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Issue 72 - And so to Edinburgh

Scotland Magazine Issue 72
December 2013

 

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And so to Edinburgh

John Hannavy follows our cleric to the capital

If ‘Bede’ had felt he had read enough of Wordsworth by the time he left Loch Lomond, when he was on board the steamer on Loch Katrine even he, an enthusiastic reader of the most popular novels and poetry of the day, conceded that “perhaps there might be such a thing as a surfeit of Scott even in the boundary of the ‘enchanted land’. In the first place, every young lady who is borne on board the little steamer is a passenger by ‘the Rob Roy’, which is bearing her amidst the scenes of ‘The Lady of the Lake’, and she therefore feels it a necessity to quote from the poem.” Giving space, once more, to his love of figures, ‘Bede’s’ readers were informed that the works to turn Loch Katrine into a reservoir for Glasgow, the first phase of which had been completed in 1859, had cost one and a half million pounds to date, and that “the very blasting materials cost, on the average, about 2,000l. a mile.” In 1862, the ‘£’ sign was not yet in common usage in print. Originally planned to provide Glasgow with 26,000,000 gallons of water a day, the works already provided almost twice that.

The Bradleys continued their journey through Rob Roy country and spending some considerable time enjoying the beautiful scenery around Loch Achray but, fearful that his manuscript was getting too long for his publisher to tolerate, he elected to omit accounts of his journey towards Edinburgh noting only that “by way of Callander, Doune, Dunblane, Bridge of Allan, Stirling, Bannockburn, Falkirk, and Linlithgow, there are many places easily accessible by railway”, all of which he had visited and enjoyed but that “We must draw a line somewhere.”
That suggests, perhaps, that he did little more than pass through those places, despite there being detailed accounts of their attractions in the books he was carrying with him.

And so to Edinburgh, which he had only glimpsed from his railway carriage window as darkness fell a few weeks earlier. “Of such a city” he wrote, “the first sight is an event not to be forgotten; and, in my own case, made too great an impression upon me for me ever to lose its memory.” It had taken him 263 pages to get there, and his experiences would fill several chapters before he left.

His first visit was to St Giles’ Cathedral, the lantern tower of which appealed to him greatly, but in describing it – the great church was split at the time into three separate kirks – he seems to have forgotten his criticisms of Glasgow Cathedral just a few chapters earlier. For here he laments that “the beauties of this cathedral church should not be restored with a little of that spirit and propriety which have so signally marked the very satisfactory restoration and renovation of Glasgow Cathedral.” In the Grassmarket he recalled several gruesome stories from Scotland’s past before adding that “in modern times the evil name of this district was revived in a terrible way by the deeds of Burke and Hare, who, in 1829, lived in the West Port, and made their house a receptacle of murder.” It was actually two years earlier that Burke and Hare had embarked on their series of murders-to-order before their arrest in 1828. These notorious killers had earlier worked for a time as navvies on the building of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal which went, without locks, from Fountainbridge in Edinburgh to meet the Forth & Clyde Canal near Falkirk.

From Edinburgh, ‘Bede’ recommended his readers to “include a drive or ramble along that portion of the coast of the Firth of Forth from Musselburgh to Granton, of which Leith is the capital.” He explored Portobello – which he described as “a fashionable watering-place that has arisen since the days when Scott was so fond of riding his horse into the surf on Portobello sands. It is now to Edinburgh what Margate is to London” – before moving on to Newhaven and encountering the formidable Newhaven fishwives whose strength clearly fascinated him. “Their laborious occupation, to which they are innured from early years, makes them very Amazons in strength, and enables them to carry upon their backs loads equally as heavy s those borne by the stoutest porters and coal-heavers. A burden of 250lbs. is frequently carried by them; and it is a said that on one occasion three fishwives, each laden with a creel of herrings weighting 200lbs., walked from Dunbar to Edinburgh, a distance of twenty-seven miles, in five hours.” His fascination with these powerful women and the stories and verse associated with them, filled a chapter and a half, before he moved south to devote four chapters to Melrose, its abbey, and its associations with Scott. It would seem that his earlier concerns about the book becoming too lengthy to meet his publishers’ requirements – or indeed his fear of there being a ‘surfeit of Scott’ – had been, temporarily at least, forgotten.

In giving Melrose its pre-eminent place on the tourist trail – and including a fact-filled account of the key roles its Abbey had played in the evolving history of Scotland – ‘Cuthbert Bede’ cited the place the abbey had been given in Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel – “For, until January 1805, when the publication of ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ had so fully and faithfully set Melrose before the public, that ‘far-famed glorious ruin.’ as Burns called it, was excessively glorious, but anything but far-famed.” Despite acknowledging its beauty, the abbey did not escape Reverend Bradley’s disapproval – “Melrose is certainly the trimmest of ruins; not a blade of grass or single stone is suffered to interfere with that perfection of neatness to which, by misdirected care, it has been brought.” Most ruins were, at the time, pleasingly overgrown, as can be seen from contemporary photographs. Just what he might have thought of today’s manicured sites can only be imagined.

He enjoyed including unusual or odd anecdotes in his account of his travels, and Melrose gave him a truly eccentric one. Quoting a Mr. John Bower “the Melrose guide of Scott’s time” he recalled that visitors seeking a ‘new’ view of the abbey were encouraged to turn their backs on it, bend over and view the ruins through their legs! The abbey, he noted, had been sketched so many times, that “perhaps the next painter of the scene will be inclined to accept John Bower’s advice, and sketch it through his legs.” It was just a short distance from Melrose to Abbotsford, “the Mecca of the Scotch tourists, and during the summer months the stream of pilgrims is incessantly flowing towards Scott’s shrine.” Melrose was connected to Edinburgh by railway, and the landlord of the George Hotel operated coaches from the beautiful Jacobean-style station to Scott’s house on the banks of the Tweed. And finally, their appetite for Scott almost fully sated, the Bradleys turned north again to visit Roslin Chapel which had earlier that year re-opened to visitors. ‘Bede’ felt it had “alas, sunk to the level of a show” as a result of the already-popular legends of the ‘Prentice Pillar’. But despite the number of tourists, the chapel engaged and surprised our travellers just as much as it does to visitors today.

After sketching the interior and making some drawings and paintings of the nearby ruins of Roslin Castle, the Reverend Bradley’s tour was coming towards its end. “While I paint on at this view, and (being in a dazed state with the glare of the sun and the bright colours) am tempted to perform that wondrous acrobatic feat of mental calisthenics which is called throwing oneself into the Past; as I gaze on this shattered home of the St. Clairs, the rattle of a railway train and the scream of the engine-whistle drag me back to the realities of the Present, and remind me that the Peebles railway is close at hand, and that tourists can see the sights of Roslin for one shilling.” His last stop was at Hawthornden, the virtues of which he extolled and, with a final quotation from Scott, he ended with the hope that “The mention of so lovely a spot may fitly close my record of A TOUR IN TARTAN-Land.”