A Circus came to town.

The circus did come to town when the extension to the New Town was planned and built. No longer the straight lines that James Craig imagined for his New Town of the 1760’s, curves were now acceptable.

Royal Circus is a beautiful curved street of Georgian houses and apartments on the North side of Edinburgh’s New Town bisected by the busy North West Circus Place. These properties – much sought-after today – housed the great and the good of the capital city’s society, from doctors and solicitors to businessmen and church ministers.

But I want to show you what is to the rear of the East side of the Circus where the horses, drivers, footmen and stable lads lived and worked in service to their well-off employers. Circus Lane is where the master of the

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house would request his horse and carriage to take him into the city centre. A walk down here (as part of a guided walk with www.edinburghwalks.com ) and you can imagine the hubbub, the smells and the sight of domestic staff at work.

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With the wide doors to allow access to the carriages and the horses, to the small upper windows and small chimney pots of the staff quarters these beautiful terraces were definitely built for purpose. They are now occupied as offices and residences and the sound of hooves no longer rattle on the cobbles. Many of the stables have now become garages.

At the East end of the Circus Lane, turn left and you will get a better view of the church whose tower overlooks the Lane. Now an A-listed building St. Stephen’s Church was built between 1827-1828 to the design by William Henry Playfair . The clocktower is 162 feet high and is reputed to have the longest pendulum in Europe. Now no longer a place of religious worship, the building was bought recently and is being used as a community arts venue. During the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – part of the world’s largest arts festival – the venue is very busy. As a further example of their community use, “Stockflea” a flea market will be held there on the 10th/ 11th September 2016 as part of Stockfest, the annual Stockbridge festival.

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If you get a chance, you should make your way down to this part of the city……….

 

 

Hammerbeam

Whilst walking through Leith recently – as part of the Sunny Leith guided walk – see www.edinburghwalks.com – I took the opportunity to call in to the churchyard of South Leith Parish Church. Seeing me there, I was invited into the church itself  by a member of the congregation and given a private viewing.

The Church sits to the north of the New Kirkgate Shopping Centre and has been a centre of history in the area for some time. On this ground a chapel dedicated to St.Mary was built in 1483, but the present buildings exterior was built in 1848. Between these dates English armies have been present to attack the Port of Leith on a couple of occasions, either to force a marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and King Henry VIII of England’s son or to push out a French force who were holding Leith. In fact the Coat of Arms of Mary of Guise (Mary Queen of Scots’ mother) and that of Mary Queen of Scots are set in stone within the West doorway and these probably came from the Palace of Mary of Guise which was in Rotten Row, present day Water Street. The building was also used as a prison at one point. After 1560 the congregation changed hands to the present Church of Scotland.

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On the inside I was really impressed by the beautiful hammer beam roof.

Come with me next time to Sunny Leith and we may get inside again………….

 

 

The Archivists Garden

When out for my walks around Edinburgh & Leith, I am always looking out for new places to go and see.

Recently I heard about The Archivists Garden which is only a 1 minute walk from the East End of Princes Street, Edinburgh New Town’s most famous thoroughfare. It is situated between The National Archives of Scotland building, The General Register Office for Scotland building and The Court of the Lord Lyon. The people working in these buildings maintain the records of the History of Scotland. It really is a haven of peace and quiet so close to the noise of the City Centre.

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So if you are in town, take a walk up West Register Street and go through the gate, turn right and there you are.

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Why not take a bite to eat and stay for your lunch on one of the benches? Alternatively there is a café adjacent to the Garden so pop in there.

The Garden can also be seen as part of a walk with me – see www.edinburghwalks.com/walks

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I am a recommended person!

I received an e-mail from Shelli Stein of www.joyinmovement.com saying she had placed my details on her website as a recommended person. Shelli and I met last month and had a great day out in Edinburgh.

Here is what she says; “I love to travel and when I visit a place, I walk A LOT! I also like to seek out like-minded walking enthusiasts where ever I go. Gerry is a kindred walking spirit! When you’re in Edinburgh, Scotland you simply must let Gerry show you around. You’ll learn history, architecture, and culture while having a great time!”

Shelli is a successful businesswoman based on the Pacific West Coast of the U.S.A., concentrating on a healthy lifestyle, fitness and wellbeing. Give her website a look as it is inspirational.

 

Thanks again Shelli for the listing.

“The sun has got his hat on….”

Edinburgh in the sun is a beautiful thing. People cast off their winter woolies and expose their pale skin to the big orange ball in the sky, even in March.

Whilst out in Edinburgh this weekend, I took some photographs to show my city in a better light. Enjoy!

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This is Edinburgh Castle from the South (rear) side and includes the windows for the Great Hall.

 

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And this is the magnificent North side of Charlotte Square in the New Town, designed by Robert Adam at the end of the 18th Century to James Craig’s original plan of 1766. It includes…

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Bute House, the Official Residence of Scotland’s First Minister. So it is our White House or 10 Downing Street….

 

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This is the Grassmarket, which is an area to the south of Edinburgh Castle. Very historical, though most people on this day are more interested in the Saturday Market or in getting a seat outside the many bars and restaurants there. Very Continental.

And now, some photographs showing The West Bow, Victoria Terrace and Victoria Street

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Notice that people will find ingenious places to stop for a drink or some food as long as the sun is out!

 

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And finally I though I’d show you Anchor’s Close, just a minutes walk from the the throng in Victoria Street and Victoria Terrace. The high rise properties mean the sun does not penetrate to the lower floors of these tenements in Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town. Therefore, there is no one around this very atmospheric alleyway.

 

I hope you enjoyed these photographs. You can see these sights (and many, many more) on a guided walk with Edinburgh Walks. Just get in touch by going to www.edinburghwalks.com and going to the contact page. Or just email contact@edinburghwalks.com for more information.

 

 

 

Edinburgh Coffee Shops as recommended by Gareth Thomas (Reserve Apts.)

My Favourite Top 5 Coffee Shops in Edinburgh

Luckily for all lovers of good coffee, Edinburgh’s thriving coffee scene means there are plenty of high-quality coffee shops where they really know their beans. Whether you prefer an espresso, an artistically served flat white, a skinny latte or a cappuccino, check out my list of the best coffee shops in the city to find local providers of freshly ground, delicious coffee in cosy and convivial settings.

Artisan Roast

Artisan Roast has three branches in Edinburgh: Stockbridge, Bruntsfield and in the centre of town near the Edinburgh Playhouse, so wherever your wanderings take you, you won’t be far from an excellent cup of coffee. The team at Artisan Roast take their coffee very seriously indeed, roasting their own beans and creating their own in-house blends. With its book-lined walls and trendy but relaxed ambience, Artisan Roast is the ideal place to refuel with a long black, a bowl of soup or a freshly-baked pastry and you can also buy packs of freshly-ground coffee to take home with you.

Addresses: 57 Broughton Street, EH1 3RJ, 100a Raeburn Place, EH4 1HH, 138 Bruntsfield Place, EH10 4ER

The Counter

With its quirky setting in a former police box, The Counter is a small but excellent coffee shop in Morningside. Its colourful atmosphere and bespoke-roast coffee have quickly established a reputation with locals and visitors alike. The friendly and knowledgeable baristas at The Counter create a warm and welcoming environment where you can enjoy your coffee and perhaps a slice of homemade cake in convivial surroundings.

Address: Police Box, 216a Morningside Road, EH10 4QQ

Castello Coffee

Located in Castle Street near Prince’s Street Gardens in the heart of Edinburgh, this brilliant little coffee shop with its clean, minimalist decor serves amazing coffee, including perfectly made guest espressos and a good range of cakes, pastries and soups served with chunky wholemeal bread. This area is home to many of the large coffee chains, but Castello Coffee stands up well against the competition. Its popularity means it can get crowded indoors during busy periods, but outdoor seating areas allow you to relax and enjoy your coffee while taking in a stunning view of the castle.

Address: 7 Castle Street, EH2 3AH

Cairngorm Coffee Co.

With its welcoming and dog-friendly ambience, Cairngorm Coffee Co. is an excellent place to refuel in central Edinburgh. This small, independent coffee shop certainly punches above its weight: its top-notch, locally-roasted coffee attracts a loyal customer base while tasty bites such as the Cairngorm’s trademark cheese toasties, served with chili jam, and luscious carrot cake are equally tempting. With its cosy and relaxing ambience, Cairngorm Coffee Co. is also one of the best places for breakfast in the New Town.

Address: 41a Frederick Street, EH2 1EP

Brew Lab

The Brew Lab, near the museum and university, is a must for aficionados of excellent coffee. Brew Lab are passionate about classic black filter coffee and see it as the best way to appreciate the full flavour and aroma of fine Java, but they also serve excellent lattes and flat whites. The friendly staff are always delighted to discuss their methods with you and their scientific approach to coffee ensures that your visit will be a fascinating experience.

Address: 6-8 South College Street, EH8 9AA

 

Author Bio

Gareth Thomas is one of the co-founders of Reserve Apartments, an Edinburgh based holiday let and online booking / web publishing software company.

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.