Edinburgh -Cityscape in Gray

We have been moving quite a bit in the last several days, so it has been a challenge to keep up with the blog, but we are now stopped for a few days at the foot of the Alps in Bled, Slovenia.  I hope to catch up with the images and ideas that have been sparked by 4 or 5 days on the road.  I will begin with a montage of pictures and ideas from Edinburgh, a city we visited briefly on our way to Cairngorms National Park and then again for a few days after we returned.


Like so many great European cities, most encounter them first by a transportation hub.  In the case of Edinburgh that would be Waverley Station pictured here.  It is at the heart of the city in a channel that used to be filled with water as a Loch (Lake) where accused witches were thrown to see if they would float.  It seems they have found a better way to use the landscape since then.  One of Edinburgh’s residents in the 19th century (Patrick Geddes) suggested, “A city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time.”  It is not hard to see how he might have come up with such wisdom in Edinburgh which wears history like layers of clothing piled on to brace against the cold.  The buildings and streets act as a stage for the unfolding drama.  Some images are iconic and quite old, like the Edinburgh Castle sitting on a hill overlooking the entire city.


But even in the shadow of such iconic images, there is the constant scene change as history and “progress” marches on.


The roof tops look as if they set the stage for a Mary Poppins revival with chimney sweeps about to appear in a lively gait, and yet the cranes in the distance bring in  materials by the hour to transform the city anew.


Edinburgh has been a city for a long time, and as such, its leaders have had to constantly figure out ways to provide services for the people who live there.  This can be quite a challenge with so many people living in one place adding their stories to the drama over time.  In the 17th century there were already so many people living in the city, that the designers had to develop a system to get water for the residents to drink and use so they wouldn’t foul the surrounding water sources.  They build a series of cisterns to dispense water throughout the city.  Some still stand now as monuments to a public works department that is over 350 years old.


Today one of the biggest challenges for any city is the congestion of traffic.  This is particularly true with cities that started in a time long before cars were ever dreamed of, let alone planned for.  This describes almost every European city we have been to so far.  The streets are narrow, often winding, and not generally conducive to the individualized habits of a modern auto-focused culture.  To counteract this, and to fight the emissions of those cars (both ground based ozone and atmospheric carbon), most European cities have developed reliable modes of mass transportation such as buses and trains, and they have worked hard to develop a culture of alternative transportation through the creation of pedestrian malls and public relations campaigns.


Issues like sanitation, public water supplies and transportation systems can seem rather mundane, but they are at the heart of what makes city life possible.  Cityscapes are as much about the ordinary as they are about the iconic and the extraordinary.


In the picture above (taken from the top of a double-decker public transportation bus), the ordinary landscape of city life is very much on display.  My American friends might note that the cars are driving on “the wrong side” of the road, but that is simply a matter of perspective.  Note how small most of the cars are, this is not the land of the SUV.  Gas (petrol as they call it) is almost four times as expensive as it is in the US.  The streets are narrow, and the residents do not see the need to consume so many resources simply to move one’s body through space.  There are clear lanes marked for the preferred method of transportation, the bicycle.  A group of students walk toward some learning opportunity (they take their students out into the world far more than we do in the states, to learn about the city and world around them).  There are certainly old buildings and monuments in view from past centuries of city life; but some buildings just “look old” such as the 50 year old building on the left.  The weather and pollution from the city has a way of prematurely aging the buildings so they turn gray long before you might expect them to.  There are some people I know that fall into that same category….


Edinburgh is the seat of political authority in Scotland.  They are proud of their independent heritage of self-rule that came to an end with the expansion of the British Empire north in 1707 when Scotland was officially incorporated into the United Kingdom.  For almost 300 years, Scotland housed symbols of the British political and cultural rule such as this Anglican Church, complete with the seal of the royal house of Windsor, to mark the church that the monarchs attends when they visit the city and stay in the royal palace just down the road.


However, in 1997 the Scots voted to devolve from the British direct rule and manage their internal affairs through the renewed Scottish Parliament.  In 1999, it was official, the Parliament of Scotland met again and began to carve out their own identity while remaining part of the United Kingdom.  They built the modern building (pictured below) across the street from the royal palace as if to show the distinctions between the old (represented by the monarch’s palace above), and the new (represented by an modernist parliament building for the new seat of government).  The architecture of a city gives it its unique character, and while they kept the gray-tone building colors, they modernized the character of the building as if to say, this is a new experiment in government to match the ever changing drama of Edinburgh throughout time.


Sometimes the old and the new get mashed together in the story of a city.  Edinburgh is the birthplace of a new international phenomenon known as the Harry Potter novels which were written here by J.K. Rowling.  She started writing them in coffee houses such as the Elephant House (which has become a pilgrimage site for any Harry Potter fan),


and she finished the last book in the Balmoral hotel across town.


The books of Harry Potter are set in a fictitious time inspired by a medieval age of witches and castles, and it is not hard to see where J.K. Rowling drew her inspiration as you wander the streets of this city.  Perhaps this street gave rise to Diagon Alley…


It certainly gave rise to my heart rate climbing from the bottom to the top of it.  There is no flat ground in Edinburgh, it seems to be endless hills, and somehow they are always moving up from wherever you are to wherever you are going.  Often curving to follow the meandering of cattle in days gone by rather than the orderly grid system that facilitates traffic and navigation in most modern cities.  Gray skies and gray buildings still don’t dampen the spirits of these sojourners in this space.



J.K. Rowling is right, Edinburgh is a magical, inspiring place.  If the grays get you down, there are always other colors inside to brighten your spirits…





Europarc 2018 Conference

This past week, I had little time to post much here because I was engaged all day every day at the Europarc 2018 Conference in the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland.  Europarc is a non-governmental organization that works to coordinate the efforts of all the people who run national and regional parks across Europe.  There were 620 delegates from 39 different countries at the conference!  It was one of the most amazing conference experiences I have ever had.


This was a truly international conference focused on how to engage the next generation in the use and protection of European national parks.  The idea of national parks is pretty new in Europe.  The Cairngorms National Park, where the conference took place is only 15 years old, but it is the largest park in the U.K.  What a spectacular setting!  There is almost no public land in the park, it is a cooperation of local landowners and the local villages such as Aviemore where it was located.


This was just a path on the way to the conference every day.


The river Spey runs through the town, it is Scotland’s fastest river and its third longest river.  The water from this river flows out of the Cairngorm mountains and supplies the Glenlivet distillery and the Dalwhinnie Distillery among others.  They make some of the finest Scotch whiskeys in the entire realm.


This is the little cabin in the village that we stayed at.  A quiet little retreat, right next door to a pub and only a 10 minute walk to the conference.  Paula and Erin made this their retreat for the week, but I spent most of the time interacting with delegates from all over Europe.  I shared meals with wonderful new friends from Lithuania, Wales, England, Italy, Poland, Greece and Scotland among others.


The Cairngorms National Park is home to 18,000 people, 4 of Scotland’s 5 highest peaks, a quarter of all their endangered species, and some of the most spectacular scenery I have seen so far.


It seems to house wonders at the macro and micro scale.


It is truly teaming with life at every turn of the corner, and I was fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time at the conference at field trips traipsing through the woods,


Meeting with the locals as they shared the pride they have in the local park they help manage through joint stewardship.


and learning about how local communities benefit from their inclusion in the park as they work to improve their quality of life, local economy and preserve their cultural and natural heritage.


There are so many different models of National Parks across Europe, some almost entirely private, some mostly public lands, and many a mix of the two where public entities work with the input of local authorities to develop a park image that is both a national treasure and a source of pride and participation from the locals.  We could learn a lot from the model.


The theme was about engaging the next generation.  We heard from keynote speakers such as Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods and the person who coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder – last guy on the left here) and young policy entrepreneurs such as Heinrick van Hendenberg (second from left) who is training youth leaders (12-18 years old) through an organization called “Act!on for Conservation”  to take environmental leadership action now, not in some distant future.  In my breakout workshop the first day there were 26 of us in the room representing 18 different countries (Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium, England, Wales, Russia, Israel, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Scotland, Austria and of course yours truly from the United States).  I have never been to such an international gathering.  Most conferences in the US, there are representatives from only a handful of other countries.  To see the commitment to international cooperation (not a lot of Brexit fans in the crowd based on the constant comments by speakers and the cheers from the crowd when it was referred to a s a nightmare) and the sharing of knowledge gave me almost limitless amounts of energy while in their midst, then a hard crash every night from intellectual over-stimulation.  I will be processing the experience and what I have learned for sometime to come.  Thank you, Europarc for hosting me and 619 other souls who came together in this beautiful location to work on making the world (or our corners of it) a better place for all.


What an incredible way to start the fall!!!  Time well spent in good company (some I brought with me, and many I met along the path).  It is never too late to make new friends as this last sign from Aviemore suggests.


Hume is in the house!


Wandering through the streets of Edinburgh, one encounters statue of the heroes of the city (like any other cityscape that tries to connect with their glorious past).  In the case of Edinburgh, these statues are often philosophers from the “Scottish Enlightenment” which was an amazing outpouring of ideas in the late 18th and early 19th century from this city  by legendary scholars such as David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns and others.  This was an incredible place at that time, and they are right to be proud of those accomplishments that changed not only Scottish thinking, but the intellectual trajectory of the modern world.  Often, these statues would depict the figures in dress of a different time period to show connections to another great period in human history such as this statue of David Hume dressed in a Greek toga to make the tie to 5th Century Athens in the time of Plato and Aristotle (among many other great thinkers living at that place and time).


Others, like this statue of Adam Smith, surround the hero with symbols of to remind passers by of their achievements.  In this case, Adam Smith is depicted with the plow and the barrel, symbols of his role in the transition from an age of agriculture to an age of commerce, which his book Wealth of Nations (1776) played no small part in facilitating.  I was humbled to walk the same streets trod by the fathers of empiricism and capitalism, even if these have not been two of my favorite intellectual movements.

You might note that the toe of the Hume statue above is bright and shinny from a tradition that has arisen in urban folk legend to rub his toe for good luck.  Even though his statue looks as if it has been there for hundreds of years, it is actually only 25 years old and there is some speculation that the artist intentionally stuck the big toe out to start such a tradition which will come to define a must do experience while visiting Edinburgh.  This is how these legends come about.  Well, certainly a political theorist wandering about on a sabbatical sojourn should connect with the father of modern empirical inquiry, but as you can see from my expression below, a poet and a scientist don’t always see eye to eye…


Sunset on our time in Devon

Here are a few images from our last days along Devon’s Heritage Coast.  It is designated as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” and it is not hard to see why.  The sabbatical sojourn continues and soon we will move from the coastal and rural landscapes of Devon, north to the cityscapes of Edinburgh and the breathtaking landscapes of Caringorms National Park in Scotland.  Goodbye Devon, thanks for the memories.






Shergar rides again!

35 years ago, the IRA kidnapped one of the greatest Irish race horses of all time and demanded 2 million pounds in ransom.  Unable to collect, the horse was killed and later a movie was made chronicling the event.

In the Devon countryside is an amusement park based on a sheep and farm animal theme. It was only a few miles down the road and they advertised the ability to bet on “sheep” races, how could we resist!


The whole place was dripping in bad sheep puns (ewe knew it would be…).  They strapped sheep dolls to the back of these woolly runners and we could pick a winner for a pound wager.  Of course, I bet on “Sheargar” wearing the green and cheered wildly.  I had no doubt of the righteousness of this choice, and soon the rest of the crowd learned of the dangers of betting against the Irish in a sheep race…Sheargar won!  I got my picture taken with the winning jockey and a crazy announcer in the winner’s circle!


The luck of the Irish continues and Sheargar rides again…. I love the local culture!  Full immersion sabbatical.

The Donkey Sanctuary


It simply wouldn’t be a trip with the Casey clan if we didn’t stop to visit animals along the way.  Three years ago we discovered a Donkey Sanctuary in rural Ireland and drove several hours to visit.  Imagine our surprise to learn that the original Donkey Sanctuary was right here in Sidmouth, England only a few hours away from where we have been staying in Devon.  Well we had to go!  This is a donkey “rescue” facility overlooking the English Channel.  What a fabulous day to “reconnect” with our donkey friends across the pond.


This woolly fellow is a Poitou donkey from France.  They were breed for centuries to do the heavy lifting on farms in Europe and across the world.  After WWII, they were quickly replaced by technology, the tractor.  Facing extinction as a breed, these lovable giants were rescued in part by the efforts of of places like this Donkey Sanctuary.  It appears that workers of any species are susceptible to the challenges of automation.


One thing I won’t miss about the Donkey Sanctuary is the “fun” maze.  It is a classic English hedge maze with many twists and turns and dead ends.  It is designed to confuse and to confound, to disorient and distract.  There is a center, but good luck getting there!  It is a maddening place!  We wandered for 20 minutes searching for the center, but wishing for the exit.  Although many people use labyrinth and maze as synonyms, they are quite different.  Labyrinths have one path to the center and no false starts or dead ends.  They are made to let you stop worrying about getting lost, and find your center once again.  Mazes seem designed to do the opposite.  I don’t see how anyone calls these “fun”, but Erin seemed to enjoy herself, so I am reminded again, that it is always a matter of perspective….

Amazing Labyrinths


IMG_1946.JPGA few days ago, I drove down to Cornwall to see the ruins of a 12th century castle and to find this rock art labyrinth in a valley outside the little village of Tintagel.  I had read about the rock art and am searching for labyrinths as I travel throughout Europe.  I had to hike down a little used public trail along a beautiful babbling brook and search behind the ruins of a 18th century wool mill to find this image carved into the slate wall.  The only other hiker I encountered was on his way out of the trail as I started.  His black shirt with white lettering simply read, “I like my puns intended.”  I knew I was in the right place and embedded a pun in the title of this blog post to celebrate my good fortune.


There are actually two classic style labyrinth images carved into the slate on the wall.  An old rusted plaque next to them declares them from to be from the Bronze Age between 1800 and 1400 BCE, but later scholarship disputes this.  Some arguments date these from the early Christian conversion era of this area in the 6th or 7th Century AD.  Others as late as the 18th or 19th century when the mill next to them was operational.  Regardless, they are a beautiful example of the classic style of labyrinth, a good excuse to take a lovely hike along the stream, and the first of hopefully many labyrinths I will track down in the coming months.

Exeter Cathedral


We made it to the first of many cathedrals we shall visit on this trip.  Exeter Cathedral in Devon, England is a magnificent Medieval Stone Cathedral with the largest continuous vaulted ceiling in the world for such a structure (over 300 feet long).


What is so impressive about buildings such as this Cathedral, is the effort that was made to build them with such limited technology.  There were no power tools, cranes, or modern machinery available when this was built.  Elements of it were started on this site in 1114 AD.  The “contemporary” building you see here was constructed under the supervision of 6 bishops from 1270 -1350 AD.  80 years of dedication to the creation of something so magnificent!  That is not only a technological and architectural feat, it is an amazing testament to social organization.  To marshal the labor, talent and resources needed to construct this would take an enormous command on the social and economic structure of the area over a prolonged period of time.


Speaking of time, we almost didn’t make it into the building on time.  We were traveling to the site and a series of unforeseen delays put us right here 15 minutes after the building was closed to the public!  I am sure few of you are surprised that we were late.  It was too far from our accommodations to come back another day, so I resigned myself to admiring it from this view of the outside.  Fortunately, high mass was starting at the front half of the Cathedral so they let us in.  Instead of a tour, we sat and listened to the pipe organ and choir sing beautiful liturgical music that made the entire experience feel other-worldly, just as the Cathedral is intended to be experienced.  It was not built as a tourist destination and awesome selfie backdrop, but as a place to transport the people of this area to a place that is as close to heaven as you might get on earth.  That requires not only the sights in these pictures, but the angelic sounds of the choir, the smells of the incense, and the sense of scale that is so much larger than any one person, or one generation could achieve.  Once again, serendipity shined on us, with radiant splendor.



Standing 67 feet high at the entrance to the harbor in Ilfracombe, England is a bronze statue by artist Damien Hirst resembling a cross between the Statue of Liberty, Lady Justice and something else entirely.  Her name is Verity  (from the Latin Veritas which means Truth).  She arrived here in 2012 on a long term loan from the artist to this North Devon community.  She has been controversial ever since.  She is pregnant, unclothed and the other side of the statue lacks even her outer skin exposing her skull, muscle and the baby in her womb.  Standing on a pile of legal books, she holds the scales of Justice behind her, and the sword of Justice high and proud.  There is so much here that I will be posting a photo essay in the thoughts and reflections section soon.  For now, enjoy the possibilities.  You never know what you might find when you step out the door….