There's a focus on self-isolating and avoiding social contact at the moment, as the Covid-19 Coronavirus is sending the world into shutdown. For many people the idea of social distancing is rather challenging one, as the modern world has drawn us into ever tighter connections with those around us.
The historic concept of quarantine was developed in Venice, as a way of protecting the city from disease arriving from trade ships, and the original word 'quarantine' derived from the Italian phrase 'forty days', which was the period of isolation they specified in order to stop the transmission of illness.
But there have been other forms of social distancing in the past, too. Many religious groups today still practice a form of retreat, to withdraw from extraneous influences and focus inwardly on the self without the distraction of the world encroaching.
Another popular form of isolation was a hermitage, which also had a religious connection. There is a suggestion that St Anthony's Chapel on the slopes of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh may have served as a form of hermitage, but there's a feature of the city today which still has the name Hermitage, a link to its origins as an isolated estate well beyond the original city of Edinburgh, which evolved in the 18th century as a romantic retreat from the hustle and bustle of life in the New Town.
The Hermitage of Braid, as it's known, is a public park and nature reserve to the south of Edinburgh, adjacent to Blackford Hill, an elevated spot with commanding views over the city.
The valley in which the park sits was carved out by the Braid burn, or stream, and is a steep ravine with heavily wooded sides.
The land here was owned by the de Brad family (from which the modern name 'Braid' is derived), one of whom - Henry de Brad - was sheriff of Edinburgh in the twelfth century. The surrounding forests and fields would have been populated with wild board and deer, and it would have been a popular spot for hunting.
The original estate property would have been a fortified house in a castle style, but the buildings and developments here today date from the 18th century when the area was redeveloped as a place of retreat.
Robert Burn was the architect who designed and built the Hermitage House in the 1780s, replete with a pump system to bring fresh running water from the Braid burn, and an ice house, a separate feature dug into the rock of the landscape in which to store ice from the winter for keeping food fresh over the summer months.
There's also an original stable block, and a doocot - Scots for a dovecot - which would have been home to pigeons that would have been plentiful supply of meat to the estate, along with a walled garden in which fresh herbs and vegetables would have been grown.
Even today, walking through this area, you can get a sense of how peaceful and isolated the property would have been, set into the natural landscape and offering a valuable contrast to the noise of the nearby city.
Just as eighteenth-century visitors would have enjoyed spending time relaxing here, taking time today to walk the paths of the nature reserve and spend time surrounded by the calming influences of water, birds, trees and (generally) a few local joggers remains a relaxing and positive experience.
Edinburgh has many public parks and open spaces today - remarkably nearly 50% of the city centre is green space - and the Hermitage of Braid is a true hidden gem that even many locals don't know about.
If you're planning a trip to Edinburgh after the period of social isolation eases, you can explore more of the city's hidden gems with my private walking tours!
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