It was Autumn, season of the falling away of summer foliage and the start of nature’s melancholy. On the day I happened upon this place, on a walk from Slateford to Tollcross, rays of sunlight lit up corners and features of the deserted graveyard.
There was sadness there, of course, but also a lightness and positivity. I find beauty in every season, and the shift from one to the other, the inevitable transformation, often calls for contemplation on what is passing, and what may be to come.
‘Death dismantled them’ (she was writing about Rumi, Christ, Yogananda). ‘It cannot be undone, it can only be carried’.
‘I looked up darkness on the Web…. there is always death. We say death is darkness; and darkness is death’.
Because of the metaphorical dark, the death dark, we were constantly concerned to banish the natural dark’.
Kathleen Jamie pages 3 and 10 of ‘Findings’
There are times when we feel that death is closer than usual, and very often the news is full of it, as it is today. Some block it out because it is too hard to face, others have no choice but to deal with loss and the complicated practicalities it brings. Still others will realise that the proximity of unexpected demise can be a good thing in some ways.
“A close conversing with death … would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us …”
For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality. We are at the mercy of merciless death, which is darkness. When we died, they [neolithic people who built Maes Howe] sent a beam of midwinter light in among our bones. What a tender, potent gesture. In the Christian era, we were laid in our graves to face the rising sun. ‘
Kathleen Jamie, ‘Findings’ p 24
‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.’.
The Bible, Isaiah
This is not a religious blog, I am not a church goer, but I do notice that when we know sorrow, it means we will also recognise happiness as its opposite when it returns; when we experience grief, then, too, we will recognise love. Living through the death of someone throws the light on these inevitable aspects of life.
English poet and hymnodist, William Cowper, described grief itself as medicine. Grief cleanses the anguish from our souls and sets us back up on the path of life so we can dance.
In these days of Covid-19 (we are still in lockdown in the UK as I write) there are a few more articles about death in the media than normal. The Guardian’s Yuval Noah Harari wrote, ‘Some might well argue that…the crisis should teach us humility. We shouldn’t be so sure of our ability to subdue the forces of nature…..While humanity as a whole becomes ever more powerful, individual people still need to face their fragility…We have to own up to our transience.”
‘the relentlessness of mortal lives. Even as we spoke the moments were passing.’
Circe, Madeline Miller P. 197
For me, the acknowledgement that I do not know when I will die is something I remind myself of every day. It helps me put things into perspective. I might not live to a ripe old age, so I ask myself, ‘What is the most important thing right now?’
Access to the Dalry Cemetery is on Dundee Street near its join with henderson terrace and it backs onto Dalry Road in Edinburgh. See Find A Grave dot com
In Walking Between Worlds – 2, we had got as far as the North Leith Burial Ground. So, I pick up the account there.
Along the road and down to the right beside Coburg House artists studios (well worth a visit) is the gloriously orange, former St Ninian’s Chapel (you can see St N (360 – 432 AD) carved onto the doors of fellow Saint, Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. Ninian represents the Picts). A 15th century bridge chapel, it is part of the complicated history of North Leith Parish Church which can be found on Wikipedia to get you started.
As we crossed Sandport Bridge, I drew attention to Broad Wynd on the left, where the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society hospital and clinic were first situated (of which, more later).
Along Tolbooth Wynd we wandered, and on to Queen Charlotte Street, named after the Queen of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). She is remembered in Queens Square, Bloomsbury, London with a statue (see above). The Leith stories were starting to fit into themes: Charlotte was an immigrant and did not support slavery. Also a botanist, she founded Kew Gardens, was married to King George III, had fifteen (that’s 15) children and was, famously, painted by Allan Ramsey and is owned by the Scottish National Galleries (also an anti-slavery campaigner) in 1762 when she was aged 17 years. Recent articles have posed the question, is she of African origin?
At the Hideout Cafe (where I had a delicious and expensive hot chocolate on a previous occassion), we turned onto Constitution Street which is currently shut to traffic on account of the endless and frustrating tram works, but is therefore blessedly quiet to walk along. We continued on, past St Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic church, to the South Leith Parish Church and its graveyard.
Hail, Queen of Heav'n, the ocean Star, Guide of the wand'rer here below! Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care, Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea, Pray for the wanderer, pray for me
Based on the anonymous Latin hymn, Ave Maris Stella
I spent some time researching the women in this kirkyard, trying to find out their stories, but to almost no avail. I focused on another Charlotte, Charlotte Lindesay (1780-1857 aged 77), and discovered that she was one of a brood of six from Feddinch in Fife, and that her parents were William Lindesay and Elizabeth Balfour. In 1805, she married her cousin, Patrick who was very active in the community. Amongst other things, he was the president of the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society (see above) which was formed 1825 on Maritime Street, later to become Leith Hospital on Mill Lane, and bringing healthcare (via a clinic and hospital both initially in Broad Wynd) to the poor. I like to imagine Charlotte accompanying him, or even visiting the needy with a basket over her arm as portrayed in countless Jane Austen films, but I am woefully ill informed about her particulars.
Some of my information was gleaned from ‘The Jacobite Grenadier’ by Gavin Wood.
(Incidentally, the Leith King James Hospital was demolished in 1822, and part of the wall can still be seen today, forming the boundary between the Kirkgate and the South Leith Kirkyard).
Some other women associated with this church
Mary of Guise (also called Mary of Lorraine), ruled Scotland as regent from 1554 until her death in 1560. A noblewoman from the Lotharingian House of Guise, which played a prominent role in 16th-century French politics, Mary became queen consort upon her marriage to King James V of Scotland in 1538. (Wikipedia). She worshipped at this church in 1559 and her coat of arms is displayed in the entrance today. Mary had fortified the town and she was in Leith being guarded by the thousands of French troops stationed there at the time.
There is also an altar dedicated to St Barbara who had a very sad and sorry life – wanting to dedicate herself to Christ instead of marrying the man her father wanted her to (Dioscorus 7th century), she was tortured and her head was chopped off by said dad. He got his comeuppance, apparently, being struck by lightening and reduced to ashes. She is, therefore, invoked in thunderstorms and is also the patroness of miners, although I am no sure why. (From the Britannica and Archdiocese of St Andrews on facebook).
When excavating for the trams, they found mass graves. There were 50 per cent more bodies of women than men, and everyone was smaller and showed signs of malnourishment compared to the national average. An exhibition and book were made and it was posited that it had something to do with the plague and/or that they were from the workhouse.
As a way of paying respect to the women whose names I discovered here, I read out a list of them, together with their relationships, but omitted the names of their male relatives. I was attempting to recognise how many there were who we know so little about, and the manner in which they were remembered.
I have used the original spelling from the graves. They are referred to by their maiden names.
Elizabeth P. K. Smith Known as Betty by her friends
Helen their daughter whose dust reposes in the Church-yard of Thurso in Caithness being there suddenly cut off in the flower of her age
Elizabeth Maxwell, Maiden Lady Daughter of…who liv’d much esteem’d and Died regrated by all who had the Pleasure of her Aquaintance
Mary Jackson his Spoufe who departed this Life…much and juftly regrated, being poffeffed of the moft amiable accomplifhments…also near this lyes three of her Children who all dyed before herfelf
Ann McRuear Relick of…
Barbara Adamson, Spouse of…
In memory of his grandmother Mrs Ann Kerr… aged 76 years, His aunt Jean Tait.. aged 40 years, His mother Robina Tait… aged 44 years, His niece Jane Briggs Dickson …aged 33 months
Here lyth Jeane Bartleman Spouse to…
Sacred to the memory of Jessie Blacke..Beloved Wife of…Also of her infant baby…aged one month
Juliana Walker Wife of …. Janet Scott their third daughter of…
Catherine Stewart Rennie (wee Kitty daughter…)
Mary Finlay or Best …. And of her Grandchild Margaret Dick who after a few days illness … aged 18 years Let the Young Reflect on the Uncertainty of Human Life…
Once in Robbies bar on the corner of Iona Street and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start, I summed up the walk: It had taken us approximately 2.5 hours and we mused and meditated on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, on the cusp of the new moon; on women’s stories and how they are so often seen through the lens of their menfolk and are hard to celebrate in their own right; of the hardship of life in centuries gone by; and death, its symbols and community rituals.
I explained that I hoped to make a map which somehow denotes and represents this event, that will contain some of its psychogeography: Wikipedia quotes Guy Debord on this: psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” I think of it as a map with humanity, not simply measurements and precise locations, but including feelings, activities and conversational responses as well.
I would like to thank everyone who came along with me. If you have information about these women, have walked a similar walk, or would like to share anything about these subjects, please do so in the comments box below.
I chose to focus on women’s stories during this walk, because, as a woman and a feminist, it is necessary to know about who came before me, I need to know my backstory. I find that it helps me sense my place in the continuum of the generations. There were also women’s events taking place in the city that weekend, under the banner ‘Do What You Always Wish You Dared’. I was involved in the 2019 Audacious Women Festival, sitting on a panel which looked at women who travel and move to different countries: how we support ourselves, make friends, manage the language difficulties and so on. That women-only event engendered a lively discussion with the audience, women of all ages sharing their emmigrent and immigrent experiences. This guided walk was open to men and women, children and dogs, and it was something I was daring to do for the first time!
After leaving the Rosebank Cemetery, we crossed Bonnington Road, a toll road at the end of the 18th century. We entered into what would have been Bonnytoun (pretty village in Scots), encompassing mills and land which was part of the Barony of Broughton (mentioned in a Royal Charter 1143). Flanking both sides of the road are modern estates as well as the much older red stone, Burns Tenements (on the right) which used to be the tannery. Incidentally, we were going to be seeing the graves of leather workers with their pincer tongs and other tools adorning them in the North Leith Burial Ground, further along the way. Using the power of the Water of Leith, there was a conglomeration of businesses in the area and there is one existing mill wheel in the mill lade at Bonnyhaugh Cottages (on the left).
Second on the right is Elizafield, named after Eliza, a native of Leith, and the woman who bore Dr. Robert Grant. I have not been able to find out anything about her and her life – her story has disappeared, perhaps deemed less important than his, despite the fact that he would not exist if it weren’t for her, not least because birthing was such a dangerous task in the 1780’s. Grant was a surgeon and left Leith in his twenties to settle, very successfully, in South Carolina (US) marrying Sarah Foxworth. The rice plantation he established in Georgia (US) was also named Elizafield, and, as was the way then, it only drew the produce and profits it did, due to the female and male slaves who carried out the work: they were, ‘the driving force behind the success of the plantation’. (Amy Hedrick, author on glynngen.com)
Historically it [birth] was thoroughly natural, wholly unmedical, and gravely dangerous. Only from the early eighteenth century did doctors begin getting seriously involved, with obstetrics becoming a medically respectable specialty and a rash of new hospitals being built. Unfortunately, the impact of both was bad. Puerperal, or childbed, fever was a mystery, but both doctors and hospitals made it worse. Wherever the medical men went the disease grew more common, and in their hospitals it was commonest of all.
We turned our backs on Elizafield to view Flaxmill Place. Flax was used to make linen, most of which was exported. It was so successful (employing 10 – 12000 workers, many of whom would have been women although the data is unavailable), that we know the Mills were able to loan Edinburgh Council a great deal of money. The Bonnington Mills, on the banks of the Water of Leith, made woollen cloth as well as linen and much of the wool was produced by women in their own homes nearby. The owners were always aiming to improve profits and cut corners, which resulted in the controversial introduction of Flemish and French workers (accommodated at Little Picardy(ie), the current Picardy Place). The women and girls spun the cambric yarn (for the close-woven, light type of linen), to try and improve the quality of the cloth, but this took away the local jobs (sound familiar?)
In 1686, the first Parliament of James VII passed an ‘Act for Burying in Scots Linen’, the object of which was to keep the cloth in the country. It was enacted that, “hereafter no corpse of any persons whatsoever shall be buried in any shirt, sheet, or anything else except in plain linen, or cloth of hards, made and spun within the kingdom, without lace or point.” Heavy penalties were attached to breaches of the Act, and it was made the duty of the parish minister to receive and record certificates of the fact that all bodies were buried as directed. On hearing this, we can imagine that the women in the graves we were visiting may have been bound in just such a linen shroud, made right in this place.
Before the Industrial Revolution, hand spinning had been a widespread female employment. It could take as many as ten spinners to provide one hand-loom weaver with yarn, and men did not spin, so most of the workers in the textile industry were women. The new textile machines of the Industrial Revolution changed that. Wages for hand-spinning fell, and many rural women who had previously spun found themselves unemployed. In a few locations, new cottage industries such as straw-plaiting and lace-making grew and took the place of spinning, but in other locations women remained unemployed.
Joyce Burnett (2008) This webpage has some fascinating pictures of women spinning at home and in the factory
A little further up the road was the original site of the Chancellot Mill (now on Lindsay Place) and this was where corn was ground into flour (perhaps the reason for those corn cobs on the Persevere flag?) It was steam powered and had an 185 foot high clock tower. Producing 43 sacks an hour (twice the original prediction), it was described as ‘the most handsome flour mill in the world’!
They were growing cannabis in the basement of The Bonnington and it spontaneously combusted in the middle of the night, causing the whole building to burn down. True or false?
Water of Leith
I invited the group to look into the water and think of the phrase ‘time immemorial’. Legally, this refers to the years before 1189, being the date set in 1275 as the time before which no one could remember, and therefore no legal cases could deal with events before that date. ‘Time out of mind,’ recorded from the fifteenth century, is just the plain English version of the same thing.
As we crossed Anderson Place, I read out a quote from the Tao Te Ching: The Master gives herself up to whatever the moment brings. She knows that she is going to die, and she has nothing left to hold on to: no illusions in her mind, no resistances in her body. She doesn’t think about her actions; they flow from the core of her being. She holds nothing back from life; therefore she is ready for death, as a woman is ready for sleep after a good day’s work. (50)
North Leith Burial Ground
After rounding the corner of the Water of Leith and meeting the confluence of the wonderful network of Edinburgh cycle paths, we mounted the steps onto Coburg Street where the North Leith Burial Ground is situated. According to The Spirit of Leithers (a Facebook Group) it is ‘The dead centre of Leith’!
The memorial stones are old (1664 – 1820) and varied: grand mausoleums, individual slabs – some half buried and unintelligible, and almost all with engravings worth seeing. This was a good time for a ‘treasure hunt’: to search for the grave of Lady Mackintosh; a long bone; angels and hourglasses (some on their sides and others upstanding, the sands of time sifting down through the narrow neck as life passes by).
Lady Mackintosh is famous for raising a regiment for Prince Charlie’s 1745 uprising (variously known as the Jacobite, the ’45 rebellion or the ’45). It was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart.
In fact Lady Mackintosh is not here – she probably lies under the flats next door! How many people know that they are working or living over the top of dead bodies?
Can we ever stop for a moment? No! Time is always turning (until we die). Is there ever complete quietness in life? No! Although, maybe we can quieten. Can we slow down? Well, walking is a good start. It leaves almost no trace and makes little noise. It allows time for thoughts to blow in, and for your footsteps to drown them out again.
On this particular Sunday, we walked between the worlds of Leith and Edinburgh, connecting with the past by celebrating the ancient Deity of Boundaries held on the last day of the Roman year, where citizens traditionally processed around their land for continued peace and stable borders – something I sincerely advocate at this time of disagreement and instability over nationhood.
Before we set off, we remembered the 1920 merging with Edinburgh which, ‘despite a plebiscite in which the people of Leith voted 26,810 to 4,340 against the merger’ (Wikipedia, Leith) resulting in division and the loss of political identity. This walk was, of course, taking place shortly after the initiation of à further detachment, this time of the UK from the rest of Europe which was initiated by many of those who, contrariwise, oppose the separation of Scotland and England.
We took a minute to remember, or dedicate this walk to, someone we know, because the second aspect of Walking Between Worlds was the acknowledgment that we are all, always, stepping on a tightrope between life and death, never knowing when it will happen.
The group knew that we would be visiting the graves of notable women in Rosebank Cemetery, North Leith Burial Ground and South Leith Parish Church. I have a special interest in the lives of women who are often forgotten or overlooked, and I wanted to focus on those who were connected to this area.
Although the weather was 80 percent better than the previous weeks (for which I gave thanks), the wind was cold, so we crossed the road and began.
The steps we take between an information stop on a guided walk such as this, or when on errands, from one hiatus to the next, are equally, if not more important – they are an opportunity for exchange with others or silent contemplation in the middle of busyness.
We made our way past Pilrig Park. The community woodland was planted by the Friends of Pilrig Park (and supported by Fields in Trust) when I had my allotment there and the kids were wee. Years later it is thriving – a lovely spot for hiding and playing in, whether you are human, animal or bird.
Nearly opposite, we made our first stop so I could point out the Leith flag blowing from a top window with its motto of ‘Persevere’, however, in its place was another one which none of us could identify. I was puzzled as it was there five days before when I did my rekkie!
At #86 there are metal sculptures worth admiring in the front garden. A gateway (perhaps it is between worlds) and a panel the shape of a large gravestone with leaf motifs in relief are my favourites. I could not identify the sculptor, so took this opportunity to share with the group that I had been at a talk the previous day by Fi Bailey, an Edinburgh artist, and on listening to her I realised that what I am looking for is private information which those who are dead or behind closed doors cannot or do not want to give me. I chose to focus, on what exists before my eyes.
Tip: In the interests of mindfulness and memory, when or if you see something which interests you as you are walking, say it to yourself three times for later. You may forget, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t see it and that traces of it aren’t going to stay with you, ready to pop up another time.
In the same way that there is no nighttime dark without a glimmer of light somewhere, so there is no life without some death in it and no death without life. As the bodies in the first graveyard, Rosebank Cemetery, decompose, they become earth and support living things which are in that earth. We, by being interested and remembering the ones who are interred, raise the dead in a manner of speaking.
We stood in front of the grave of Ida Bononomi (probably Italian). It reads, ‘Sacred to the memory of Miss Ida Bonanomi, the faithful and highly esteemed dresser of Queen Victoria, who departed this life October 15 1854, in the 37th year of her age. Beloved and respected by all who knew her.This stone had been placed by Queen Victoria as a mark of her regard’. Bononomi’s job was a position of extreme intimacy with the monarch.
That Autumn, Ida had travelled with the Queen and stayed with her at Holyrood Palace where the former fell ill. In her journal, the Queen wrote, ‘Saw Sir James Clark, who brought me a telegram with the this sad news that my excellent maid Ida Bononomi, whom I had had to leave at Holyrood as she had become so ill, not having been well at Balmoral before – had died last night. It was a great shock to me, & I was thoroughly upset, for no one, including Sir James had apprehended any immediate danger. She was the kindest, gentlest, best being possible, & such a pleasant servant, so intelligent, so trustworthy & her calm, quiet manner had such a soothing effect, on my often over wrought nerves. To lose her thus, and so far away, surrounded only by strangers is too grievous. Everyone was shocked & grieved, for she was quite adored.’
Queen Victoria liked funerals and had an interest in the protocol of mourning, ‘a mentality as much as a personal observance’ (see below for references). It is known that she recognised the deaths of her housemaids and others with ritual in which other members of the household were require to be involved, and also that she visited this grave six years after Ida died.
There are, of course, many other graves of interesting women in this cemetery, and there is one which commemorates the stillborn babies who, by Scots law, cannot be cremated and must be buried.
Arboglyphs can be seen at the cemetery and they contrast with the grave inscriptions and, later, the graffiti which we saw beside the river. These different types of markings are official and unofficial, consisting of numbers, letters, words and images cut into or sprayed onto stone or bark with or without permission. They engrave death, and mark political or personal messages, causing us to remember and take note. They sometimes do damage to community surroundings and cause loss of life to the tree, but are always used to communicate and are often enjoyed, even viewed as art.
We continued our walk across the junction at Bonnington Road and this stage will be covered in Walking Between Worlds 2.
Please join me in a circular walking tour (of approx. 2.5 hrs) to muse and meditate on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, life and death and on the cusp of the new moon.
We will be visiting the graves of notable women in Rosebank Cemetery, North Leith Burial Ground and South Leith Parish Church. Briefly, at each stopping place, we will face the memorial stones, and have the chance to learn about their incumbents.
The steps taken from one to the next, will be equally, if not more important. You might like to walk in memory of a loved one, or muse on your own life and mortality. It will be an opportunity for exchange or silent contemplation on these topics. I hope to make a map after, and of, this event that will contain some of its psychogeography (see below).
Meeting at the join of Pilrig Street and Leith Walk, opposite the location of the Boundary Bar (now renamed as Bier Hoose) which marked the former border between Leith and Edinburgh; Terminating at Robbies (the corner of Iona St and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start) for libation and conversation about where we have been – both in ourselves and the city. You are welcome to join us at any stage of the walk – contact Tamsin for route details if need be.
Wear hardy shoes or boots for tramping pavements and negotiating sodden grass between stones and at the edge of the Water of Leith. This event is free of charge.
Psychogeography is ‘The study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’
Terminus was one of the really old Roman gods – he didn’t have a statue, he was a stone marker – and his origin, associated with a physical object, and lack of the usual stories that go with the gods, may have originated from animalistic religions. He had influence over less physical boundaries too, like that between two months, or between two groups of people. Terminalia was celebrated on the 23rd February – which was the last day of the Roman Year, the boundary between two new years.
Women Who Walk
Tamsin Grainger is a member of Women Who Walk. The network is for women who use walking in their creative or academic practice. It includes artists, writers, field historians and archaeologists, psychogeographers, academics and more.
Please note that there is no religious content to this event. Dogs and children are welcome. There are no flights of steps.
When I travel away from Edinburgh, my aim is clear: either to walk Pilgrimage (taking the paths people have trodden before me, where their steps have created tangible layers of spiritual tradition); or to explore a given area, what to me is virgin territory.
But when I am home, my walks are more prosaic – to and from work and the shops for my messages (used in Scotland, meaning errands) – placing my feet on known land, pavements I have walked so many times. Then my focus is on forging new connections between familiar places, seeing the same views from alternative perspectives and finding something new in them.
On Jan 11, I joined in the Snapshot Synchronised Walk (Women Who Walk Network) taking a route from Causewayside in a near-straight line to York Place.
After a day of teaching, a good tramp is therapeutic. Via ghostly vennels, northwards along narrow-walled passageways, up slopes, down flights of steep steps, I discovered a gothic-glowing steeple, a jaundiced arch lit by 19th century streetlamps, and scary blue eyes in a repurposed church. The extra-mundane exuded from the normal.
I walked Causewayside from Sainsburys, past Summerhall with its ghoulish green up-lighting,
I meandered along the edge of the Meadows, and the South Loch Gin Distillery (which I hadn’t seen before),
I kept the University on my left,
Until I glimpsed the rear of the National Museum.
I picked my way over the cobbles of West College Street,
Across Chambers Street,
Down steps to meet Guthrie Street half way,
Crossed the Cowgate and took a mini-right to find Stevenlaw’s Close (which I didn’t know was there). Looking right I paused to snap the Stramash Live Music Bar.
On the opposite side of the High Street was Fleshmarket Close,
On the opposite side of Cockburn Street was the downhill flight past the Halfway House:
Through Waverley Station and up the other side, I crossed Princes Street and took South St Andrew’s Street where I popped my head into the old Bank of Scotland which has become a mighty fine looking hotel.
I posted a thank you letter in a pastel pink envelope I had been carrying in my bag for a few days, to my sister in London.
The rain came on.
The wind blew me through the bus station (where a small bag of mini-cheddars were outrageously priced) and out onto York Place, carefully avoiding trapping my toes in the tram lines.
Rounding the corner to Broughton Street I found that the bus stop was closed – again.
All the way down that road I tripped, head down because of the driving wind,
…where I waited 7 minutes, as my coat became increasingly sodden, before taking the bus to my home by the sea.
Granton Harbour (built in the 1830s and historical site of the first electric car factory) to South Queensferry – an easy and utterly heavenly walk which takes you along the shore, through woodland and between agricultural pastures.
This blog contains directions for the walk, together with a collection of observations.
Today was everything that is quintessentially reminiscent of my childhood in British springtime: bluebell woods and wild flowers by the path side.
I left at 11.20 and arrived at 4.20, but as my friend Ann said when she told me about this walk on Friday, it depends how many times you stop! I think I probably had half an hour at the cafe and half on the beach so I would allow 4 hours.
“The natural world is where we evolved. It’s where our minds evolved. It’s where we became who we truly are, and it’s where we are most at home.” – Michael McCarthy –
It starts among wasteland and industrial plots – either side of West Harbour Road.
Once away from the traffic, I saw a circle of gulls mimicking a mothers group, just out at sea; a pair of multi-coloured sparrow-small birds (red, black, brown and white) which played by the water line; eider ducks swam by – she brown and he black and white.
The little girl who held her mother’s hand was leaping for joy over the waves.
The tarmac way stretching from Granton through Silverknowes (1 mile) to Cramond is perfect for wheels of all sorts – scooters, roller skates and blades, prams, wheelchairs and bikes. Dad said, ‘look no hands’, and wobbled dangerously. As he passed me he muttered, ‘harder on this bike’!
It can be crowded at weekends at this stage, but at other times so very peaceful. As I passed, I caught the fragrance of elderflower and meadowsweet. The Edinburgh airport flight path is parallel to this trek so planes roared periodically overhead.
Past Gypsy Brae, I spied Almond House Lodge. At the corner you can cross to Cramond Island at low tide but beware! people often get stranded.
On the left are public toilets and then a steep slope up to the village. By now you will have passed two ice-cream vans. There are two cafes: the Cramond Gallery Bistro near where the Roman statue of a lionness was dredged up in 1977, and further on past the marina, the Cramond Falls cafe. There I stopped for a delicious green tea and what was not really a scone but nice cherry cake just out of the oven. I sat in the ‘walled garden’ listening to a woman read out a most distressing text from her son.
A duckling was nudged by its mother; a tan-headed crested grebe ducked and reappeared, its tuft upright though wet. Thin, shiny-green beech leaves seemed almost plasticy, matching the weed drifted in the river. The sound of bubbling water and the ‘creep creep’ of birds surrounded me.
One of a pair of women in serious sun hats were the first to say ‘good morning’, an hour and a half into my walk. She was American. ‘Oh’, she said as I went past, ‘I’ve been saying good morning all this time and it’s the afternoon!’ and laughed. Later there were many friendly families of cyclists cheerfully greeting me.
The path is generally very easy to follow, but do keep taking the right hand fork if you have a choice.
Take a right at Dowies Mill Lane where there is a playpark and Shetland ponies. I realised I was already at the field I was told about and, yes, there was an immediately newborn foal in a woman’s arms. Last week’s littl’un was being trotted round the field by mum. The two other adult horses were curious, and crowded round the shed door.
Then right again at Cramond Brig (bridge). (You could go left for the cycle path back to Edinburgh, or straight on for the continuation of the Almond Walkway).
After Bridge Cottage (above), go up the lane by the Cramond Brig Inn and keep right until there are signs to South Queensferry. The road travels through the Dalmeny Estate by a bank of comfrey, white dead nettle, dandelions, pink campion and buttercups. Flies looped the loop after each other in front of my nose. A cuckoo called; a bee buzzed by my ear; white cherry-blossom petals wafted.
Keep straight on.
Look to the right to see Granton’s very own disused gas building frame thing.
When when you get close to the sea take the left fork signed John Muir Way (JM Way).
A group of women came up behind me with their Glasgow accents. Actually, all day I heard almost as many foreign languages as I hear when walking in mainland Europe.
Turn left again at the beach. Here one can take a tiny right hand détour to lie on warm sand and sit on the promontory of Eagle Rock with its chocolate seams, in a beige cove. I looked back to my right at Cramond Harbour with a beautiful view of the island.
I meditated on the sound of the waves and tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore the fly crawling up my arm. I smelled the beautiful briney sea (sing-along-a Bedknobs and Broomsticks fans).
Oyster catchers, and curlews with long sabre-curved beaks perched on the starboard side.
At the cottages, stay right on the JM Way.
There was a coconut scent of warm gorse here. The ash trees had young leaves, no black nibs to decorate them now as it is April. I stopped and hung over the dinky wooden bridge and heard a bumble bee and the trickling brook.
Two geese flew over and honked. It is definitely spring – everything and everyone is in pairs. I will be honest, I want the whole world to be in love.
First I walked past the impressive Dalmeny House and very shortly afterwards, the grey stone Barnbougle Castle owned by the Earl of Rosebery and extremely private. This is where I saw my first magenta rhododendron buds. I was on cycle route 76 as well as the JM Way.
A great arc of precisely patterned oyster catchers alighted in front of the couple who sat quietly side-by-side at the shoreline. Later I spot them (the birds!) lined up neatly, a flock on a rock, like white cake icing.
I past a mum taking a snap of dad up a tree, son in his bike helmet looking up into the branches nervously. As I waded through springy undergrowth to get a shot, I disturbed spider filaments which clung to me and tickled as I got back to the path. There were cerise stalks and seed cases of the sycamore and pollen yellow clutch of unfurled ferns.
To my mind it was a shame about the yapping dogs on the beach and the droning of the water motorbikes; but a kid hurling stones, boys paddling and little girls rock pooling all seemed somewhat idyllic.
‘Do you trust me’ asked a lady’, shrilly? And then she laughed with a wicked stepmother sort of laugh. A black lab with a ruby, lolling tongue implied, ‘you might want to lie down but I want you to throw the stick’.
I passed out of the Dalmeny Estate through the Longcraig Gate at South Queensferry. If you do not want to walk the way I did, you can park at the foot of the rail bridge there and walk part of the way in the other direction. You could also take the train from Edinburgh to Dalmeny Town and cycle (£4.70 return with Scotrail).
A lad said, ‘Don’t you hate it when you get a speck of sand between your toes and then there’s a blister?’
Under the famous rail bridge I found myself on New Halls Road where perhaps 50 bikers with their beards and bald heads brummed their engines. I had a half of Holyrood pale ale in The Hawes Inn.
There are many steep steps to the station and tiny little signs. When you find yourself in the middle of a housing estate, go straight on (not right) and it is on the left. (I am not quite sure why I got a return except that my head is always ‘mince’ after a walk. The guard said if he had sold it to me on the train he could have refunded it!)
Perched high up on an ex-volcano (here’s hoping!) is Edinburgh’s second prime tourist attraction. With wonderful views over the city and the surrounding countryside as far as the Pentland Hills in the south and the Lomond Hills in the north, it is rather windy. Step inside to visit sparkling jewels and powerful weapons. Make sure you are nowhere near at 1pm unless you have your earplugs in – that is when they fire the enormous canon. Tip: book online to get a small reduction.
Set amongst spectacular grounds and with a peaceful Japanese Zen Garden, Lauriston Castle is on the banks of the Firth of Forth. There are daily tours to show off the sumptuous Edwardian interiors, and special events at Easter and Christmas. With free entry to the grounds, and castle admission being relatively cheap compared to Edinburgh Castle (adult £8, concession £6 (under 5 free)), it is worth taking the bus there and enjoying this elegant landmark. Tip: it is occasionally closed for functions so check before you travel.
This ruined castle was once a place where Mary Queen of Scots was sequestered for her own safety. Set a little way outside the city centre, you will need to take a bus (number 49 from the Bridges or Leith Walk, with a 13 minute walk at the other end). There are events in the grounds such as Medieval archery between July and September. Free to Historic Scotland members and children under 5; otherwise £3.60 (5-15 years) / £6 (adults). Tip: there is nothing much else in the area, so take your own sandwiches.
Tantallon is a semi-ruined, 14th century fortress in a spectacular setting featured in the film ‘Under the Skin’ with Scarlett Johansson. Walk the battlements and admire the Bass Rock, an island nearby which is a haven for seabirds, including puffins (you can take a boat trip there from the Sea Bird Centre in North Berwick). The quickest way is to take the train from Waverley Station to North Berwick and then get the 120 bus (from Dunbar to Edinburgh) with a 4 minute walk when you get off. Otherwise, this castle is best visited if you have the use of a car (it is an easy hour’s drive eastwards -very close to the A198 main road). Tip: make it a day out and visit North Berwick for fish and chips in the fresh sea air.
The hall-house part of Aberdour Castle was built in stone in the 1100’s, and you will discover it alongside later architectural additions (including a gorgeously painted wooden-beamed ceiling), a walled garden, and gay terraces. Located in Easter Aberdour, a pretty village in the Kingdom of Fife, this is a half day-trip from Edinburgh taking 30 minutes by train from Waverley Station, costing approximately £6 (Scotrail) and crossing the Forth with a fine sight of the new road bridge.
Or if you fancy a smart seafood lunch in the Room with a View restaurant followed by a walk along Aberdour beach for your digestion, you can make a whole day of it. Tip: St Fillan’s Norman church is close by and also worth a visit.
Wondering what the best Scottish visitor attraction is? Apparently it is the Royal Yacht Britannia at Ocean terminal in Leith, Edinburgh.
Craigmillar Castle is at Craigmillar Castle Road, Edinburgh, EH16 4SY. 0131 661 4445.
Tantallon Castle Opening times 1 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last entry 5pm.
1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10am to 4pm Last entry 3.30pm
Scotland has a bit of reputation when it comes to the weather! If you live here, you know that there can be gloriously sunny, crisp days when it is a pleasure to be alive. However, it does rain sometimes, even in the summer, so here are some of my favourite places to go on those wet days!
This magnificent building is on Chambers Street, just 15 minutes’ walk from Princes Street in the city centre. Free entry.
There are interactive things for kids (and big kids!) including machines and massive stuffed animals; fascinating Scottish historical artefacts displayed in creative ways; original temporary exhibitions; plus it is warm; there is a decent cafe; free wifi ….
…. jewellery, spacecraft, dinosaurs, Buddhas, death masks and the bizarre and wonderful Millennium Clock made by Tim Stead and others, which clatters and whirrs every hour, plays Bach and is just a must-see.
Whilst being equally grand and beautiful, in contrast the inside of this building is made of darker wood with a silent sweep of staircase. Look up in awe at the iconic painted panels of Scottish queens and kings all around its walls.
Do not miss the shrunken heads in the bijou library; the originally flavoured scones in the cafe; or the modern portraits such as the brooding Naomi Mitchison (novelist), sexy Michael Clark (dancer) and David Mach’s collage of Gavin Hastings (Rugby player). Free entry.
Home of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, you can view the best of independent cinema here on Lothian Road.
With 3 screens showing work from around the world, and a lively cafe where there is often a very interesting art exhibition, you can also browse and buy from the idiosyncratic film shelves, and the tickets are affordable.
The Dovecot is a weaving gallery where tapestries are being woven while you walk around it!
Found in the old Infirmary Street swimming baths (where there is also a small gift shop with original ware), the highlight is the amazing viewing gallery where you can watch the Master Weavers at work. This cafe, brought to you by Leos Beanery which has its own outlet at 23A Howe Street, EH3 6TF, serves delicious cakes, yummy savouries and good coffee. Free entry.
These restored Victorian baths have a modern sauna and gym with Pilates and yoga classes.
Located in the crook of the Water of Leith, among the attractive colonies housing area which is very near the trendy Stockbridge part of Edinburgh, you can exercise and relax, with or without children, calming your nervous system as you float, and emerging clean and sparkling afterwards.
Waterstone’s is part of a national chain of bookshops and is quite grand in its own way, the initial flight of stairs splitting to take you right and left to the different departments and the mezzanine floor to the cafe which has a great view of Edinburgh Castle. You can cosy down in a warm carpeted corner and transport yourself into the world of Trainspotting (Irvine Walsh’s gritty novel set in Edinburgh’s Leith) or Hogwarts of course (the Harry Potter books written in part at the Elephant House cafe by J.K. Rowling).
Get away from the noise and crowds for some quiet contemplation in St Mary’s Episcopalian Cathedral. See the contemporary and colourful stained glass, especially the Paolozzi window; and the radiant glow of ‘The Presence’, a painting by the Edinburgh artist A.E. Borthwick from 1910.
7. Central Library
Funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, look out for the stunning ceiling of the George Washington Browne room, the hidden Fine Art library (wooden tables and chairs as you would imagine from your childhood), and a substantial local history / Scottish section.
Downside: the toilets are in the basement, but, upside, you get to see some lesser known art as you wind your way down there.
And, finally, I know when I am travelling I need to keep in contact with friends and family and if I am having trouble with my phone I need wifi: Try the Fruitmarket Gallery cafe where you can also see contemporary art exhibitions of the highest calibre.