Friday, December 03, 2010

Edinburgh from the Calton Hill

I have recently been wondering if the reason I've focused more on landscapes than nature is the want of a decent pair of binoculars.  A few weeks ago, inspired by my reading of The Running Sky and watching a flock of birds in motion, I was lecturing my wife on how we should pay more attention in autumn to the massing of starlings on the roofs of Stoke Newington.  She agreed, but pointed out that what I was looking at was a group of pigeons.  So I've resolved to get some binoculars for myself for Christmas (does anyone have any tips?)  Armed with these I shall be full of New Year's resolutions to get out and study the birds of the Lee Valley, the flora of Clissold Park and the architectural details of Hackney.

J. Wells after Robert Barker, Panorama of Edinburgh 
from the Calton Hill (detail), c. 1800

There is a great essay in Kathleen Jamie's book Findings called 'Skylines' in which she takes a telescope up to Calton Hill in Edinburgh to study the city from above, looking at the spires and domes, inscriptions and statues, clocks and weather vanes.  'The city sends up noise and fumes, and also the symbols of the day, the zeitgeist cast in shining brass and lifted skyward.'  Among the roofs she sees an eight-pointed star, an arrow, a trident, a moon, a red lion, a pelican, five different cockerels.  In the old days of the city, 'before every scrap of land was built on and cities became slums, what was raised up high were cockerels.'  Later generations would elevate allegorical sculptures, great Victorian crosses, aerials and telephone masts.  Now, after centuries of urban development, the newest building visible from Calton Hill has on its roof (invisible from the ground) a garden.

1 comment:

Matty said...

On Tuesday, Edinburgh, from Calton Hill, smelled like baked beans.