There was a time in Edinburgh, not so many years ago, that Sunday was a day of rest. You had no choice because nothing really happened. Places of entertainment, shops, cafes and restaurants did not open. Neither did the pubs!
Thankfully this has all changed.
Last month I walked through Stockbridge on a Sunday. A vibrant village with a very bohemian feel just to the North of the city centre, it was thronging with people out with family and friends dining, drinking, chatting, shopping and having a good time. New (and newish) eateries on the scene, The Raeburn, Rollo and Scran & Scallie were full to overflowing, with The Raeburn making good use of their “sit ootery”. Stalwarts like The Stockbridge Tap and Hector’s were also doing very good business too.
However, the main purpose for my visit to Stockbridge that day was to steal a glimpse within St. Bernard’s Well. This is the larger of two Georgian Wells on the South side of the Water of Leith on the path leading from the quiet Dean Village into Stockbridge (see www.edinburghwalks.com for further details of guided walks in the area). It is named after the troglodyte St. Bernard of Clairvaux who it is said lived here in the 12th Century and is very rarely open to the public.
In 1788 Lord Gardenstone commissioned Alexander Nasmyth to design a grand well on the site, replacing a smaller well house that had been there since 1760. It consists of a circular domed temple with ten Doric columns, within which stands a statue of the Greek goddess Hygeia. Below the statue and columns is the wellhouse. It was thought that drinking the waters of the well did you some good. When the Well first opened the public could call between 6am and 9am each morning and drink to the benefit of their health. They were charged a penny to drink on site or subscribe for five shillings for a season. Drinking offsite was half a penny. Thankfully washing of sores and bathing of limbs was prohibited.
When I called at the Well it was looking magnificent. Having recently had some renovation, Hygiea and the exterior stone work was clean and glistening. However, it was only when I entered the Well room that I was taken aback. The only way I can describe the interior is that it was like being inside a Faberge Egg! From the little light that shone through the windows and from the few candles that had been lit to brighten the
gloom, the roof and walls were illuminated with gold, marble and blue tiles vying for attention. The well pump itself stood in the middle of the room and the latin phrase Bibendo Valebis – By Drinking You Will Be Well – was boldly displayed above the lionhead waterspout, with the marble basin below. The tiled floor was also intricate, colourful and beatiful.Such a contrast from the greyness of the exterior stone.
The pump is no longer in working order, but maybe that is a good thing as, by all reports the water were sulpherous and very unpleasant. Better to call into one of the pubs or eateries mentioned earlier for a decent drink!
Leaving St. Bernard’s Well, I headed back into Stockbridge, but could not pass by Stockbridge Market without having a wander round. This fantastic addition to the vibe of Stockbridge takes place every Sunday (they have a Saturday market in The Grassmarket too). Fresh bread, fish, meats, cheese, olives, cakes, chocolate, organic veg, pies, wines and beers make up the majority of stalls, with exotic cooked foods from around the world also available. Also there are clothes, cards, pictures and all sorts of chic bric-a-brac on sale. For me it was a French loaf that caught my eye. Lunch sorted.
Loaf of fresh bread on a Sunday, now that hasn’t always happened in Edinburgh.