LETTER FROM…Edinburgh

The shifting moods of Edinburgh. Story and photography by Charlotte Herrold, a Toronto writer who is pursuing a Master’s in creative writing at the University of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a moody place. One minute the sun is out and the sky is as blue as The Saltire flag; blink and the city is shrouded in fog so thick you can’t see five feet in front of you. As I type this letter, the view from my window—usually composed of spires and turrets and tiny chimneys (and if I lean far enough to the right, in the distance, the Castle!)—is a blanket of white, like someone has pulled the cable out of my TV and the screen has gone blank.

It’s really no surprise that this is the city that inspired the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Was Stevenson not simply personifying the schizophrenic weather? Or was he writing about the Janus-faced layout of the city itself, divided into the Gothic Old Town and the Georgian New Town? Edinburgh is a city rife with such juxtapositions of old and new: vendors on the Royal Mile sell clan tartans in every form from traditional kilts to cell phone holders; one of the longest surviving pubs in the city centre (dating from the sixteenth century) sits next to a French restaurant that boasts “Established 1998.”

It’s this very duality, this changeability that can make the city look unfamiliar on an evening walk down the same streets I’ve wandered for the past 10 months.

The sun seems to set differently on Edinburgh every night, casting shadows and illuminating buildings in ways that make centuries-old views seem as if they’ve just sprung into existence. “I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this before” is a phrase I find myself exclaiming on a weekly, if not daily, basis. It might be something as small and simple as the way the moss grows between the cobblestones, or something bigger like a sweet cafe or quaint pub off the beaten track—there’s always something to discover, a different facet of Edinburgh to experience.

Last week, my good friend from Toronto visited for two days—a short trip to Scotland tacked on to the end of a whirlwind conference she attended in London. “I can’t believe how different it is here,” she said as she got ready to head back to the airport. In the context, she meant “different from London,” but given the drastic changes in weather she experienced from one minute to the next, and the disparate parts of town I toured her through, claiming in each, “This is my favourite neighbourhood,” I couldn’t help but think that what she really meant was how different Edinburgh can be from itself.

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