Europe | United Kingdom (UK), Great Britain | Scotland | Edinburgh – South Edinburgh Trail
We woke to frost covered roofs and a crisp February day below a clear blue sky. The clouds soon appeared but with no obvious threat of rain, a day for a walk. We decided on a route through The Hermitage of Braid (see story) alongside the Braid Burn then through Blackford Glen to Liberton Brae. From there an undetermined route to The Innocents Railway then on into the centre of town. We had only one time constraint, an appointment at five in the afternoon and seven hours to achieve our goal. The best laid plans indeed!
The first part of our route was easy except that we misjudged just how muddy the path would be. Memories of childhood flooded back at every turn, the number above the gatehouse to Hermitage, that strange structure in the burn, then the house itself. Hermitage House was completed around 1785 for Charles Cluny, who purchased the land between Blackford and Braid Hills in 1772. The design of the house, which has corner turrets and mock battlements, is thought to be in memory of Braid Castle.
The pride of the estate was not to be missed, the second largest dovecot in Edinburgh with a total of 1965 boxes. There was a time when every Scots laird built himself a dovecot. The pigeons however, not only kept the laird in pigeon pie but were a ruinous nuisance to the poor farmers on whose crops the greedy birds fed. So precious was a dovecot that a Scots law of 1597 made a third offence of dovecot breaking a crime whose penalty was capital punishment.
But onward to Braid Burn dell where our the target to view the ice-age cave I remembered from my childhood was thwarted by an impenetrable fence erected by the local council around the Blackford Quarry and all too soon we were back on hard roads. The next section of our journey could have been by main road to Cameron Toll then Lady Road and Peffermill Road to Duddingston Road and the entrance to the old railway. That, of course would have been boringly simple. Instead we found a path through a new housing estate following the line of the Braid Burn. Much more interesting as the council were digging huge holes to create a new culvert for the burn and there is nothing quite so enjoyable than watching others work. Then on by a well hidden path to Gilmerton Road where a choice of left or right was not as attractive as trying to follow the sign for the cycle path through a collection of old houses and cottages at Nether Liberton, well worth the diversion but it took a few minutes to work out that the sign referred to the cycle path up the side of the main road.
Once again we headed away from the obvious, easy route and once we had freed ourselves from the hordes of children alighting from a bus around us we walked on past the very grand gates of what must have been the entrance, we thought, to a very grand house. Behind them now lies a modern primary school and community centre so onward till we reached the next left turn, Glenallan Drive, which we followed along the edge of the prairie-like expanse of the local public park across which, beyond the reach of any obvious path lay an enormous house. Already you will have guessed the connection between the grand gates and the house but at the time it escaped us. Then we spotted a mother obviously homeward bound, toddler in tow laden with bags of shopping and toys coming from the direction of the said Big House. No signs, no indication of what the house was no obvious way out but who cares we followed the path and approached the house passing by fortress-like wire fences and a signs warning of our fate if we broke the rules of the public park.
It was indeed a grand house but no sign outside to say what it was but the very modern glass doors carried the legend Community Centre. We surmised from that it must be a public building and as members of the greater community it was not unreasonable to use its facilities. Inside the entrance hall we found an excellent description of the history of the building, Inch House. It had various phases starting in the early seventeenth century and culminating in a late nineteenth century restoration. For most of its existence it was owned by the Gilmore family whose principal seat was at nearby Craigmillar Castle.
There being no-one obvious to ask we availed ourselves of the facilities and moved on. By this time we had realised the connection between house and gates and were resigned to returning, albeit by a different road, to an earlier point on our route when another pathway opened around the house and led to Old Dalkeith Road and roughly in the direction we needed. As we walked the reason for the fortress-like fence revealed itself, the local nursery. Young plants clearly need much protection around here!
Another decision, left or right, as there was no route straight on, where we wished to go. Once again we chose the right turn having spotted a vehicle turn out of what appeared to be a convenient route. Unfortunately when we reached it the entrance turned out to be only for access to the council tip. From there we could see a line of tree on a ridge going in our direction; my memory told me it was near the route to Craigmillar Castle so we pressed on past the sign telling us we were entering Edinburghs Green Belt. As we turned into the Castle Road one of Edinburghs new public buildings appeared before us, the Royal Infirmary. Currently relocating from its cramped Victorian city centre site it will have as part of its grounds a new path parallel to the road we were on. Good planning in our view as the footpathless road carried dangers for pedestrians and drivers alike testified by the hubcap graveyard on the verge about halfway up the hill. Our jaunt was turning into a marathon but as we crested the ridge the strategic importance of Craigmillar Castle, now on our left, became obvious. In front of us lay the old brewing centre of Craigmillar, once home to eleven breweries, towered over by Arthur Seat and beyond the blue ribbon of The Forth, strategic barrier between the civilised Lowlands and the wild Kingdom of Fife. In the mists of time one of Scotlands seven Pictish kingdoms.
This was not to be our day for visiting ruins and just as well, Craigmillar Castle had closed an hour before for its weekly thirty-six hour rest. I wonder whether its ancient defenders enjoyed union benefits. On round a very dangerous bend and through a gap in a wall to avoid the traffic, over a mysterious tarmac area, every bit like an old parade ground and onto the newish and very wet school playing field very obviously used as the local dogs convenience. From there we returned to the Castle Road down into the redevelopment area of Craigmillar and Niddrie. I remember it well from my childhood as a maternal Grandmothers home district and the need for redevelopment was huge. In a couple of years the district I knew will be hard to recognise and the old castle will have new footstool for a few more years.
After a while poking round the old Dry borough Brewery, altered in use but hardly changed physically in thirty-five years since my Grandfather was its Transport Manager we followed Duddingston Road over the old Edinburgh Suburban Railway (now sadly reduced to freight only) to find the cycleway from Edinburgh to Musselburgh. Our route today took us to the left along the old Innocents Railway a line I knew well but had only previously been able to observe from a distance. With a strong railway tradition in the family I had long ago learned the story of the line. Not the naive tale on the board near Duddingston Road or the more plausible tale give at the end of this link http://www.geo.ed.ac.uk:81/ scotgaz/features/featurefirst7864.html but that the tunnel was dug by children, to provide access for his coal to Edinburgh, for The Duke of Buccleuch and certainly, in these days children would have been employed in the pits and the St Leonards Yard was where I remember the black faced Edinburgh coalmen loading their lorries to deliver to the kitchen ranges of the towns tenements.
The old railway runs between high walls behind the Duddingston Loch Nature reserve and not a route I would recommend if you wish to sightsee. Better follow Duddingston Road for another half-mile and enter the Queens Park by way of Duddingston Village with its old church and scolds bridle. Follow the road and you will find our route again where the vehicle route leaves the park past Edinburgh Universitys Pollock Halls of Residence. One day we will return to discover the origins of the mysterious ruined cottage by the loch and the reason for the gateposts between which the line runs but that visit will miss the uphill walk through the dark, damp tunnel which deposits one in the midst of modern lockup garages in a canyon below the access bridges to modern flats, with no signs and only the top of a Victorian Pillar-box as a clue to the way out.
We emerged by the side of the old Nelsons Printing Works, well known to children the world over as printers of childrens adventure books and less popular school textbooks. Our route took us now through Salisbury Road past the Edinburgh Synagogue and along Grange Road. After a refreshment stop in Marchmont the last part of the journey was completed at record pace. Where had the time gone, we were almost late for our appointment.