Barge Life: Edinburgh's Canal
At the top of Lothian Road, one of the city's main arterial routes, is an area of the city which has received a significant amount of redevelopment in recent years. Between Morrison Street and Fountainbridge today you'll find the Scottish Widows building, and a series of new build office spaces, which belie something of the area's industrial heritage.
In 1822 Scotland's grand Union Canal was opened, linking Edinburgh with Falkirk, where it connected with the Forth and Clyde Canal which ran across the width of the country into Glasgow. This man-made waterway was crucial for the transportation of goods across the lower part of Scotland before the age of rail and motorways.
The eastern terminus of the canal was in Port Hopetoun, which was in the area adjacent to Fountainbridge in Edinburgh today. The large monolothic building on Lothian Road, today housing a series of shops and the Odeon Cinema, were the original offices for the canal companies, backing directly onto the basin in which the canal ended.
The canal is still there today, and indeed still functions, but it ends slightly short of its original terminus, just behind the new Edinburgh Quay office buildings housing Cargo bar and restaurant, and a variety of other businesses. Here you'll find a number of barges moored for the purposes of providing pleasure, including the Four Sisters Boatel, a quirky and unique self-catering space which can accommodate up to six people.
In its heyday the canal was a vibrant hub of industry, transporting goods from the nearby factories and warehouses, which have been demolished and given way to new developments (some open areas are still awaiting development). Today the canal itself has a more gentle and sedate atmosphere, with the towpath alongside the water offering passage to cyclists, joggers and walkers. During the summer you may still see barges carrying pleasure seekers, with local canoe clubs also using the area for practice. Ducks and swans make frequent appearances in the area, and fishermen can often be found casting into the waters for leisure.
The Leamington Lift Bridge is a distinctive iron bridge across the canal which can be raised and lowered to allow the passage of barges - originally the bridge stood further east, approximately at the junction between Fountainbridge and Gardner's Crescent, where is provided a similar role during the years of industrial functioning.
From Edinburgh Quay, visitors can travel along the canal (on foot, bike or by boat, if they have the means) over 30 miles along to the Falkirk Wheel, which connects the Union and the Forth and Clyde canals. The route passes over a variety of impressive aqueducts and via a series of tunnels, allowing a unique perspective on the local landscape.
The Union Canal fell into disuse with the rise of the railways in the 1840s, and finally ceased its industrial functions in the 1930s. With a significant amount of modern investment and intervention from heritage groups, the canal has today been restored to functioning order, and provides not just an alternative to the city's often crowded and bustling centre, but an important link with the city's industrial past.
Explore the canal and Fountainbridge with a bespoke city walking tour.
Around Town: Stockbridge
One of the city's most picturesque local areas, Stockbridge is known for its independent community spirit and quirky charm. Just a short walk down the hill to the north of the New Town, Stockbridge is an attractive destination for visitors and locals alike.
Originally an outlying settlement, this was the site of the 'stock bridge' - a timber framed bridge providing the primary crossing across the Water of Leith for those approaching Edinburgh from the north - and the area was formally incorporated into Edinburgh in the 19th century.
The current stone bridge was constructed in 1801, and remains at the heart of the area to this day. It's from here that a thousand rubber ducks are released into the Water of Leith every summer during the Stockbridge Duck Race! The race raises money for local charities, with prizes for the sponsors of the first ducks to cross the finishing line - this year's race takes place on 28 June 2015.
Stockbridge also hosted the world's first rugby international, between Scotland and England, in 1871. The playing fields attached to Edinburgh Academicals are located adjacent to Comely Bank Road, which backs straight onto Inverleith Park, another of the city's vast public green spaces.
The main street of Stockbridge is named for the painter Henry Raeburn, who owned estates in the locality in the 18th century. Raeburn had been born in Stockbridge in 1756, and as an orphan was educated courtesy of George Heriot's Hospital, which today remains one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. Raeburn lived and worked locally and produced some of the best known images of Scottish culture, including portraits of Walter Scott and the 'skating minister' on the park at Duddingston.
Other notable occupants of Stockbridge included the 'Stockbridge murderess', and Annabelle Coutts, aka Madame Doubtfire, who owned a second hand clothes store on South East Circus Place, up to her death in 1979 - the novelist Anne Fine lived locally for a time, and borrowed the moniker for the title of her novel, filmed with Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire. Stockbridge remains a haven for second hand goods, with some of the highest grossing charity shops in the UK, and a veritable goldmine for quality pre-loved goods!
From Stockbridge it's a short walk not only into the city centre, but also along the Water of Leith towards the Royal Botanic Gardens (to the east), or past St Bernard's Well towards the Dean Village and National Gallery of Modern Art (to the west). Or simply stroll the cobbled streets and browse the shops, independent bars and cafes, or the street market which is held throughout the year.
Explore Stockbridge in more detail as part of a private tour of the city!
Edinburgh's Parklife: The Meadows
Sitting in a natural dip in the land to the south of the Royal Mile, adjacent to the old infirmary buildings and behind Edinburgh University's George Square area, the Meadows is a popular expanse of open space in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town. For many years a small stream ran through the Meadows area from east to west, creating an important defensive obstacle to potential invaders of the city approaching from the south, known as the Boroughloch.
This natural dip and pooling water rendered the area a shallow lake at best, and a swampy marshland at worst - during Roman times, the road which ran through this area (roughly where Melville Drive runs today) was described as running alongside a beach next to a shallow sea.
This wetland also helped to keep the city supplied with fresh water prior to the first piped supply being brought into the city from Comiston in the 1670s.
In the eighteenth century the land was drained by Sir Thomas Hope, who had rented the land the loch stood on for £800 per year. The parkland that we enjoy today began to be created, along with what was once a high-status residence on what is today Hope Park Square.
Middle Meadow Walk, the tree-line avenue which cuts across the park, was created during Hope's time, and over 1,200 trees planted around the area to provide colour and shade. One of the gardeners who helped to create the park was William Burnes - later in life Burnes's son (with an altered spelling of his surname) would be adopted as one of Scotland's most famous sons, the poet Robert Burns.
The Meadows have survived many attempts to develop the area - in the late nineteenth century Middle Meadow Walk was threatened with being widened to allow the faster passage of carriages across the area, and as recently as the 1960s city planners considered running a six-lane motorway through the Meadows.
In 1886 a grand public exhibition hall was built on the Meadows, a glass structure to rival the Crystal Palace in London. This hosted the first of Edinburgh's many public events with an international flavour, the International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art. The Exhibition ran between May and October of that year, and attracted over 2.7 million visitors. Notable exhibits included detailed and life-size recreations of some of Edinburgh's Old Town streets, including long vanished features like the Netherbow Port.
At the end of the exhibition the glass pavilion was dismantled, and today the only surviving features of the exhibition are a number of tall sandstone pillars topped by unicorns, at the west end of the park. Another feature that survived the exhibition was an arch constructed from four enormous whale bones, which stood at the edge of the park on Melville Drive. In 2014 the arch was removed for maintenance and restoration - Jawbone Walk now no longer features the bones which gave it its name!
At one time the Meadows was used as grazing space for local farmers, and at the end of the nineteenth century was considered as a viable site for the construction of a grand new concert hall - the Usher Hall was later built on Lothian Road.
The Meadows also has a place in the city's grand sporting history, having hosted the first local derby between the Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian football teams, on Christmas day in 1875.
During the Second World War, land on the Meadows was given over for allotments, so that local people could cultivate fruit and vegetables to help sustain their community during the war. The last of these allotments survived until the 1960s.
Today the Meadows is popular not just for its open space and public walkways, but also its sports facilities - tennis courts and cricket pitches are available, and well used by the local community. During the summer the air across the Meadows can be thick with barbecue smoke from those seeking to dine al fresco, and the area also hosts a variety of public fairs, festivals and one-off events throughout the year.
The Meadows can be featured on a private walking tour of the city!
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