Running through the heart of Edinburgh, in the valley between the Old and New Towns, is a streak of green space that is popular with both locals and visitors to the city.
Princes Street Gardens - in two blocks, east and west, separated by the Mound - were originally private gardens for the wealthy residents of Princes Street, which had been built as housing before it become commercialised. In the 1870s the land in the valley was bought back from those citizens of New Town and has been maintained as public space ever since.
The gardens offer a welcome respite from the busy streets of the New Town, and reward visitors with a unique perspective on the Old Town - views up to the castle as well as some of the structures which run along the ridge of the Royal Mile. But they also boast intriguing features of their own - so here's my guide to these popular gardens...
Historically the valley in which Princes Street Gardens sit was carved out by glacial activity during the last Ice Age. A thin stream later flowed through the valley from the west out into the sea, and around the seventh century CE it is reputed that Saint Cuthbert established a chapel along the banks of this stream, at the site which is still occupied by St Cuthbert's parish church today.
The valley was dammed in the sixteenth century, and the stream eventually created a shallow body of water known as the Nor Loch. This served as a defensive feature, like a castle moat preventing access into Edinburgh from the north, as well as providing a (filthy, polluted) water supply for the city.
In the 1750s, ahead of the building of the New Town, the dam was removed and the lake was drained. The stream was rerouted around to the valley south of the Royal Mile, and incorporated into Edinburgh's first underground sewer system which flowed beneath the Cowgate.
Originally the railway line which runs out of Waverley station towards Glasgow didn't exist - rail services from the west terminated at Haymarket, and services from the east finished at what is now Waverley.
In the 1840s the line was extended, to include Princes Street Station (now the Caledonian Hotel) and to run along the length of the valley behind Princes Street Gardens, which were landscaped in such a way as to disguise the presence of the rail line for the residents of Princes Street itself.
In the 1870s, when the land was bought back by Edinburgh city council, the gardens were redeveloped and laid out to designs by City Architect Robert Morham. The head gardener's cottage which stands in the western section of the gardens today was also built by him.
Princes Street Gardens today has several military memorials, including a sculptural memorial dedicated to the Royal Scots regiment, and the Royal Scots Greys.
In 1927 the gardens received a memorial conceived as a gift "from the people of America", to commemorate Scots soldiers who served in the First World War.
Created by Robert Tait McKenzie, The Call 1914 features a kilted soldier on a pediment backed by a 7-metre frieze which shows the transition of ordinary Scottish men - miners, farmers, fishermen - as they become soldiers and march off to war.
The monument was cast at a foundry in New York state, and shipped to Edinburgh for installation. McKenzie was so proud of his work that he left a request to be buried in front of the statue on his death - because of the public nature of the gardens this request was denied by the city authorities, so instead McKenzie's heart is ceremonially interred nearby at St Cuthbert's graveyard.
Nearby you'll also find a large statue of a soldier with a bear at his side. This is Wojtek, a bear adopted by the Polish military during the Second World War. When many Polish soldiers and their families were rehoused in Scotland at the end of the war, Wojtek was brought to Edinburgh Zoo, where he lived until his death in 1963.
The historic associations between the Scottish and Polish communities are celebrated in this contemporary monument, and the last soldier from the original unit who fought alongside Wojtek died in the city only recently.
The large fountain at the west end of the gardens is the Ross Memorial Fountain, created in France in the 1860s and installed here in the 1870s.
Bought by an Edinburgh gunsmith named Daniel Ross as a gift for the city, it was recently renovated and repainted at a cost of approximately £2m... The colours today are in stark (and vibrant) contrast to the more muted colouring of it previous to 2018.
Princes Street Gardens are also home to the world's oldest floral clock, first planted in 1903. You can find it near the entrance to the gardens at the junction of the Mound and Princes Street - although it only gets planted in the early summer each year, so isn't there over the winter months.
The clock is made up of over 40,000 individual succulent plants, and keeps accurate time - listen for the cuckoo which pops out to call every hour!
One of the newest memorials in Princes Street Gardens was unveiled in 2019.
Created by Andy Scott, who also made the large scale Kelpies which can be found just outside Edinburgh, the memorial is an elephant embossed with forget-me-not flowers.
It was commissioned in response to a scandal that was uncovered in 2015 when it was revealed that the cremated remains of around 250 babies, stillborn children and foetuses were buried in secret at Edinburgh's Mortonhall Crematorium. Bereaved parents had been told that no ashes remained or were available to be returned to them, a practice which was found to have dated back over four decades.
Also in the western section of the gardens is a small memorial to the author Robert Louis Stevenson. Born and raised in Edinburgh - and using the city as an inspiration to much of his writing - Stevenson lived the last years of his life on an island in Samoa in the western Pacific Ocean.
The memorial stone in the grove of silver birches bears Stevenson's initials under the phrase 'A man of letters', and a fuller memorial to his life and work can be explored in the Writers' Museum in the Old Town.
In the eastern section of the gardens stands a larger memorial to another literary hero of Scotland - Sir Walter Scott. Known as the 'Gothic Rocket', and designed by George Meikle Kemp, the Scott Monument was funded by Scott's readers after the writer's death in 1832. It stands just over 60m/200ft high, and has a staircase which allows visitors to climb to four viewing platforms, including a crows' nest outlook at the very top of the monument.
The memorial features a large statue of Scott himself, created by Sir John Steell, and is a fitting tribute to a figure who was not just an important novelist of his time but was integral to the development and promotion of Scotland as a visitor destination.
Near the base of the Scott monument is another statue, much smaller in scale - it's almost life-size, in fact. The statue is of David Livingstone, a Scottish explorer and missionary of the Victorian age, best known for finding the source of the Congo river in Africa, as well as for becoming the first European to view the waterfalls which he named Victoria Falls -despite them already having the indigenous name Mosi-oa-Tunya ('the smoke that thunders') - on the Zambezi river.
The statue was created in 1875 by Amelia Hill, an artist and sculptor who was exhibiting her work at the nearby Royal Scottish Academy up until the age of 82.
Princes Street Gardens contains even more memorials, monuments and features of interest than this - it's truly worth a moment of your time to step off the city streets and drink in the relative peace and quiet of the garden space... and the views of Old Town and the castle aren't too shabby either!
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