Scots, Scottish, and Scotch

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Edinburgh is not only enough to confuse your average humanoid. It drives the GPS crazy. Why?

Because the city exists on two levels, one of which is about fifty feet (fifteen metres) above the other. It’s bizarre. We’d be driving along the street, following the directions from Google Earth on my iPhone, and it would tell us to turn right on some street. We’d look around … no such street visible. Then we come to a bridge, look over the edge, and there’s the street we’re supposed to turn left on, but it’s way, way down below us. How can that be, we’re on the ground level up here, and there’s a whole ‘nother world of shops and people far down underneath. Bizarre.

We started off our trip by visiting the Botanical Gardens, which were wonderful. Of course, the first sight that greeted us was a windmill, a Darrieus rotor. In this case, it could more accurately have been called a Darrieus stator, because despite rather high winds, it didn’t move during our whole time there. Shocking, I know.

edinburgh windmillThe Botanical Gardens are quite lovely, a serene corner of a bustling city. In one section, I was surprised to see that there was a full-on meteorological station, which was not all that badly situated:

edinburgh met station

The placard in front said that it had been in operation since 1794 … note to self, check the records, should be interesting. Unfortunately, the plaque also said:

Previously located in the Demonstration Garden, in spring 2011 the weather station was removed to this more prominent location as the Met Office automated many of their recording devices to provide real-time readouts.

Since I doubt greatly whether they continued the old station to give an overlap so the two records could be combined, that means that the record effectively ends in 2011.

The Botanical Gardens has an exquisite old greenhouse, a lovely work of art…

edinburgh old greenhouse

And a butt-ugly new greenhouse.

edinburgh new greenhouse

Sigh …

Refreshed by the greenery, we parked downtown and started to walk. First we went on a most bizarre but quite lovely walkway over a street:

edinburgh walkway Note the rain on the roof … liquid sunshine. Then up past the St. Giles Cathedral and on to the National Museum of Scotland. Why? Well, it’s a museum of science … and it’s free. However, it’s also very, very strange. The selection and the location of the objects inside is quite bizarre. They will have say a space suit next to a suit of armor, and that’s just for starters. My daughter’s final conclusion as to the reason behind the strange exhibits and combinations was “Because Scotland” … which as it turned out seems to apply to lots of things in Edinburgh.

They did have a fantastic early steam engine, and the main exhibit hall was a light, airy work of joy:

edinburgh museum main hallTo my eye, one of the loveliest works of Scottish engineering in the Museum, curiously, wasn’t an exhibit at all. It was the radiators that you can see at the lower left above which heated the building. Here’s a closeup:

edinburgh museum radiator

Now that’s a pretty awesome way to heat a building.

In the evening, we had the great pleasure of meeting up with Lord Christopher Moncton, living proof that the species Homo eccentricus britannis is not threatened with extinction. We met in a pub that looks like this:

edinburgh pub

Gotta say … not many pubs look like that where I live … from there we went out to a restaurant. And there I learned that when the flow of the River Christopher is in full spate, all one can do is stand on the bank and marvel at the unending rush of ideas, humor, obscure references, side-splitting stories, explanations of history, and most interesting science, all delivered in his most impish manner which is totally irresistible. My great thanks to him for a most enjoyable evening.

We stayed quite near the St. Giles Cathedral, and the next day I was awakened to a very strange chorus. It went “BONG … ribbit … BONG … ribbit … BONG …” During the night the rain had come on in full force, and a most determined frog, who sounded like he was about six inches from my ear, had obviously set his mind that he was not going to be outcroaked by some giant bell.

We had lunch with another most interesting gentleman, Andrew Montford, the “Bishop” of the climate blog “Bishop Hill“. Like the other well-known climate bloggers that it’s been my pleasure to meet, he is self-employed, and a great conversationalist. We covered the gamut of topics over a fine meal, and sadly bid him goodbye. He also has my appreciation and thanks.

On the walk back to our flat, we passed the memorial to Sir Walter Scott. It is an arabesque fantasy in stone, looking like the fairy-tale castles in my childhood books where princesses awaited their knight in shining armor.

edinburgh scott memorial

It has all the required accessories and accoutrements, flying buttresses, towers, statues hundreds of feet up in the air, even a gargoyle on each of the four corners. What’s not to like?

edinburgh scott memorial gargoyle

We saw the Edinburgh Castle, and Mary Queens close (which was not sealed up on account of the plague as I’d heard, but was built over to provide government offices). And then, sadly and far too soon, it was time to leave. Every place I’ve gone on this trip I end up saying, “But, but, do we have to leave already?” However, we did have to leave, so we rolled out down the A1, enjoying the lovely scenery and dodging windmills … but that’s a story for another day.

Regards to all,

w.

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86 thoughts on “Scots, Scottish, and Scotch

  1. I enjoy your pen pictures Willis, I wonder if you notice a major difference that I see when in your country. In North America for some reason, most power lines and cables are above ground, here they are buried. I’m not sure whether that makes our lines more efficient or not, but it certainly makes places like Edinburgh look much more beautiful than with wires criss crossing every narrow street. Hope you have chance to visit the Scotch whisky society on Queen street.

  2. Thank you Willis for this wonderful travelogue. You have certainly found your true vocation.

    I was in Edinburgh in May and after your report, I cannot wait to get back there. I wonder how many fellow Americans and others you are encouraging to swell their carbon footprints and to tour dear Old Blighty.

    Just to correct you on one point. The walkway as you described it was not bizarre. They have to build them all that way in Scotland so that the men can still stagger home at night after they have had a wee dram or two.

  3. Gareth, North America has never been under real threat of aerial bombardment, and having power lines on the poles is cheaper, more efficient, and easier to maintain compared to underground cables. I believe power transmission in Europe was driven underground by the WW2 hostilities. Pre-war photographs show a lot of aerial power lines. Residential telephone wires are still on the poles in most places.

    Telephone Pole

    On the other hand, one can’t help but notice an inordinate scale of digging taking place in the UK.

  4. An excellent series of stories, Willis. I too shall morn the end of it. You’ve visited many areas of mutual interest I would like to experience first hand.

  5. Homo eccentricus britannis.

    Generic name always capitalized in Linnaean system. Britannis with two “n”s rather than “t”s. Please excuse the pedanticism, but in reference to a classical scholar such as His Lordship, the offense may be excused.

  6. Glad you liked it here – sorry about the winds, if you had come a day earlier it was glorious sunshine.

    Edinburgh is a very nice city, unfortunately run by a rather useless city council.

  7. And for those on the west side of the pond who may be wondering, just remember “Scots is wha’ ye are, and Scotch is wha’ ye drinks.”

  8. You are probably right about the war forcing cables underground. However above ground cables are unsightly and more prone to snagging in trees and the poles as well as being vulnerable to vehicle impact and vandalism. Being more exposed the cables are more likely to get damaged generally.

    Living in a rural area my parents still have phone and power delivered by overhead cable. Since 2006 they have twice had the phone cables repaired due to snagging in trees and once had the power cable replaced altogether following storm damage. They also have very low ADSL signal on clear nights night (1.5 Mb/s) when RF interference is high, despite a daytime rate of 3 Mb/s.

    In the same period I have not had a single problem with either my power cabling or phone, both of which are delivered in underground ducts. Note the cables are not “buried” as such, just routed through an underground pipe. Some has been replaced in our street with the implementation of optional FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) which replaces the copper cable for all except the last few yards. The job was accomplished in a day as the cable was simply pulled through the pipe between “manholes” (inspection chambers). No more difficult (and possibly easier than) replacing an overhead cable. No digging involved. My ADSL does not vary between night and day (not gone for the fibre option yet – rather expensive, if tempting).

  9. Those marvelous old structures for living botanical specimens do justice to the name “conservatory.” The practical modern ones deserve the pedestrian “greenhouse” label.

  10. Willis:

    Thankyou for another wonderful account from your travels.

    I wonder if there was an explanatory sign by the space suit and the adjacent suite of armor. In the 1960s NASA had engineers designing the suites to be worn on the Moon. They visited the Royal Armories (then in the Tower of London and now in Leeds) to examine joints of armor at knees and elbows with a view to copying them.

    I commend the Royal Armories Museum at Leeds during your journey South: its contents and live action displays are awesome.

    Richard

  11. Gene, A lot of the U.S. infrastructure has to do with costs. If a bad storm knocks all the power lines down, this is considered an “act of nature” for which the power companies are not responsible and therefore don’t have to factor in the costs (it’s always allowed to simply pass these costs on to the consumer). Underground piping has a big upfront cost and higher maintenance costs when maintenance is needed (must be budgeted). When power companies do a cost/benefit analysis, it therefore always comes out better to put everything above ground. The total cost/benefit doesn’t necessarily come out this way, but the companies quite naturally look at their own situation, not society’s situation.

    As an example, my family was in Florida for Hurricane Charlie. The resorts along the beach had been required by government to put their power lines underground. Everybody else had theirs above ground. When Charlie came through, none of the beach resorts lost power. Everybody else had power out for a week. We had a small kitchen with our unit and were scheduled in for the week after the storm. So we unofficially hosted families from across the road, let them come in and cook their food before it spoiled, and helped out whatever other ways we could. We met a lot of nice people and had a bunch of great conversations. The point is that much of the indirect costs of the storm and much of the repair costs for the power infrastructure could have been avoided if the power lines had been underground for everybody. But these costs are not included when decided what way to design the grid, so the answer is what it is.

  12. If you’re heading south soon, try to be a little bit north of Nottingham sometime next weekend (21, 22) for some more thoroughly gorgeous vintage tech. Papplewick Pumping Station will be “steaming up”, and you’ll get the raw pleasure of seeing a big, beautiful late Watt triple-expansion engine at work, in as beautiful an engine house as ever there was anywhere. Highly recommended. NB, no credit card facility – need cash.

    Also, if you then proceed though Nottingham afterwards, you can visit “The Old Trip to Jerusalem”, billed as “the oldest pub in the country” and certainly among the oldest. It’s cut into the Castle rock, so quite easy to find. Warning: if you drink inside, you may get bits of Castle rock falling into your beer – or so the legend has it. ;-)

  13. A colleague formerly worked for HP at South Queensferry, near Edinburgh.

    He entertained a visitor from California who was puzzled about the arrangement of the city and who therefore asked why they had built the castle so near to the train station.

  14. Willis: As I cruised the articles with my morning cup of coffee to see which I would read first, you won out by a landslide. Thanks for another interesting view of England/Scotland/Wales.

  15. As a Scot I am always proud when someone visits my country. You have to resist saying, “you have to go there and there,and…”

  16. Fantastic. The global community of climate skeptics. The only other such community that I am involved in is that of the Deadheads – Grateful Dead fans, their music and live performance having obsessed me since I was 15. It’s good to find your tribes. Lord Monckton, having received and imbibed a real, old-fashioned Classical education will I am sure have been hugely good company. Mildly envious :-)

    Great post Willis, I’ve only ever been to Scotland twice, and never to Edinburgh. My father-in-law, and meek and mild old school Labour party man (when he left Cowley Motor Works in Oxford at retirement age, he was the longest holder of a union card there), couldn’t stand the Scots. In the navy during WWII, Arctic convoy and all over the place, he said that it was always Scotsmen that started pub brawls.

    I couldn’t possibly comment {~>>

  17. Willis, you’ve discovered the naughty secret of GPS mapping software. When the error in the fix is large the software puts you on the nearest road – not necessarily the correct one. You could blame the poor GPS receiver in your iPhone. :)

  18. And no seaman should pass up on a visit to Whitby, where Captain Cook learned his trade. If you’re in that part of the world, also have a look at Robin Hood’s Bay.

  19. As a Scot living near London, I know the Walter Scott monument reasonably well, even though I hail from the West of Scotland. (I am sure you will understand all these unstated comments by now).

    I climbed to the top of the monument earlier this year and was absolutely amazed by the experience. It does get a bit narrow near the top if you can imagine a tight spiral staircase where both shoulders contact the walls. It was worth it, with great views of Princes Street and beyond.

    You can just see the Forth bridge to the North and the cascade of old buildings on the slopes to the South below the majestic view of the castle against the skyline.

    Great stuff, if the weather is kind.

  20. Wonderful images. Reminded me of a three week trip in the Highlands north from Aviemore along the single malt highway to Macallan, Dalwhinney, Glenfiddich, et. al. The testing rooms were so inviting and collegial. The people of Scotland are so genuine. And I still enjoy haggis.

  21. As others have complimented, a wonderful travelogue.

    BTW – I humbly suggest you may have missed an opportunity. “Scots, Scott, Scottish, and Scotch”

  22. Wonderful stories Willis, thank you – I particularly recall my delight at the discovery of “3-D” Edinburgh, as you describe here:

    “Because the city exists on two levels, one of which is about fifty feet (fifteen metres) above the other. It’s bizarre. We’d be driving along the street, following the directions from Google Earth on my iPhone, and it would tell us to turn right on some street. We’d look around … no such street visible. Then we come to a bridge, look over the edge, and there’s the street we’re supposed to turn left on, but it’s way, way down below us. How can that be, we’re on the ground level up here, and there’s a whole ‘nother world of shops and people far down underneath. Bizarre.”

    Edinburgh and Scotland have a remarkable history as a centre of intellectual achievement, particularly during the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th Century.

    The Scottish Enlightenment is ably described in the book by American historian Arthur Herman, modestly entitled:
    How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The true story of how western Europe’s poorest nation created our world & everything in it
    (or The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots Invention of the Modern World)

    Excerpts from wiki:

    The Scottish Enlightenment was the period in 18th century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By 1750, Scots were among the most literate citizens of Europe, with an estimated 75% level of literacy. The culture was orientated toward books, and intense discussions took place daily at such intellectual gathering places in Edinburgh as The Select Society and, later, The Poker Club as well as within Scotland’s ancient universities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

    Sharing the humanist and rationalist outlook of the European Enlightenment of the same time period, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority that could not be justified by reason. They held to an optimistic belief in the ability of humanity to effect changes for the better in society and nature, guided only by reason. This latter feature gave the Scottish Enlightenment its special flavour, distinguishing it from its continental European counterpart. In Scotland, the Enlightenment was characterised by a thoroughgoing empiricism and practicality where the chief virtues were improvement, virtue, and practical benefit for the individual and society as a whole.

    Among the fields that rapidly advanced were philosophy, political economy, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, archaeology, law, agriculture, chemistry and sociology. Among the Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period were Francis Hutcheson, Alexander Campbell, David Hume, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid, Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson, John Playfair, Joseph Black and James Hutton.

    The Scottish Enlightenment had effects far beyond Scotland, not only because of the esteem in which Scottish achievements were held outwith Scotland, but also because its ideas and attitudes were carried across the Atlantic world as part of the Scottish diaspora, and by American students who studied in Scotland.

    [end of excerpt]

    Excerpted from above, this sentence has relevance today, specifically to the ongoing debate between (generally rational) climate skeptics and (generally irrational) global warming alarmists:

    “…the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority that could not be justified by reason.”

    Bravo!

    Best regards,
    Allan MacRae of the Clan MacRae :-)

  23. That’s wild, two levels – something few people would think of for active streets. (Cities like Seattle WA and IIRC Moose Jaw SK have a historic lower level people can walk around in.)
    \
    As for “full on”, is Willis picking up Brit lingo, or has it already permeated California? ;-)

  24. Travelling in England with my brilliant autistic son a few years ago I learned, due to his sharp observation skills, that fire hydrants are also buried in the pavement there. The covers are marked but they are not obtrusive. I have learned from him to notice things like that – what impressed during a recent visit to Munich is that they string street-lights up between buildings on opposite sides of the street in the downtown area: the lights dangle centrally from these wires, so there are no telephone or ‘hydro’ poles.

    Burying electrical transmission lines makes a lot of sense. The Quebec Ice Storm of 1998 caused extensive damage due to trees falling on electrical lines, or towers buckling under the weight of ice. The economic damage was enormous due to loss of power for work refrigeration, heating etc in parts of Ontario and New York as well as Quebec. Some areas did not have electricity for at least two weeks. I am sure the price of burying lines is more than compensated by the reduction in repair and upkeep costs.

    On the other hand, before our lines were buried, a storm took out two neighbour’s trees about a decade ago: it was the electrical lines that slowed their descent and kept their full weight from falling on our roof – hmmm. On the other hand again…our neighbors on both sides had to do without electricity for about 12 hours during a bitterly cold February day.

  25. I traveled with a backpack by BritRail Pass in 1986, and spent a few nights in “Embra”. Knocking on the door of a B&B, the proprietor introduced himself as mister “Gallo, like Wayne.” Seeing the perplexity on my face, he said it again, “like Wayne.” Finally he used the hand signal for “bottoms up” to make me realize “Wayne” was how he pronounced “wine.” His name was “Gallo, like wine.” After that we got on splendidly, and and we finished up that evening watching Scotland play a World Cup match on the TV in his kitchen, but not drinking “wayne”, rather excellent ale and of course whisky.

  26. My wife and I are just back from a nice two-weeks campervan roundtrip in Scotland (from the “Borders” to Durness and John O’Groat in the upper North) and final a few days in Edinburgh… If I had known your trip, I would have invited you for a strong Belgian beer – even available in Scotland – and more if wished…
    Have looked around for some interesting histories, including the stories of the different clans, but the McIntyre clan book was just sold out and didn’t think of the MacRae’s at that moment.

    Although there are some windparks in Scotland, it is far less polluted by that kind of “green” monsters than what I have seen in Spain near Gibraltar, straight into the corridor used by migrating birds to Africa… Or in the rest of Europe, including my own country…

  27. If you are rolling down the A1 you’ll come right past us, near Richmond in Yorkshire! We live within sight (of the tops of trucks) and sound (when the wind is anywhere between SE and W of us) of the A1.

    I’ve really enjoyed your travelogue and will do a mental wave as you head South. Will you have time for the Dales or Richmond?

  28. Reading about overground/underground power cables: overground ones are a considerable problem in a bushfire-prone country like Australia. Cost is a major factor where huge distances are involved but neither is it an insignificant one where bushfires have occured; in part because they provide an extra hazard and in part because of the expense of renewing them after a fire.

  29. “Turn … left … on … Cowgate”

    AHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhh …CRASH! (off the bridge)

    LOL!

    I love the classic Edwardian pubs in the “New Town” part of Edinburgh. Chasing a wee dram with a good pour of 90 Shilling.

  30. thank you for the kind comments on my small but wonderful country willis . i am glad to hear you had a wonderful time. it gives me great pleasure to know a fair proportion of the most notable sceptics were gathered in the capital city and for a day scotland was sceptic central !

  31. Let’s give the new greenhouse a chance.

    It might look a lot better in the frost or with icicles hanging from the external suspension cables.
    Or with the mist swirling turbulently around the false tunnels created by the cables and the building.
    Or when rain splashes and sprays from the external supports with the lights inside forming (perhaps) mini-rainbows.

    It might work. Give it time before finally condemning the design.

  32. Met stations are a mess.

    There was EDINBURGH: ROYAL BOTANIC GARDEN NO 2, would get slated by me, can’t even place the screen north-south..
    Near enough 55.9666 -3.21205
    Use Google Earth time function and see what happens 2012!
    Bing will show the old site too, note the hedges.

    Site people just can’t stop themselves, fiddle, fiddle, looks and wants matter over constancy of tech stuff.

    Willis, you can confirm the new site location and have a photo. Generally I don’t do minor stations as part of UK surfacestations, far too many of them and location / site churn is going on all the time. (database is huge) Maybe if there is interest.
    Data? No chance in the UK.

    Got it, new location is 55.966340° -3.207291°

    Records are claimed from 1926. Looks like the move took place sometime 2011 and is now an AWS. Was a logger (yuk) and before that manual.
    Screen is still not north-south, but hey, looks neat, matches the shed, err, greenhouse.

    Older records, marked 1861. That might be Blackford Hill (or highly dubious), actually the old observatory a mish mash of record kinds but there is a screen there, is north-south. Google have 1945 images and looks like the screen is same position!
    This is now marked as synoptic but is not on the WMO list. WMO 03173 so some low res. data might be around. Not marked as AWS, looks like daily read.
    55.923004° -3.188226°

    The Met Office active station is

    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/wmo03166-edinburgh-gogarbank-scotland/

    Damn fine piece of chance Willis, good one.

    I don’t suppose you will get a chance but a very important snippet I want to know about is the steam omibus service 1820s 1830s which predates railway. Was running somewhere around there.

  33. TLM says: “…cables underground. However above ground cables are unsightly and more prone to”

    destruction by wind, rain, leaping squirrels (even the scrawny variety here), falling tree limbs and vines, and big hawks.

    “They also have very low ADSL signal on clear nights night (1.5 Mb/s)…”

    I wish. Our DSL actual through-put usually runs at about 17KB/s (about 170Kb/s counting SECDED), 35KB/s on an exceptionally good day. (This after years of being spoiled by higher rates at the office.)

    “FTTC (fibre to the cabinet)… The job was accomplished in a day as the cable was simply pulled through the pipe between “manholes” (inspection chambers).”

    The rule of thumb here is that it costs about twice as much to initially install buried cable, so none of the developers want to do it. But the long-run maintenance labor costs are lower… Then again labor is cheaper here in North Sopchoppy than in much of the USA. For much the same reason they don’t use automatically resetting breakers on the power lines (as they do in St. Louis and Cincinnati), but send out crews to drive around in circles to locate and manually reset (long pole). We have 3-6 outages per summer and typically last 20 minutes to a couple hours. (Used to lose a lot of disk drives to spike-induced head-crashes in the old days even with the 400Hz motor-generator and fly-wheel to help smooth, and deployed add-on surge suppressors and UPSes as soon as we could for the micro-computers.)

    I can see at least 3 fibre test points within a mile (near 2 schools, and at the university and NWS/meteorology/CS building which has had a series of experimental unusually high band-width nets for over 2 decades), maybe 3-4 miles to the state capitol building, and about 1.7 miles to the local telephony monopoly’s closest DSL point. Fiber to each block, let alone to each building, is a long long way off.

    IMO, Arthur Herman got a bit carried away; seemed to have made nearly everyone on the planet “Scots”.

    “The 39 Steps” (both book by Buchan, and 2 movie adaptations) give a fair to middling glimpse of Galloway… as do Scott’s “Bride of Lammermoor”, and “Waverley”; and the books by Liz Curtis Higgs.

  34. There haven’t been any Scottish jokes yet (or is that “Scots” jokes?). Here is one, based on the fact that the Scots provided the personnel for much of the fur trade in Canada and they funded at least two universities there (McGill and McMaster). Anyway, the Scots also had a lot to do with building the Canadian railways (and maybe US ones, too?). As the story goes, one Scotsman, on seeing the open land of the prairies (the word for “plains” in Canada), observed that they couldn’t build railways there. “Why not?”, he was asked. “There’s no place to run your toonels through” was the answer.

    Ian M (who is allowed to tell stories like this since the “M” stands for “McQueen”)

  35. Willis,
    When going from A to B stick to the ‘B’ roads.
    Much more Interesting.

    [Yes. Sliding off of A road is not good. Mod]

  36. My brother and I drove around Great Britain for two weeks ten years ago. We mostly followed the 17-day route suggested by American travel writer Rick Steves in one of his books. We flew into London, then took a train to Bath. Spent two days in Bath to adjust to the jet lag, rented a Range Rover from Hertz — because they allowed us to drop it off in another city; Enterprise wanted it returned to Bath — then drove the route for the next twelve days, dropping the car off at a Hertz in Yorkshire, then taking the train into London (neither of us wanted to drive in London traffic). As we were there in the off season, the only hotel/B&B reservations I made before arriving in London was for the two nights in Bath. Thereafter, each morning we consulted Steves’ travel book to pick an inn in the next town to call to see if they had a two-bed en-suite room available for that evening. It was very enjoyable to travel that way, being able to decide day-to-day where to go next, oftentimes based on recommendations from the B&B owner. The Scotland portion of the trip was a night spent in Oban on the west coast, then a drive east to Edinburgh. Two little things are most memorable for me. The first is that almost every pine forest we passed on the drive east was obviously planted by humans as all the tree tops were in neat rows. The second was the abundance of memorial wooden benches in almost every public space all over Great Britain, including the public park in which the Scott memorial is located. I was especially tickled to find one bench with a plaque dedicated to John Lennon, on which I of course sat and had my picture taken. As someone who is always intrigued by grave stones when visiting cemeteries, it was great fun just taking time to peruse the dedications on many of those wooden benches. I couldn’t help but think what a nice way it is to memorialize a loved one. A third general impression was just the fact that almost every city/town/village had a cathedral or something similar that was at least 900 years old and still in daily use. Nothing in the states can come close to that. The architecture and grandeur of each one of them was awe-inspiring (even for this atheist).

    Since your travel route is similar to what we took ten years ago, it has been fun reading your impressions about things we missed.

  37. milodonharlani says:
    September 17, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Homo eccentricus britannis.

    Generic name always capitalized in Linnaean system. Britannis with two “n”s rather than “t”s. Please excuse the pedanticism, but in reference to a classical scholar such as His Lordship, the offense may be excused.

    Fixed, thanks.

    w.

  38. RoyMc says:
    September 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Willis,
    If you’re headed down the A1, and interested in how coal is extracted in the UK, without a pickaxe as my grandfather did it, then head for Cramlington and http://www.northumberlandia.com . There is a sculpture there that weighs 1.5 million tonnes.
    Enjoy.

    Been there, it’ll be in my next report.

    w.

  39. Timbo says:
    September 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Are we going to get an appreciation (if that’s the word) about the deep fried Mars bars?

    I saw them advertised … but unfortunately, in the end common sense won out. A sad day, but luckily not too common in my life.

    w.

  40. Keith Sketchley says:
    September 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    That’s wild, two levels – something few people would think of for active streets. (Cities like Seattle WA and IIRC Moose Jaw SK have a historic lower level people can walk around in.)

    As for “full on”, is Willis picking up Brit lingo, or has it already permeated California? ;-)

    I lived for 17 years in Fiji and the Solomons, ex-British colonies full of Brits and Aussies. Ruined my English forever.

    w.

  41. The pub in the photo is Weathersoon’s. They are a chain in the UK belonging to a brewer. The pub in Willis’s picture is established in what used to be a bank and is exquisite. In addition to Weatherspoon’s proprietary brews, they offer a few “guest ales” from craft breweries, which to my American taste can be quite good, but then I like bitter and wish we had something like it here in the states.

  42. Willis, on the chance that you are visiting Glasgow ( you should) you may want to visit their Piping Museum.

    I was slow on the uptake. Having spent the early part of my career designing waste-water treatment plants, I assumed, when I saw it on our map, that it was a museum of pipes, valves, couplings, and so forth of the sort that one uses to convey liquids. SWMBO heard my ruminations along these lines and said nothing, having been dragged to the sites of many notable civil works over the years so I could marvel at something some engineer had done.

    So we went, and soon discovered that piping in Scotland means Bagpipes.

    I enjoyed seeing them too, but was a bit disappointed wondering what might have comprised the museum I had imagined.

  43. Willis, why do so many writers, especially mystery authors, write about Edinburgh? Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith are only a couple that immediately come to mind. Have you read the Smith mystery that discusses an old rail line – I assume it’s fictional – hidden underneath the streets of Edinburgh?

  44. I like Edinburgh, and had the fortune of good weather on both visits. I had the best time just walking around and poking my head into whatever places looked interesting. If the weather is decent you can cover the entire extent of the old city on foot. I think the place which made the greatest impression on me was the War Memorial on the grounds of Edinburgh Castle. Inside there are individual bays dedicated to each of the Scottish regiments which served in the two World Wars. In each bay are bound volumes containing the names of servicemen killed in each war.

    The name “Watt” is really not that common in Scotland, though much more common there than in the US. We went to one bay at random and opened the book and found over two pages of Watts killed in WWI. We went to the next bay over and found a page and a half of Watts in their book. I looked up and down the hall at the dozens of regimental bays and the full cost of that war hit me for the first time. Unlike the US, the British military system of the time recruited regiments from a specific local. A town or region and a regiment were bound together, so when a regiment took heavy casualties, the families likely all knew each other and people with the same surnames were likely related.

    And WWI chewed through regiments like no other war before or since. In some cases towns lost a large percentage of their service age men. I think the traditional regimental system was reformed after the war for this reason.

    You’re close to St. Giles Cathedral, which I was told the locals prefer to call “St. Giles Kirk”. It’s worth a visit especially if the private chapel for The Most Noble Order of the Thistle is open.

    Another place we literally stumbled across while walking around is the Cannongate Kirkyard, on the Royal Mile. Among the worthies interred there are Adam Smith (“The Wealth of Nations”) and someone reputed to be Handel’s favourite bassoonist.

    If you make it up to Inverness there is (or was) a surprising collection of Japanese swords (several from the 1500s) at Cawdor Castle, ancestral home of the Thane of Cawdor, which title was held by MacBeth. And of course outside of Inverness is the site of the Battle of Culloden (1745) which ended the Jacobite uprising and the last hopes for Scottish independence. The Highland Clearances which started shortly afterwards pushed longtime tenant farmers off their traditional lands and out of Scotland. Many ended up in Canada and the US.

  45. More suggestions if you have the time and opportunity and inclination. Several hundred yards off the western side of Mull is the Isle of Iona, reputed to be the landing place of St. Columba, who brought Christianity to Scotland. There is a ruined abbey abandoned I think around 1000 as a result of Viking raids. The Book of Kells was produced there sometime around 800, one of the masterworks of Western Calligraphy.

    Although the channel between Mull and Iona is only a few hundred yards wide, the ferry across can be surprisingly rough at times.

    One place I wanted to visit but did not is the Isle of Staffa, about 10km north and a little east of Iona. The cave there inspired the opening bars of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, often called Fingal’s Cave.

  46. Alan Watt,
    I much enjoyed what you wrote above. If you get a chance, have a look at Samuel Johnson’s Tour of the Hebrides. He and Boswell toured the Inner Hebrides in 1755 and his observations are fascinating.

  47. Allan MacRae of the Clan MacRae
    When I saw your name I thought of two things, Seaforth’s Shirt of Mail and the most well known unknown castle in the world, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eilean_Donan, famous for appearing on shortbread tins and boxes all over the world.

    Willis Edinburgh has changed quite a lot since I was a student and working there in the late 60s early 70s I hope you managed to pop up to the castle and see The Honours of Scotland the oldest crown jewels in the UK. As a child the Scott Monument appeared to me to be like a rocket about to be launched into space Flash Gordon style.

    Re underground cables when I was a lad, pre-Edinburgh days, we lived in rural Perthshire with a party telephone line, The Post Office as it then was buried the cable along the road site, Two houses requiring a total of 4 miles (7km) of poles wasn’t economic. However the cable was buried only about a foot or so below the surface. Moles would sometimes bite the cable and pierce the insulation. Next time it rained, normally not that many days later, the phone would stop working. I a typical British adaptive engineering (bodging) solution to the problem the Post Office engineers fixed the most vulnerable sections to the roadside fence.

    Sandy Clann-na-Cearda

  48. Nial – I am almost certain you are looking at a picture of the Standing Order on George St looking back towards the Rose Street end of it.

  49. Re the Royal Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Some years ago I organised for them some rare seed from tropical rhododendrons (vireys spp,) collected in islands of New Guinea and Indonesia. Sadly, I’ve not been able to get beck to see how they look. Wonderful breeding potential, and the Garden is big on rhodos. They entertained my wife and me most generously.

  50. tchannon says:
    September 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm
    The Met Office active station is

    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/wmo03166-edinburgh-gogarbank-scotland/

    ==========================================
    This is an interesting site (I know, as I run past it a couple of times a week). Well to the West of the city in (occasionally very exposed!) open countryside, albeit next to a rail line and a quiet country road. Not at all representative of the weather (let alone climate) in the city centre.
    Botanics are lovely, as it the Standing Order – although the Dome down the street is even lovelier but twice as expensive!

  51. Err, a GPS enabled device that happens to be able to display maps for an unrelated purpose does equate to a reliable “navigation system”. Is this a surprise to you? :)
    While I do have one of them phones myself, I wouldn’t even use it for that purpose when cycling in the city – I have a proper GPS for that – and the invaluable advantage is that it won’t send me off a cliff like your phone ;)

  52. I did warn you about those Scottish windmills. The way they fit so neatly into our wonderful landscape – so beautiful, and energy rich at the same time./sarc

  53. You like glass houses then Kew Gardens in London but bigger still are those of the Eden Project in Cornwall.

  54. What no Gàidhlig? Here’s some

    Alba Gu Brath!
    (Scotland Forwver)

    Tha mi toilichte gun chòrd Dùn Eideann riut.
    (I am glad you enjoyed Edinburgh)

  55. Willis

    Nice travelogue.

    You enjoy science and discoveries so if you get the chance watch BBC2 at 9.00pm tonight (wed) when Brian Cox will present what sounds an interesting programme ‘Science Britannica’

    tonyb.

  56. About Scottish jokes, I have read one, which may be true or not:

    A new bridge was built between the mainland and the isle of Skye at the Kyle of Lochalsh, replacing the ferry to that island (which I still remember from my previous visit in 1975… If I remember well that one had a turntable to turn the car in the right direction to enter and leave the ferry, or that was between Mallaig and Skye?). There was a toll to be paid to pass the bridge, with one exception: if you have to drive sheep from one side to the other side,
    No problem for the smart Scots: someone rented a few sheep for a symbolic amount if you wanted to cross the bridge without paying the heavy toll…

    Anyway there was a lot of protest against the toll bridge, and in 2004 the toll was abolished.
    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skye_Bridge

  57. I said this before. My uncle used to say that the Irish gave the Scots the bagpipe.
    And they haven’t gotten the joke yet. 8-)

  58. @George Tetley, your comment of September 18, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Somehow I think this would be more to Willis’ liking:

    On Loch Katrine, the steamship Sir Walter Scott. Another thing I wanted to do last time there but did not manage.

    She still has the original 3-cylinder triple expansion engine and has two locomotive-type boilers. The vessel has a crew of five, and is the only surviving screw steamer in regular passenger service in Scotland. Up to the end of 2007 he boilers were fired by coke and the ash emptied ashore daily to minimise any risk of pollution to the loch which is Glasgow’s water supply and is owned by the West of Scotland Water Board. At the end of the 2007 season the ship was given a major overhaul and re-fit – the boilers were converted to run on bio-fuel, but still use the original engine.

    all except for the “converted to run on biofuel” part.

    About the same vintage as the Virginia V at Lake Union Park in Seattle, which I have steamed on.

  59. Another Scots joke, possibly apocryphal:

    Jock, independent businessman, began to suffer a series of reverses. Eventually he went bankrupt, and his family left him. He continued to decline in his fortunes, and eventually ended up in rags, scrounging garbage bins in alleyways. During this entire process, he offered ever more desperate prayers, asking for a lottery win to reverse his fortunes.

    Finally, in despair, he decided to end it all, but gave God one last chance: with broken whisky bottle in hand, he made a last impassioned plea for his lottery win. Suddenly, a cloud materialized overhead, and a lightning-activated voice rolled out: “Jock, Jock my son, you’re going to have to meet me half-way on this. You’ll have to buy a ticket!”

  60. Re: Scottish Jokes.

    So many, but one which must be mentioned is about William McGonagall, often described as the worst poet in the history of the English language (or at least among those whose works have escaped the flames).

    His best known poem is The Tay Bridge Disaster, a recitation of which has become a staple at many annual Burns Night suppers. As long as one is gathering to remember Scotland’s most honored poet, sampling a little of her most despised poet serves to highten one’s appreciation.

  61. gogarbank Met Office site appears in the min max for the day (all of UK)

    24 hours ending 2200 on 18 Sep 2013:
    Sunniest 2100-2100 10.2 hours Edinburgh Gogarbank
    Last updated: 0002 on Thu 19 Sep 2013

  62. First of all thanks to Willis but I have to add that many of you added comments and tales to make this a memorably journey for some of us that cannot go, thanks.

  63. Gene Selkov says: that we — in Britain put the power lines underground during second world war. I can assure him that from september 1939 we had more important things to do! Many towns were underground from the beginning — in the first years of the twentieth century, but most of those which had the overhead lines did it during the later post war years say from the sixties when things got just a bit more prosperous…

    • Thank you for the correction, John Moore. I don’t think I meant to say “during the war”, and I didn’t specifically refer to Britain. My overall impression is that the undergrounding of power distribution is more widespread in those countries that have participated in the war; I know little about the timing of it. But I recall that strategic war-time concerns were stated explicitly in electricians’ textbooks I read as a child, when the impressions of the war were still fresh, and some of those textbooks even pre-dated the war.

      Today, in view of a tenfold difference in upfront costs between the overhead and the underground distribution, communities with existing overhead lines need an unusually strong motivation to move them underground. It is possible that the near-total demolition of Europe actually provided an opportunity to do it at a much lower cost (I heard many people recall the war-time destruction when the construction of the tram line began in Edinburgh — some called it “Germans’ revenge for Dresden”).

      Here’s a more detailed opinion for why it’s a no-go in North America:

      http://www.npr.org/2012/02/01/146158822/if-power-lines-fall-why-dont-they-go-underground

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