On Friday, I am going to Edinburgh. Apart from a guided tour of a certain sacred place in Leith, I plan to have a good walk around some of my favourite bits of the capital, including the Meadows and possibly the Botanic Gardens as well.
I can’t remember if I have posted about the Botanics here. I seem to remember writing about the Botanics in Glasgow and the remains of the railway passing through it, but not the real Botanics, those in Edinburgh. I have been to the Botanics many, many times, in every season and probably every weather and every mood. It is a beautiful park, full of trees and foliage that I cannot name but like immensely all the same.
My favourite part of the Botanics is the John Muir grove of Giant Sequoia or Redwood trees, tall and elegant firs near the East Gate. I often like to sit there with my thoughts, letting them scatter like those great trees’ seeds. John Muir never visited the Botanics – they were too late for him plus I think when he visited Edinburgh, they were still somewhere on Leith Walk – but they are a fitting tribute, tall trees that are still growing, evoking great groves of their gargantuan cousins on the Pacific coast of America that Muir knew so well.
A January Botanics walk is very different from one in high summer. It tends to be quieter, colder, wetter and less leafy but it still has the potential to turn my head around, to slightly misquote James Taylor. I think a walk in winter is better than one in summer. The light is more precious, as is suitable weather. The Botanics are still beautiful and there is plenty still to see, especially an exhibition in the fairly new John Hope Gateway. In the Gateway is a quote from the Victorian polymath Patrick Geddes, who said ‘By leaves we live’, which is also the motto of the Scottish Poetry Library, incidentally. We do live by leaves, by trees, their seeds, acorns and by literature too. Those four words say a lot and I am not done making sense of them.
The Meadows are usually busier, a city park that is also a major thoroughfare between the University of Edinburgh and the city centre and Marchmont and Bruntsfield. I have walked around them a lot. Usually in the summer time, they are mobbed with people having barbecues and generally having a good time. Still it is a nice place to walk and ponder in during the winter too. There are two unicorn figures on plinths on Melville Drive which are majestic and reminders that this is the capital city. There is also a fine view to Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, Arthur’s Seat looking like an elephant as it so often does from the western side of the city. It is also where Hibs played their first game, on Christmas Day 1875, against Hearts.
Even when I lived in Dunbar, I liked taking long walks in cities. I think it is the sensation of being anonymous and being able to put one foot before another and cover a great distance in not so much time. Edinburgh is a great place to walk, familiar but far enough from home. It is endlessly interesting, an ancient yet modern city, more a collection of villages, really. The Meadows and the Botanics are both favourite places and I look forward to being there, not so much to think but just to be and to walk a while.