In Edinburgh, look up!
One sunny Saturday afternoon in September after working since 6am, my youngest son and I packed a bag with swimming costumes, a flask of tea and a packet of Island Bakery Lemon Melt biscuits (the best ever biscuits with pleasingly pretty packaging) and headed to an East Lothian beach with our dog Stella. It was very warm in that way September afternoon can be here. The last vestiges of summer, willing you to make the most of the moment, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin before it disappears until the spring.
Life has felt pretty tense of late, trying to persuade the Scottish Government that their plans for the nation’s small accommodation sector aren’t wise. So, escaping at the weekend to spent innocent times in nature with my boys and happy dog, has felt vital to keep my spirits up. We arrived just in time for a rare glimpse of a pod of porpoises swimming along the length of the bay in flat calm waters.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, I lay back on our rug to look up at the sky. Unlike so much of the time when I’m using my eyes to receive information, lying there on the beach, with the sound of my son and Stella having fun together in the background, I actually looked. And I saw. The blue of the sky and the softest clouds creating ever changing patterns, birds drifting by. In contrast to an email or whatsapp message, I didn’t need to do anything; no reply was needed. All that was required was to lie there and experience it.
The difference between the cursory glance I normally have time for and the looking was my brain. Usually bombarded with so much information, calmly moving my eyes across the sky, I was able to see stories other than my own. The perspective shift was simple but startling. I felt calmer simply by noticing.
Since that enlightening looking experience, I’ve been trying to remember to look up whenever I can. We spend so much time looking out or down but not up. Probably some of the most underused muscles in the human body are those that life the eyes upwards. But there is so much to be gained by looking up, especially in Edinburgh. This is a city where looking up is rewarding. Whether it is admiring Edinburgh Castle, sitting majestically on top of an ancient volcano, or wondering at the Medieval buildings lining The Royal Mile – some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, to the magnificent ceilings inside our cathedrals, museums and restaurants. They invoke a sense of awe, just like staring at the sky does.
In Edinburgh, look up!
So, yesterday afternoon, I headed out in the rain, to photograph some of the best ceilings I know in Edinburgh to share with you, so you can look up in Edinburgh and feel that same sense of awe too. There is often a very pleasing sense of symmetry to these ceilings too.
In St Giles’ Cathedral, look up!
The ceilings in St Giles’ Cathedral have witnessed so many important moments of our nation since the 14th century, when it was built. From John Knox preaching here to visits from many monarchs, including the coffin of HM Queen Elizabeth II lying at rest in the Cathedral for 24 hours on 12th September 2023
In The National Museum of Scotland, look up!
The National Museum of Scotland opened in its first bespoke buildings, in Chambers Street in 1866. Originally inspired by London’s Crystal Palace, the building was designed by visionary engineer Captain Francis Fowke and local architect Robert Matheson to be both beautiful and technically innovative.
The foundation stone was laid in 1861 by Prince Albert, a driving force behind Britain’s 19th century museum movement. His visit to Edinburgh would be his last public act before his death.
The redevelopment of the National Museum of Scotland (2006-2011) transformed the adjacent Victorian building into a vibrant museum for the 21st century, opening up public spaces, providing new facilities and displaying our natural world, world cultures, art and design and science and technology collections in innovative new ways.
At Mowgli, look up!
There are many amazing ceilings in bank buildings in Edinburgh. Some are still banks, like the HQ of The Royal Bank of Scotland at 36 St Andrew Square which has a magnificent domed ceiling. You can visit the bank to take a look.
Flo Simone told me about the amazing ceiling at Mowgli, an Indian street food restaurant at 20 Hanover Street. The food is delicious and there are fun swing seats hanging from the ceiling, so this is definitely one to try if you haven’t already.
In the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, look up!
John Ritchie Findlay, the chief proprietor of The Scotsman, not only paid for the construction and an endowment for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, but he also masterminded the building that was to house the collection. He employed the architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, who had previously won the competition for designing the Edinburgh Medical Schools and who later earned a wide reputation for the restoration of ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland. Rowand Anderson created a modern purpose-designed art gallery to rival the most advanced at the time in Europe and America.
Once inside the building, the Main Hall proves a breathtaking introduction to Scottish history. Along the first-floor balustrade runs a processional or pageant frieze that depicts many famous Scots in reverse chronological order. Starting with Thomas Carlyle, it was designed as a ‘visual encyclopaedia’ and includes figures such as David Livingstone, James Watt, Robert Burns, Adam Smith, David Hume, the Stuart monarchs, Robert the Bruce and Saint Ninian. The artist, William Hole, also painted a series of large-scale murals on the first floor. Like the frieze, these paintings of scenes from Scottish history are as much a part of the fabric of the building as the memorial to its founder, John Ritchie Findlay, on the ground floor. His was the first contemporary portrait to be commissioned for the Gallery.
I hope I’ve inspired you to remember to take time out look up where ever you are, and in Edinburgh to look up, next time you are walking around the city. If you have a different favourite ceiling in the city, please comment below so we’ll all know to seek it out.