Edinburgh, trams and stuff

I was born in Edinburgh during the late unpleasantness (OK, 1942 if you must know). We lived in the centre, in an area not noted for its attractiveness, and yet I think the city as a whole was one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. It had an extensive tram network and very few cars. Trams were a good way of getting about this hilly metropolis. I think a few bus routes served the more outlying suburbs, and then in 1948 we moved to one such outskirt – Colinton Mains – to a housing estate which had been built for the Council but rejected by that august body on the grounds of poor soundproofing and internal stairs which were too steep. However, as rented accommodation it was, as I rosily recall, fine for us. Just through the fence at the end of our back garden was Oxgangs Farm, where the owner kept chickens, and which housed an old pine tree with a horizontal branch, on which Robert Louis Stevenson was reputed to have composed himself. Behind our houses the farmers’ fields stretched away to distant Swanston (where RLS had lived), and the Pentland Hills, where we kids played most weekends, unescorted and not worried about.

One drawback of this unbelievable remoteness was that we were not served by public transport initially. I had to walk the mile or so to Firhill, where the Colinton tram headed off to the even more remote – and separate – village of Colinton. I used the tram to get me to school in exchange for tokens. The school was Craiglockhart Primary, one of whose teachers was the then little known poet Norman MacCaig. (He was never my class teacher, but he did teach the boys Scottish Country Dancing – I don’t know who taught the girls. The lessons didn’t stick in my case.) After a couple of years a bus service direct to Colinton Mains came in, and I don’t think I used the trams much thereafter.

Why am I telling you this? Well the City Fathers, in their (cough, cough) wisdom, have decreed that Edinburgh’s internal transport needs will best be met by the reintroduction of modern, sophisticated 250-passenger trams, and the city centre is being torn apart to relocate and strenghthen underground services – gas, water, electricity, drains, telephone cabling and the like, before the tram rails are laid. It’s been going on for many months now, and recently the main thoroughfare – Princes Street (without an apostrophe folks) has been closed to traffic, and will remain so for a year.

The city is now one of the ugliest and unpleasant in Europe, and getting in and out by any form of transport is a ghastly and ever-changing series of diversions. It’s horrendous. And I suspect, as do many others, that this tram nouveau project will be an expensive and inefficient white elephant – nay, a white Mamuthus primigenius. Meanwhile the city centre is Donald Ducked.

I left Edinburgh when I was 15, and for most of my life I’ve not lived in a city. I really don’t like city life – I’m an unashamed country bumpkin. This afternoon I got off the bus in Dunbar High Street and walked along Queen’s Road (with an apostrophe) in the cold sunshine, blue skies and clouds. Over the sea to my left the heaviest clouds were discharging what looked like sheets of snow into the water. It was ravishingly beautiful. And not a ******* tram in sight, now or ever.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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13 Responses to Edinburgh, trams and stuff

  1. Pam says:

    Hello Colin. I am new to your blog. I have absolutely no idea how I landed here! Many years ago I visited Scotland,but, like you, am not a city person, so visited every deserted place I could find, and loved it. I didn’t go to Edinburgh.In our town on the opposite side of the world, we are having a Fringe Festival (on the alternate fringe of our mainstream arts festival). We have a reciprocal arrangement with the Edinburgh Festival, and there is a lot of to and fro-ing with both.”Direct from Edinburgh” seems to be a hopeful draw-card for many.My daughter performed last night. Perhaps one day she’ll get to Edinburgh, and pay hommage to her Scottish ancestors! Our Adelaide Writers Festival is the next thing on the horizon. I look forward to visiting again!

  2. Colin Will says:

    Thanks for dropping in Pam. Good luck with the Adelaide Festival.

  3. Douglas Clark says:

    Edinburgh is always a place I love to return to. Sad to hear your tale of current events. Egotistically here is a poem I wrote in Great King Street over forty years ago. (We share a birthyear). Cheers….http://www.dgdclynx.plus.com/poetry/library/extra2.html#astragal

  4. Colin Will says:

    Thanks Douglas. Nice poem. I love the New Town, and thank goodness they can’t do much damage to the buildings, unlike Princes Street, which has been lost since the 1960s.

  5. Claire A says:

    I agree that Princes Street looks horrendous, but otherwise I think that to say that Edinburgh is one of the most unpleasant and ugly cities in Europe is over egging the pudding just a bit! It doesn’t come close to being the ugliest city in the UK, even — trust me, I used to live very near to Birmingham! I agree with the rest of this post, though. The trams are fast turning into a joke… and we all predicted it!

  6. Elizabeth M Rimmer says:

    Ach, just wait, Colin. The Dubliners said all that and now they love the Luas and wouldn’t be without it – and I can promise, it’s a joy to use!

  7. Douglas Clark says:

    I should add that unpleasantness is still going on in Bath even after the disasters of the 60s.

  8. apprentice says:

    I try to use the park and ride at Newcraighall when I can. Mind you I know most rat runs through the town from years of commutinng,it’s the parking that’s the bugger.I still love the place, a wee tiny flat for weekend visits would suit me fine. Maybe when I move to hut out here in the sticks I might manage it.

  9. Colin Will says:

    I've used the p&r at Wallyford for daytime gigs, but I'm not sure I'd like to leave the car there in the evenings.

  10. deemikay says:

    Here’s to the unashamed country bumpkins. I can’t ever imagine living in a city… Last time I was in Edinburgh (almost exactly a year ago) I got very annoyed with the pavement works on Leith Walk. Can’t they just stop digging and ripping for a while?!I’d hate to see what the city’s like now…

  11. BarbaraS says:

    I know what Edinburgh is going through, we had a similar nightmare in Dublin when they put in the Luas… unfortunately someone didn’t do joined up thinking and didn’t join up two sections of it… which means we shall have some more digging up of roads etc. That’s if we ever get any money back into the country. I love the idea of Norman MacCaig teaching Scottish dancing to the boys – there’s a poem if ever I heard one…

  12. Crafty Green Poet says:

    I think edinburgh is still a very beautiful vity, most of it, just incredibly frustrating to try to get around these days. The trams are a huge mistake, colossal, and I’m someone who likes trams, but Edinburgh is too small to need trams, the route they’re offering is too partial and the bus services are suffering far too much as a consequence of the trams.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I cannot agree with you that Edinburgh is now one of the ugliest and unpleasant in Europe. Even with the road works it still remains a jewel among cities. I also cannot agree with Crafty Green Poet that the city is too small to need trams. The Hague is far smaller than Edinburgh and has a large tram network. Incidentally, I have been informed by a tram buff that before Edinburgh got rid of its trams it had the most extensive network in the world. Can I also point out that we don’t have housing estates in Scotland, we have housing schemes? Louise.

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