Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

30 June 2011

Vantage Points

One feature that Edinburgh and Dundee have in common (besides architecturally significant bridges) is a high vantage point. In Dundee, Law Hill will provide a three hundred and sixty degree vista of the city. While around the university and the City Centre, it is easy to forget that there is a whole other expanse of town to the north, east, and west. Broughty Ferry Castle is visible from the top of the Law, as well as the towns across the Tay and a pine forest on a beach beyond. On clear days, a placard on the top of the Law says that even St. Andrew’s is visible in the distance.

Edinburgh does not lack for high vantage points. Edinburgh Castle is built on a hill in the middle of the city. From various points one can see all parts of the city laid out around the castle. The rails of Waverly Station bisect the city and acts in a manner similar to a river cutting through a town. Bridges stretch over the run of rails connecting the opposite sides of town.

But even the height of the castle pales in comparison to Arthur’s Seat. The Seat is an extinct volcano that rises to the southeast of the city. There are two ways up the ‘hill’. The easiest is the eastern path which slopes upwards more gently. The trail is well worn and passes the ruins of an old abbey. The other path (the one your author chose) winds to the west around the face of a cliff. Steep rocky stairs cut back and forth across the hill side. Small level areas give the climber a brief respite on the way to the top. The western route, however, gives the beholder a hawk’s vantage point of the castle and the Royal Mile.

Reaching the top, finally, the whole of Edinburgh and beyond is spread about you. The Firth of Forth Bridge is visible to the north. The castle and the Royal Mile can be scene, but now they seem so small, robbed of their dominating size by distance and elevation. Seagulls, instead of wheeling and calling above, are flying below, observed from the top instead of the bottom. One is placed above Edinburgh; much in the same way that one is placed above Dundee when on the Law.
We’ve dwelled a great deal on what it means to be placed in a location. There is a different meaning associated with being above a place. In the case of Dundee, being on the Law shows where locations are in relation to each other, knowledge that can be lost in the winding streets. In Edinburgh, the grandeur of the great buildings becomes part of a larger canvas of constructions. In a way, the buildings are humbled from up high. From this vantage point the buildings become more and more similar while still retaining their character.
Being on the Law reminded me that Dundee is more than just the university and City Centre. From Arthur’s Seat Edinburgh can be seen as a large city that can boast far more than the touristy areas. Being in a place offers its own unique insights and experiences. But occasionally it can be worth the climb to higher spaces to be reminded of the size and scope of the areas that we occupy.

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