(Written while sitting in Princes Street Gardens; Palms make as-it-happens journalism easy)
Princes St Gardens, in Edinburgh, is a lovely haven in the middle of what is, it must be admitted, a fairly lovely city. Princes St itself is a main shopping road, complete with Burger Kings, HMVs, and all the other trappings you'd expect of such a street. But the Gardens, literally next to this long temple to the art of the consumer, are something else entirely. Verdant and beautiful on this pretty, sunny May day, they have the feel that all the great university towns (of which Edinburgh is one) seem to engender, that of a green place of peace and happiness. Just their presence makes the whole city that much brighter - turns old crumbling masonry into a nostalgic reminder of days gone by. Things that would be thought ugly in ugly cities somehow only improve the lustre and the experience. This is a beautiful place.
The obvious centrepiece is the Castle, high up on its hill. The hill is no gently sloping knoll, either, but a forbidding cliff of naked rock from this side. You can well imagine how invaders might have felt, looking up at this mighty wall of stone. Ironically, the view from down here, in front of a commemorative stone erected by Norway giving thanks to Scotland for training during the war, isn't as good as from the top - there are too many trees in the way. To really appreciate the edifice, you have to be standing on Princes St itself, the ultimate reminder that what you're looking at is a splendid but irrelevant anachronism. The mix of old and new, which seems to inform a great deal of the initial impression of Edinburgh, is nowhere more apparent.
But the gardens themselves are still extremely pretty, with the real Brideshead Revisited air of happy couples lying and giggling on the grass that Cambridge also has on sunny days. Even the enormous fountain, a gold-coloured folly that elsewhere would surely be thought garish, can only add to the feeling of lazy rich summer days.
Excuse me. I think I'm going to walk up to the main street and look at the Castle again.
© Aquarius, March 2002