Edinburgh’s Stockbridge is a turophile’s paradise

I have to admit to being a turophile.

According to The Collins English Dictionary Turophile : (noun) a person who loves cheese.

Stockbridge is a old village now within the northern centre of the City of Edinburgh that has a somewhat bohemian atmosphere and is a much sought after place to live. Every time I take guided walks here it seems that there are new bars, cafe’s and restaurants springing up adding to the many independent retailers and high-end charity shops which proliferate.

And the one thing that locals can not say they are short of is cheese.

Yes, there are supermarkets serving prepacked products – something my late dad, also an avowed turophile, called plastic cheese! And there are great established independent Deli’s on Stockbridge’s main street Raeburn Place, like Herbie’s and Henri’s who have been serving a fine selection for some time. The Stockbridge Sunday market here has several cheese purveyors and sometimes a stall selling kits from The Big Cheese Maker.

Some years ago Edinburgh then saw the establishment of artisan cheese shops from Ian Mellis, one of which was established in Stockbridge.  I visited Mellis’s not that long ago for lunch

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and it was terrific.

Then in September 2015 Smith & Gertrude, a bar focussing on wine and cheese opened in Hamilton Place, Edinburgh and has been a great success.

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They match wine and cheese – along with some charcuterie & breads, and the atmosphere is very relaxing.

You would think that that was that! Cheese fanatics could sate their appetite.

But now comes along another cheesemonger. George Mewes have set up shop in Edinburgh following great success in Glasgow and they have chosen Stockbridge. So now two stores only hundreds of metres apart dedicated to cheese.

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Paradise!

As part of our Edinburgh guided walks – see www.edinburghwalks.com/walks – we take in Stockbridge and you too can visit cheese paradise……..

 

 

“…but the Romans didn’t come north of Hadrian’s Wall and into Edinburgh”

I was out recently leading a walk through this beautiful city – see ideas for guided walks at www.edinburghwalks.com/walks – when I was asked why the Romans didn’t enter Scotland, but hid behind Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England fearing attacks from northern barbarians. Well the truth is that the Romans did come into Scotland and in fact made it up to the Moray Coast which is considerably further north of Edinburgh. They also built a structure in earth and wood in the Central Belt between the Rivers Clyde and Forth called the Antonine Wall. The Romans did not stay long – something to do with the weather? – but they were most certainly here and they have left evidence of this.

One of their forts was in Cramond, a village to the North of Edinburgh which sits on the mighty Forth estuary and at the end of the tributary called the River Almond. There is evidence of accommodation here, but it was not until 1997 that a most amazing item was discovered.

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The Cramond Ferryman discovered a sandstone sculpture in the mud of the River Almond and it turned out to be the most important Roman find in Scotland in many years. The sandstone was not from a local quarry and was dated as being about 1,800 years old. It is likely to be a memorial stone to a high ranking Roman officer and is symbolic of death. It is a bit grizzly, but depicts a lioness devouring a bearded naked man, who has his hands tied behind his back and is likely to be of a prisoner  – more than likely a resident of Scotland. There are also two snakes on the base of the stone which probably depicted the survival of the soul.

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Being sandstone, it has been worn down by the river in the last 1,800 years, but the open lioness’s mouth – and sharp teeth – can clearly be seen, as can the depiction of the poor barbarian.

The stone now sits proudly on show within level -1 of the National Museum of  Scotland, which is in central Edinburgh and is well worth a visit. Even better, it is free to enter and is fantastic.

 

 

Beat Boxes

As I take my guided walks around the city – see www.edinburghwalks.com – I cannot fail to regularly come across cast iron buildings which have been on our streets since before World War II.

It had been proposed to place these Police Beat Boxes around the city to allow Officers to ‘parade and retire’ whilst still on the beat, rather than starting at their home Police Stations and marching or walking to their patch. This of course would have allowed criminals to take advantage of shift changes and go about their nefarious deeds without fear of detection. And in 1933, from a design by the City Architect Ebenezer MacRae, 142 Police Boxes were sited throughout Edinburgh.

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Manufactured at the Carron Foundry in Falkirk in Central Scotland, these boxes were painted blue (what else?). They contained a built-in desk, doo’cots (small shelves) for paperwork, a stool for the Officer to rest his weary feet and a small bench chair for his partner/probationer or, if required, his prisoner whilst he awaited some assistance. There was a light, a sink and running water and a very small and inadequate heater. Why inadequate? Well, the Police Inspector didn’t want the water to freeze for the sink, but similarly he didn’t want it snug enough that the Officer wouldn’t go out in the cold! There was also a phone which could be accessed from outside so that the public could request the Officer in their hour of need.

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The windows were frosted glass and the light could be seen by the public too. Often fitted to the roof was a blue flashing lamp which would alert the patrolling Officer to return to his beat box as there was an urgent message. This was in the days before personal radios were carried. During World War II, air raid sirens were also fitted (the flatbed for the siren can be seen in the top photograph here).

These Police Boxes were used as part of the beat box system until the mid-1980’s even though personal radios were used by Officers from the early 1970’s. But even after the mid-1980’s, the boxes were still utilised for the use of the telephone (remember….no mobile phones!) and to keep out of inclement weather.

Having become mostly redundant the City of Edinburgh Council started a sell off of these historic buildings. Some in prime positions, others in suburban backwaters. One box in the city centre was for sale with an expected price of £3,500-4,000 and sold for over £100,000.

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Most sold for a lot less than this. I’m told one Police Box in the middle of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town sold for £500 last year.

But what have the owner done with them? Well, some are just storage and some have been left to deteriorate with smashed windows and graffiti. The majority have been looked after and they have become coffee stops – with varying success going by the picture above –  food outlets, art spaces amongst other things. The one that sits in Croall Place in Leith Walk (the old Box 10-D, Leith Police Division) is the Edinburgh Tool Library which lends out power tools.

So, when out and about in the city have a look for these wonderful little buildings.

+++STOP PRESS+++  10 Police Boxes across Edinburgh will open to the public on the 4th and 5th July 2015. Check out www.facebook.com/policeboxes or visit the website on www.edinburghexpoliceboxes.co.uk for more information.

 

Did Mary go to Mr Lamb?

Sunshine on Leith indeed!

As we are now well and truly into Spring in Scotland’s capital city, I went down to our port recently for a wander. The changes in Leith have been sweeping in the last 30 years. The old Georgian and Victorian dwellings that were in some semblance of disrepair have been getting spruced up and the pubs and restaurants have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps! Michelin Guide eateries and gastropubs abound, not to everyones delight it has to be said, however the old style boozer has nearly had its day.

As part of the “Sunny Leith” walk – see www.edinburghwalks.com – I take visitors down Water Street, formerly known as Rotten Row, where amongst other interesting sights we come across Lamb’s House, which is on the corner with Burgess Street .

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The history of this property is difficult to pin down. This is not the original merchants house on the land as the Earl of Hereford’s English army burnt down much of Leith under Henry VIII’s orders in 1544. Indeed historians are uncertain about the exact age. There are those who attribute it to the mid-sixteenth century, basing their assumption on a contemporary record which claims that Mary Queen of Scots “remainit in Andro Lamb’s hous be the space of an hour” on her arrival from France on the 19th August 1561. In fact she landed only 100 metres away on Leith’s Shore.

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Mary had set out from France for Scotland after a 13 year absence and arrived two weeks earlier than expected in Leith in poor, foggy weather. The Palace of Holyrood House was not ready to receive her so she visited Lamb……or did she.

Whilst the Lamb’s were a well known family in Leith, there is not the evidence to confirm whether this visit to Lamb’s House did take place – or even if the building existed when Mary arrived in Leith. The building we see is one of the finest surviving merchant’s houses in Scotland and dates from around 1610. But it is thought her late mother Mary of Guise had a Palace in Rotten Row nearby and this is where she stopped.

However, Lamb’s House was a dwelling for the Lamb family and a warehouse for his goods. There are religious family connections and a descendent of Lamb, a Dr. Cheyne lived here with his family from 1800-1822.

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By the early 20th century the house was in a state of disrepair and it was only by the intervention of  the Marquis of Bute and then the National Trust for Scotland that the property was saved from demolition. I knew it for a long time as a day centre for the elderly people of Leith.

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By the beginning of the 21st century it was again in danger of falling into disrepair whilst many of the surrounding buildings were coming to life with the renewed interest in Leith properties and businesses. The building then had a dramatic change of use. Over £1 million was spent on restoring and upgrading the building to its former glory. And what a splendid sight it is.

The property is now the offices of an architect and the base for the Icelandic Consul to Scotland. Whilst it is not open to the public, The Pavilion building on site is available to rent as overnight accommodation.

It really is worth a visit to this beautiful building, even if the visit of Mary Queen of Scots to Mr Lamb is in question.

What to do in Edinburgh on the last Saturday of the month.

There are very few opportunities in the year to visit a little known museum in Edinburgh that contains one of the most famous exhibits the city has.

Only open on the last Saturday of every month and with free entry, The Anatomical Museum of the University of Edinburgh

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is found in Doorway 3 of the Medical School of Edinburgh University. The Medical School was established in 1726 – though medicine had been taught at the University prior to this – and flourished during the “Scottish Enlightenment”. It is still very highly regarded to this day.

As part of one of the Walks available through www.edinburghwalks.com, I was in the vicinity and called in. Through the heavy wooden door and up two floors, you enter the anatomy lecture theatre which has seating for two hundred students and was used to teach medical students from the 19th century onwards.

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I’m sure the dissection of bodies was a messy procedure, but nowadays the ‘slab’ is electronic and – as can be seen in the attached photograph – a lot less gory and a lot more interesting.

Then I made my way upstairs to the Anatomical Museum itself.

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The Museum was part of a block of buildings devoted to medical education which opened in 1880. The lobby still contains elephant skeletons and other exhibits from the original museum, which was reduced in size in 1950 from a three storey hall to a single upper storey, which is how it remains today. The Museum has a fascinating

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collection of both animal and human remains, plaster masks of famous people from the past made by the Edinburgh Phrenology Society and that famous exhibit I mentioned before, the skeleton of the infamous murderer William Burke. Burke – along with his unconvicted accomplice William Hare – murdered (probably) sixteen people in  1820’s Edinburgh and sold the bodies for medical dissection. He was convicted and hanged in 1829. The fate of Burke and all those convicted of murder was to be subject to the Murder Act of 1751, where they also had to be dissected after execution. The Anatomical Museum also houses the skeleton of John Howison, otherwise known as “The Cramond Murderer” who suffered the same fate as Burke. Howison was the last person to be publicly dissected prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832 which ended this practice and allowed medical schools to obtain cadavers by other means.

This museum is a great place to help understand Edinburgh’s historical and medical past and the exhibits are not laid out in a manner meant to frighten or shock the visitor. Next time you are in the area – or as part of a www.edinburghwalks.com Walk – give it a visit. You will not regret it.

Heroism, Cannibalism and the North West Passage

I have written before about The Dean Cemetery, to the rear of The Dean Gallery in Edinburgh. It is an interesting place and many of those that lie peacefully here have a fascinating past, most from Georgian and Victorian society.

Passing through last week – as one of the walks available from www.edinburghwalks.com – I came across the dark Celtic Cross which tells the fascinating story of Lieutenant John Irving of the British Royal Navy.

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Irving was part of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the North West Passage that left Kent, England in 1845 on board HMS Terror. The other Royal Navy ship in the party was HMS Erebus.

Having wintered at Beechey Island, they thereafter set out to find the Passage, but became locked in the ice for two years. By June 1847 Franklin, twenty Officers and Seamen died, but Irving and 104 other survivors landed on King William Island and tried to march further South into Canada, some 250 miles away. They perished in this venture.

Many expeditions were sent out to trace the crews, and it was in June 1879 that Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka’s American Searching Expedition found Irving’s grave near a place called Camp Crozier, the remains identifiable by the presence of a silver medal engraved ‘Second Mathematical Prize, Royal Naval College. Awarded to John Irving Mid-summer. 1830’, lying nearby. His remains were returned to Edinburgh and on the 7th January 1881 he was buried in the Dean Cemetery.

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The tableau on the Cross appears to show the survivors leaving Erebus and Terror to commence their march South.

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A synopsis of the terrible affair is also on the cross. However, it brought to mind more recent information that adds colour to this story.

Dr. John Rae was a qualified surgeon from Orkney in Scotland who was employed by the Hudson Bay Company after his arrival there in 1833. He stayed in the Moose Factory area for around 10 years and in this time assimilated with the local native Canadians. He learned their vital survival skills, though his insistence of dressing like a native was frowned upon. Dr. Rae assisted in two searches for Erebus and Terror and their men, but abandoned the search for Franklin in 1854 after learning that the expedition had ended in disaster and that the last survivors having been forced to resort to cannibalism.

In April 1854, Rae had heard from an Inuit that a group of 40 white men had been seen four years previously pulling a boat and sledges South along the West coast of King William Island. From what he was told, Rae decided the men had died in the winter of 1850, after ice had crushed their ships. Some years later, Rae learned that the Inuit had discovered 30 bodies and a number of graves and it appeared the men had died of starvation. But the report of cannibalism caused a scandal which was not accepted by Victorian Britain and, in particular, Franklin’s widow. Even Charles Dickens wrote of his disbelief. But in May 1859 following another expedition, skeletons were found of some of the last survivors and they appeared to confirm that the men had resorted to cannibalism.

Dr. Rae eventually returned to the UK, but his courageous deeds in the snowy wastelands of Northern Canada were never truly recognised….until 2014. On 30th September 2014 a simple plaque was unveiled to Rae in Westminster Abbey in London, England. This plaque is adjacent to a memorial to Franlin.

But there is more……. Also in September 2014 the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the discovery of a ship to the West of King William Island, South of the Victoria Strait. This ship has been confirmed as HMS Terror’s sister ship, HMS Erebus. Work is continuing to find Irving’s ship, which must surely be nearby.

So, although Irving was interred in the Dean Cemetery 133 years ago his story and that of the Franklin Expedition continues to evolve to this day.

 

Golf in Leith & Edinburgh

Scotland is the undisputed home of golf.

The exact origins are not known, but it is recorded that golf had to be banned in 1457 as it interfered with archery practice. But it was James IV of Scotland who took up the sport around 1505 giving it the royal stamp of approval and it is reported that Mary Queen of Scots also played. However it was also a game of the people.

At Leith Links, there were originally 5 holes, around 400 yards long. The first rules of golf were drawn up here in 1744 and the first international golf foursome was played at Leith as was the first ever national tournament, played by professionals in 1867. By this time, there were 7 holes and four rounds were played to complete a ’round’.

Leith Links was the original home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The Company subsequently moved to their present home of Gullane in East Lothian in 1836. (You can walk around Leith Links and learn more about its history as part of the Sunny Leith guided walk from Edinburgh Walks www.edinburghwalks.com)

I took a walk last week to another area of Edinburgh which has a long history when it comes to golf. A short walk to the South of the medieval city of Edinburgh, but still within easy sight of the Castle – though where is not I suppose – is Bruntsfield Links. Part of  the ancient Borough Muir and Borough Loch, the area provided the old city with fresh water and areas for quarrying, grazing sheep and hunting. The Roman road Dere Street is believed to have cut across the southern boundary of the Muir.

But it is golf that was important to the area. Two of the four oldest golf clubs in the world were based here, and their favoured tavern for refreshment was the Ye Olde Golf Tavern

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Previously known as the Golf Hotel, this was where the Royal Burgess Golfing Society met, having played golf on the Links from 1735. The Bruntsfield Links Society, which was formed in 1761, also used Ye Olde Golf Tavern as it’s clubhouse. Both these Societies moved to the North of the city in the mid 19th Century as the Brunstfield Links were too busy with other activities. However, you can still play golf for a very small fee on the Links outside Ye Olde Golf Tavern.

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You just call into the starters box to rent a club and ball and off you go.

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After your round, do as I did and call into Ye Olde Golf Tavern for some food and a drink. You will not be disappointed.

You can also pass through Bruntsfield Links as part of the Three Volcanoes guided walk from Edinburgh Walks  ( www.edinburghwalks.com ).

Grave Matters

Edinburgh and Leith have retained many of the graveyards that were used to bury their dead over many centuries and these are fascinating places to visit.

On all of the walks I lead, I visit at least one graveyard as the story of their inhabitants are  interesting and informative, giving an idea of how people lived and died in our historic city and port – see www.edinburghwalks.com for more details.

The graveyards of the city centre contain the marked remains of philosophers, soldiers, merchants, the great legal and scientific minds of their day, religious leaders, Lords, Ladies and their offspring.

By contrast, when I was in North Leith recently, I visited the former St. Ninians Church and the nearby North Leith Cemetery where many of those interred had a connection with the sea.

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On land owned by the Abbot of Holyrood, a chapel to St Ninian was built in 1493 at the end of a bridge over the Water of Leith leading from the Shore into North Leith  – an area in the parish of Holyrood House and Canongate. The building has been altered over time and the unusual Dutch style steeple was built in 1675 – see the date above the doorway.

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By this time it had become the parish church of the area, but eventually became too small for the congregation and they moved to North Leith Parish Church in nearby Madeira Street, which was built in 1816.

It was fascinating to have a walk around this very quiet part of Leith which is easily accessible from the busier Shore area and the Bondside on Commercial Street. Before I went to the nearby graveyard, it being lunchtime I called into the nearby RoseLeaf Bar for a drink.

The Roseleaf is a fascinating bar and cafe that opened in 2007, which serves high quality brunches, lunches and bar food all day, but is particulary well known for their ‘Pot-Tails’ – cocktails in old china teapots! My drink and the staff were great – what is there not to like about that.

I knew The Roseleaf in it’s former life as The Black Swan , a name it had had for about a century – though known to local Leithers as the Mucky Duck. My paternal grandfather stayed across from The Black Swan during the latter part of the first World War in the street then known as Bridge Street.

I left The Roseleaf and walked about 50 metres South to the gate way into the graveyard of the old St.Ninians.

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Now known as North Leith Churchyard this small burial ground has a fascinating connection to the Port and the sea. It is still “monied” people that made it into here between 1664 and 1820, but there are many more merchants and seafarers than seen in the city centre grounds. Many of the sandstone gravestones have worn away, but the skull and crossbones, hourglasses and angels are still visible along with items with the look of the deceased’s working accountrements,  if the names of the deceased are not.

I found that the final resting place of the grandparents of 19th Century British Prime minister W.E.Gladstone (So that is why Gladstone’s Place is near by). Also that of Lady McIntosh who raised a regiment for Prince Charlie’s 1745 rising. Amongst the more ordinary : John Broun, shipmaster  – died in 1744, the year before Bonnie Prince Charlie was in town.

It is fascinating to visit and graveyards are not scary at all. It adds something to your knowledge of an area and it’s past and I am glad I visited.

 

 

Leith Custom House and Ned Kelly’s Gang?

I was in Leith recently (see www.edinburghwalks.com for a guided walk to Leith) and  just off the Shore is the Bernard Street Bridge leading into Commercial Street. On the left is a tenement terrace of restaurants and flats which had sustained damage on the night of the Zeppelin attack on the area on 2nd April 1916. Directly opposite is the imposing Custom House of Leith which escaped any damage during this air raid. Built in 1812, taxes and levies were collected from the movement of goods through the Port of Leith, but in recent years the building has been used for storage by the National Museums of Scotland. Presently, the building is for sale and a move to have the Leith Museum housed here has gathered support and momentum.

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The building is adjacent to Dock Place and the old Bondside of Commercial Street where restaurants and bars like Mithas, The Kitchin, Teuchters Landing, Fatma and Bistro Provence have brought this area to light and are all highly recommended.

But the Customs House was the subject of an international incident that, for it’s day, was an outrage. On Friday 4th February, 1881 around 11pm, two uniformed Sergeants by the name of Arnot & Reid from the world famous Leith Police (of “The Leith Police Dismisseth Us” tongue twister) were on patrol when they fell upon two males who were peering in the window of the Customs House. These two males gave their names as Seymour and Grant and stated they were from a ship in the Docks. One stated he was Australian, the other Irish/American. The Sergeants knew of no ship and detained the two, leading them towards the small Police Station at the Dock Gate where Teuchters Landing sits today.  On approach the men drew pistols and shot both unarmed Sergeants and ran off. A chase ensued and another Police Officer was shot and wounded. At the far end of the Bondside opposite the old Cromwellian Citadel Seymour was cornered and having fired his gun again, took his own life. Grant was arrested having tried to commit suicide, but his gun jammed. Grant was arrested and taken to Leith Police Station in Queen Charlotte Street. He later received 14 years gaol.

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All three Officers that were shot survived and received commendations and financial redress. The Chief Constable of the Leith Police James Grant wrote to the Chief Officers of Police in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Dunedin and Adelaide as he believed the two men had come to Leith via London from Melbourne on board a ship called The Melbourne and had given different names. The Chief Constable stated that their proficient use of guns showed they may have used them in nefarious deeds in Australia and New Zealand. A copy of his letter is printed in the New Zealand Herald, dated 8th April 1881. It is a fascinating read.

But the rumour that spread around Leith was that these two bushrangers were in fact the remnants of the Australian Ned Kelly’s Gang and his associates who had recently been arrested, gaoled or executed. Had they fled to start a life of crime on the otherside of the world…………

 

Stockbridge on a Sunday

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.