It is November and what the Scandinavians call the murk time has arrived, the days are short and the nights long. Not that this is all bad, there are those bright sunny days when the air is crystal clear and your soul sings!

The traditional Scottish approach to dealing with the arrival of the long nights is to light bonfires and let off fireworks (this is not to be confused with schemies setting fire to tenements which can happen at any time of year). This usually starts around Halloween or Samhain (the celtic new year), but that is for another post, this is about November when the lighting of bonfires and letting off of fireworks reach a crescendo on the 5th. As the rhyme has it, “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot”! I am often amused by English people who ask “is Guy Fawkes Night celebrated in Scotland?” This shows certain failings in the teaching of history in English schools, which seems to stop with the death of Elisabeth I in 1603, totally ignoring the fact that her successor was her cousin James VI of Scotland. It was James as King of Scotland, England and Ireland, who was the target of this Gunpowder Plot by a group of provincial English Catholics. So, “Guy Fawkes Night” celebrates the failure of an English attempt to assassinate a Scottish King, now why wouldn’t the Scots celebrate this? OK, granted it is more fervently celebrated south of the border, mainly due to the passing of the 1605 Observance of 5th November Act by the English Parliament and so hasn’t quite as long a history in Scotland. While the habit of adding effigies of the Pope to bonfires (which is still common in some parts of England) would doubtlessly appeal to some Rangers supporters, it would also fall foul of the new Scottish sectarian bigotry laws.

Of course lighting bonfires and fireworks aren’t the only way to cheer things up as the nights draw in, and so the town council strings up lights all over the place, and just for good measure the odd fir tree. I am not sure where all these trees come from, but the one on the Mound is kindly donated by the generous people of Hordaland, Norway. From the Mound you can also see the Ferris wheel in Princes Street Gardens, this is the source of another Edinburgh tradition which takes place in November, namely writing to the papers to complain that it is too close to the Scott Monument and could be blown over.

Ah yes, that brings me round to the weather in November. It used to be that November would signal the start of winter, but these days things are a lot more variable. Back in 2006, we had four outdoor grown tomato plants on the allotment which were yielding over 1Kg of fruit a week throughout November. These plants were finally killed by blight in December (there wasn’t any frost until January 2007). In contrast, last year (2010), for the last two weeks of the month, daytime temperatures struggled to rise above freezing. However at the same time it was dry and sunny, making it pleasant to go out and about, apart from when it was snowing heavily. This year, November has been relatively mild but there have been a few stormy days, such as today. It can turn from bright sunshine to rain, hail, sleet and even snow in a matter of minutes, but wait a while and it will be back to sunshine. And then there is the wind, on a stormy day in Edinburgh you can see people being blown down the streets, yes literally. The sort of wind speed we get in Edinburgh would be described as a hurricane down south, but up here we consider them to be just normal run of the mill storms.

Come the end of the month, and we have a bank holiday for St Andrew’s Day, the 30th of November or the following Monday if it falls on a weekend. There were those question the value of having a bank holiday in November, but there are plenty of people on Princes Street who understand the value of an extra shopping day at this time of year.