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In the Highlands, so far away from home

Made or posted on Oct 29, 2018


When we set out to explore Inverness, Scotland, this guy was flycasting in the cold River Ness, and he kept at it as the sun went gold, reflecting off windows along the river’s edge.

We had arrived in Inverness after a long drive north along Loch Ness and the River Ness, which spills nearby into the North Sea. (Not too surprisingly, “Inverness” means “mouth of the Ness” in a version of Gaelic, much as the name of Aberdeen, another northern Scottish city, translates as “the mouth of the River Dee.”)

It would have been hard to avoid noticing various sights that many of us flat-landers associate with Scotland.

There were people with red hair, and many bare, spongey-looking pastures, some with sheep and some without.

Among the heather and thistles, border collies guarded their flocks, reindeer as well as sheep.

And fragments of very old castles standing stubbornly erect for centuries.

Ardvreck Castle, from the latter 1400s.

Click above for larger image.

This is Ardvreck Castle in the far northwest of Scotland — built by the clan MacLeod in the latter 1500s, taken by the Mackenzies 100 years later, set afire by lightning after another century, and now a roadside attraction.

First stop on our visit to Scotland was to get tickets for much newer drama served up by the self-consciously avant 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Some street entertainers (below) had stronger acts than some Fringe stagings.

Edinburgh street life scenes including boy with animal-shaped balloons, an invisible-man entertainer and a bagpiper counting his pence.

Truck selling "Luxury Scottish Ice Cream" to tourists at Edinburgh Castle.

Below: a memorial to Scots killed while defending the British Empire in far-away South Africa, Afghanistan and other climes.

While most Edinburgh streets still dress conservatively in formal gray, the city has experimented with large-scale urban planning for 250 years, adding New Town extensions to the north, west and east of Old Town.

To the south we stumbled into a smaller “urban regeneration” project called Quartermile.

oEdinburh's old surgical hospital, part of the Quartermile renewal.

The 20-acre development, on the steepled former site of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, mixes offices, apartments and parts of the University of Edinburgh. (Here are the developers’ website, plus a marketing video touting Quartermile’s sales pitch for a haute-yupster lifestyle.)

New mid-rise apartments were added between wards of the former hospital.

Along the development’s streets, handsome old hospital wards were renovated and interleaved with sleek new towers of flats. Two-bedroom units sell in 2018 for the equivalent of $600,000 and up.

Young man in steampunk goggles.Edinburgh’s auld roots and 21st-Century ambitions aside, however, the city is still marked by the civic rationality and engineering advances of its 1700s and 1800s. This man’s steampunk streetwear (at right) parodies the epoch.

As we hunted for obscure Fringe Festival venues, we gradually became aware of the city’s extensive civil engineering sleight of hand.

Like Seattle, Edinburgh was a can-do city that overcame inconvenient topography. Seattle famously recontoured its land, scooping up hills, raising low areas and reversing a river or two.

The Scottish capital also regraded its Old Town, though in another way. Edinburgh created its relatively flat north-south arterial street by building two connected “land bridges” (see my simplified map below) that extend over inconvenient gulches.

North Bridge (opened in 1772, rebuilt by 1897) reaches across a former lake, now occupied by the railroad depot, to unite the New Town and Old Town districts. Then it links with South Bridge (opened in 1788), which carries the thoroughfare three stories above ground level at some points.

Edinburg's North and South Bridges overlaid on topographic map

Click map to enlarge. Adapted from open-source topo and street mapping.

As a result, festival-goers who enter a building at street level and descend several stories indoors to see a show can find themselves exiting at a lower street level. In other cases, the audience enters the hollow abutments of South Bridge itself for  performances in the bridge’s hundreds of chilly, abandoned stone vaults, originally built as workshops and storerooms.

Now, between the annual Festival dates, the vaults remain busy entertaining sightseers with ghost tours.

See also

Home on the Scottish range: horny reindeer.

Portrait of Scottish shepherd woven from wool of many (natural) colors.