Royal Mile, Canongate and Duddingston Village

29th June 2020.

Edinburgh’s Canongate and Duddingston Village by one of our guides, Barry Pinkerton.

One of Edinburgh's paradoxes is that for having been the most densely packed square mile in Britain, it has in and around its environs, some of the greatest hidden gems of interest that can seem to belong entirely to a different place and a different time. 

Edinburgh's Medieval neighbour the 'Canongate' had and still has a different feel to it than the more bustling Western part of the Royal Mile which was Edinburgh and which ended at the Netherbow Portcullis gate around halfway from the Castle to the Abbey and later the Palace of Holyrood. 

Picturesque courtyards such as Bakehouse Close, used for filming locations for huge productions such as Outlander can be found as you wander down the Royal Mile, also White Horse Close where the Jacobite high command once stayed at a coaching Inn in 1745, Morey House with its distinctive balcony and spiked gate may have been where the act of union had to be signed in secret in 1707, and the ultra-modern New Parliament building certainly gives a more contemporary flavour to the area. Tucked away behind much of this is a fine example of 1600s horticulture, Dunbar gardens, a local trust has recreated an example of a typical period garden through Dunbar Close.

Look for them and you will see Stag's heads and crosses everywhere, the Canongate coat of arms which derives from its origins when King David 1st was cornered by a stag which ran off when the sunlight glinted from his crucifix and startled the beast which took flight. In thanks for his miracle the king founded the Abbey of Holyrood and a monastic Community began to arise there, this was in 1128.

The Palace next door to the Abbey is half as old, or parts of it are, a wedding present from. James 4th to his English bride in 1506, it is almost modern by comparison. 

To the south, towers the bulking massif of Arthur's Seat, the remains of an extinct volcano which dominates the parkland of Holyrood, it was once the case that criminals could live out their existence here if they could survive the perils of the medieval wildwood for a year, some tried, few succeeded. 

Others that would have also lived within the park albeit in more commodious surroundings would have been the monks based at St Anthony's Chapel, the ruins of which still stand on a small rise on the north side of the hill and dare from the 15th century, those looking for some exercise and fantastic views can follow the path beyond and up to the summit of Arthur's Seat, at 822 feet, on a clear day you can see 70 miles in all directions. 

For those looking for a less strenuous climb but fine views all the same, the 'Radical Road' around Salisbury Craig's is a fine option, it also has a story, Sir Walter Scott commissioned its construction and in doing so provided work for the growing number of of unemployed servicemen returning home after the Napoleonic Wars, the quarrying of stone was made easier thus. 

Following the lower road to Duddingston village we pass 'Samson's Ribs' on the left, a gigantic mass of lacerated volcanic rock that the Geologist James Hutton studied in the latter part of the 18th century and helped reveal secrets of the age of our planet. The distinctive building through the trees to the right is the Jacobean mansion of Prestonfield, now a luxury hotel.

After pleasant views of Duddingston Loch, scene of a famous painting by Henry Raeburn 'the Skating Minister' we come to Duddingston village, once well outwith the city, this former weaving village was founded by a Norman Knight 'Doddins de Berwick' in the 12th century and claims to have the oldest Inn in Scotland still in existence, the SHEEP HEID dating from 1360, a fine spot for a spot of lunch, housing reputedly the world's oldest skittle alley and a ram's head snuff box presented to the owner by none other than King James 6th of Scots. 

The village's Norman Kirk is older still and has mounting steps for horseback visitors and the curious 'loupin stanes' which when seen around the neck of congregational miscreants would act as a deterrent for any would be gossip or fornicator. 

Just beside the kirk is possibly the best of South Edinburgh's hidden gems, Dr Neil's Gardens. Begun by Dr's Andrew Neil and his wife Nancy in the 1960s the gardens have evolved over the last 50 years and with fine views over Duddingston Loch, they are a fantastic place to unwind, the gardens are open on a donation basis during the day time and well worth visiting. 

At the foot of the gardens is the two storied 'Thomson's Tower', the upper floor of which the Reverend Thomson used as his studio in the early 1800s, a man more fond of his paintbrush than his parishioners he craftily named it' Edinburgh' so than when his housekeeper told them we was on business in Edinburgh she wouldn't be lying. Pastoral semantics aside I'm sure had he lived in a later age, Thomson would have approved of the gardens surrounding the manse and Tower, they could be straight from a canvas by Monet.

Thank you to Barry for writing this piece. We look forward to more of his stories of local history and hidden gems.