Visitors often remark on the number of church buildings in Edinburgh that no longer serve as churches. Over time, as population changes have seen people come and go, very many buildings have been repurposed, renovated, and given new functions. At least two former churches today house casinos, one is an indoor climbing centre, and several have been turned into bars and restaurants...
Of course many churches, like St Giles' Cathedral or the churches at Greyfriars and Canongate, remain active as churches, but here is a very short list of some of the former church premises that you may still have reason to visit during your time in Edinburgh.
THE HUB (FORMERLY ST JOHN'S HIGHLAND TOLBOOTH CHURCH)
Built on Castlehill on the Royal Mile in the 1840s, St John's Highland Tolbooth Church functioned as a meeting place for the Church of Scotland clergy during their annual general meetings, which today are held just across the road at the New College building.
The 74m spire is still the highest of all the church spires of the Old Town, and the golden cross at the top is the highest point in the city centre, standing taller than the flagpole at Edinburgh Castle. As such it's a useful reference point for navigating the city, visible on the skyline from almost every edge of Edinburgh, but the building itself is also an important venue in the city every summer, as it is home to the administrative offices of the Edinburgh International Festival.
As well as their office space, The Hub (as it is known) has a popular café, a box office for festival events, and a large internal space that is well used for weddings, conferences, and special events throughout the year.
EDINBURGH FILMHOUSE (FORMERLY UNITED ASSOCIATED SYNOD CHURCH)
Dating from the 1830s, this former church building on Lothian Road was converted into a cinema in the late 1970s, and today is home to the annual Edinburgh International Film Festival, as well as hosting a variety of arthouse and blockbuster screenings all year round.
WEST REGISTER HOUSE (FORMERLY ST GEORGE'S CHURCH)
At the west end of the New Town, on Charlotte Square, is the former St George's Church, converted into municipal function in the 1960s and today housing one of Scotland's records and archive offices, for people tracing family history through archive records.
The church took its name from the original square, intended to be St George Square (to mirror St Andrew Square at the east end of the city) and was initially designed by the architect Robert Adam. Adam's plans were modified by Robert Reid, including the installation of a stunning dome modelled on St Paul's Cathedral in London. The church served its community from the 1820s until structural concerns in the middle of the twentieth century saw it repurposed as its current function.
The former congregation weren't left homeless ,and they moved in with the congregation at St Andrew's Church on George Street, which became St Andrew's and St George's, as it is today.
BEDLAM THEATRE (FORMERLY NEW NORTH FREE CHURCH)
Utilised today by the theatre society of the University of Edinburgh, the Bedlam Theatre takes its name from the former asylum and poorhouse which used to stand on this site, at the southern end of George IV Bridge in the Old Town.
The original building was designed by Thomas Hamilton, although it was never popular with the congregation it served, who considered the building ugly and ill-suited to its purpose as a church.
The Bedlam stages student theatre through the year, and serves as a popular venue during the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
QUEEN'S GALLERY (FORMERLY HOLYROOD FREE CHURCH)
Between the modern Scottish parliament building and the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a building which is today attached to the panoply of structures associated with the palace. The Holyrood Free Church was a nineteenth-century building serving the community of Holyrood at the time when it was still a densely populated industrial district. The church closed when the industries moved away, and the local population moved with them.
Today the building houses the Queen's Gallery, hosting rotating exhibitions through the year displaying artefacts and pictures from the Queen's private collection.
GLASSHOUSE HOTEL (FORMERLY LADY GLENORCHY'S LOW CALTON CHURCH)
Dating from the 1840s, this former church adjacent to the Playhouse theatre (itself on the site of a long-lost Baptist meeting house) was demolished during the renovation of the whole Greenside area in the 1960s and 70s.
Part of the conditions for its demolition stipulated that the façade of the building be preserved, and for many years (within living memory) it was propped up with steel scaffolding supports while the area around it was completed revitalised.
Today the original church frontage is incorporated into the glass and steel structure that houses the Omni cinema and a whole host of bars and restaurants, and accessed through the façade itself is the Glasshouse hotel, popular for its roof garden and rear views up to Calton Hill.
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One of the most spectacular buildings in Edinburgh's Old Town is the incredibly ornate and decorative George Heriot's School, a private school on a ridge of rock with views across to Edinburgh Castle.
The school building was paid for with money from the estate of George Heriot, who died on 12 February 1624. Heriot had been a jeweller and a goldsmith in Edinburgh in the sixteenth century, and was known by the nickname 'Jinglin' Geordie' because of the noise made by the coins and jewels rattling in his pockets as he walked through the streets of the Old Town.
Heriot became fantastically wealthy, but was also a great philanthropist and would give money to destitute families, donating coins to beggars on the street, and his generosity would later give the city the school that stands today.
Heriot had served his apprenticeship as a goldsmith, and set up his own shop on the Royal Mile near St Giles' Cathedral in one of the 'luckenbooths', or lockable stall properties, which lined the street in the late sixteenth century.
In the 1590s he began selling jewellery to Queen Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James VI of Scotland, and was later appointed as her official goldsmith.
Both Ann and James had extravagant tastes, and Heriot was able to secure some of the finest and most expensive jewellery from across Europe, which he then sold to the royal couple. They would buy the jewellery in instalments (with Heriot adding a significant mark-up to the market value), and the queen would then often seek to borrow large sums of cash from Heriot, secured against the jewellery which he had sold her.
She would repay these loans - again with a significant percentage of interest - and Heriot became fantastically wealthy from his royal patronage. In just ten years it is believed Heriot may have done over £50,000 worth of business with the queen alone, which is equivalent to multiples of millions of pounds in modern currency.
In 1601 Heriot was appointed jeweller to the king, James VI, and in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, he removed the royal court from Edinburgh down to London, and took George Heriot with him. Thus Heriot became an integral figure in the royal court, and profited handsomely from his royal connections.
On his death in 1624, Heriot had no surviving legitimate children, and both of his wives had pre-deceased him. He did leave a provision in his will for two illegitimate daughters that had been born to separate women, as well as a number of nieces, nephews and children elsewhere in his family line. But the bulk of his estate, amounting to something over £23,000, was gifted to the city of Edinburgh, for the establishing of a hospital in his name.
Heriot's Hospital was to be dedicated to the care and support of disadvantaged families and children in the city, the "puir, faitherless bairns" as his will described them. And so in 1628, construction began on the hospital building on land to the south of the city.
The sum of money that Heriot left was so great that a huge hospital could be built with it, but at that time there simply wasn't enough open space in the city on which such a large building could be established. And so the money also paid for land to be bought which, at that time, lay just beyond the Flodden Wall, which was the structure marking the southern boundary of Edinburgh.
That piece of land had to be brought within the provision of Edinburgh itself, and an extension to the boundary wall was also built, known as the Telfer Wall, to enclose the school property. Today the junction of the Flodden and Telfer walls can be seen along the Vennel, to the west of the school building.
Having started life as a hospital, providing general social care, Heriot's later became a dedicated school for orphaned boys, and later still started accepting pupils from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. In the 1880s the school started charging for its education, and today is one of the best known private schools in Scotland. A number of free school places continue to be offered to poorer families today as part of its requirement to fulfil its obligations as a registered charitable organisation.
The school is adjacent to the Greyfriars Kirkyard, and pupils often use a side entrance to get into and out of the school property through the church yard. This side gate is generally the best angle from which to view the school, although it can be difficult to get a good view over the heads of the large Harry Potter tour groups who congregate at the gates to enjoy the view of one of the inspirations for the Hogwarts academy...
Views of the school can also been seen distantly from Victoria Terrace (above right) and the esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle.
For thirstier visitors to Edinburgh, a pub on Fleshmarket Close is named the Jinglin' Geordie in Heriot's honour.
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Things may be looking up, but in Edinburgh you need to look down once in a while too! Not just to avoid tripping on the cobbles and the steps, but to seek out some of the smaller hidden gems and details that are set into the pavements and roadways around the city.
Here are a handful of things to look out - and down - for...
In Scots a makar is a poet, and on Lady Stair's Close in the Old Town you'll find numerous paving stones carved with text from a variety of Scottish writers. Appropriately it's the same lane where you'll find the Writers' Museum, celebrating the lives and works of Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
But take your time passing through the street itself, and check out the inspirational quotes at your feet, including this one from Stevenson himself: "There are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps".
Keep your eyes peeled for Edinburgh's trams, running into the city centre from the airport. The new tram service opened just a few years ago, but Edinburgh had horse drawn trams from the nineteenth century, and electric ones in the twentieth century.
The original tram service was finally abandoned in the 1950s, and all the original tracks were ripped up and removed. All except one short section, left as a reminder (or possibly a warning!) to future generations... Look into the roadway at the end of Waterloo Place, near the Balmoral Hotel, for the sad reminder of the city's long-lost tram service.
The Holyrood Abbey provided sanctuary to those in debt, who would otherwise be at the mercy of Edinburgh's draconian legal system, which imposed heavily punishments for being unable to repay money that was owed. At one time the sanctuary had over 2,000 people in its care, and they were so well treated they were known as 'abbey lairds', or abbey lords...
The sanctuary itself wasn't a specific building but an entire area, within which the debtors had to stay if they wanted to remain protected from arrest, The boundary ran up to the summit or Arthur's Seat, and across the Royal Mile at Abbey Strand are a series of brass letters S's, marking a part of this original boundary line.
SCOTLAND IN A NUTSHELL
This one is a bit hard to read, both in the photo and in real life!
Look. What can you see?
I see beauty in the lochs.
I see majesty in mountains.
I see legend in rocks.
And it is ours.
These words are in front of the modern Scottish Parliament building, near the exit where visitors to the parliament make their way out, in a single granite paving stone. They are the words of Robert Adam - but not the classical architect who gave Edinburgh its classical style in the eighteenth century, but a 14-year-old school boy who won a competition to mark the official opening of the new parliament in 2005.
History is yet to demonstrate whether Adam becomes a great poet later in his life, but I rather love his short, simple, beautiful poem which seems to capture Scotland in a nutshell!
PHYSICS MADE PHYSICAL
On George Street in the New Town sits a statue of James Clerk Maxwell, a giant of physics whose pioneering investigations into the world around us yielded all kinds of results which continue to have importance today. Maxwell demonstrated that different colours of light travel at different frequencies, and paved the way for Einstein's general theory of relativity...
In the ground in front of his statue are the four equations which he said defined the physical universe. I can tell you nothing more than that - they're just numbers and squiggles to me! - although one group I had told me that in recent times Maxwell's four equations have been combined into one single statement which (apparently) comes pretty close to being a single unifying theory of the universe...
THE NEXT BIG THING
Walk across Bristo Square in the university district and you may not even notice the Old Town's largest piece of public art, commissioned by the university a few years ago.
The piece is called The Next Big Thing... is a Series of Little Things, and it's 1,600 brass dots set into the paving stones of the square, running across from the west to the east side, looking a little as though someone has dripped metallic paint across the space. The artist is Susan Collis, and her intention was that an piece of art which is almost invisible initially will become more visible with the passage of time, as people walking through the square unknowingly buff the brass dots to make them shiny... So if you don't see it now, come back in a few years when it should be more visible!
Look down to see more details of the city with a private Edinburgh walking tour!
Sometimes all we get to see of a building is its front door, especially in a city like Edinburgh where many of the historic properties are still actively used as houses or commercial premises.
I don't take tours inside any of the paid entry attractions (although I may take you into a few choice locations on our tour!) so I'm used to only seeing the outside of a building.
Here are a few of my favourite doorways of the city, with some stories about the history hidden inside...
17 Heriot Row
Heriot Row remains one of the New Town's grandest addresses, and property on the street routinely sells for in excess of £1.5 million... Notable residents of the street include the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, and John Buchan, an author best known for his adventure story The 39 Steps.
Number 17 Heriot Row was the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it is reputedly from a drawing room window on the first floor that he would stand looking out at other children of the neighbourhood playing in the private gardens on the other side of the road. In those gardens is a pond with an island, and it may have been those early experiences which fed his later iconic adventure story, Treasure Island.
4 South Charlotte Street
Another New town address, on the corner of Charlotte Square at the west end of the city. Number 4 South Charlotte Street was the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, who would later go on to lodge a patent for his invention of the telephone.
It's a useful reminder that before the New Town was the commercial district we see today, this area was built as a residential area for high-status families.
2 Advocate's Close
Just off the Royal Mile near St Giles' Cathedral is one of the most picturesque of the city's closes and wynds. Advocate's Close was formerly home to one of Scotland's Lord Advocates - the highest legal figure in the country - called Sir James Stewart. Stewart's house was actually at the bottom of the lane, but this doorway near the top of the lane is a powerful reminder that some of Edinburgh's Old Town houses have been occupied for over 400 years - look at the date above the doorway to see when this property was first constructed.
As Lord Advocate, Stewart's most notable case was the prosecution of a young student called Thomas Aikenhead for blasphemy, in the 1690s. Aikenhead became the last person in the UK to be executed for blasphemy...
Further down the Royal Mile, off the Canongate, is Acheson House, built in 1633 for Archibald Acheson, a major figure in the royal court of Charles I.
The crest above the doorway features a cockerel on a trumpet, the crest of the Acheson family, and in the middle of the date is a diagram made of the letters AA and MH superimposed on each other - for Archibald Acheson and his wife Margaret Hamilton.
Into the nineteenth century the house wasn't such a grand property, having become a brothel known locally as the 'cock and trumpet'....
Today Acheson House houses Edinburgh World Heritage, the city's premier heritage and preservation body.
The churches of Scotland are often the oldest structures to have survived the passage of time, and at Duddingston is a church reputed to be the oldest on Scotland's east coast.
One former door into the church - long since closed off - has an archway and stonework which dates back to the church's Norman origins in the twelfth century.
The church remains an active centre of worship for the community.
Earl of Morton's House, Blackfriars Street
Blackfriars Street is another fascinating lane in the Old Town, widened in the 1870s from its original layout as a narrow passageway just a few feet wide.
On the west side of the street are some of the original buildings which survived the wholesale renovation of Edinburgh, including a building which was formally home of the Earl of Morton, one of the regents who ruled Scotland during the childhood of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Today the building is a youth hostel, but above its original doorway is a fascinating emblem of two unicorns, standing aside a crown. This was the royal emblem of Scotland before the union of crowns, when Scotland and England came under one monarchy, in 1603.
The later royal emblem - still commonly used today - is of a lion and a unicorn with a crown between them, but this earlier symbol is still visible on a few surviving buildings from the sixteenth-century.
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In a recent survey of all the major cities in Britain, Edinburgh came out on top with the highest percentage of green space of any other city in the UK - 49% of Edinburgh's city centre is covered by parks and gardens, the majority of them open and accessible to the public.
Here's my top picks of the city's open areas that you may want to visit while you're here!
The largest of the city's parks is also a royal parkland, owned by the monarch and also known as either the King's Park or Queen's Park. Access to Holyrood Park can be gained from a variety of places around its perimeter, but for most visitors the obvious entry point is from the bottom of Royal Mile, across from the Scottish Parliament building and adjacent to Holyrood Palace itself.
The park offers a variety of paths across and through it, and it remains an incredibly popular spot for visitors and locals alike. The eastern side of the park provides a route down to the village of Duddingston, a picturesque village with the oldest church in the east of Scotland, and what is reputed to be the oldest surviving pub in the whole of Scotland, the Sheep Heid.
For those who don't want to climb to the summit of Arthur's Seat, in the centre of the park, the Queen's Drive offers a picturesque route to walk, cycle or drive through the park, with space to stop alongside St Margaret's Loch, a small artificial lake that is home to local ducks, swans and geese.
To the south of the Royal Mile, this low lying area was formerly a swampy marshland, which provided not just a defensive function to the city, but was also a water supply known as the Burgh Loch. In the eighteenth century the land was drained in order to create communal parkland where sheep would graze, and into the Victorian period it became an especially popular piece of land for locals, with its paths lined with cherry trees, and its wide expanses of flat land.
Today the Meadows remains popular with locals, especially during the summer when its proximity to the university district makes it a haven for students gathering to soak up the sunshine, or to enjoy a barbecue. It is also the site of venues during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, hosting circus events in a number of big tops erected on the grass.
At the eastern end of the park is a children's play area, with tennis courts nearby.
PRINCES STREET GARDENS
Originally built as private gardens for the wealthy citizens living in the grand New Town housing along Princes Street, the gardens here are today public, and remain popular with visitors and locals alike. With glorious views of the castle at the western end, and overlooked by the National Galleries of Scotland towards the east, the gardens are the dividing line between the Old and New Towns, and give a spectacular sense of the city's growth in the eighteenth century, as the city grew from the medieval city on the rock to the luxurious developments to the north.
Look out for the floral clock, planted every summer since 1903, near the entrance into the western gardens from the Mound, and the newly restored Ross Memorial Fountain at the base of the castle rock itself. On the eastern side of the Mound, the iconic Scott Monument gives you a more elevated sense of the city.
The gardens are also home to a significant number of statues and memorials - look out for Wojtek the bear, a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson, and a statue of the explorer and missionary David Livingstone, among others. During the summer you may be able to enjoy live music from the bandstand in the centre of the park itself.
DUNBAR'S CLOSE GARDEN
A true hidden gem, which even many locals don't know about, is this small public garden space tucked away down one of the Old Town lanes near the Canongate Kirk.
The lanes originally provided access to the luxurious garden spaces built behind the grander housing that lined the bottom end of the Royal Mile, and Dunbar's Close Garden was created in the 1970s as a recreation of what these original garden spaces might have looked like.
A gravel path leads you through exquisitely planted sections with aromatic flowers and bushes - a key tool in the Old Town's battle with filth and unpleasant smells - with benches for visitors to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. A small lawn at the bottom of the pathway attracts families looking for a picnic site in the heart of the city, and it's possible to forget for a moment or two that you're right in the midst of this bustling town.
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Edinburgh as it is seen today has been shaped over its history by a wide variety of figures and influencers who have left their mark. People like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made physical changes to the city itself; architects like William Playfair and Robert Adam created the style that can still be seen across the Old and New Towns; and cultural figures like Walter Scott helped to promote the city to start the visitor industry which thrives today.
Another figure to list alongside these local heroes is William Chambers, who was Lord Provost (city mayor) between 1865 and 1869, to whom the city owes a tremendous debt - here are five major effects that Chambers should be remembered for...
Edinburgh's Improvement Acts
Starting in the 1860s, Edinburgh's Old Town underwent a huge program of redevelopment, as the medieval-style structures along the lanes of the Royal Mile were proactively demolished and rebuilt to upgrade and modernise the city's poor quality housing. William Chambers was the man who led the efforts, pushing through a series of laws which made provision for the systematic improvement of the Old Town, widening the narrow closes and improving the standard of living for the thousands of people who lived there.
St Mary's Street, stretching from the World's End junction of the Royal Mile, was formerly a narrower lane called St Mary's Wynd, and the houses at the northern end of the street were the first properties built as part of Chambers's improvements. The majority of the Old Town as it stands today dates back to this period of 1860s - 1880s, and without this wholesale effort to rejuvenate the city it's doubtful that Edinburgh would have survived as well as it has.
As part of this city-wide improvement, one major thoroughfare was created which bears William Chambers's name - Chambers Street runs between George IV Bridge and South Bridge, and was previously a narrow road called College Street.
The road ran alongside the Old College of the University of Edinburgh (as it still does), but under Chambers's improvement program College Street was widened and new buildings commissioned along its length on both sides.
Today most of the buildings on the northern side of the street are associated with the University of Edinburgh (as well as Old College on the southern side) but the biggest development on the street is the National Museum of Scotland, which takes up two-thirds of the whole block.
The foundation stone for the museum was laid in October 1861 by Prince Albert, his last public act before his death in December of that year. The modern wing of the museum opened in 1998. A statue of William Chambers himself stands outside the museum.
St Giles' Cathedral Renovation
William Chambers was also responsible for supporting a major renovation of St Giles' Cathedral in the 1870s. The removal of old buildings earlier in the century had cleared space around the cathedral, and it had become apparent that the building - 700 years old at that point - was in a very poor state of repair.
Internally, too, the church had previously become cluttered, the space having been previously subdivided to house four separate churches under one roof. William Chambers financed a major renovation to create, in his words, a 'Westminster Abbey for Scotland'. The outside walls were cleaned and repaired, and the church tidied up on the inside, to create one major internal space for the first time since the 1630s.
A memorial to William Chambers can still be found inside the church itself.
Chambers English Dictionary
Chambers's profession had been a publisher and bookseller, with a shop on Broughton Street in the New Town. Along with his brother Robert he established a publishing house, and in the 1870s they first published their Chambers English Dictionary - the book remains in print, although modern editions have only been published in digital format. The thirteenth edition of the Chambers Dictionary was published in 2014.
In its early days the dictionary was notable for its accessible and wryly constructed definitions of words, such as describing an eclair as "a cake, long in shape but short in duration"...! Until 2005 Chambers Dictionary was used by the international Scrabble organisation, to provide the words recognised in their Official Scrabble Words dictionary.
Probably the most enduring gift that William Chambers gave to Edinburgh is one of its most popular local myths. In 1867, at a time when stray dogs in the city were liable to find themselves rounded up and drowned in the Water of Leith, Chambers bought a licence for one stray dog who had started to garner attention from visitors to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The story of a former nightwatchman's dog sleeping on his master's grave was appealing to visitors even at that time, and William Chambers realised that, alongside the improvements to the city, Bobby could offer a valuable boost to the city's visitor profile. The licence he bought had no time limit - it would last in perpetuity - and thus the legend of Greyfriars Bobby was born!
Bobby would reputedly spend 14 years sleeping on his master's grave, and visitors can still view the licence, collar and bowl that William Chambers bought for Bobby in the Museum of Edinburgh, on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile. Bobby's grave and statue remain popular highlights for visitors even today.
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One of the most common enquiries I get from visitors planning a trip to Edinburgh relates to the Old Town's reputation for having an underground or hidden city beneath the surface of the streets.
There is a degree of truth to this, although it's worth noting that, in the spirit of attracting tourists, the 'underground' features of Edinburgh are not always quite what they might seem.
Built on a dense rib of volcanic rock, the practicalities of digging deep into the landscape was a problem for even very early settlers - Edinburgh Castle's great weakness was its lack of water supply, with only a relatively shallow well dug into its rock to hold rainwater. So the imagery of an underground city dug into the rock beneath the streets is somewhat inaccurate - as are the descriptions of catacombs or tunnels beneath the Royal Mile.
But here are three 'underground' features in the city that may be worth exploring.
MARY KING'S CLOSE
Streaming off the Royal Mile down the steep landscape on either side are a series of narrow lanes, the 'closes' or 'wynds' of the medieval city. Mary King's Close was one such lane, that was originally open to the sky with towering blocks of tenement housing rising up on either side of the street. Edinburgh was a vertical city rather than a horizontal one for much of its history, resulting in densely packed structures reaching up to 12 storeys high in places.
During the eighteenth century, plans were drawn up for a Royal Exchange, an area of trade offices and business premises in the heart of the Old Town. Unfortunately, as throughout its history, there was little open land available for development, and so the decision was made to partially demolish the buildings along the line of Mary King's Close, to reduce the structures to the level of the Royal Mile. Having taken the tops off the houses, the Royal Exchange building (today the City Chambers) was built over the structures that survived on the hillside below the level of the High Street.
Mary King's Close thus became 'underground', concealed beneath the newer building, and the street remains there today, cobbled and running down between two lines of structures, where costumed guides will lead you through the buildings to give you an atmospheric sense of Edinburgh's past.
The only genuinely 'underground' attraction in the city is located a little further from the city centre. Beneath the major junction of Gilmerton crossroads is a network of tunnels carved out of the sandstone of the area, and they remain one of the city's genuine mysteries - local historians can't agree on when the tunnels were created, by whom, for what purpose, or even how extensive they are.
Some people suggest they date back to Roman or even pre-historic times, while others suggest they were created much more recently, in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. The scale of the network makes it unlikely one single person was responsible for them, but there's no record or evidence of an organised period of construction and development.
Chambers with what seem to be seating or tables surfaces have been carved from the stone, and narrow tunnels connects them together, accessible only through a small flight of stairs taking you beneath the modern building visible at street level.
Gilmerton Cove is my most highly recommended 'hidden gem' of Edinburgh - take a brief tour with one of the local historians to find out some of the theories and ideas about the tunnels, and then take a torch and a hard hat to explore them further on your own, at your leisure... if you dare!
SOUTH BRIDGE VAULTS
Running over the glacial valley to the south of Royal Mile are two elevated roadways, South Bridge and George IV Bridge, built to improve access into the city in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both bridges run on a series of arches over the landscape, concealed by the buildings constructed alongside each of them, and these vaulted spaces beneath the roadways are still there, and many remain accessible.
George IV Bridge hosts a major festival venue called Underbelly during the summer, with performance spaces in the old arches of the bridge itself. But it is South Bridge, the older of the two developments, which is accessible year-round by visitors on ghost tours.
The bridge was built in the 1780s, and following the increase in population in the city at that time, many poorer families moved into the enclosed, subterranean arches to make their homes in these dank, dark spaces. The vaults were forgotten about following efforts in the nineteenth century to move people into better quality housing, when the spaces were closed off to prevent people moving back into them. They were only rediscovered by accident in the 1980s, and have since become popular spaces for ghost tours, nurturing a reputation for being prodigiously haunted...
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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...
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