Calton Hill

A couple of days of bed rest is enough for me. Now that the incision wound in my thigh is feeling less tender, it is time to crack on with my seven hills of Edinburgh project! You will recall that I’ve only managed one of these so far, but now the hole in my heart is closed, there will definitely be no stopping me. I’ve recently been fitted out with some new orthotics to correct my over-pronating ankle – the effect of the stroke on my left foot has been made worse by my naturally flat and weirdly large plates o’ meat – but these new orthotics really help. In fact, I have found that I can now walk about a little without using the leg brace, which is very pleasing. My brace may well be a miracle of carbon-fibre engineering, but I really hate clumping along with a big, black, cumbersome object strapped to my shin, so I decided to attempt Calton Hill without it. I’m still very unsteady on my feet, though, so I used one of the walking poles that Tom gave me for my birthday for added support.

Calton Hill is not high, but because of its position in the city it has a distinctive sort of prominence. Once the site of a gibbet and a jail, over the course of the Nineteenth Century, the hilltop became home to a crazy jumble of unrelated structures, the most notorious of which is the unfinished national monument (seen above), which was originally meant to commemorate Scotland’s dead in the Napoleonic Wars. Other men have other monuments here too, including Nelson, whose memorial was apparently designed to resemble the admiral’s telescope. This architectural conceit, according to Robert Louis Stevenson, makes the Nelson monument “rank among the vilest of men’s handiworks.”* You can make up your own mind.

Today, folk come up here to explore the buildings, or to celebrate Beltane, but mostly for the views, which are tremendous in all seasons, weathers, and directions.

To the North, sunshine on Leith. . .

. . .and to the South, brooding skies over the old town, the Braids in the distance.

But my favourite monument on Calton Hill is not really part of the hill itself: it is the obelisk that you can see just right-of-centre in the photograph above, and it lies over the road in Old Calton Burial Ground. David Hume is buried here, but that’s not who we came to see. . .

In Scotland, as elsewhere in Britain, one effect of the French Revolution was to unleash the forces of conservative reaction among supporters of the Government. In 1793 and 4, political repression came to a head in a series of Edinburgh show trials, whose purpose was to undercut and demoralise the burgeoning movement for parliamentary reform. With the assistance of a reactionary and corrupt judiciary, the Unitarian printer, Thomas Palmer, William Skirving, (the secretary of the Edinburgh Society of the Friends of the People) Maurice Margarot (member of the London Corresponding Society), Philadelphia lawyer, Joseph Gerrald, and, perhaps most famously, eloquent Scottish radical and advocate, Thomas Muir, were all convicted on spurious charges of sedition, and transported to Australia.**

When the foundation stone of Hamilton’s monument to Scotland’s political martyrs was finally laid in 1844, a massive Edinburgh crowd gathered to watch the ceremony on Calton Hill’s south side.

The Political Martyrs monument is often overlooked, but I reckon it deserves a much more prominent place on the tourist map of Edinburgh.

After a highly successful walk up, down, and around Calton Hill, it was time for a reward, and not before time, as the sky was threatening rain. . .

There was a beer festival on at one of our favourite pubs, so we headed North . . .

The festival featured some fine Scottish ales, but we didn’t hang around for the evening’s entertainment (pictured left). I like to imagine them as the ultimate caucasian soul outfit, but they are probably just two blokes from Falkirk who look slightly alike.

It was a good afternoon.

And for those who are wondering, yes, that is the cycling jersey. It is a fun and perfectly wearable garment, but, to be honest, all is not quite well with it . . . after writing that terribly smug post about the importance of neat finishing &c &c, I found myself having a steeking disaster. I promise to explain all another time. . .

* RL Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1879).
**if you are interested in the British parlimentary reform movement and the sedition trials of the 1790s, check out the brilliant book by my friend John.