Women’s voices at the Scottish Parliament

Today, we took a tour of the Scottish Parliament.  I can highly recommend this free tour as in an hour you will learn a lot about the building and how politics is conducted in Scotland.  It can be booked in advance on the Scottish Parliament website but at quiet times, you can just turn up.

This relatively new building incorporates lots of Scottish symbolism in its design.  The design concept by Spaniard Eric Mirales was drawn from Scotland’s land, people and seas.  The land is represented by the overall shape of a tree whose trunk extends from the edge of Holyrood Park into the building itself with the individual buildings resembling leaves when viewed from above.  The sea is evident in the design of the central area with a ceiling formed of shapes like the hulls of boats, people is incorporated by images within the building, on the walls of the debating chamber and in the “tenement”-like exterior of the MSPs office block.

Throughout the building there are specially commissioned pieces of art and the use of Scottish materials from Aberdonian granite to Dunbar cement and Scottish oak on the floor of the chamber.  There are further nods to the Edinburgh architectural vernacular in design details and the 17th century Queensberry House building has been imaginatively and seamlessly joined to the new structure.

The debating chamber is formed in a semi-circle to encourage debate and conversations not confrontations, and there is a sense of openness and visibility to so much of the building symbolising that it is there to serve the people.


On the exterior the ironwork provides the leaf theme again and on the outside wall on the Canongate there are samples of stone from across Scotland, some inscribed with poems and words of Scottish authors or of relevance to the establishment of a parliament.

Travelling through the building, I was particularly enchanted by the ceramic sculpture called Travelling The Distance by Shauna  McMullan.  On 3 large panels, the words of 100 different Scottish women are shown.  These 100 sentences are mainly women talking about other women.  After getting the sentence, each woman was asked to suggest the next woman to be asked to contribute.  The panels show the individual handwriting of each woman.  The full transcript can be found via the Scottish Parliament website if you follow links to the building and its art.


The sentences are very different

“At 10, she carried coal up ladders – distance exceeded height of St Paul’s daily”

“Confronted with the dusty skirting, she retorted “My mind’s on higher things!” and it was”

“An inspirational force in Scottish public life – she stands with the great but walks with us all.”

“Her legacy, the Open University, enables so many to fulfil their potential.”

but together are eloquent, thought-provoking, and the way it is done, you can almost hear the voices speaking aloud.

This sculpture is not in the main entrance area but on the ground floor beyond the stairs up to the viewing gallery of the debating chamber.  It can be visited whether you go on the tour or not as it is on the public side of the building.

Spring in the gardens

On the second warm sunny day this week, it seemed a perfect excuse to make a first visit to the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens.  Founded in 1670 as a physic garden, it is now a varied and beautiful oasis in the Inverleithen area of the city.   Free to visit and with areas which will be at their best at different times in the year, we wanted to enjoy a glimpse of how it looked in early spring.

From its highest point above the Chinese garden “trek” you get a super skyline view of Edinburgh.


but the joy is randomly wandering around the many pathways that take you through themed gardens such as the dry alpine zone,


the upper woodland, with its giant redwoods,


areas full of azaleas and rhododendrons which will peak in about a month


or the meadow areas with their show of spring narcissi.


Sometimes we turned a corner and were assailed by spicy or sweet scents like this hammemelis.


We wandered round by the glasshouses but decided that we would save visiting them until another day, perhaps when it was less sunny or warm!


We then continued our walk via the Waters of Leith right down to the shore which added up to just about as perfect an afternoon as you could want.

Charlotte Square

At the Westernmost end of the originally conceived “New Town”, is a beautiful Square.  Leading from it, the wide thoroughfare of George Street with it’s high end shops, boutiques, cafes and hotels takes you to the other end of this phase of Edinburgh’s development at St Andrew’s Square.

Charlotte Square has a private garden at its centre.

Charlotte Sq 1

Which at this point in spring is edged with cheerful flowers.

This is surrounded on 4 sides by elegant Georgian Buildings, some much as they have always been, others re-purposed such as St George’s Church which now houses the Scottish Records Office.  The original design for the square was drawn up by Robert Adam who set certain parameters for the buildings to ensure an overall style. Individual owners could choose any architect they liked so the buildings have a subtle variety of styles within an overall Georgian context.  On the North side you will find the National Trust for Scotland’s Georgian House and next door, Bute House the official residence of the Scottish First Minister.

Charlotte Sq 2

As in my earlier post about Rutland Square, you’ll notice the elegant lamp posts outside this and other properties.  Unlike Rutland Square which was built at the point that gas lighting became common, when this area was built, candles and oil lamps were used indoors and when people went out, they were accompanied by boys carrying flaming torches.  If the owners visited another house, the torchbearer would extinguish his torch when they entered and await their departure before re-lighting it.  A bit like today where you see horrible marks of cigarettes being stubbed out on walls, the same problem existed then, though the “stubs” were rather larger.  This was solved by the expedient of providing a “snuffer” at doorways which meant that instead of stubbing the torch on a solid surface, it could be inserted into a funnel shaped appendage which quickly cut off the oxygen and extinguished the torch.

Charlotte Sq 3

these still exist outside most of the properties on Charlotte Square ….. another reason to keep your eyes open for the little things as you walk around.

Scotland’s Coal-mining Heritage

We had a wonderful day out at the Scottish Mining Museum in Newtongrange, just a few miles outside the ring road.  It is an easy trip by train from Waverley Station to the local station just a hundred yards from the site of the Lady Victoria colliery.


For more information on visiting see http:/nationalminingmuseum.com/

Our particular interest was to find out more about the life of miners between about 1850 and 1950 as Bill’s immediate family and ancestors had all held roles within the mining industry – some on the coalface, others in roles on or around the mines of Lanarkshire.

There are some excellent display areas with interactive and audio enhanced exhibits showing life in the mining villages, key personalities from history, and the role of coal through the ages.  There are TV clips of the 1984 miner’s strike and mock ups of homes and street scenes.  Spread over 2 floors this is enough to while away a good couple of hours.  Add in an excellent café serving hearty home made soups and lunches or delicious home made cakes and it would make for a good trip.


the real story of this trip and the thing that will leave you astounded and wanting to come back is the tour of the pithead with ex-miners.

Our tour was with Tom Young and in his hands we learned so much more about life in the mining community, the story of the local mines and we went “underground” to really understand how a coalface was actually worked.

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Having visited the pit head area to see the cages which lowered the men into the pit and brought the coal back out, the checkweighman’s office and the equipment for shunting the coal around


we took the lift down to the “coalface”.  We walked down a long dark cold passage hearing some of the noises you’d hear in a mine, we then saw how the coalface was cut and advanced in the most recent era – still a noisy, hard job even though the actual cutting into the coalface was done by machine.

Our final stop was the winding engine house.  This was where the mechanism was for winding the cages up and down.  The engineering was outstanding, though apart from the skill of the winchman, the main methodology for ascertaining whether the cages had arrived at exactly the right point top and bottom was a painted arrow and line which the winchman had to line up after each pull.  Every week these had to be re-drawn as the ropes stretched!

A final look round the washing yards, the locomotives and heavy machinery finished the tour.  We will be returning though to visit the archives to find out even more about Bill’s forebears and life in the coalmines of Scotland.


Edinburgh City Walls

Unlike a number of cities, there are few signs of Edinburgh’s City walls today so going exploring to find them takes you into a variety of different parts of the Old Town.  Bring your sensible shoes as there are a few hills!

Wall & castle


Edinburgh had its own natural castle defence as the steep cliffs were considered impractical for any serious attempt at a siege.  An individual or two could certainly scale the rocks, but an army with weapons would make little or no progress.

This map shows the route of the walls:


Orange shows the oldest Kings Wall

Red is the Flodden Wall

Purple shows the Telfer Wall



To the north of the castle rock in what today are the Princes Street gardens was the Norloch which provided a Northern Boundary so walls were built only on the other 3 sides around the Castle Rock.  These were actually less about defending the city but a means to levy taxes upon those that lived within the walls.

Telfer Wall

Today there are a few stretches of partially reconstructed section of the Flodden Wall to be seen, including in the Vennel, a steep pathway leading south from the Grassmarket.  (B)Across the base of the Grassmarket itself is a marker showing the path of the former wall before it heads back up the hill towards the Castle.  There are also visible areas in the Kirkyard of Greyfriars.

Fragments of the Kings Wall can be found in Drummond Street