Brian Lavelle | Scottish writer & musician

The fort on the river

It was not, in any sense of the phrase, a sun-kissed morning when I wandered to Cramond. I'd been planning on going somewhere else that day, but I discovered my original location, even at an early hour, was swarming with dog walkers and their four-legged friends. I left quickly.

Having resolved to go elsewhere, I found myself heading north to Cramond: Caer Amon, the fort on the river. I've known the village for a long time, probably close to 25 years now; the family of a friend I met at university lived there and I often visited her when she was home. I recall we walked particularly in the area around the kirk and towards the shore. I loved the fact that Cramond had Roman ruins.

Today, I've decided to stay away from the waterfront and its myriad runners, cyclists and families out enjoying the grey skies and haze of smirr on this early February day. It will be a quick visit, before the crowds descend.

Cramond has diverse connections, historical and cultural. One of them is Mr Lowther's house in Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which is situated in Cramond and is a place to which the eponymous protagonist escapes at the weekends.

And if Cramond is the be-all-and-end-all as far as Brodie is concerned, other places fare less well. 'You will end up as a Girl Guide leader in a suburb like Corstorphine,' she warns one of the girls in the school. There is a mirroring irony for me in the warning because that suburb is where I now live. I've not yet attained the heights of appointment as a Girl Guide leader, but it's surely only a matter of time.

The imposing Cramond Tower has always struck me as a haunted structure. It turns out—if you believe everything you read on the internet—to be the home of one of Scotland's leading taxidermists, so it's even more likely to be full of dead things than I'd previously imagined.

The friend I mentioned earlier asked me if I had encountered the Green Lady at the Tower. I'm glad to tell her that I didn't, nor any Roman soldiers passing through the Kirk. Everywhere, it seems, has its ghosts. On looking online, I find that Caroline Park, featured in a previous post, is also reputed to have its own Green Lady.

Cramond Kirk and its churchyard are quiet and peaceful, apparently empty of the living or the dead (at least above ground): a contemplative haven from the Lycra clad running cohort further down the hill.

I pause a while in the churchyard and contemplate the assorted variety of memento mori amassed here.

And finally—escape?

Cramond's high-end property prices and the millennia of history beneath its soil can't silence the overhead white noise of air traffic on multiple flight paths to and from Edinburgh Airport. But it wouldn't have been that way in the time of Miss Brodie.

Later, when I mention to my friend that I took a number of pictures at the overgrown and ruined walled garden close to the Kirk, she recalls that she 'used to sprint that part of the route home after Brownies' and that it was 'particularly atmospheric on dark, wintry nights when the sea harr was down.' I confess I didn't stay there long myself, the trees and other vegetation tangled and broken, the stonework crumbling in around the place, the darkness encroaching on all sides.

Curiously, none of my walled garden pictures developed properly, but I suppose that's probably just the result of a glitch in the film. Or something like that.

[The photographs in this post were taken with a former Soviet Union rangefinder, a 1974 Zorki-4K fitted with a Jupiter 8 lens, using (expired) Ilford FP4 Plus 125 black and white film.]

#35mm photography #Caer Amon #Cramond #Cramond Kirk #Cramond Tower #Edinburgh Drift #Muriel Spark #The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie #Zorki-4K