Enchanted in Edinburgh - Day 1: Alone at Last


For the last year and a bit, I haven't travelled much alone, and certainly not for more than a day or two. In fact, like most of the rest of the world, I haven't gone anywhere at all, and when I have, it has usually been with my husband or musical colleagues. Now, after a busy week with my family in Aberdeen (whom I hadn't seen in person since Christmas 2019) I find myself rather startled to be flying solo in Edinburgh. It feels incredibly unfamiliar and more than a little unsettling. Still, I've missed this. Although I love spending time with loved ones and friends, there is part of me that needs a week or so in my company every now and then, to work through emotional challenges, rediscover good habits, and to re-awaken my creative side, which has been dulled for the past year by the languishing effect of successive lockdowns. In other words, I'm hoping to recover my zest for life, which fell by the wayside somewhere around July 2020.

So, I'm here in Edinburgh for ten days for research. I've been looking forward to this trip for months; originally planned for last summer, it was postponed to Autumn, then to Spring this year. Finally, most Scottish archives and libraries re-opened from the end of April, and I was able to plan travel and accommodation for July without worrying that it would be cancelled. Over the next ten days, I'll be visiting the National Records of Scotland (for four days), the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh University Library, Edinburgh Public Libraries and the Wighton Collection in Dundee, each for a day. Every evening, I'll pick something interesting to introduce to you, though I should issue the caveat that, sometimes, a whole day in an archive can yield absolutely nothing of interest! This is made much more likely by the fact that a "day" at an archive at the moment is between 4 and 5 hours, due to Covid-19 restrictions...

If that is the case, Edinburgh itself will, I'm sure, provide sufficient entertainment. Only this morning, from my window, I witnessed an incredible feat of balance performed by a gentleman of advanced age. My window, I should note, has a splendid view of the back of one of Edinburgh's famous crescents; this building has five storeys. Below, a steep piece of grass falls even further down to the level which my own street inhabits. Essentially, therefore, even the first floor of that building is very high from the ground. As I sipped my fresh mint tea (Lidl's finest mint), a stooped man, wearing a pale pink shirt and plum-red trousers, climbed upon an incredibly narrow ledge on the exterior of the building, holding on casually to a drainpipe. He seemed insensible to the sheer drop below him, and proceeded to clear the ledge of debris vigorously with his feet. The debris included, as far as could see from a distance, a dead pigeon. Having accomplished his task, he returned calmly indoors.

So, er, back to the research. Planning this visit has not been without stress. I'm just coming to the end of the second year of my PhD, and this academic year should have been all about data collection - going to archives, working through lots of eighteenth-century primary material. After all, that's what a PhD is about - examining original documents, analysing connections between them, and drawing new conclusions from them to create a thesis at the end of the process. Now, of course, although some eighteenth-century sources are available online, the vast majority are not, and so I haven't been able to collect much of the material I need over the past year. I have lists and lists of sources which I have encountered second-hand in other people's articles and books. In other words, I'm behind! I may receive a short extension to my doctoral funding to mitigate the lack of access to archives, but this is not by any stretch of the imagination guaranteed, and so I need to get my skates on if I'm going to be able to write up in time.

This morning, I walked gently through sunny Edinburgh for my first day at the National Records. Most libraries and archives have very strict rules to follow at the moment, and so I felt incredibly safe, despite worsening rates of the Delta variant throughout Scotland. In fact, I was one of only six researchers with a slot today, so there was acres of space between me and any other human being. The cosy wooden-panelled Reid Historical Search Room is closed at the moment, and so we were seated in the larger search room, which is usually a hive of activity, but now feels eerily empty. I arrived to find all the records I had requested waiting patiently for me on a trolley, and spent ten minutes signing permission forms for the friendly archivist. Some of these precluded me from publishing any of the material I consult, either at all, or for a specific time-span, and some granted me permission to photograph some (but not all) the collections I was viewing.

Quite frankly, I have ordered too much. I'm hoping to get through it all in the four days I have, but it may be that I have to prioritise some records over others. This is incredibly frustrating, as I do need to see it all; but time constraints are real and pressing. Today, I started working my way steadily through the papers of the Buccleuch family, a Scottish aristocratic family with a lineage going back to the twelfth century. I'm looking mainly at their accounts for expenses in London, in the hope that they may have purchased sheet music or paid for musical pursuits (lessons, concerts, etc) during the London season. So far, nothing of interest has cropped up, but it was just such a joy just to exist with eighteenth-century documents once again.

More tomorrow, and hopefully, a find of interest to you, dear reader!

Cheerio the nou,