Preview: Edinburgh, layers of time in the city

A preview from Issue #5 Moment, Movement

Heavens! what a goodly prospect spreads around,

Of hills, and dales, and woods, and lawns, and spires,

And glittering towns, and gilded streams, till all

The stretching landscape into smoke decays!

James Thomson, Scottish Poet, (1727)

Walking through the city I start to feel dizzy, though it feels like a pleasant dizziness.  I arrived by plane 2 years ago, and now it would be hard to detach me from this charming time bubble, this unique place whose identity of diversity and history, of home and modernity, stays intact while time passes by. My dizziness comes from movement. Up and down my eyes go, as the urban landscape’s layers never end. Crescents, rectangular gardens, ancient volcanoes, beaches, structured streets of all times but, Oh! What an unstructured timeline. A timeline, layers of time, everywhere.

I leave my flat: in Marchmont, mid-nineteenth century tenements suburbs, defined by their uniform Victorian style, gothic touches, tours, finials, and bay windows. Where shadows of light make facades glisten on sunny misty mornings. Where curling crescents connect to straight perpendicular streets and where little gardens once flourished, during what was last Spring.

Then, at the end of my street, the city opens up to me: the castle in the background, Arthur’s seat to my right, and in front of me cyclists, dog walkers, runners, footballers and students all pass by. The movement is endless. The Meadows, one of Edinburgh’s many urban parks, has been here since the nineteenth century. From morning to night, a flux of people and conversations move through this green reserve. A ‘lieu de passage,’ dynamic but so still, slightly changing each season — always surprising and never disappointing. It is a place where the moment is appreciated, whether that is the destination or just the commute.

After walking through the park, my timeline is once more disrupted. The Quartermile: modern buildings intertwined with old vestiges of the Royal Infirmary built in the eighteenth century. Reflections and blocks stream across pavement stones. And yet, nothing is disturbing to the eyes, the modernity does not steal attention from the old. 

In just a moment, lost in my thoughts, I find myself in New Town. An urban treasure of the late eighteenth century, the design of its streets reflects the landscape: the grid patterns, rectangular gardens and statues contribute to an environment of symmetry and balance. A Georgian touch which continues to add to the time puzzle of the city’s form. 

Realising that I have stopped walking, I connect my synapses and recollect my vision to discover in front of me the impressive ‘pièce de résistance’ — the Castle. ‘Bijoux,’ whose history dates back to the twelfth century, and has survived struggles of national independence. It looks over every one of us walking through the hills of this Scottish town. But what is invisible at first reveals itself slowly… The fortification lies on a 350 million year old rock, known as ‘Castle rock.’ Dating back to the Carboniferous geological period, the huge rock joins Arthur’s seat, forming part of Edinburgh’s collection of volcanoes and ancient geology.

Down towards the sea, I feel as though I almost leave the city, and arrive in what once was a village, with bridges, charming streets, walks along the water of Leith, a Sunday Farmer’s market and tantalising smells. Stockbridge is where I will stay still, sat by the river below the autumn leaves, sketching the multi-layered canopy of the trees while I revel in the fatigue of my dynamic walk.

And the city keeps going, the sea isn’t far below, but myself and my humanity are tired, we cannot compete with the greatness of this city. And I keep asking myself: how does such an imposing city still make me feel so comfortable? How has my new conception of home settled here? The city has dived into me and the movement keeps going. For some, it is a place of transition: for the tourists and the students. For others, the place has, and will be, home for generations to come.

For me, I do not know yet, but I hope many other walks await me, many other seasons, frozen winter mornings and golden autumn evenings. Edinburgh as a home, Edinburgh as a place, but through it all, movement and time define a key aspect of the city’s identity.

‘Edinburgh, layers of time in the city’ features in Crumble Issue 5 Moment, Movement which will be available to purchase in Summer 2020.

Text by Guillemette Gandon. Illustration by Lockie Mitchell. All rights Reserved.