Stones: North Leith burial ground
I recently found Vast Public Indifference via a link from Boston 1775 (it was a bumper day for finding blogs that make me realize how far I have to go), and this post reminded me that I own a copy of Stones by Betty Willsher and Doreen Hunter.
As I’ve mentioned in passing before, I live in Edinburgh – the one in Scotland, not Edinburgh, Indiana, despite the American flavour of many posts here. I grew up partly in Perthshire, and one summer during my teenage goth phase I did some recording of monumental inscriptions at Kinfauns churchyard with a local volunteer group. One of the other volunteers (all of whom were roughly forty years older than me) lent me a copy of Stones and I pored over it, memorizing trade emblems and making lists of local burial grounds mentioned by Willsher, which I then forced my mother to drive me to at weekends.
Sometimes this was a lot of fun; sometimes not. I recall the two of us standing in Cargill churchyard, trying to stay breezy and positive in the face of a seriously grim atmosphere enhanced by oppressively hot sun beating down (come on … we’re Scottish) and a couple of bloody rabbit corpses dotted around, one draped insouciantly over the top of a headstone with its torn throat on gruesome display. They had probably been dropped by birds of prey, but it was the kind of eerily silent setting that just screams “The rabbit-slaughtering devil worshippers will be RIGHT BACK” – so we poked around, found whatever creepy emblems of mortality I wanted to cross off my list, and shot off back to the Peugeot 205 in record time.
I bought my own copy of Stones second-hand a few years ago for nostalgia’s sake, but I don’t go to many graveyards these days. After seeing the post linked above, though, I felt the urge to look through the book and then to stop in at the graveyard nearest my flat, which I pass a few times a week anyway. It’s the North Leith burial ground on Coburg Street. Many of the stones are eighteenth-century, a few even earlier. Lots of mariners and their families are buried there, so there are plenty of stones with emblems related to their trade.
The burial ground is considerably more cheery these days than it seemed when I first explored it about seven years ago; it was more overgrown, and less overlooked by residential property, at that time. Also, Coburg Street was a lot dodgier in character. I happened to glance beneath a table stone on that visit, and found what was obviously someone’s regular shelter spot (thankfully unoccupied) complete with a small plastic tray holding a comb, packet of wet wipes and several condoms. Once again, a speedy exit seemed like the wisest course.
Now, though, it’s all perfectly salubrious, with builders working on a block of flats adjacent to the space and a nice little family-friendly bistro across the road. People keep whizzing past on bikes, or strolling along the Water of Leith path on the other side of the hedge, chatting. I took a few photos to celebrate the fact that our camera, which stopped working for no reason back in March, has randomly started working again.