Opened in 1903, the "Caley" is a historical monument of the capital of Scotland.
At the end of Princess Street presides the Queen of Edinburgh, "The Caley", over lush green gardens, offering a walk in the park to museums, shops and the old castle district on the hill. After checking-in at the Caledonian, I take a moment to enjoy the marvellous view over the valley across Princes Street Gardens; the old city to the right, the new city to the left. Through my window, in room 236, I can see the castle.
I quickly sneak out of the ‘Caley’, as the hotel is affectionately known in Edinburgh, and cross the road. I walk down the steps into St Cuthbert’s churchyard. Suddenly the hustle and bustle of the city are far away, and I find myself steeped in the serene atmosphere of this historic graveyard. Buried here are the remains of George Meikle Kemp, who designed the Scott Monument on Princes Street, commemorating novelist Sir Walter Scott. Here, too, lies John Napier, the great mathematician, astronomer, poet and prodigious inventor. It is also the final resting place of Alexander Nasmyth (one of his paintings is shown on previous pages), artist, architect, bridge designer and inventor, and Thomas De Quincey, author and essayist.
Edinburg Castle from a room with a view - my daily morning panorama.
My target lies a bit further into Princes Street Gardens. I am meeting Roddy Martine, my Scottish co-author, at Ross Fountain. Architect John Dick Peddie had originally intended the fountain for the forecourt of the Caledonian Railway station. The fountain, originally designed as a centrepiece for the Paris Exhibition of 1867, still carries the maker’s name – A Durenne, Maitre des Forges, Sommevocle, Haute Marne. After the exhibition, the statue was purchased by Daniel Ross, an Edinburgh gunsmith, who intended to present it to his native city. At considerable personal cost, Ross had it shipped in 122 pieces to Leith, but when the towering montage of scantily-clad and naked young women was unveiled before the members of Edinburgh Town Council, they were horrified. It was all too suggestive and French; the sight of naked women in a railway station was too much for their prudish Victorian worthies. So the fountain ended up here, at a safe distance from the hotel. A perfect vantage point to tell the story of Edinburgh’s famous landmark.
My favourite painting, to be found at the National Gallery, a short walk away from the hotel: Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823): Reverend Robert Walker (1755–1808)
‘The Skating Minister’ Oil on canvas 30 x 25 inches. Owned by the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh*.
* Part of the tradition attached to the portrait is that the reverend Walker is skating on Duddingston Loch, which lies at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, a plug of a former volcano, which dominates Edinburgh, just to the east of the city centre. Robert Walker was a member of the Royal Company of Archers in 1779 and their chaplain in 1798. This painting, virtually unknown prior to 1949, when it was purchased by the National Gallery of Scotland, has become one of the most famous paintings in the world and a symbol of the National Gallery.