Around Edinburgh - Duddingston Village
Visitors to Edinburgh often see little of the city beyond the overcrowded tourist hotspots of the Royal Mile and the Old Town - frequently not even venturing as far as the historic New Town!
I'm always keen to encourage a wider exploration of Edinburgh's features, hence this occasional series highlighting areas further from the city centre that are worth exploring - previously I've written about Bruntsfield and Stockbridge.
Duddingston village is less a suburb of the city and more a historic outpost of Edinburgh, nestled at the base of the eastern side of Holyrood Park, behind Arthur's Seat. Sheep were grazed on the slopes of the park until the 1970s, and traditionally would have been slaughtered at Duddingston before being taken for sale in Edinburgh itself.
The area's chief 'claim to fame' is as the home of Scotland's oldest pub, the Sheep Heid, where a tavern or inn has been sited since 1360. The village of Duddingston was on the historic route between the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Craigmillar Castle, and it marked a convenient stopping point for travellers between the two. It is reputed that Mary, Queen of Scots may have played skittles (a form of ten pin bowling) in the Sheep Heid's courtyard.
Bonnie Prince Charlie - the Young Pretender - lodged his forces at Duddingston in advance of the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745, a key moment in the Jacobite Uprisings of the 18th century.
At the centre of the village is Duddingston Kirk, a church with its origins traced back as far as 1124. This picturesque church is entered through a gateway at which visitors can still see the guard house built to dissuade bodysnatchers from digging up graves in the early nineteenth-century, along with a mounting block for horse riders to use to mount their steeds, and a set of 'jougs', a steel collar attached to a chain cemented into the wall of the graveyard, where those accused of petty offences would be subjected to a period of public humiliation for their crimes.
Famous residents of Duddingston include John Thomson, a former reverend of the church, who gave rise to a popular folk saying in Scotland - 'We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns'; we're all equal in the eyes of God.
Jean Carfrae Pinkerton, wife of Allan Pinkerton who founded the Pinkerton's National Detective Agency in America in the 1850s (now part of Securitas), was born in Duddingston. Pinkerton played a major role in foiling the attempted assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1861.
The nearby Duddingston Loch was the setting for Henry Raeburn's iconic portrait of the Reverend Robert Walker, Skating on Duddingston Loch - better known as the Skating Minister - which can be seen in the National Gallery of Scotland.
The village is worth a visit to escape the city centre briefly, with access to Holyrood Park and the main cycle path along the the nearby Innocent Railway line.
Explore more of Edinburgh's hidden gems with my private city walking tours!
An A - Z of Edinburgh: V to Z
Here's the final instalment of my alphabetical exploration of Edinburgh, featuring the letters V, W, and Y, with a couple of cheaty entries for X and Z!
A - C, D - F, G - I, J - L, M - O, P - R, S - U, V - Z
THE LETTER V
V is for the Vennel, a narrow lane running off the Grassmarket. The Scots word 'vennel' described any such lane, similar to the 'ginnel' of northern England, but whereas Edinburgh has many of the 'closes' and 'wynds' that were the local names for the alleys, the city today has just one vennel.
From the Grassmarket, the steep steps leading up the Vennel doubtless put off many from exploring it, but climbing the steps is rewarded with an unparalleled view across to Edinburgh Castle. (If the steps look familiar, it may be from the film version of Muriel Spark's Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in which the lane featured in 1969...)
At the top of the steps, you can also see not one but two of the defensive walls which enclosed the southern side of Edinburgh, the Flodden Wall (built after 1513) and the Telfer Wall (c.1620s). The junction of these two walls offers a chance to contrast the building style and materials of each wall, and give a sense of how imposing the walls would have been to visitors approaching from the south.
THE LETTER W
W is for White Horse Close, one of the picturesque lanes off the Royal Mile near Holyrood. The building at the head of the lane was formerly the White Horse Inn, which was the coaching inn where visitors would have arrived into Edinburgh during the seventeenth century.
Stage coaches ran regularly along the Great North Road, connecting London and Edinburgh, roughly along the line of the A1 and M1 motorway today. In the early days of the service, it could take anywhere from ten to fourteen days to travel between the two cities, and on arrival in Edinburgh visitors would have been accommodated in this lane at the foot of the Royal Mile.
Although the lane is an attractive example of Edinburgh's old lanes, it's not entirely authentic, as the building of the White Horse Inn itself was rebuilt from scratch in the 1960s, preserving the external appearance of the original building, but refitting its interior for a more modern function...
THE LETTER X
X is the shape formed by the St Andrew's Cross, which forms the primary figure on the flag of Scotland, known as the Saltire. You'll find the Saltire in various forms and on numerous flags around the city, taken from the particular crucifix on which St Andrew (Scotland's patron saint) was martyred.
THE LETTER Y
Y is for James Young Simpson, one of the city's most important sons - although the middle name 'Young' was acquired at university, which he attended at the age of just 14. He was later appointed president of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh at the age of just 24.
Simpson is best known as a pioneer of anaesthetics, which he specifically developed as an aid to childbirth. He lived at 52 Queen Street in the New Town, and is rumoured to have discovered the properties of chloroform after a dinner party, at which he invited his guests to inhale from various liquids he'd brought from his laboratory at the medical school.
Queen Victoria was one of the first women for whom chloroform made the process of childbirth less painful (and less dangerous), in 1853, and was so pleased by its effects that she made Simpson her private physician in Scotland. He became the first man to be knighted for services to medicine, and was offered a prestigious burial within Westminster Abbey in London, but elected to be buried closer to home at Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh, when 100,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession to pay tribute to him.
THE LETTER Z
Z is for the shape of the original route into Edinburgh from the west. Stretching from the Grassmarket to the Lawnmarket was the West Bow, a snaking, almost switch-back incline that saved visitors an almost two-mile detour to the bottom of the Royal Mile itself.
In the 1830s, as Edinburgh was experiencing efforts to improve its accessibility, Johnston Terrace and George IV Bridge were constructed to save travellers the treacherous climb of West Bow, and the road was extended and partly renamed Victoria Street.
The lane today claims some of the dreaded Harry Potter connections, being a (speculative) inspiration for Diagon Alley - although at least two other streets in the city claim the same influence!
Explore more of Edinburgh with my private city walking tours!
Highlights of Edinburgh's Canongate
Canongate is one of the sections of Edinburgh's historic Royal Mile, and is bursting with features of interest that are sometimes overlooked by visitors more focused on the major attractions at either end of the Royal Mile itself. But the Canongate area is well worth taking some time to explore - here are my top five features worth finding time to check out during your visit...
One of the five old graveyards in the city of Edinburgh, the Canongate Kirkyard has a number of burials of interest, as well as offering stunning views up to Calton Hill.
The most significant figure interred in the grounds of the church is Adam Smith, popularly known as the father of modern economics, who lived in the nearby Panmure House after writing the book for which he is best known, The Wealth of Nations. This treatise on international trade laid the foundations for the modern global economy, and visitors to his grave often leave small coins of overseas currencies as a fitting tribute to his influence.
Two FREE Museums
On either side of the road near the Canongate Kirkyard are two small council-run museums which offer fascinating insights into Edinburgh's history and culture.
The Museum of Edinburgh occupies buildings dating back to the 1560s, and features a range of exhibits including Greyfriars Bobby's dog collar and bowl, and some of the original wooden water pipes which brought fresh water into the city in the 17th century.
The People's Story is in the old Canongate tolbooth, the former town hall of this settlement, and relates the history of the city through testimony from the people who have lived here over the centuries.
The best preserved of Edinburgh's old lanes and alleys, Bakehouse Close was an old industrial lane which exported bread and cakes into the city of Edinburgh, and was recently used as a filming site for the third season of Outlander, including the location for Jamie's print shop in the series.
Acheson House on the eastern side of the close dates back to 1633 and today houses Edinburgh World Heritage, the body which works with UNESCO to preserve and protect the city' historic features. Look out for the emblem of the Acheson family, carved into the stone above the original main doorway, which also gave a later brothel which occupied the buildings its quirky nickname, the Cock and Trumpet...
Dunbar's Close Garden
Tucked away down a lane just past the Canongate Kirk (as you head down the Royal Mile) is one of Edinburgh's finest hidden gems. The garden here is laid out in the style of the 17th century gardens which would have been found behind the grander houses of Canongate at the height of its popularity.
Dunbar's Close Garden was transformed in the 1970s with funding from a charity called the Mushroom Trust, and today offers a welcome oasis of calm and tranquility just a short step from the chaos of the Royal Mile itself.
Explore more of the Canongate's highlights with my private Edinburgh walking tours!
Enjoy the blog but can't take a tour?
Show your support and
buy me a coffee!
Search the blog archive...