Thursday, 18 January 2018


Edinburgh's nickname, which perseveres today, is Auld Reekie (old smoky), earned from the days of coal and wood fires, smothering the city in smoke. It was first called so by the Edinburgh philosopher, historian and poet Robert Fergusson in 1752, known to Robert Burns as "his elder brother in the muse".

During the 1700s, and into the 1800s, Edinburgh was home to a variety of writers and poets. As well as Fergusson there was Allan Ramsay, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Of more recent times, and living to the ripe old age of 97, was Will H. Ogilvie.

They all had one thing in common. They would escape the smoke of the city into the nearby Pentland Hills, where they all drew inspiration from its landscape and seasons. They influenced Stevenson at the start and end of his literary life, and so too Scott, for who it was Carnethy Hill in particular. For Ramsay he found inspiration for his book The Gentle Shepherd, while Robert Fergusson wrote his wintry poem The Daft Days.

On a 2018 wintry, blue sky day, with our own inspiration, Pauline and I took a short ramble along the Pentland Hill's northern peaks, and where better to start than appropriately through Poets Glen, on the outskirts of the city suburb, Currie.

The ground was frozen solid beneath our feet and a light dusting of snow was on the hills up ahead. The path through the little glen twists and winds its way over a small burn and through tall trees, to emerge beside open fields, sporting a feint green tinge of new winter-sown crop shoots. It was a cracking day for the hills, and a fair number of people had clearly had the same thought.

Our route took us east up the gentle slope of Capelaw from the base of nearby Harbour Hill. On the top, with our backs to the city the southern summits were in view, with Sir Walter Scott's Carnethy Hill just off to the west. Turning round 180˚ the view from the top went on forever, looking north all the way to the Highlands. In the foreground was the newly opened Queensferry Crossing road bridge.

Despite the bright sunshine it was bitterly cold if you stood around too long. It was still winter after all. So after a quick lunch stop of piping hot, homemade soup from our flasks, we took in our last two hills; Allermuir and Caerketton, the latter hosting Europe's largest artificial ski slope.

An early influence on Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson lived only to the age of 24. A sculpture of him can be seen on the Royal Mile, striding away from the Canongate churchyard, where Burns had commissioned a commemorative gravestone for him. Largely forgotten for a long, a painting of Fergusson now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Filled with inspiration ourselves, we too now strode away from the Pentland Hills, albeit a little chilled, toward home, with the excited anticipation of mugs of warming hot chocolate.

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