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.