Cramond, a small hamlet about five miles from Edinburgh’s centre, is on the north-western shore of the city. It sits at the mouth of the River Almond where it enters the Firth of Forth and, if you have a good strong arm, it almost seems as if you could hurl a stone and have it reach Dalgety Bay across the water in Fife. I took a walk there yesterday morning with A. just as the tide was going out. It was almost low enough for us to take the causeway to the little uninhabited island for which it is known, but we had places to be, promises to keep. Glimpses of the raised concrete pathway were visible alongside the line of pyramid markers that became taller as the water retreated. A few impatient wellie-wearers were splish-splashing their way across. Every ten minutes or so a plane would fly low overhead on its growling descent into Edinburgh airport, but despite this, it was an incredibly peaceful place to be. Young striding fathers with babies strapped proudly onto their chests were letting mum have a lie in. An older man had his work cut out for him as his four English Setters wouldn’t come to heel, lolloping instead around a modern sculpture of a pink granite fish on the shore, sniff, sniff, sniff. Early morning cyclists were stopping for their first scone and coffee of the day and even the ice-cream eating toddlers didn’t look too out of place in the soft warmth.
I supposed we were there before the crowds; that later, on a day like this, a day when my hat was donned out of habit rather than necessity, it would become busier. There was something comforting about the out-of-the-way feeling of the place. Although part of Edinburgh, Cramond feels removed – far from the madding crowd. And there is a solidity to its history, the ancient nature of the spot more easily absorbed, somehow, because of the sparse landscape. Excavations in Cramond have uncovered evidence of habitation dating back to around 8500 BC, making it one of the earliest known sites of human settlement in Scotland: a settlement of nomadic hunter-gatherers who moved around according to the seasons of the year. Waste pits have shown they dined on hazelnuts, oysters and mussels; was it their autumn hangout, I wonder?
Down at the mouth of the river, sailing boats are moored in rows like strings of knotted pearls. There you will find a board telling the story of the ‘Cramond Lioness’. Apparently in 1997 a local boatman spotted what looked like a lion’s head peeping up from the harbour mud at low tide. Sure enough, it turned out to be an ancient and very rare Roman sandstone sculpture of a lioness devouring a male figure and it is now housed in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Wouldn’t you love to have been in the pub the night the boys came in off the boat to tell everyone that they had caught a lion that day!
On Thursday night A. and I had been to a special screening of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ in the Filmhouse in town. It was a full house, with an appreciative audience loving Maggie Smith’s grand performance and every little reference to the city. And that is what had put Cramond on our mental map. It’s where Mr. Lowther, the solid and dependable music teacher, had his home to which Miss Brodie headed off every weekend. We found the house that was used in the film. You can’t miss it. It’s a fine lump of a castle sitting close to the shore. “Why oh why did she not marry him for the sake of that pile alone?” I asked A. as we walked. “It would be hard to keep clean,” was her practical response, “and remember, he was threatening to take her on honeymoon on the Isle of Eigg – sure that’s enough to put anyone off!”
The trip out left me with a hope stirring: a tiny seedling taking root; a growling lioness waking up; a kindling of faith that change is afoot. Maybe it’s even time for a trip to Eigg.