Friday, 30 September 2022

Hidden Gardens of Edinburgh

 Usually when I give guided walks, at least some people in the group have never been to that particular location before. This week, however, I have been introduced to two new gardens in the course of guided walks I've led. The first of these was the Archivists' Garden, nestled between Register House and New Register House at the east end of Prince's Street. 

This garden was established in 2010 and contains 57 species of plants, specially chosen for their connection to some aspect of Scottish history. Some plants here are connected to specific individuals from Scottish history, some have roles in Scottish tradition and some are connected with Scottish myths and legends. 

There is a useful noticeboard in the garden (and similar information on the garden's website) but although all the species of plants in the garden are listed, I can't seem to find anything that matches specific plants with their specific link to Scottish history.

The garden is only open during office hours (9-5, Monday to Friday) but is a lovely place to have a wee seat during your lunch break.

The second garden that I only discovered this week is the Physic Garden at Holyrood Palace. 

When Mary, Queen of Scots lived at Holyrood Palace in 1561, there were a number of private gardens, including a walled garden, which was developed into the physic garden in 1670. The physic garden measured just four square metres and was planted with around 90 medicinal plant species. This physic garden was the original precursor for the Royal Botanic Gardens, now situated in the Inverleith area of Edinburgh.  

The current physic garden at Holyrood Palace was established in 2020 and has raised flowerbeds laid out in a geometric pattern, reflecting the design of early botanic gardens. The garden includes medicinal plants that would have been grown in the 17th century. Alongside the physic garden, a flowering meadow evokes the 15th-century monastic garden of Holyrood Abbey. This has recently been mown, but will look beautiful again in Spring and Summer. 

You can find out more about the history of the Physic Garden at Holyrood Palace here

There is a brief history of all the historic physic gardens in Edinburgh on the Royal College of Physicians Website here.

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Scottish Kirkyards by Dane Love


Scottish Kirkyards offers an introduction to the history of Burial Grounds in Scotland. The book starts with examining what is known of burial rites in prehistoric and early historic times, looking at structures such as the chambered cairns that are still to be found in some prehistoric sites. 

The book focuses on historical kirkyards, which are burial places associated with Christian churches, highlighting the kirkyard as a place of rest, while also looking at the information that can be gleaned from gravestones that indicate details such as occupation and cause of death of the people buried there. Other chapters look at epitaphs, stories from cemeteries and a brief history of the body snatchers that used to dig up bodies to sell on to medical schools. 

Although the book doesn't focus on nature in kirkyards, the topic is mentioned a few times, including the fact that kirkyards are undisturbed by agriculture and so are often home to plants which may be relatively rare outside the kirkyard. Yew trees are discussed as symbols of immortality due to the great age they often reach (the Fortingall Yew, which grows in a kirkyard in Perthshire is reputed to be over 3,000 years old.) Rowan and holly are also considered to be holy trees and are often found in kirkyards. 

Not all burial grounds are kirkyards of course and this book makes mention of the Victorian Garden Cemeteries, of which there are several in Edinburgh (including North Merchiston Cemetery, our local cemetery, where I'm on the committee of the Friends Group). When they "were first established these were looked upon as great parks commemorating the dead, places where one should walk along the paths and learn from the example of those who had gone before... A fair number of these 'gardens of death' were laid out on hills, so that the path meandered up the slopes to a prominent viewpoint, which added to their popularity for walks".

This book, with copious illustrations and photos, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Scottish kirkyards.  

Scottish Kirkyards by Dane Love, published by Robert Hale (1989) and republished by Amberley (2010)

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Autumn Sunlight Through Trees and a Couple of Fungi

 There's a chill in the air, but the sunlight is beautiful. The trees look wonderful just as they're starting to look autumnal.


 As well as doing my weekly river patrol, I'm currently also leading guided nature walks around Craiglockart Dell along the Water of Leith, Autumn is a perfect time to share this lovely place with interested people. We're looking at all aspects of nature, including fungi, such as this Common Puffball 

I also popped into North Merchiston Cemetery at lunchtime and noticed these Common Inkcaps growing in the grass

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Autumn Sunshine on Arthur's Seat

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day (we still need more rain, but it is nice to enjoy the sunshine!). Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went for a walk round Arthur's Seat, one of our favourite places to walk. But first we popped into East Preston Street Cemetery, which has great views of Arthur's Seat

a view of Arthur's Sear from East Preston Street Cemetery

I noticed several spiders' webs glittering in the sunshine in the shrubbery and some of the photos even came out nicely (spiders' webs are something I find particularly difficult to capture on film)

Spiders' webs in a green leaved shrub

a different view of spiders' webs in the same green leafed shrub
We then continued to walk towards Arthur's Seat itself, passing by Salisbury Crags.

a view of Salisbury Crags and the Edinburgh skyline

The route continues with lovely views over Duddingston Loch.

a view of Duddingston Loch from the road round Arthur's Seat

 The bramble bushes are taking on their wonderful autumnal colours

red and ochre coloured leaves on a bramble bush

We stopped at Dunsapie Loch, where I was impressed by the reflections of the clouds in the water.

clouds reflected in water

Rather than turning back at that point, we then continued on the circular path around Arthur's Seat, this is the view looking back to Dunsapie Loch.

a view of Arthur's Seat with a road in the foreground

There are lots of trees along this part of the route, and Speckled Wood Butterflies are often found here, yesterday was no exception, thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo

a Speckled Wood Butterfly on a leaf

We ended our walk at St Margaret's Loch

St Margaret's Loch

where there were a number of young Herring Gulls, including this one 

a young Herring Gull on water


I'm delighted to have an Autumnal haiku included in Haiku Seed's Blossoms here.

Friday, 23 September 2022

Autumn in the Cemeteries

 Since lockdown was first eased and we could meet with people again outside, something that has become much more popular (at least among people I know) is having meetings outdoors! So today, I met up with a colleague / friend and we walked around the local cemeteries. 

We were very impressed with this array of ink caps and bracket fungi in Dalry Cemetery

A tree stump with bracket fungi on the left hand side and ink caps on the right hand side

Here's a close up of the ink caps 

A close up of ink caps growing beneath and between green leaves

There were also some fungi in North Merchiston Cemetery, these look like edible field mushrooms, but as there are other fungi that look similar, I wouldn't be too sure. 

an area of grass with white mushrooms growing in it

a close up of three white mushrooms growing amongst fallen leaves

The leaves are starting to change colour too!

Bright yellow Autumnal leaves on the branch of a tree

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Writers and Landscape - a book review

 I've recently read two books which look at the relationship between writers and landscape, though they use this starting point to explore other aspects of both the writers and more general issues. 

Romantic Ecology by Jonathan Bate), subtitled Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition, examines William Wordsworth's relationship with nature and the landscape of England's Lake District and connects that with wider themes around changing political attitudes to ecology. Wordsworth was, in his time, credited with encouraging other writers and thinkers to 'walk with nature' and Bate underlines the importance of the poet as helping to establish an environmental mindset that has continued from the days of the Romantic Tradition (that Wordsworth was part of) to today. 

The book looks at the influence Wordsworth had on other writers and thinkers, including the poet John Clare, the philosopher John Ruskin. It looks at other pioneers of the ecology movement, including the English minister and diarist Gilbert White and Ellen Swallow, who campaigned for clean air and water and was the first to use the term ecology in its modern sense of defining the human relationship with nature.

The book also offers close readings of some of Wordsworth's poetry, showing how he explored 'the relationship between land and inhabitant ... [and] considered the evolving and increasingly disruptive influence of man on his environment.'

This book is quite academic in tone, but still entirely readable and is well worth studying if you're interested in how the Romantic Poets, particularly Wordsworth, influenced our understanding of our relationship with nature.

Romantic Ecology by Jonathan Bate, published by Routledge (1991)


Hiking with Nietzsche by Professor of Philosophy, John Kaag follows the author on two hiking trips around the Alpine landscapes where Nietzsche spent a large part of his life. The first trip Kaag made was as a naive 19-year-old and the second years later with his wife and young daughter. 

The narrative interweaves thoughts about landscape with elements of the life stories and philosophy of both Nietzsche and Kaag. Kaag traces his own love of walking back to his childhood when his mother would take him and his brother on walks. 'These were slow meanders with nowhere particular to go. At first, the pace infuriated me, but she explained - and showed - that it really was the best way to see  things. Things: trees, leaves, bugs, streams, ideas. Things that we, in our everyday lives, run past or intentionally step over.'

The book explores ideas around climbing being a metaphor for life's challenges. Kaag uses mediations on hiking and on Nietzsche's work to explore some of his own issues. He doesn't always come across as a particularly sympathetic narrator or easy travel companion and he shares with Nietzsche a definite tendency to pessimism. 

This is an enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys climbing or who is interested in philosophy. Though having read other reviews, I get the impression that if you want to explore this area of the Alps, you should invest in a good guidebook with maps, rather than try to rely on the route descriptions included here. 

Hiking with Nietzsche by John Kaag, published (2018) by Granta.




Monday, 19 September 2022

Early Autumn in the Dells

We had a lovely bank holiday walk around the Dells along Edinburgh's Water of Leith today. It was a beautiful sunny day 


with the first hint of autumnal colours appearing in the trees.

There were good numbers of pollinating insects around later on during our walk, as the day got warmer. Including this bumblebee (either a Buff tailed Bumblebee or a White Tailed Bumblebee, I always find them difficult to tell apart, other than the queens). 

and good numbers of hoverflies including this Footballer (Helophilus pendulus)

and this Long Hoverfly (Sphaerophoria sp)

There were plenty of fungi about too, including this clump, which I haven't yet identified


For Nature Notes