“It’s the Golden Country – almost, “he murmured
“The Golden Country?”
“It’s nothing really. A Landscape I’ve seen sometimes in a dream.” George Orwell (1984)
Somebody in Lothian Region Transport’s timetable department has a subversive sense of humour, or has made a typographical – and somewhat thought provoking – error. Perhaps they recognised the typo and, mischievously, let it stand. If you don’t believe me, go down to the bottom of Dundas Street in the direction of Canonmills, and visit the LRT bus shelter, just beyond the turning into Henderson Row. Inside are the usual bus time tables and route maps. Examine the no 23 route map, very carefully. A couple of weeks ago, I did just that. I looked at the route map and looked away. I thought for a moment I’d misread something and looked again.
From north to south, the 23 bus route links the sea with the hills. It is of one of Edinburgh’s great bus journeys. Beginning in sleepy, elegant Trinity, it breezes through Goldenacre – ah! how I remember that name – flashes past the Botanics and climbs steadily through the New Town to Morningide and beyond. If a new tram system were to be conceived on a purely scenic basis, the 23 bus route, slicing the city in two from north to south, would be the obvious candidate. The six times hourly 23, and her noble sister the 27, inherited their routes from the old tram system, which until the mid-1950s, was an uncontroversial feature of Edinburgh life. Nowadays, the 23 route extends southwards towards Greenback and even as far as Napier University’s Craiglochart Campus, formerly Craiglochart Hydropathic, where the young Wilfred Owen met Siegfried Sassoon. In Howard Place, close to the Botanics, it passes the birthplace of Robert Louis Stevenson, a literary landmark which tends to be missed by the more commercial class of tour bus. On George IV Bridge, the 23 cruises past the Advocates Library and the National Library of Scotland. From the top deck, a more observant passenger may find himself looking into the Advocates Reading Room and receiving a rare insight into the Scottish Bar at leisure. Further up the hill, it plunges through the Morningside of Miss Jean Brodie, now occupied by literary types who speak at book festivals. A former Cabinet minister, turned enthusiast, would do well to present a television series based on the no 23 bus route.
Goldenacre lies to the south of Trinity just beyond Ferry Road. The name has always appealed to my imagination. At school, in Henderson Row, a stone’s throw from the bus shelter, I dreamed of ways of escape. I longed for the hills and the sea. During history lessons, I sat bored on the top floor of a grand New Town house. Here, my unhappy spirit roamed the Edinburgh skyline. Birdlike and free, I soared hillward to George Street and seaward to the Botanical Gardens and Goldenacre. Then, Goldenacre was just a name, somewhere beyond the Botanics, beyond the loneliness of New Field where, twice a week, I played rugby or cricket. Anything golden, though, had a shiny lustre to it: Golden Age, Golden Valley, Golden Youth, Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, Golden Bough, GoldenEye, Golden Gun. Goldenacre seemed innately precious. It could only be beautiful. On Saturdays, I occasionally played rugby near Goldenacre, an unfailingly depressing experience. In late 1980, unhappy and cold, I gazed from the playing fields towards where I imagined Goldenacre to be. In the shadow of a grandstand, dark umbrellas opened and closed repeatedly. French flags fluttered over an Edinburgh skyline. What I was watching was the filming of Chariots of Fire and this, the dramatic recreation of an athetics meeting between Scotland and France. Its hero, Eric Liddell trips, falls and, miraculously, storms to victory. Goldenacre. A place of dreams. A place of miracles.
Two Saturdays ago, I was waiting for a 23 at the bus shelter just beyond the junction with Henderson Row. My destination was Trinity via the Botanics and Goldenacre.
How, I wondered, would Sir Sean Connery pronounce that?