Monday, 27 August 2012

Wallace Monument

As you zoom past it on the motorway or train, Stirling is a distinctive city. Not only does it have an impressive castle sitting prominently on a hill in it's middle (we visited it last year here) but on another hill just outside it it has a rather unique structure which is the National Wallace monument. This picture of it was taken from our campsite a couple of weeks ago.

Here it is from the hill just below it when we went to visit it. By the time of Victoria, the Jacobite rebellions were a distant memory and there was quite a surge in Scottish nationalism. So, through a campaign to raise money by public subscription, this monument was raised to the great Scottish hero William Wallace in 1869. Most of the world know him through the film Braveheart which may be a jolly good film but not the place to go to find out about the man - here's the Wikipedia page for him where you'll find no mention of his face half painted blue.

This is the Wallace sword. It may or may not have belonged to William Wallace (The monument rather fails to mention the "may not" part). It certainly had some connection to Wallace a couple of hundred years after his death when in 1505, James IV had the hilt replaced, suggesting that, what he called the "Wallas sword", had some importance. There are some suggestions that some of the other fittings aren't right for the period and place but they don't remove the possibility that some or all (minus the handle of course) belonged to Wallace.

In a room on the first level of the tower is a collection of busts of other prominent Scottish characters. Here's the other great hero of the Scottish wars of Independence, Robert the Bruce. When he was dying he asked his right hand man, the Black Douglas, to take his heart on crusade, which he did. By some accounts he cast his heart into the midst of a battle crying, "Lead on Braveheart" (sound familiar!).

Four more Scottish types carved in marble. Clockwise; mighty penster and party animal, Mr Robert Burns; missionary and African Explorer, Dr David Livingston (who appeared in the last post too); another mighty penster, the better behaved Sir Walter Scott; and last but not least, good old James Watt who came up with some cracking ideas about steam while making himself a cuppa one morning.

Above the busts are these stained glass windows. Here is Robert the Bruce.

William Wallace and that famous sword.

I don't know who the other two windows are meant to represent - I could see no information. 

The design of the Wallace monument, much like the Scott Monument, was result of a competition. The winner was John Thomas Rochead who belonged to Edinburgh. The drawing below was for a sculpture suggested for the competition by Sir Joseph Noel Paterson (also mentioned in the last post). It was suggested that, for all Scotland and England didn't get on all that well in Wallace's days, things were much friendlier in Victorian times when the monument was built and perhaps Sir Joe's entry was a touch inflammatory.

The way to the top of the monument was by a long spiral staircase which I did not like. I've already been up to the top of the Scott monument this year  - no more high places this year, I can tell you. There are no pictures of the stairs but here are some pictures of the top.

The view from the top is really cracking. The Battle of Stirling Bridge (a good day for Wallace on 11th of September 1297) happened on this loop of the River Forth.

The campus of Stirling university.

If we could see the monument from the campsite, it stands to reason that the reverse view was possible. Our tent was hidden from view by the trees on the left hand side.

Stirling castle as seen from the monument.

A quick snap over the edge. I didn't look at this when I took it and was quite surprised to see a pile of money had been thrown into the guttering (who would expect that in Scotland)

A view of the tower from the bottom.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Song School

Last year I dropped in on the Mansfield Traquair centre where I saw the marvellous murals painted by Pheobe Anna Traquair. It's not open very often. Across the town is another building decorated with Mrs Traquair's murals. These are at the Song School of St Mary's Cathedral which is only open to the public only during the festival. These murals were painted between 1888 and 1892 and predate the Mansfield Traquair. Though on a smaller scale they are just as delightful.

Many of the figures on the wall represent prominent people from the time the murals were painted. The angel here is holding onto Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer who is best remembered these days for uttering the phrase, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Dr. Livingstone can be seen behind him.

Most left in this picture is William Blake and next to him stands Dante. 

The younger of the priests in this picture is Father Damien who established a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. He contracted leprosy himself and died in 1889. The other priest is Cardinal Newman who was leading spiritual figure who died in the same year this wall was painted, 1890.

Many of the paintings around the border illustrate scenes from the creation

This isn't the most expensive work of art in the World. The scaffolding and preparation of the walls for painting cost £7 and 10 shillings - even allowing for inflation, I can't imagine this being extortionate. Pheobe didn't take a fee for the painting - I'd like to think that somebody brought her a cup of tea from time to time.

This wall shows some of the people involved in building the cathedral - the chap on the left with the pallet is James Clerk, the George Street decorator who prepared the wall for painting. There are some suspicions as to who the middle character could be and nobody has any idea who the other fellow is.

Either side of the East wall are paintings of the choir and cathedral and song school officials. As well as these being actual portraits, the angels on the walls are also based on real people, sisters, friends, wives and members of the choir and congregation.

The East wall also features scenes from the life of Christ. Most, though not all, of the other figures in the building look towards Christ.

Around the feet of many of the characters are some gorgeous flowers.

Holding the book here is Alfred Tennyson, he is followed, also in red, by Robert Browning and looking straight out of the wall, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Looking back is Sir Joseph Noel Paton, you could occupy long time just looking at his two paintings from A Midsummer Night Dream in the Scottish National Gallery on the Mound. Just behind him is Thomas Carlyle and the chap in the skullcap is George Fredrick Watts, the painter and sculptor.

Less well known are the precentor and sub-organist of the cathedral and a figure representing Summer.

Tucked into the doorway on the North wall is this self portrait. She portrays herself asleep. No doubt exhausted after 4 years of painting. I wonder if she realised then that her next big work was going to take 8 years.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Festival Florescence

While wandering up the High Street in Edinburgh earlier in the week, I spotted Yoda floating around near these phone boxes. He's taller than he appears in the films and, quite frankly, just not as pretty.

I had arrived back in Edinburgh from work just in time to catch a lump of the Edinburgh festival. The month long festival is the largest arts festival in the world, with more music, drama and comedy than a person could ask for. Just taking a walk up the High Street is a guaranteed method of finding some sort of lunacy and entertainment. It's also a sure way of picking up an enormous handful of fliers for shows - there are over 2695 shows at the fringe this year and they are all eager to have your bottom in one of their seats (often offering cut prices for two bottoms on seats for the price of one).

While passing by  Bristo Square on Saturday, we saw a set of legs sticking up above the crowd, so on Sunday we set off to see what it was all about. We never made it. A sign on the museum on Chamber Street drew us in to see Melvin Moti's Exhibition, One Thousand Points of Light. He has built an exhibition using items from the Museum which are fluorescent under UV light. There's a short film of florescent rocks which is very relaxing, and a few florescent items in cases. There's a wee film about it here.

 A florescent scorpion.

A fossil shrimp.

Two glass jellyfish made by Leopold Blaschka.

A set of perfume bottles made from uranium glass.

The Dovecot Studio's in Edinburgh have been making tapestries since 1912 and during the festival they have a exhibition of their work spanning their existence, called Weaving the Century. They have worked in collaboration with many artists over the years including David Hockney and Elizabeth Blackadder, and how well they have managed to interpret these artists' works in wool is quite spectacular. They didn't allow pictures but I found the following on the net.

 One of our favorites, this large tapestry is by Eduaro Paolozzi (compare this to his window in St Mary's that I mentioned in this blog)

We noticed that Breabach were playing in the Coda folk music shop, so we popped along to see them. 

Two sets of pipes in an enclosed space is mighty loud.

Thank goodness we were at the back. It can't have been as loud as they must have sounded in The Shed here (good grief !). It would be cruel to leave you with just that for Breabach, there's quieter tunes and songs, here's one I particularly like. We were offered a two for one offer for their show so we went along to see them at the Assembly rooms on George Street on Monday night.

On an ordinary Wednesday throughout the year, you can pop into St Giles around lunch time where him and his chums play improvised jazzy tunes suggested by the audience for 45 minutes or so, under the name of Very Wednesday. Since this is the fringe, Very Wednesday is now Monday (as well as other dates). His chum today is Balazs Hermann on the double bass. Here they are in the church nearer the start of the month playing a few suggestions.

 Before I set off for Kirkcudbright on Tuesday, we wandered of to St Mary's Cathedral to view the Song School murals, which will get a blog all of their own later, and caught a pile of free music in the church. At lunchtime we enjoyed The Caprice Clarinet Quartet (which had grown to a quintet) and a small wander and a cup of tea later we were treated to the Hakuoh University Handbell Choir who were over here from Japan, not for the festival but for a bell ringing event down south and were really just on their way to a concert in Linlithgow. They are not primarily studying music at university but that didn't stop them being totally professional and well rehearsed. They were wonderful and utterly charming. For somebody for whom Japanese is not their first language (me), this was not an easy clip to find. Did I say that I enjoyed it.

We eventually identified the legs in Bristo Square. This large, inflatable, purple cow has become one of the festival venues.