Auld Reekie – Ink

Auld Reekie is the name that bygone Edinburgh was known by. (“Auld” means “old” while something which “Reeks”, “smells”). This is my interpretation of a famous photograph which is trundled out, occasionally, to describe Edinburgh and the way it suffered from the burning of fossil fuels. The scene is the centre of the city showing the castle with Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s volcanic rock, in the background. This photo is often used to illustrate the hazy, misty conditions prevalent in days long gone. This atmosphere was a result of the thousands of coal fires used by houses and work places. A clean air act came into being in the latter part of the 20th century so the place no longer reeks of coal smoke.

The photograph was taken, around 1920, by Captain Alfred Buckham who served with the Royal Naval Air Service. Alfred Buckham was a pioneer of aerial photography and suffered greatly while obtaining his remarkable shots. It was reported he crashed at least nine times getting photos all over the country. I often wondered if there were two aircraft taking the snaps but I have since found out that he had the engaging habit of inserting the type of aeroplane, he used, into the relevant scene. In this case he must have been flying a Sopwith Camel – a well known WW1 fighter. He described the risks and hardships undertaken lightly by saying that anything was possible as long as he could tie his leg to the seat of the plane while he operated the camera. Alfred Buckham died in 1956 at the age of 76.