To think that just six days ago I wrote a post called Hints of Spring which I illustrated with pictures of crocuses that had appeared along Melville Drive and now look what has happened …
But then I did warn that when March comes in with the lamb, it goes out with the lion, remember Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot …
… and the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a long way off flowering round here.
Here in Edinburgh there are hints that spring is in the air, the crocuses have appeared along Melville Drive, there are birds beginning to sing tentatively in the pre-dawn (by the time the sun rises the rush hour has started and the noise drowns out the birdsong, so the birds have given up the competition and started singing early). However, don’t be fooled by those clear blue skies and bright sunshine, it is cold outside, and in spite of the wall to wall sunshine the maximum day time temperatures are not yet getting into double figures.
The important thing now is to get out and enjoy it, there are dark mutterings among the locals that this might be more sun than we will see in summer (just like last year), and remember that when March comes in with the lamb, it goes out with the lion…
We are twelve days off the solstice and the days are short. So when we came to look for a place to go on a Sunday afternoon we didn’t want to venture too far afield. We wanted somewhere with a view and a chance to use our Historic Scotland membership, this was how we came to visit Craigmillar Castle. For those unfamiliar with Craigmillar its name comes from the Gaelic Crag Maol Ard, meaning “High Bare Rock”, it is a league to the south east of Edinburgh Old Town (i.e. about 3 miles), for us this means it is just a 15 minute cycle ride away.
Craigmillar is said to be an “up and coming area”, that is to say that they have set about demolishing much of the post-war housing schemes (which have a reputation as being a setting for the film Trainspotting) and are replacing them with something newer. Sitting above this is the “High Bare Rock”, the bit where Simon Preston (son of Sir Simon de Preston, Sheriff of Midlothian) or possibly his son, Sir George Preston (no one is entirely sure) built a tower house in the late 14th Century. Over the following centuries this has been expanded (then ruined) to become the Craigmillar Castle we know today. Rather than witter on about, it I think I will just show you some of the photos we took.
The castle in the changing winter light:
And then there were the views:
Berwick Law and Bass Rock in the gloaming
the Edinburgh skyline
including Salisbury Craigs
There is snow on the Ochills hills beyond the Forth
Not too sure about the way the Quartermile was allowed to impinge on the Edinburgh skyline
Then finally the sunset behind the Pentland Hills.
We had returned from nearly a month away (skiing in Austria, since you ask) and this was our first Saturday back. The Edinburgh farmers market was calling, wandering across The Meadows we were surprised to see the numbers of fallen trees, we had been told there had been a big storm while we were away with a gust of 102 mph (164 Km/h) being recorded at the Observatory on Blackford Hill, but even so this was more damage than we had expected. I also noted that the Council have planted a number of new trees in The Meadows to replace previous losses. Some of these new trees include exotic conifers, which I feel are inappropriate to an urban park.
Arriving at the market we set about buying the necessary provision, butter from Stichill Jerseys (finalist in the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2011), Bacon from Puddledub Pork, game from Border County Foods, fish from A & D Patterson, etc. Just as well that Gartmorn weren’t there this week as we don’t have the space in the freezer for a chicken, chatting with the stall holders with like old friends, the sort of thing you just don’t get shopping at the supermarket.
Shopping done, we decided to make use of the membership of Historic Scotland we had been given for Christmas. The nearest Historic Scotland property was obvious, the Castle! Walking on to the Castle Esplanade, I was surprised to see a tour bus disgorging a large group of tourists. I had naively thought that in January tourists would be thin on the ground, how wrong I was, it was busy, but fortunately not crowded. We wandered up to the guy wielding a barcode reader to check tickets and flashed our membership cards, only to be told that we should have picked up free paper tickets at the ticket office (there is a separate window for members). We explained that this was our first visit as members and we were simply waved through in a friendly way.
Once inside, we headed up on to the ramparts to take a few photos of the city and were bemused to be approached by one of the “official photographers” offering to take our photo. We polity declined, but with hindsight, it would have been fun to agree and watch her face when we replied to her next question which would have been “where do you come from”. There are times in Edinburgh when I could wish for a badge saying “I am not a tourist, I live here”, although not usually in January. You don’t have to be a tourist to visit your own heritage. On this occasion we didn’t go to see the Honours of Scotland (also known as Scotland’s crown jewels or the Scottish regalia), the oldest royal regalia in the United Kingdom. Now that we have membership cards, we can go back any day.
Well here it is, the beginning of December and the first snow has arrived, causing much excitement on Twitter and, and, well not much else. The gritters have been out and the Sunday morning traffic is moving normally.
It is more like a normal winter, although we have just have the warmest November on record with hardly a sign of frost. As I write, I can see Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) growing out of doors untouched by frost. All this is rather unlike last year when there was a week of sub zero temperatures in November, with the daytime temperature struggling to reach -1° C. When the snow did arrive, the ground was deep frozen. It settled straight away and wasn’t going anywhere, also it was heavy snowfall, 20-30cm at a time, not the 2cm we have had this morning. Sadly I can’t see there being any ski touring on Arthur’s Seat this December (which I have just noticed was exactly a year ago today). Meanwhile in the Alps, many of the ski resorts are still waiting for snow…