Last week I travelled up to Scotland to talk about a PhD in St Andrews, and to wander the streets of Edinburgh: falling more in love with the city than ever before. It was a week filled with incredible skies, architectural landscapes – both ruined and coal-charred – and the tumbling stone-masonry of hill-top kirkyards.
There is something of a rumour I have been clinging onto during the winter, a chinese whisper passed from a soluble sound-bite in the newspaper, read and reported by my mother, to me. The whisper said that some fortuitous alchemy, the mild winter combined with the mutable laws of astrology, had led to a period of particularly wondrous skies: shifting, transforming soft-vibrant dawns and sunsets which take my breath away. Despite its now untraceable nature, I believe it with absolute conviction; I can’t remember a winter of such lullingly-beautiful skies.
Sunsets bleed like flashing precious metals into the smallest slithers and exposed fractions of sky. Ruby red and amber jewelled-clouds make tracks against the celluloid blue, drifting behind the black frame of a winter tree’s scraggy branches. Mists rise up from the damp marshes, caught by the sunlight as if illumination gives levity, and then roll up and across the blue at impossible speed. The Harlow flood plains, fall below the Essex motorway, and mirror-ripple whipped clouds caught adrift in this suddenly vast, soft, brilliant sky. This winter I am obsessed with the sky.
In this sense Scotland didn’t fail me. It was gloomier and broodier, the sky there, framed by broom and gorse and the rising peaks of the land. The light seemed softer and weaker, but strangely immanent, and the clouds never succeeded in obstructing light, but simply diffused and fractured it. In St Andrews the day was spent under a weak, darkening and lightening blue, a dimness which filled me with joy instead of typically making me gloomy.
Sunset in the depths of Edinburgh caught itself in the window panes of buildings – so tall they grow by distortion – and was framed always by an illusory perspective of the city streets (the pretence that the sea is not in fact, out there somewhere, that everything is far grander and more sprawling than it really is). Edinburgh is the deep city, the city of vertical depths which confuse our sense of scale: cavernous archways and tunnels, infinite Scottish steps, a black tower of a monument, a castle sat atop a craggy peak.
Scotland was an adventure framed by perfect skies, more skies than I could ever or should ever try to describe. I’ll leave you with the perfect broodiness of the sky over the black rock of Arthur’s Seat…