EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Continuing my series focusing on a few of the small details of Edinburgh that visitors might overlook, here are some more features that will help you give you the perfect vision of Edinburgh in 2020...
You can find other parts of this series here: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7
4. St Anthony's Well
At one time the lower landscapes of Holyrood Park were densely wooded and formed part of a royal hunting ground. But Bronze Age settlements have been discovered on the higher slopes, and it's thought that people have been occupying the site for around 3,000 years.
This was also one of the first destinations to attract visitors to Edinburgh - pilgrims would have been drawn to seek the benefits of the holy wells which dotted the landscape, believed to have been as many as seven at one point. Each well had its own healing properties, and was dedicated to a particular named saint.
Today only two of those wells survives, only one has water in it, and many visitors climbing to the summit of Arthur's Seat will walk right by the second surviving well head, without even noticing it.
Nestled on the pathway beneath the bluff on which the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel sit is a small boulder which marked the point where the spring broke the surface of the ground, and in front of it a roughly carved bowl or spout from which water could be collected.
Holyrood Park continues to hold a mystical appeal for many, and an ancient ritual of bathing in the dew of Arthur's Seat at sunrise on 1 May each year is still re-enacted by a few hardy souls who brave the dawn elements of a Scottish spring!
5. Bear With Me
One of the more recent additions to Edinburgh's statuary is a figure of a soldier and a bear in Princes Street Gardens. They commemorate the Polish community in Edinburgh, and the historic links between Scotland and Poland.
It is the bear in particular who is being celebrated. He is called Wojtek and he was adopted by a Polish military unit on manoeuvres through Europe during the Second World War. Although he had been a cub when the soldiers found him, Wojtek grew up as a key figure of the unit. The soldiers tamed him by giving him cigarettes, and in return he would carry their pack, shells for their weapons, and was far more than just a mascot.
At the end of the war, many Polish military units and their families were resettled in Scotland, and Wojtek's unit was brought to Edinburgh, where the bear was given to Edinburgh Zoo while his men were rehoused across the city.
In the 1950s, visitors to Edinburgh Zoo would light cigarettes and push them through the bars of Wojtek's cage, and (sadly) he died in 1963 of lung cancer...
But the Polish community continues to have a presence in cities right across Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, and the statue of Wojtek has become a focal point for commemorations and tributes throughout the year.
6. West Bow
For visitors used to a more modern, systematic street layout, Edinburgh's Old Town can be particularly challenging to navigate. As well as the streets running at different levels they can also have names that can cause confusion. West Bow is a good example of this.
West Bow is the street which starts in the Grassmarket, and runs in a gentle curve up the slope to join (originally) with the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile. In the 1830s, during one of the periods of improvement of Edinburgh's Old Town, West Bow was redeveloped to join up to the level of George IV Bridge, and this new top end of the street was given its own name - Victoria Street, after the monarch who came to the throne in 1837.
So about halfway up West Bow, the street miraculously changes name! The exact point at which it changes isn't indicated by any kind of junction or break in the buildings, but look above the Bow Bar, and you'll find two street signs on the stonework. The Bow Bar is on West Bow, while the shop next to it is on Victoria Street.
For visitors who already struggle with maps (and Google Maps isn't a great guide in this city!) this sudden change in street name can be both confusing and disorientating - and West Bow/Victoria Street is by no means the only example of where this type of thing occurs!
Explore more of the details of Edinburgh's cityscape with my private 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...
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