Edinburgh in the Spring 2001
The first Annual General Meeting and Mini-Gathering of the Dorothy Dunnett Readers' Association
Saturday April 21st
The venue itself was spectacular, as we were on the top floor of the Point Hotel with glass on most sides allowing wonderful vistas over the city, with the castle in particular standing out only a stone's throw away. The AGM itself took very little time as much of it was the formality of approving the constitution and accepting the nominees for council. Val Bierman gave a brief summary of the magazine and of the winding-up of the old Dunnett Trust after the Edinburgh 2000 Gathering. We were indebted to Pauline Brace for chairing the meeting during the handover from the steering committee to the new council.
Elspeth Morrison’s Talk
After a short break we were given a talk by Elspeth Morrison in which she described a little of her recent work on the second volume of the Dorothy Dunnett Companion, and how it has differed from the first volume where much of the task was in reconstructing the researches that DD had made. This time there has been much more collaboration possible whereas on the first volume Dorothy was busy writing the HN series. (Fuller details of this talk are contained in my May 2001 Dunnett Newsletter.)
Pauline Brace's Talk
Pauline gave us a detailed talk on plurality in King Hereafter and compared and contrasted the story given us by Shakespeare with that given us by DD, with a look at the historical sources and inherent politics involved in the former’s depiction, and looking at why he extracted the elements he did for dramatic purposes. Later she went on to look at the historical character of Thorfinn and gave us some reasons behind Dorothy’s theory.
Towards the end of the afternoon, just before Pauline finished her talk, a special visitor arrived - Dorothy herself of course! I know of at least two people who had never been to a Dunnett gathering of any sort who were almost speechless with pleasure to be introduced to her, and as always she managed to find time for everyone.
Sunday April 22nd
The original trip to Dean Castle having been cancelled because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, we instead had a two-part trip to Linlithgow Palace and Rosslyn Chapel. Unfortunately we were not favoured by the weather which was rather wet, but the worst of it seemed to occur while we had coffee and cakes at the Bridge Inn at Ratho (which is a centre for the sailings on the Union Canal) on the way to Linlithgow. As we drove on, local enthusiast Val Dean was able to point out to us the area where the recent find was made of a complete iron age chariot, which is causing great excitement amongst archaeologists. Prior to entering the Palace we were grateful to the elders of St. Michael’s Church for allowing us to pay a quick visit to the plaque which commemorates Anselm Adorne.
Linlithgow is a magnificent building in a superb setting overlooking the loch, and yet for some reason is often underappreciated on the usual tourist trail. Mary de Guise rated it finer than all the palaces of France and to see it in its splendor before the fire which destroyed its roof and interior paneling and decorations must have been a great experience. My one disappointment on this trip was that the courtyard fountain was covered in boarding and scaffolding as it is being conserved at the moment. However there was plenty to explore and photograph, and it was a great pleasure to go round with others of a similar interest (and in particular Elspeth). Some photos from Linlithgow can be found on the Dunnett Places to Visit - West page which I hope will give you a flavour of the place, even in the rain.
After returning to the bus we headed off to Roslin where we met up with local Dunnett fan and Rosslyn Chapel expert Joy Madden, where we first had lunch at the local hotel before heading up to the chapel itself.
I had not been inside the chapel for some years and I must confess I had forgotten just what a marvel it is. If the carvings were instead plasterwork it would still be magnificent - but you have to constantly remind yourself that this delicate tracery of foliage or that leering face or graceful angel is actually solid stone. The mind is continually overwhelmed by the layers of detail as you look at, for instance, an archway, then see the shaping of its columns, then the pointed decoration on them, then the fact that all those points have flat surfaces which are again decorated, and that there are figures and symbols and faces at all the intersections and in all the nooks and crannies.
Then there is the Apprentice Pillar, which would be a substantial achievement if it were a computer projection with the machine available to work out the DNA-like geometry for you and layer the spiral decoration on top of a pre-existing fluted column - to imagine a mason actually carving it from stone almost defies belief.
Joy was a great help to us all in explaining aspects of the construction and renovation work, and also the Sinclair, Templar and Masonic signs and symbolism, and trying to divide fact from fiction in some of the more outlandish theories which abound in this unique building. Down in a lower section she was able to show us some of the mason’s geometrical workings inscribed on the stone and I would have dearly loved to have been on a one-to-one tour and to have discussed it all in more detail.
A trip up to the roof which is currently covered with an elaborate canopy to assist in drying out the damp stonework showed that the decoration continued even at the top of the building, while it was amazing to hear from Joy that the original foundations indicate that the chapel was to have been another 91 feet long.
All in all an excellent day despite the rain and I hope that all the visitors enjoyed themselves over the weekend.
Interior photographs of Rosslyn can be found on the Dunnett Places to Visit - Outskirts of Edinburgh page.