Sundogs, samplers and serendipity.

sundog parhelion
sundog

In between the mostly grey January days, there has been the odd bright interlude – a winter gem of crisp, eye-watering cold – blue skies, glistening pavements and low winter sun that almost blinds you.

Just as my summer memory is filled with long soft sunny days of peachy light ( yes, even though I grew up in the north of Scotland), the winter I remember is always frost filled with steamy breath clouds and icy air that catches in your throat.

When I first moved from Inverness to Glasgow to study, I was surprised at how warm it was in winter and wet. It took me a while to adjust – and I missed the easterly cold.

Last week I was out in Edinburgh on a proper east coast winter’s day and looking up saw what seemed to be a circular rainbow around the sun.  I took a pic with my phone and thought it might just be sun flare but on checking with Google I found out my half rainbow was a parhelion or sundog. 

The name parhelion comes from the Greek ‘parelion’ meaning beside the sun and sundogs so called because they follow the sun like a dog follows its master. How sweet is that? The rainbow effect is caused by sunlight being refracted through ice crystals.

I took a few more pictures and added this to my encyclopedia of meteorological facts, then spent quite a bit of time looking upwards for a better example – or as I had understood might just be visible on these cold icy days – nacreous clouds.

It was a bit low level for proper cloud investigation and I did not have the time or if I am honest the footwear and knees to climb Arthur’s seat – so I stopped off at the Museum of Scotland on Chambers street and headed to the rooftop.

On my way, I came across an exhibition on  Scottish embroidered samplers – framed samples of stitches cross stitch, french knots etc. creating alphabets, motifs, and family pictures.  It was serendipitous that I came across this exhibition, as I had opted for a quiet side stair to quickly reach the roof. I imagine the museum building was designed in this way to encourage accidental discovery.

What incredible skill was evident in the samplers produced by girls as young as six. The craftswomanship and patience in evidence was a reminder of how young women often had to channel their skills and intellect in different ways when not included in formal education.

Well, that’s one thing I took from it – but mostly I was in awe of the dexterity and neatness of the handiwork. My own attempts at embroidery or any sewing being rather slap dash.

No more sundogs spotted when I reached the roof but the views across Edinburgh and the skyscape from the building were worth the trip to the top.

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