The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street underwent a major renovation in 2016, creating new galleries inside the building, and a remodelled front street for visitors to enjoy.
Part of this remodelling included re-siting the existing statue of William Chambers (who gives his name to the street) and introducing a new statue to join him.
This new statue, from the artist Alexander Stoddart, is of William Henry Playfair, one of the city's greatest nineteenth-century designers and architects.
He stepped into the shoes of Robert Adam, who had designed much of the burgeoning New Town of Edinburgh, at the end of the eighteenth century, and in 1813 had taken over the design process for Edinburgh University's new quadrangle building.
This quadrangle - which became the New College, and later renamed into Old College - stands at the end of Chambers Street, with its main access from South Bridge. And it's fair to say that the building is still one of the city's architectural highlights.
Playfair made a few changes from Robert Adam's initial vision, and the finished building became an immediate hit, not only with staff and students of the university, but with visitors to the city, too.
Having established himself as a safe pair of hands, architecturally speaking, Playfair would go on to design more of the city's most iconic public buildings.
Public works that bear Playfair's name include the iconic National Monument on top of Calton Hill (popularly known as 'Edinburgh's Shame' or 'Edinburgh's disgrace'), the National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy buildings on the Mound, the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill, and St Stephen's Church, near Stockbridge in the New Town.
It is not too much of an overstatement to say that Playfair helped shape the vision of Edinburgh the visitors (and locals) enjoy today. His trademark style often incorporated classical and neoclassical components, and the columns which adorn many of his buildings and monuments helped to give the city one of its nicknames, 'the Athens of the north'.
As such, it is only fitting that this grand designer of Edinburgh should now be commemorated with his own statue in the city's Old Town.
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At the eastern end of the New Town, at the junction where the Omni Centre stands today, you'll find a statue of the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
The statue commemorates the birthplace of Holmes's creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, born in a house previously on this site (but since demolished) in 1859.
As one of the city's greatest literary figures, it is fitting that the monument should be in the form of the creation rather than the creator - with his trademark deerstalker hat and bulbous pipe in hand, the figure will be instantly recognisable to people from all around the world.
Holmes holds the world record for being the most portrayed character on film, and as is often the case, it is likely he is better known from these dramatised versions of the stories than from Doyle's original books.
Doyle studied at the medical school in Edinburgh from 1876 to 1881, and it was there that he came under the influence of a lecturer, Dr Joseph Bell, who would later be credited with being the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, the likeness was considered so accurate that after the first Holmes story was published, another of Bell's former students, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote to Doyle to congratulate him on such a successful character study!
Doyle is often referred to as Conan Doyle, as though his surname was double-barrelled. In fact, Conan was one of Arthur Doyle's middle names, and in many literary and library classifications his works are listed under D for Doyle, rather than C for Conan.
The statue of Holmes was sculpted by Gerald Ogilvie Laing and unveiled in 1991. It subtly references another (unrelated) artist: around the rim of the pipe that Holmes is holding are inscribed the words 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' ('This is not a pipe') from Rene Magritte's iconic surrealist painting The Treachery of Images.
A nearby pub across the road from the statue also commemorates Doyle's birthplace, and features on its sign an image of the author himself, with the shadow of his famous creation behind him. Doyle's own feeling was that Holmes overshadowed much of his other writing, leading to his famous attempt to kill off the character, being having to bring him back from the dead due to public appeal.
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From time to time I do venture beyond the limits of Edinburgh's bypass to other towns and villages across Scotland, and this weekend had the pleasure of visiting Cockenzie, a short drive or bus ride to the east of the city.
An historic fishing village, the area has a natural harbour which was formalised as Port Seton in the seventeenth-century. Just outside the small town is the battlefield where the Battle of Prestonpans was fought in the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
Cockenzie House and gardens have recently been transformed by the local community with a range of holiday accommodations, cafe, artists' studios, health and beauty practitioners, and space for weddings and events, all within the historic surroundings of this seventeenth-century house and gardens.
At the end of the manicured lawns is a small structure which has an unusual history. Seemingly constructed from a rough stone, it is shaped like a small castle, with the letters HECLA built into the frontage, above a small arched doorway.
The arch of the door is formed by the jawbones of a whale, and the whole grotto is constructed from volcanic rock. The Lothians area is known for its volcanic activity - with Edinburgh alone having three extinct volcanoes - but the rock here has come from rather more distant shores.
The Caddell family who owned the house initially built their fortune exporting salt from Scotland to the fishing communities of Iceland. The ships which sailed in and out of the port at Cockenzie needed rocks to provide weight which were returning from Iceland sans cargo, and so they were filled with volcanic rocks from the Icelandic shores.
Much of this hardened lava had been spewed from one of Iceland's largest volcanoes, called Hekla, or Hecla. After the ships arrived back to Cockenzie for refilling with salt, the rock was unloaded and much of it discarded into the waters or on the beaches around the area.
And so the small grotto in the grounds of Cockenzie House were built from this ballast rock, and lined on the inside with seashells gathered from the East Lothian shoreline. It's a unique feature in an historic setting, with a magical quality all of its own when lit with candles, and one of the more unusual constructions in the whole of the Lothian area.
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On the centenary of the start of the Battle of Somme, the largest Western Front conflict of World War One, it's a fitting time to reflect on the role that Edinburgh's Craiglockhart Hospital played in the rehabilitation of soldiers, and the extraordinary poetic legacy left by two of the hospital's most famous patients.
The building at Craiglockhart, perched above the city of Edinburgh to the south west, had been used as a hydropathic centre, treating illnesses through the therapeutic use of water. During World War One it was taken over by the British Government for use as a military psychiatric hospital, and became known for its sympathetic (and effective) treatment of soldiers suffering shellshock, caused by the pervasive trauma of fighting in the trenches of France.
Two years after the Somme Offensive, which lasted from July to September 1916, two soldiers struck up a friendship on the wards of Craiglockhart, having been invalided here. Together Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon became known as two of the most iconic poets from that period, conveying through their writing the horrors of the ongoing conflict.
Owen came from Oswestry, a small town on the English-Welsh border (which is also my hometown), and his writing acquired an added poignancy after he was killed in conflict, having been sent back to the Front, just days before the end of the war. Sassoon lived until 1963, after returning to the Front in 1918, and almost immediately becoming a victim of friendly fire and spending the rest of the war in Britain.
Today the building at Craiglockhart is owned by Edinburgh's Napier University, and is maintained as one of their campuses. The War Poets are commemorated by an inscription at the building's entrance, and by a carved stone tablet in the grounds of the old hospital. Along with the work of Owen and Sassoon, these reminders of past conflicts stand as a testament to the brutal realities of armed conflict, and the horrors experienced by those involved.
A century after the Somme, the words of Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth, written during his time at Craiglockhart, and with revisions from Sassoon, remains a stirring evocation of the futile human sacrifice made by men at war:
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
The Scottish War Poets are commemorated today with a specific memorial on Makar's Court - Lady Stair's Close - outside the Writers' Museum in Edinburgh's Old Town.
Another of Owen's famous poems - Dulce Et Decorum Est - concludes with his ultimate condemnation of armed conflict:
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The story of Owen and Sassoon in Edinburgh was fictionalised by the novelist Pat Barker in the novel Regeneration, and today their legacy is enshrined in the War Poets Collection, an archive of materials held at the building at Craiglockhart. The building may have acquired some modern additions in recent years, but the spirits of the war poets live on.
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