Some Observations On Visiting Edinburgh, By A Visitor From The Low Countries

Edinburgh from the castle (source: Library of Congress)

When one arrives into Edinburgh from the west, the city slowly grows out of the ground before you. Squat houses with flat roofs cluster in ones and twos along the roadway, numbers nailed to their lintels, as if they aspire to one day grow taller. The populated land here is sparse, and from the top deck of a bus it is possible to see, at intervals, far across the valley. Somewhere down below, the Water of Leith wends its way through suburb after suburb, skirting the angular awkwardness of the Murrayfield Stadium and the Royal Botanic Gardens, on its way to kiss the Royal Yacht Britannia before it merges with the chill North Sea.

Churches here are ponderous and unadorned, dun brown blocks that would not seem out of place a thousand years ago or more; elsewhere the local stone gives houses a pink tinge, accented in the evening light of the setting sun. At ground level, the architecture becomes even more imposing — each shop front leaks character out into the night, lighting the parades in shades of green or blue. Down pitch black alleyways, red letters spell out the names of nightclubs. The roads pitch and bend seemingly at random, their surfaces a hodge-podge of modern tarmac and ancient cobble.

And, every so often, a space will open up between the buildings to reveal the mountainside, terrifyingly close, like a visitor from another epoch, interjecting itself into a scene in which it has no right to be.

Over it all, the Castle reigns, serene and unreachable, like a remote Buddhist temple atop an unassailable hill. Unlike other monuments, it cannot be seen from anywhere in the city. Instead, it hides, peeking out from behind street corners, as if daring you to come and find it, to dare that back-breaking trek to the top.

It knows you cannot resist.