
Lastly let’s look at this crumbling old symbol, it represent the City of Edinburgh. The crest with the castle of Edinburgh is supported by the maiden of the city and the doe or hart of Saint Giles, patron of the city. Edinburgh castle was known long ago as the Castle of the Maidens, which in itself is an interesting tale. I have always loved this symbol of my City, which recognises the supportive power of the feminine, long before John Knox spilled his poisonous misogyny from the pulpit. At the top of the symbol is an anchor, representing the city port of Leith, which connected us with Europe and the rest of the world. The city motto seen in Latin translates as ” Without our Lord all is in vain”. A centre of Royal power for hundreds of years, and an ancient sacred site in its distant past, Edinburgh is scattered with these stone symbols, see how many you can find when you walk her streets.
Check out other symbols at Ailsas weekly challenge.
Running across Northumberland and Cumbria in Northern England, lies a very old dividing wall. Built nearly 2,000 years ago, about 50 years after the birth of Christ, this great stone barrier marked the northern edge of the Roman Empire. It divided the southern conquered lands, from those to the north which lay in the hands of the Britons and the Picts. The sheer size of it is breathtaking, even in its crumbled and worn present state.
Walking it now, and seeing its stone blocks still in place, you can’t help but marvel at the human effort put into building this, when there was no mechanised help. It was a grand undertaking, and the scale of work, the materials and the statement it must have made as it sprang up across this beautiful green landscape leave us in awe to this day.
It also left me thinking a lot about the arbitrary lines we draw across the earth, naming this piece and that as belonging to certain groups. Out here in the wild empty space of the far north of England it just seems a nonsense. Nowadays there is another dividing line slightly further to the north, separating Scotland from England, but it seems just as meaningless as you drive across it. Nothing suddenly changes, the earth just rolls on, despite the words we have drawn on the signs.
Hadrians wall was a grand political statement in its day, and despite time reducing its height to a fifth, it still makes a grand impression on the landscape and on our minds. It ran from the East coast to the West, cutting our island in half. A truly great feat of engineering by men long dead.
The light poured out of the lamps, spilling into the fog of night
Mingling with the swirling ghosts of the Abbey
Illuminating the path of the Grey Lady.
Centuries after burning in her fathers anger
The lamplight guided her on misty nights
Back to the long cold bed of her lover.
The golden light glistened like tears
Pouring eternally from the heart
Of the monk who led her astray.