Edinburgh Living


Today was one of those (supposedly) rare occasions, a sunny bank holiday. By way of celebration we decided to make uses of our Historic Scotland membership and visit one of their properties. One of the great things about living in Edinburgh is that there is so much to do within easy pedalling range, for today’s wee outing we chose Seton Collegiate Church, which we had not visited before.

Rather than join the tin box bampots, who seem to love sitting (fuming) in long stationary lines of traffic, we chose to follow much of the newly opened John Muir Way, mostly along off road paths, listening to the bird song. On reaching Musselburgh, we were please to find that the Electric Bridge was open (it being a race day) ,so we didn’t have the faff of negotiating the barriers at either end of the footbridge. For those confused by this statement, maybe I should give a brief explanation: the Electric Bridge was built in the 1960’s a few hundred metres north of the “New Bridge” built in 1806 (to replace the old bridge built by the Romans on their short holiday in Scotland, c. AD 71 to AD 213). The Electric Bridge was built was to allow transport of the turbines to Cockenzie power station. Having used it once and installed the turbines the Central Electricity Generation Board (CEGB) then offered the bridge to the Town Council for a nominal sum, but the offer was declined. As a result, gates were installed and the bridge is only opened on race days to allow access to the local racecourse. However, with the recent closure of Cockenzie power station (in March 2013), there is uncertainty about the future of the Electric Bridge.

The River Esk safely crossed, we headed down stream to the confluence of the Esk and the Forth, where we paused to look back to Edinburgh and take a few photos (note today I only had my phone with me and not the usual SLR).

View from the mouth of the Esk, looking west to Edinburgh

Had I had the SLR with me, I could have zoomed into the National Disgrace on Carlton Hill which was clearly visible. But I hadn’t, so we carried on around the coast past the former ash lagoons, now grassed over, to Prestonpans where we rejoined the road. From Prestonpans through Cockenzie to Port Seton, this was the least pleasant part of the ride, as you have to ride along a busy main road engineered to generate conflict. However, today the majority of motorists were tolerant (I have had bad experiences here in the past). Having survived this, we pulled off the road to look at the map and were passed by a smiling, waving Chris Oliver, AKA the Cycling Surgeon. The first time I met Chris we were viewing an x-ray of my clavicle, but that is another story.

The map consulted, we knew that just before the caravan park there is a wee path running up through the woods to the Seton Collegiate Church. We were greeted by Linda (?) of Historic Scotland who was very friendly and told us to leave our bikes along side her wee hut/office, as there is no cycle parking provided. She then gave us a brief history of the site and suggested the best way to view it, basically go left to the remains of the of priests’ accommodation, then peek over the gate at Seton House Castle (you are not allowed to go in, but peeking over the gate is free), and then enter the church through the west door. History wise, the original church was built in 1242 to serve the parishioners of Seton. Over time it was extended and adapted, it also became the private place of worship and burial vault of the Seton family. In 1470 the 1st Lord Seton introduced a college of priests, whose primary role was to pray for the souls of their benefactor, his wife, and his family. Evidently the Seton family had a lot of sins to atone for, as the “college” consisted of a provost, six priests, a clerk and two choir boys.

Over the years the church suffered damage during the various troubled periods of Scottish history, for instance during the Rough Wooing by the English army under the Earl of Hertford. They looted and stripped the vestments, communion vessels and stole the bells and organ, before setting fire to the timber work. Lady Janet, widow of the 3rd Lord Seton, did her best to repair the damage, demolishing the earlier chapel built by Lady Katherine St Clair (to house the tomb of her late husband, Sir John Seton) and building the present transepts and bell tower. A bell, cast in Holland in 1577, was installed, but the steeple was never completed. The church was further damaged around 1668 during the Scottish Reformation, with a number of the carvings being defaced by a mob of zealous Covenanters. Also at this time its role as a Collegiate Church came to an end, and for a short time it served as the parish church for Seton, until Seton was joined with the parish of Tranent and therefore was no longer needed.

The church finally left the control of the Seton family after the Jacobite Rising of 1715. The Setons were supporters of the Old Pretender (the self-styled James the 3rd and 8th), who caught a cold (or was it man flu) after the Battle of Sheriffmuir and beetled off back to France, leaving it to his son, the Italian coward Young Pretender to carry on the family tradition of romantic (or romanticised) failed rebellions. Anyway, I digress, back to the story, the kirk was desecrated, this time by the Lothian Militia in search of “hidden treasure”. Following this, the estates of the Setons passed to the Earls of Wemyss, who partially restored the kirk and used it as a burial place of deceased members of their family, until 1946 when they gave it to the Scottish people (probably in lieu of death duties). Enough writing, time for a few photos:

The Seton Collegiate Kirk
Seton Collegiate Church

The wee hoose next door
Seton Castle

Some of the Carvings
Carvings at Seton Collegiate Church

Carvings at Seton Collegiate Church

Effigies of an unknown knight and his lady (possibly Sir John Seton and Lady Katherine)
Effigies of an unknown knight and his lady

And a final carving, this one of Lady Janet Seton. If you are wondering about the colours, it is due to the sun coming through the stain glass windows.
Lady Janet Seton, Seton Collegiate Church

The bell. The kirk’s original bell was stolen along with the organ by the English Army in the 1544. This bell was cast for the 5th Lord Seton in 1577 by the Dutch.
Seton Collegiate Church bell

There were an number of Peacock butterflies (Aglais io) flying about the place, and this one dead on the floor
Peacock butterfly (Aglais io)

After an enjoyable hour or so wandering about the place, we decided it was time to head in to Longniddry to find a spot of lunch. Ulli suggested that we should go to the Summer House which has a wee café. The building was gifted to the village of Longniddry as a Reading Room in 1890 by the Countess of Wemyss and March. Its other claim to fame is that the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute held its first meeting there in 1917. There is a seating area outside where it would have been very pleasant to sit in the sun and eat, if it hadn’t been for the traffic noise which blights the village.

We returned to Edinburgh by much the same way as we had come.

On the way back to Edinburgh

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This evening I saw the first bat of 2014, it was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). Interestingly this sighting is later than in the last two years, it was 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009. Maybe I haven’t been looking out enough.

I take the bat sighting as a sign of the coming summer, a couple of times recently I thought I heard swifts overhead, but have yet to see any, so I can’t confirm their presence just yet.

Update 19-4-2014: Noticed today the swift calls I have been hearing aren’t actually from swifts, they were from starlings mimicking swifts, which is a new one on me. I have heard starlings mimicking a range of other sounds before, including a car alarm.

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We know that the health benefits to society from cycling outweigh negative impacts by up to a factor of 20. We know that cities with higher levels of cycling are more attractive places to live, work and do business. I have discussed before in this blog how to achieve this, it is not rocket science, as this recent report from the International Transport Forum at the OECD shows. They recommend reducing “urban road speeds to 30km/h [20 mph] or less, and the use of separated cycling infrastructure to increase the number of new cyclists. Attracting new cyclists gains the greatest health benefits through increased physical activity, including reducing risks linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type-2 diabetes.”

So why aren’t we doing more to encourage cycling in Scotland? It’s one of the fundamental duties of any government to protect the lives of its citizens. However, here in Scotland, both national and local government drag their feet on these issues. I have sat across the table from the Scottish transport minister and asked him to use the powers which have been devolved to the Scottish Government, to lower the national speed limit in built up areas (defined as places where the street lighting columns are < 185 m apart) from the current limit of 30 mph to 20 mph. This is would at a stroke save lives. However, he has refused point blank to do so, saying that it would take away powers from Local Authorities (LAs). This argument is utter nonsense as LAs have the power to raise or lower speed limits on individual roads as they see fit. So the real effect on LAs would be that they would have to justify to the voters why they wanted to raise speed limits in built up areas, where people live, work and shop, from 20 mph to 30 mph. It is well known that 20 mph speed limits are popular with people who live next to the roads where these limits apply. Therefore, it may prove difficult for LAs to raise the limits, but that's Democracy for you.

Here in Edinburgh, there has recently been an announcement from the City of Edinburgh Council that it intends to lower the 30 mph speed limit to 20 mph, across the whole city, but not until 2017. Why 2017? You may well ask, well for one thing, it is after the next local elections. Also it gives them three years in which to try and find justifications to maintain the higher 30 mph speed limit on “key arterial roads”, even though these pass through some of the most densely populated parts of the city.

Why are our elected representatives not acting in the best interests of the people? Why are they not taking simple steps to protect the health and lives of the citizens they are elected to represent? The only answer can be moral cowardice! For this reason I urge you all to join the Pedal on Parliament protest on the 26th April 2014 to send a message to those who have the power to change things – now is the time to grow a spine and show some moral backbone!

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Following the successful trial 20 mph speed limit zone in South Edinburgh it has finally been decided to broaden this out to the whole city and not before time. However, there are still a few out standing questions: will all roads in the city be included? If not what will be the criteria for having roads with higher speed limits? Will there be enforcement of the speed limits within the city?

While the trial 20 mph speed limit zone on the Southside has proved to be popular with those living in the area, there have been a few issues. To start with during the consultation before the trial zone was started, the Community Councils and the majority of local residents (who responded to the consultation) asked for the major roads, which also had the highest collision rates, to be included in the trial. However, this was refused due to objections from Lothian Buses, although there was no evidence published that this would significantly affect bus timetables or overall journey times. Another issue has been the reluctance of the police to enforce the 20 mph speed limits, as a result average speeds within the trial area have only been reduced by only 2mph, with the majority of driver flouting the speed limits. In spite of this the 20 mph trial has been overwhelmingly welcomed by the residents of the City.

The most frustrating part of all this is that we know metropolitan wide speed limits work, they are not a new idea Graz in Austria was the first city in Europe to introduce them in 1992 (they saw an immediate 25% drop in the number of serious collisions as a result, although this did rise later when enforcement was relaxed). In 2008 Portsmouth became the first city in the UK to adopt the a blanket 20 mph speed limit, which has also significantly reduced the number of collisions (even if the motoring lobby like to pretend that it doesn’t, but then they regard dead children as collateral damage and a price worth paying).

Fortunately the City of Edinburgh Council has now agreed that there should be 20 mph speed limit zones across the city, but just which streets will be included is yet to be decided. We are told that there will be a consultation, well yes we had one of those before the Southside trial was introduced. There was strong support from the Community Councils on the Southside for the pilot, and people would have liked more streets to be included, they were over ruled because Lothian Buses objected to certain roads being included, claiming bus services would be slowed (although the evidence for this was never published). We are supposed to be in a Democracy where the people and not business should have the final say. We are also told that the transport and environment committee has agreed to roll out 20mph limits to all residential streets, main shopping streets, city centre streets, and streets with high levels of pedestrian and/or cyclist activity. Which begs the question how do you define a “residential street” in a city like Edinburgh, which has very few commercial dead zones (unlike, say Glasgow, where large swathes of housing were demolished to make way for urban motorways). If you travel along any of the major routes to the city centre there are people living along these streets. So who will have the final say on what speed limits apply to the major arterial routes, the people that live there or a bus company (who director live in the leafier parts of town where the streets are already traffic calmed)? Apparently Councillor Joanna Mowat has already asked for a definition of a residential street. She said: “People will say ‘I live here, so it’s a residential street’. It will be interpreted in different ways.”, however her question appears not to have been answered, yet.

Then there is the issue of enforcement, in the current trial, Lothian and Borders Police (now Police Scotland) refused to implement effective enforcement of the 20 mph speed limit. Sadly Police Scotland lack the integrity of the likes of Julie Spence who condemned speeding as being middle class’s version of antisocial behaviour with motorists convinced they should be “able to get away with” breaking the law. Councillor Lesley Hinds is on record as saying that “We want to encourage drivers to keep their speed down and get used to that, rather than fining people.” Why? We don’t take this approach with other forms of anti-social criminal behaviour, why should we tolerate it from people just because they hold a driving licence? She also says “educating drivers was one of the most important ways forward”, well Lesley all drivers have been taught to drive within the speed limits, it is one of the requirements of the driving test, I used to be a full qualified Approved Driving Instructor, I used to teach people how to do it. People know that speeding is wrong, so they should expect to be fined if they break the law, the most effective way of getting people to comply with the law is to enforce it. No Excuses!

Another thing we can learn from the Graz experience is that public support support for 30Km/h limits dropped during the conciliation period before the introduction of the lower speed limits. Before the conciliation there was 64% support, during the conciliation this dropped to 44%, however within a year of the lower speed limits being implemented support had risen to 60%, and two years later had reached 80%. For the majority of people having lower speed limits is welcome, it is only the selfish few who want to put the lives of others at risk, for their own convenience. By the use of rigorous enforcement, we can make speeding less socially acceptable. We just need our elected representatives to show some spine in the face of the morally bankrupt motoring lobby. Just remember why there are speed limits:

  • Hit by a car at 20 mph, 3% of pedestrians will be killed – 97% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 30 mph, 20% of pedestrians will be killed – 80% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 35 mph, 50% of pedestrians will be killed – 50% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 40 mph, 90% of pedestrians will be killed – 10% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 50 mph, >99% of pedestrians will be killed – < 1% will survive

Once they have taken that on-board, maybe they could have get a few lessons on how to deal with the problem of cars parked illegally in cycle lanes

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On 19th May approximately 4,000 people converged on Holyrood for Pedal on Parliament, calling for Scotland to become a cycle friendly nation. The question is how do we get there? There are two countries which are invariably held as good examples of how to achieve this aim are the Netherlands and Denmark. But how do their models work and which is best for Scotland? The Danish model of creating a cycling-friendly culture is often said to be an easier fit for current UK conditions. Accordingly, we’re excited to welcome to the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, the famous Danish urban mobility expert and “bicycle anthropologist”, Mikael Colville-Andersen, will be giving a talk on Bicycle Culture by Design – Considering Design as a Place-making Solution for Liveable Cities.

Here in Scotland we are looking again at how we use the space in our cities, in Edinburgh there is discussion about how the city centre will change with the arrival of the trams, as well as the recent Council report on the Building a Vision for the City Centre consultation. Glasgow is currently making changes to it’s infrastructure in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games. Aberdeen and Dundee are also looking at major redevelopment projects. This should be an opportunity to make our cities truly world class, benefiting residents, local businesses and visitors alike, by learning from the best. Copenhagen is often ranked as one of the best places to live in the world, and even Britain’s best known petrol head, Jeremy Clarkson, has described Copenhagen as paradise. However, the 500,000 people who travel by bike every day in Greater Copenhagen are not “cyclists”, nor are they “environmentalists”. They simply choose to ride a bicycle because it is the most convenient, pleasant and fast way to get across the city.

Colville-Andersen, often referred to as Denmark’s Bicycle Ambassador, has presented keynote talks around the world on how cities can use the lessons learned in Copenhagen to become better places to live for everybody. He considers the bicycle to be the most effective tool for achieving the 21st century goal of re-creating liveable cities, and uses a unique combination of anthropology and marketing to explain how ordinary people can be encouraged to choose the bicycle.

He argues that we should use design as a common denominator for everything from advocacy to traffic engineering. Using basic design principles in understanding bicycle infrastructure and culture, it is easier to provide a more direct route to implementation. This is a straight forward and cost effective way to achieve the goal of re-creating liveable cities, where people want to live, work and play.

There will be a rare opportunity to hear Mikael Colville-Andersen talk on his ground-breaking ideas in the UK. Bicycle Culture by Design – Considering Design as a Place-making Solution for Liveable Cities will take place on 15th June at the Assembly Hall, Mound Place, Edinburgh, starting at 19:30. Tickets are available on-line or at The Hub box office. This talk is kindly sponsored by Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative.

In response to the City of Edinburgh Council current proposal of actually banning bicycles from one of Edinburgh’s prime thoroughfares, a senior Spokes member has suggested that all councillors and planners should be given tickets to see this talk. Regardless of your occupation or your preconceptions about cycling, this is sure to be a thought-provoking, lively and ultimately inspiring evening.

This post was sent out as a Press Release for the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, an idea that started here.

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