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Through Caledonia: Whimsy in Scotland Different Perspectives

Updated: Jul 9

Through Caledonia: Whimsy in Scotland

Different Perspectives

Gwen Akers

The Ashland Beacon


The sun is rising over my second week in Scotland, and it is time to dive deeper into the stories and people that make Edinburgh the beautiful city it is. Scotland began just as so many countries have, with its many estuaries and rivers providing the best access to outsiders arriving at Scotland for the first time. Soon these bodies of water marked what would become the main trade routes and towns we know today.

         Known as the Votadini, a dominant Celtic tribe of the Lothians thought to have a standing relationship with Rome, were thought to be the first to use the Castle Rock site for defense. From here, people did what they do best, built up their armies and with-it homes, stores and trade routes.

         Earmarked by dormant volcanic mounds, the city of Edinburgh features several places where stunning views over the city can be seen. Whether that is from the peak of Arthur’s Seat, the monuments on Calton Hill, or even Edinburgh Castle itself.

         The castle was home to royalty for hundreds of years, and now marks itself as an active military base. Its cobblestone and imposing nature look out over the bustling city: marked cleanly between the Old Town and New Town. It is the view that the royalty would see, the one their guards and visitors would look out over each morning as the sun rose and set. From the curve of the stone wall around the castle, you can look out now just as they did: and if you pay attention, you might see the swells of the communities that make up Edinburgh, and what makes them all so different and unique.

From there, you can see the feat of New Town, rising with modern buildings glistening in the afternoon sun, cars rushing past on busy streets and buses pulling to their stops. There is the highlight of Victoria Street, and its pastel-colored buildings, and the grouping of trees covering the massive gardens.

         Most memorably, on the far side you can see the tall cluster of monuments that mark Calton Hill, and past that the gray stormy sea, always calm and cold. Calton Hill has since become a place I like to go to reflect, to see the city not from a high rise or from the cobblestone castle, but from the grass and the stunning pillars of the Dugald Stewart Monument.

         Thought to be the “Athens of the North,” Calton Hill marks the “Parthenon,” of the city, with neoclassical pillars and influences that seem to reach toward the sky, and my favorite place to watch the sunset.

         The next night, as I sat on the other side of town looking down from the grass of Calton Hill, I felt it was strange seeing the city from both perspectives: one from a castle and one from a hill. I am sure both views meant different things to different people, were places of reflection, or meeting, or something more: and that is what I set out to understand this week.

The castle serves as just the first of the monuments that mark Edinburgh as the historic and reflective city it is. Sitting right next to Princes Gardens (the original site of the moat that got Edinburgh’s old nickname “Auld Reekie”), is the Scott Monument. Known to locals as the “Victorian Rocket,” the massive structure serves as a monument to Sir Walter Scott, who was

hailed as a famous author, writer, and symbol of the country and its people — the tall reaches of his monument piercing the horizon with glory and inspiration.

In it, I see the royalty and guards standing atop Edinburgh Castle, seeking the horizon and reaching for more.

         Calton Hill reminds me of the hardworking people down below. Those that made their living in the markets, working sunup to sundown on the backs of whaling ships and in weaving rooms. They are the ones looking down into the city that they have created and the people they love.

         Cramped between the buildings at the feet of the hill, and spread throughout the city itself, are where these people lived: the closes. Closes are like small alleyways, littered with doors and winding narrow paths to traverse the city in secrecy and silence. They used to be the homes of merchants and workers, sometimes even farm animals kept in large concrete bays.

         Now, the closes serve as shortcuts: easy in-betweens through the shops of the Royal Mile or the museums lining up beyond it. These closes were the in-between for these people: the place of neutrality before they entered their own homes or the bustling city outside — and now they serve as a respite for me. A quiet place outside of the constant rain, or the perfect stage for a wandering string band.

Both perspectives, and both people remind me of the blend we are all shooting for. Driving toward that light and future ahead, but never forgetting where we come from and the stories that have inspired us.

         These perspectives show me that there are different ways to see everything and remind me that no matter how crowded the people became within the Flodden wall that enclosed the city for so many years, they could also always keep their eyes on the prize, and on the freedom of the stormy sea.

         In these perspectives I see the reach of the horizon, and the swell of the mountains, but I am most curious now what lies underneath this.



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