EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Part two of my trawl through Edinburgh in an alphabetic fashion (read about A to C here) brought to you by the letters D, E and F!
THE LETTER D
D is for Dumbiedykes, an area of the city between Holyrood Road and Holyrood Park.
Today it's a housing area, but historically this was the site of the UK's first school for deaf and dumb children. Founded in the 1760s by Thomas Braidwood, the school was unique in tailoring its teaching to the needs of pupils who would ordinarily be excluded from standard schooling. Braidwood developed a form of what became sign language, and also taught children the skill of lip-reading.
In 1783, Braidwood and his family moved to London, and re-established their school there, expanding and developing their services until Braidwood's death in 1806, when the school was taken over by Braidwood's youngest daughter, Isabella. A grandson, John Braidwood, established a school for deaf children in Virginia, US, in 1812.
Today little remains of the original Braidwood Academy, except a few crumbling sections of wall, marked by a commemorative plaque, but the area in which it stood became known as Dumbiedykes (with a silent 'b'), a pejorative nickname acquired because of the large number of deaf and 'dumb' children who would be found there.
THE LETTER E
E is for Enric Miralles, the Catalan architect who designed the new Scottish Parliament building. Built on a regenerated industrial site at Holyrood, the parliament offers a splash of post-modernism amongst the city's predominantly classic architecture, and is a building filled with symbolism and imagery.
Miralles' vision for the parliament was that it should reflect a variety of elements of Scottish culture and heritage, the idea being that the building as a whole symbolised Scotland as a whole.
Unfortunately, Miralles died before the building could be completed. Aged just 45 when he died of a brain tumour in July 2000, Miralles' parliament building had to be completed under the guidance of another lead architect, Benedetta Tagliabue, Miralles' wife.
The parliament was designed as a public building, with free entry to visitors to explore its interior spaces, which are (broadly) more attractive than the exterior of the buildings. In architecture, as in life, it's what's inside that counts!
THE LETTER F
F is for Fleshmarket Close, one of the narrow lanes and alleys - the 'closes' - of Edinburgh's Old Town. These lanes run off the Royal Mile, into the steep gullies on either side of the city, and remain some of the most evocative and atmospheric parts of the Old Town.
Edinburgh's closes were named for significant people who lived on them, or the trades and businesses based there - Fleshmarket Close was a butcher's market, where meat would be hung along the alley, blood dripping down the steep incline of the lane to drain naturally down to the lake in the valley to the north of the city.
Today, Fleshmarket Close is one of the first visions that greets visitors emerging from Waverley Station, it steps stretching up out of sight - a worthy introduction to a city filled with staircases and alleys!
The crime writer Ian Rankin, who lives in Edinburgh, sets his Inspector Rebus stories in the city, and often utilises the real life locations in his stories. One of his novels is entitled Fleshmarket Close after this dark and brooding passageway through the Old Town.
We're just a couple of days from one of Scotland's biggest annual cultural events - Burns Night commemorates and celebrates the life and work of Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard, or poet.
(In Scotland another word for poet is 'makar', and in 2004 the Scottish Parliament introduced the formal title of Scots Makar for a national poet. The current Scots Makar is Jackie Kay, but the two previous holders have been Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan.)
Burns remains one of Scotland's great cultural figures, and on 25th January each year - Burns' date of birth - dinners are held to consume traditional dishes and recite Burns' poetry. The highlight of such occasions is the traditional meal of haggis, neeps and tatties - a veritable Scottish trinity of foodstuffs!
Although these days visitors often seek a 'gourmet' version of haggis, the dish originated as a dish suited to the lifestyle and means of shepherds, combining cheaply available ingredients and a form which allowed it to be transported. The liver, heart and lungs of a sheep - known as the 'pluck' - are minced with suet, oats and spices, and stuffed into a casing to enclose it.
Originally the casing would have been a sheep's stomach or similar, today they are generally stuffed into synthetic casings. The effect was to create a bulbous sausage, something which could be stuffed into the belongings of the shepherd as he trailed his charges across the exposed Highland landscapes, and which could then be taken out, boiled over a fire, and then sliced open to eat the spicy contents.
Today, haggis is often served in different forms, deep fried in small balls as a bar snack, grilled as part of a cooked breakfast, stuffed into chicken to create Chicken Balmoral (after Queen Victoria's Highland estate), or even - purists should avert their gaze now - crumbled onto pizzas...!
Burns himself wrote an 'Address to a Haggis', which is recited at Burns' suppers as the haggis is brought into the dining room - often accompanied by bagpipes! - in which he describes it as "Great chieftain o' the Puddin-race" - the king of pies and puddings!
At such events the haggis is generally served with the other two staples of the dish, neeps and tatties. Neeps are mashed swede - a Swedish form of turnip, 'neeps' a shortening of 'turneeps' - which is much more golden and yellow than ordinary turnip. Boiled and mashed roughly with butter and salt, it's a rich and sweet vegetable dish. Tatties, then, are simply mashed potatoes - together the three elements don't offer a hugely varied palate of textures, but they do accompany each other well in terms of flavour!
A sauce may be added - whisky or pepper sauce is a good match - but for most people a liberal knob of butter is enough, without detracting from the rich flavour of the haggis itself.
In recent years the haggis has achieved a kind of mythical status, partly as a result of its scarcity in some parts of the world - the use of sheep lung as an ingredient put it beyond the limits of American health regulations, making it illegal to import or produce commercially in the United States.
Most surprisingly of all, considering the haggis is uniquely associated with Scottish culture today, some historians and food experts now believe the haggis to have been invented in England originally, before being 'exported' to Scotland!
Whatever its origins, and however it's served, be sure to try to sample this iconic dish sometime during your visit to Scotland...
Book a private tour and get my top tips on where to go to try haggis during your stay in Edinburgh!
One of the reasons I love Edinburgh is that there always seem to be new things to discover about the city, new places to explore, and new stories to tell. This week I made one such discovery when I started looking into the curious name of one of the streets near the University of Edinburgh's campus buildings on the Southside of the city.
Having passed along Buccleuch Street many times (and having spent years trying to work out how to pronounce it!) I realised this week I'd never looked into the name 'Guse Dub' which is marked at the junction where the Buccleuch Free Church stands. I knew a little about Crosscauseway, the road which joins in from the eastern side, but nothing about this 'Guse Dub'.
A little light googling yielded some surprising results! Translated from Scots, the name 'Guse Dub' means, literally, 'Goose Puddle', and the junction historically was the site of a public wellspring and a small pond where ducks and geese congregated, at a time when this area was rural territory, well beyond the limits of Edinburgh's city wall.
This approach from the south was one of the main routes into Edinburgh - there is some speculation that one of the roads leading up the Southside was a Roman road dating back to the second century - and so it's not hard to imagine this junction, with a small collection of properties, maybe an inn or a stable yard, being a convenient resting point for weary travellers making their way towards the metropolis of Auld Reekie.
The goose pond was a recognised landmark as far back as the seventeenth century, and Walter Scott recalls the pond in some of his memoirs of childhood, days he must have spent playing in this area whilst his family had their home on nearby George Square.
Robert Burns lodged in a house on Buccleuch Pend (since demolished) a couple of doors down from this junction in 1784. The pond had been drained in 1715 - where did all the geese go, I wonder?! - although a public well and a horse trough remained on the site into the early 1900s.
West Crosscauseway, which runs from the eastern side of the junction, having crossed the main arterial road of St Patrick Street/Clerk Street, and nearby Causewayside, are both street names which feature an error of translation.
In Scots, a 'causey' was a street that was paved or which was more solid and established than an ordinary dirt track. In French, caucie meant a beaten or hardened surface, and with its many links to France, Scotland had taken the same concept and given it a Scots translation - hence, 'causey'.
So this main road - now the A7 into Edinburgh - was formally a causey, a paved road, and the road which ran parallel/beside it became Causeyside; the road which ran across it at right-angles was Crosscausey.
The road had been 'causeyed' in 1599, and the name Crosscausey was in use as far back as 1661.
Sometime in the nineteenth century, a process of formalising, or Anglicising, street names saw Causeyside unfortunately rendered as Causewayside and Crosscausey as Crosscauseway. But there never was such a 'causeway' as their names would suggest!
So, next time you stroll through the area near George Square and the city's Central Mosque, look out for Guse Dub and maybe if you stop for a moment, perhaps you might catch the sound of ghostly geese honking from their glory days around the long-gone pond...!
For more information about the Causey Development Trust, visit www.thecausey.org.
Explore more of Edinburgh's hidden history with my private city walking tours!
This is the first of my new blog series, exploring Edinburgh from A to Z!
THE LETTER A
A is for Adam Smith, one of the city's greatest Enlightenment figures, known as 'the father of modern economics' after his ground-breaking text, The Wealth of Nations. Actually, Smith was born in Kirkcaldy in Fife to the north of Edinburgh, but lived for much of his life in the Old Town, where his former home Panmure House still stands today. It was in Panmure House that Smith wrote his famous textbook outlining the basic principles and treaties of international trade agreements between countries, which was to transform the world's approach to finance.
Smith was a major player in the so-called Scottish Enlightenment, when Edinburgh was at the heart of a century-long movement of innovation, and he was one of the men who helped establish the city's reputation as a home to great thinkers, philosophers, scientists and medics.
When Smith died he was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, where his grave today is often to be seen covered in small coins from around the world, thrown onto the grave by travellers. It seems a fitting tribute to a man who helped to shape the global economy!
THE LETTER B
B is for Braidwood - James Braidwood helped to establish Edinburgh's first formal fire service, and was instrumental in developing the early training methods and principles for fighting fire. Edinburgh had been a city much vulnerable to fire, without a natural water supply, and in 1824 the Great Fire of Edinburgh destroyed a significant portion of the Old Town. Braidwood would later die fighting fire in London, where he had gone to set up the London fire service following his success in Edinburgh. A statue to Braidwood can be found on Parliament Square, near St Giles' Cathedral.
THE LETTER C
The obvious choice to represent the letter 'C' would be Edinburgh Castle, but instead I'm choosing Cowgate, a road running parallel to the Royal Mile which traditionally provided access into the city for farmers bringing their cattle from the fields and pastures to the south. The road along which they drove their cattle to market became known as 'Cowgait', the passage/walk (or 'gait') of the cows.
Despite this fairly noisy and smelly purpose, the Cowgate was also, for a long time, the richest part of the city, where lords, successful businessmen, knights and even a Catholic cardinal had their homes - these would be grander and more spacious properties than the homes of poorer families, crammed into the dark and dirty lanes leading to the Royal Mile. In the eighteenth century, when the New Town provided an even grander setting for these wealthy occupants, the Cowgate got taken over by slum landlords and became the city's most run-down district.
The writer Robert Louis Stevenson described standing on the new, upper-class South Bridge, and being able to look down to the Cowgate running below it, and said it was possible to look from one level of society to the next 'in the twinkling of an eye'...
Edinburgh's historic Old and New Towns have a wealth of architectural heritage between them, with many iconic structures by visionaries like Robert Adam and William Playfair, who between them gave the city its style and classical appearances.
Another of the significant figures to shape Edinburgh was the architect Thomas Hamilton, whose father had been an architect and carpenter before him. Here are just a few of Hamilton's gifts to the city...
The Old Royal High School
A building whose profile has been raised in recent months by controversial plans to have the structure renovated to give the city its first six-star hotel, the old Royal High School building may be Hamilton's best known work in the city.
Built in the 1820s on the edge of Calton Hill, looking out over the Old Town, the school operated from this location until the 1970s, when the building was considered no longer fit for purpose - its plumbing was outdated and it lacked the necessary standard of electrical connections. The school continues to operate, but has moved elsewhere in the city.
In the 1990s, the empty building was considered a possible site for the new Scottish Parliament, a plan vetoed on the grounds of it being prohibitively expensive to make the building 21st-century functional... The current hope is for Hamilton's building to be given new life as a home to St Mary's Music School.
The Martyrs' Monument
Just a stone's throw from where Hamilton would eventually be buried, in the Old Calton Burial Ground, stands a memorial, designed by him, to commemorate the lives of five men who had campaigned for political reform in Britain at the end of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries.
The monument is occasionally compared to the Washington Monument in Washington DC, a flattering comparison considering Hamilton's Martyrs' Monument is just 27 metres high!
George IV Bridge
One of Hamilton's 'hidden' features, George IV Bridge was built as an elevated roadway across the Cowgate valley to the south of the Royal Mile, with buildings constructed alongside to almost completely enclose it. Visitors (and locals) will often traverse the bridge (and the other bridges in the city) without fully realising the engineering feat supporting them. Another Hamilton building, the former North Road Free Church, now run by the University of Edinburgh as the Bedlam Theatre, stands at the southern end of George IV Bridge.
Dean Orphanage, now one of the Modern Art Galleries
At Belford, just a short walk from the west end of Princes Street, sit the city's two modern art galleries, part of the collective National Galleries of Scotland.
In the 1830s, Hamilton designed the Dean Orphanage, to help house and educate some of the city's children. Above the portico to the building is a stone clock, taken from the Netherbow Port, which was formerly the city's main gateway at the World's End on the Royal Mile. When the gate was demolished in the 1760s, the clock was saved and incorporated into Hamilton's design sixty years later.
In the grounds of the gallery are a number of allotments, still maintained for local people to grow their own fruit and vegetables, after being set up during the 1940s to help with the war effort during World War II.
Robert Burns Memorial
Across the road from the Royal High School on Calton Hill is one of two memorials that Hamilton designed to commemorate Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet.
The earlier memorial was built in Alloway in the Scottish Borders, Burns' birthplace, and in the 1830s a second memorial, to essentially the same classical Grecian-style design, was constructed in Edinburgh.
This second memorial was designed to house a life-size statue of Burns himself, and although the monument is no longer publicly accessible (except during special events) the statue of Burns, by the sculptor John Flaxman, is still on display in the city's National Portrait Gallery.
Explore more of Edinburgh's architectural history with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...
© COPYRIGHT GARETH DAVIES 2014-21