Space to Breathe

Do you ever have those moments when you notice something out of the corner of your eye that makes you look up and smile? Of course you do. We all do. Or maybe it’s just me. Either way I had one such moment the other day.

I was leaving the office the other day (OK, quite a few days ago now, but the blog was a bit too busy last week to mention it) and noticed for the first time that you can see Edinburgh Castle from the front door. If you look past the trees and the rugby posts (there’s a school playing field across the road from us) it’s right there. On the other side of this playing field lies a place with an even better view, one with a practically uninterrupted vista of the entire city skyline, Inverleith Park. As I happened to be going to town anyway I decided that I’d ditch the idea of the bus and take a stroll through the park. The perfect antidote to a day in the office.

Inverleith Park, Space to BreatheThe park is situated just north of the city centre and is one of the largest in the city. In fact at 54 acres it is one of the largest ‘urban parks’ in the country. If you’d like to find out a little more then have a look at the park website over here. The majority of the park is given over to big playing fields, but also has a variety of paths, gardens, a play park and (of course) its famous pond.

Inverleith Park, space to Breathe Having lived not too far from this huge expanse of green for so long it’s hardly surprising that I’ve been here a fair few times over the years, but I hadn’t realised until I walked through just how long it had been.

What I will always most remember about Inverleith Park is that it was from here that we used to go watch the end of festival fireworks when I was little. Like many we used to take our rugs and a little portable radio (to listen to the music that’s broadcast along with the fireworks, not to hear the actual fireworks,  you can most certainly hear the bangs from the park) and sit at the top of the hill, taking advantage of its uninterrupted view of the castle and of the Inverleith Park, Edinburgh Castle, Space to breathefireworks reflecting in the pond.

Unlike such summery evenings gone by, the other day wasn’t exactly what you’d call sunny (although it was dry, which I guess was something), so the photos are possibly a little greyer than I’d like, but I hope they convey just how big the park is (look it up on Google Earth if you still don’t believe me). But of course this less than summery weather doesn’t mean there weren’t people there. There’s always somebody here.

Inverleith Park, Space to Breathe

It doesn’t matter whether you’re running, playing rugby, tennis or football, letting the kids run around a bit, chucking a frisbee about, feeding the ducks or just having a stroll you’re pretty much guaranteed not to be the only one doing so. With its sheer size and proximity to town the park is a haven for many of the good people of Edinburgh. Be it the afternoon, evening, or the weekend it is a place for everyone to relax and have some breathing space.

With Stockbridge (a ‘little village’ within the city, and quite a picturesque one at that) leading to the centre of town at one side and the Botanic Gardens on another it is also used by many (myself included on this occasion) as a more pleasant way to get to the other side without having to deal with traffic and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In fact on this occasion I saw someone so relaxed by the whole thing they nearly walked into the pond, and when we were here with the dog last weekend (as in the one just passed, so the one after my afternoon walk through the park – don’t worry, I’m confused too) she was so fixed on watching every other dog around her that she managed to walk headlong into a lamp post.

True to form I was so relaxed by the time I’d crossed the park that I actually had to fairly pick up the pace to get into town on time. But that is no bad thing. I know that in Edinburgh we are very lucky to have as many parks as we do, and probably take them very much for granted, but I think we should all make a little time now and then to go for a walk in the park. What better place is there to get space to breathe in a city?Inverleith Park, Space to BreatheCr

“Oh, I Think the Fireworks are Synced to the Music!”

The other day I wrote about getting a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of the Fireworks Concert, so here is the follow up. By way of a quick background, for those who are feeling too lazy to read the first post, the Fireworks Concert happens every year to celebrate the end of the Edinburgh International Festival. This year its new sponsorship deal made it the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert. To put it in a nut shell it is basically a 45 minute concert performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra which happens to have over 100,000 fireworks launching from Edinburgh Castle to go along with it.Virgin Money Fireworks Concert 2011One of the great things about the fireworks is that you don’t actually have to be in Princes Street Gardens to see them, being on a hill in the centre of town they are actually visible throughout most of the city (and a bit of Fife as well). We decided though that this year we would get in on the action and watch from Princes Street. Apart from the obvious benefits of being so close (getting your eardrums blown out, etc.) you also get the concert live as there are speakers along the edge of the Gardens.Virgin Money Fireworks Concert 2011We got an uninterupted view of the entire show from our vantage point at the bottom of Fredrick Street and although there were fewer people there than I thought there might be the crowd was still pretty large. Before leaving for the show I discovered that one of my cameras actually has a setting for fireworks on it, so I dutifully used it throughout. Sadly, however, it seems that it isn’t exactly wonderful (or I was doing something wrong, both of which are equally possible) and so the photos aren’t the best.Virgin Money Fireworks Concert 2011The display was absolutely spectacular this year (as it always is) and the music was excellent – I’m not entirely sure how Tchaikovsky’s Russian and Arab Dances from The Nutcracker fit with the ‘Far East’ theme, but we’ll gloss over that fact (and that the Nutcracker reminds me of Christmas) – even if drowned out by the pyrotechnics on occasion. I also really enjoyed the couple behind us who, four and a half pieces in (there were six in total) announced that they thought the fireworks were being set to the music.Virgin Money Fireworks Concert 2011To make up for the slightly sub-par photos, I decided to go a little more multimedia about half way through the concert, so if you weren’t one of the many people watching the show (estimates say that over a quater of a million people watch it every year) you can experience a little bit of it below. Do be warned it does contain some flashing images (if that wasn’t going to be a little obvious).

If you are ever in Edinburgh at the end of the festival I would thoroughly recommend that you ensure that you are here for the fireworks concert as well.


Things That Go Bang in the Night: Behind the Scenes at The Virgin Money Fireworks Concert

For as long as I can remember I’ve always enjoyed the fireworks at the end of the Edinburgh International Festival. For those of you who have never seen this spectacle it is a 45 minute long firework display during which over 100,000 fireworks will be launched from Edinburgh Castle to accompany the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, playing in the Ross Band Stand in Princes Street Gardens below. This year’s concert is happening on Sunday (4th September) at 9pm – the orchestra’s set list can be found here.

This year Virgin Money took up the sponsorship deal and to promote this fact they organised a behind-the-scenes tour for interested Edinburgh bloggers. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity – it’s not ever day something like this happens – even if I didn’t really know what to expect (or know much about fireworks, for that matter).

Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money Fireworks

We met by the castle gates as they were checking the sound system for Arcade Fire’s castle gig and were taken up to the main entrance road to the cobbled ‘square’ of the castle (the Middle Ward) where we discovered that the public are only separated from the firepower by a fence. It was here that we met up with Keith Webb of Pyro-vision, the mastermind of the whole show. He took us round some of this years preparations, told us some of the difficulties they face and how the show has changed over the years.These Aren't Rockets - Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money FireworksThe first thing you notice, aside from the large amout of fireworks sitting about, is the huge amount of wiring which is lying around. This, Keith informed us, is all to do with the technology that they use to control the show. Obviously in the time the show has been running the techonology has improved enormously – any images of people running along the ramparts with a lighter you have in your head are, sadly, wrong  – and these days the show is controlled electronically with each firework being light by an electronic match. The entire show is rigged in two halves (each a mirror image of the other, to the centimetre) and run along the Argyle and North battlements, making them visible from the west right over to the east of the city.Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money Fireworks

With all this technology, however, they have a multitude of back-ups built in, just in case something doesn’t quite go to plan. Everything is wired up so that even if something is majorly wrong with the launching system only half of the show can be affected, and those of us watching it will have no idea that anything is wrong. They can even isolate some of the larger fireworks so they don’t fire if the weather turns (not that that would ever happen in Scotland…). This computer system allows for fireworks to be launched at a quicker rate than human fingers can push the buttons (especially useful for the passages of music which are just too fast for a person to keep up with) and also enables the end result to be more closely in time with the music. The only downside to all of this is that, unlike many displays, the music is live and so the technicians/pyromaniacs (any idea of the professional name for them?) follow a coded score throughout the concert and have to be prepared to alter the speed of the launch if the conductor has a slow moment.Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money Fireworks

Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money FireworksThis is one of three arcs that are going to be on the castle on Sunday night, and like most of the display is custom built for the night. If you look closely you will see all the wiring which links to the computerised launching box on the back; the red and green tags refer to the two systems, so that at least half of it will go off if one lot fails. Somewhat unbelievably, this arc represents only about 7 seconds of the 45 minute show. It’s easy to see why over 100,000 fireworks are needed. One of the most staggering things about this display must be that it is designed by hand – and not computer – with Keith relying on his knowledge of what is availible from around the world and where to get it. Rather fittingly (this year the EIF is drawing its inspiration from the Far East) a lot of the fireworks have come from China, however, different parts are sourced from around the globe.Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money Fireworks

Sadly our tour was cut slightly short by a member of castle staff telling us that it was closing time just as we were getting to the exciting part – the waterfall. The waterfall – a wide cascade of fireworks, strung between two sets of ramparts and looks like it is floating in the air as it spills down the north face of castle rock – is a highlight of the concert, and each year its location in the show is one of the most closely guarded secrets. Not surprisingly the specifically made centrepiece is also the most expensive part of the show. What you probably don’t know is that some of the matierals used to make it have to be sourced over seas because they are classified as ‘military spec’ in the UK and the only reason for putting it into the show originally was that it had never been done off the castle before.Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money FireworksHaving seen the preperations it is quite staggereing to think that the company only gets in to the castle the Sunday before and there are only 15 people to set it all up (plus an extra 4 on the night). If you are in Edinburgh on Sunday night I would encourage you to make sure you see the show (the music is also broadcast on local radio); it looks like we are all in for a spectacular show.Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money Fireworks

Thank you Virgin Money/EIF for a most illuminating tour!