A bit of a Muddle…

Whilst walking around Edinburgh and its northern neighbour Leith you pick up clues to different times.

You would have thought the Councillors of Edinburgh city and their counterparts in the then separate town of Leith would have got along and that laws and facilities would have been the same, with them being such close neighbours. But, no…..

Leith had traditionally been run from Edinburgh Council, but by Acts of the U.K. Parliament in 1827 and 1833 Leith became a separate burgh from Edinburgh. This allowed Leith to make their differences with Edinburgh clearer. Leith ran their own Police and Fire Service, a separate criminal court, Town Hall and Councillors and more importantly, had their own bye-laws.

But two instances really bring home the difference between the two places.

The Bier Hoose bar was formerly known as The Boundary Bar and stands on the old boundary line between Leith and Edinburgh on the main street called Leith Walk opposite the top of Pilrig Street. As you can see from the above picture, there are three double doors (the middle one is open here) which are in line with the building. There are additionally two entrance/exit doors sunken into the shopfront. These two sunken doors were very important for this public house.

The door closer to Leith (below the sign Bier) was subject to Leith Liquor Licensing Laws. However

the door closer to Edinburgh was subject to the City’s Liquor Licensing Laws. So the same bar had two liquor licenses from two Licensing Authorities. Not a recipe for success? Well things went well until the end of the drinking day. Because Leith revellers were allowed to drink half an hour later than their Edinburgh friends, so ‘time’ would be called on the Edinburgh side of the Boundary Bar and everyone who wanted to keep on drinking – i.e. everyone – would move round to the Leith side of the bar. This all changed after the highly controversial plebiscite of 1920 to bring Leith under the jurisdiction of Edinburgh. Although Leithers voted by a 6:1 majority to stay separate, amalgamation took place with Leith and Edinburgh bye-laws became coterminous.

Another discrepancy between city and town was the public transport system.

Up until 1899 the entire stretch of Leith Walk between both Edinburgh and Leith could be travelled using the horse-drawn tram service, even though cable drawn trams were introduced into Edinburgh from 1888. It was in October 1899 the Edinburgh’s transport authorities decided to lay cables to the boundary with Leith. It took Leith another six years to withdraw their horse drawn trams, with the decision being made to introduce electric trams. So from 1899 what became known as the ‘Pilrig Muddle’ was introduced.

Edinburgh had introduced cabling throughout the city to pull its trams and Leith did not follow, introducing another form of traction. Travelling from Leith to Edinburgh or vice versa meant getting off your vehicle at the boundary – by the Boundary Bar – and getting on the next service to complete your journey. Of course, people travelling the opposite direction had to do the same and it caused a lot of stress and heated argument. This could not continue. The Pilrig Muddle ended in 1922 when Edinburgh relented and became electrified too so the service could run on one system.

Edinburgh and its trams still have a love hate relationship. The new tram system from the Airport only started a few years ago but the initial plans to take it into Leith were not followed through and it terminates presently near the top of Leith Walk. Maybe in the near future we will see that system run into Leith as promised and stop a similar muddle for those wanting to get from the Airport into Leith without the requirement to change in the City Centre.



For walks in Edinburgh and Leith, please contact Edinburgh Walks on contact@edinburghwalks.com




The forgotten scientist

Another former Edinburgh resident worthy of remembrance is James Clerk Maxwell. I regularly pass his home and his (relatively) newly erected statue on George Street, but his name was out of public consciousness for quite a time.

James Clerk Maxwell

Born in 1831 in an upstairs bedroom (now called the Motorola Room!) of a fine Georgian terraced house at 14 India Street, Edinburgh, Maxwell was the son of a solicitor who had also inherited the estate of Glengair in Galloway, Scotland. At the age of 10 he attended Edinburgh Academy and then went on to study at Edinburgh University from 1847-1850. He later studied at Cambridge


University and, at the very young age of 25, became the Professor of Physics at Marischal College – now part of Aberdeen University.

Whilst at Aberdeen, Clerk Maxwell studied the composition of Saturn’s rings. Scientists had been trying for many years to understand why they did not simply break up as they appeared to be solid, or crash into or move away from the planet. In 1859 he wrote an essay “On the stability of Saturn’s Rings” which won him the Adam’s prize and £130 from St. Johns College, Cambridge. He contended that the rings were made of many small parts orbiting Saturn as opposed to one solid ring. This could not be proved at the time, but was later confirmed by the Voyager space probe in the 1980’s.

After this his knowledge and expertise was sought from universities around the UK. Clerk Maxwell continued his research in a number of fields, including astronomy and mathematical physics.

His work played a key role in Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity and Einstein said “The work of James Clerk Maxwell changed the world forever.” From the understanding of electromagnetic waves – which helped the development of radio, television and modern telephony – and discoveries in telescopes and photography Clerk Maxwell was a truly great man.

But it took until 2008 for him to be recognised by his home city with a statue in the splendid New Town of Edinburgh, not too far from where he was born.


The plinth has his four equations of electromagnetic theory thereon. The statue itself shows Clerk Maxwell sitting, holding a rotating disc of colours which he used for the understanding of our vision and light. His dog Toby sits beneath him. I’m not sure which dog this is as he reportedly had several dogs in his lifetime, all called Toby.

If you join one of our walks – see www.edinburghwalks.com – you can find out more about this fascinating man that was forgotten by his home city for so long.

And the madness begins…..

Edinburgh in August is a busy place…….A very busy place.

It is when the Edinburgh Festivals take a grip on the city. Where locals, performers and visitors alike are squeezed into our theatres, halls, pubs, restaurants and streets and it seems like half the world is here. The Festivals are the third largest ticketed event in the world, after the Olympic Games and World Cup Football (Soccer) competitions. Last year alone, the Fringe Festival had over 50,000 performances. Add to this the Official Edinburgh Festival, Arts Festival, Book Festival, Television Festival and others and the ticket sales grow and grow. This in a city with a population of under 500,000.

And it is also great fun…….

I walked down the Royal Mile in the Old Town and into the Mound Plaza in the New Town at the weekend and this is what I encountered

Security Barriers very much in evidence this year. And then the madness….

Promoting a show

Street portrait artists

More portrait artists

Street performers


More street performers……

It really can get too much. It’s as well then that Edinburgh Walks guides are aware of places to go for a bit of peace and quiet, for sober reflection even, away from the very busy streets. Just 1-3 minutes from the artists, musicians and performers are places of tranquility, like (South East) Princes Street Gardens where you can take a picnic and chill, re-charge your batteries and head out again to take in some more cultural highlights.

Not much going on down here.

Within sight of some of the performance areas.

Let Edinburgh Walks guides take you round this beautiful city and dip in and out as the madness ensues. Go to www.edinburghwalks.com

Views from The Pentland Hills

The Pentland Hills rise to the South of Edinburgh and became a regional park in 1986. Approximately 35 sq miles in size the park is used as farmland and open pasture, but also by walkers, skiers, mountain bikers and anglers for recreational purposes. There is evidence the land has been tended for several thousand years and there is archaeological proof of temporary Roman occupation after their arrival in AD79.

I was out over The Pentlands this week and took some photographs from the top of Harbour Hill.

The above pictures show the Forth Bridge (b.1890, in red), taking the main rail line north over the Forth Estuary from Edinburgh and the South to Fife, Dundee and Aberdeen and the North. Also the Forth Road Bridge (b.1964) which is a much used road bridge that substituted the ferry from South Queensferry to North Queensferry in Fife. And lastly, there is the Queensferry Crossing (b.2017) which is to open imminently. The last bridge has been built to take traffic pressure from the Forth Road Bridge.

Then I turned to get a view of Edinburgh and it was looking great against a misty slate grey sky.

As well as the tree plantation and reservoir in the foreground, you can clearly see Edinburgh Castle to the left of mid-ground and the rest of the Old Town to its right. To the far right of mid-ground, the volcanic Salisbury Crags of The Queens Park is clearly visible. Then in the distance the Forth Estuary and over to the Kingdom of Fife.

From a wider viewpoint, the City of Edinburgh.

It is easy to get out to The Pentland Hills from Edinburgh by public transport and if you get this opportunity to see Edinburgh from another angle, then give it a go.



I thought I would share with you some of the images from the Stockbridge Duck Race that was held this week in Edinburgh. Stockbridge is a lovely part of the city, an old village enveloped by the encroaching New Town in the late 19th Century. It still has a village feel about the place and has some great shops, bars and restaurants that are well worth a visit.

The Stockbridge Duck Race was started 28 years ago and is a major fundraiser for local charities. Leading up to the race, you can buy a duck – in reality a number that corresponds to one written on a yellow plastic duck. On a chosen Sunday in the Summer, thousands of yellow plastic ducks are thrown from The Stock Bridge into The Water of Leith and they float for 150 metres or so until they are collected in a net stretched out over the river, by local volunteers.

The winning ducks are upended and the number noted. The first 100 or so ducks that came down win the prizes donated by local businesses and services.

Of course, some times a duck makes a ‘big bid for freedom’ and has to be chased downstream and returned to the fold………

If you’d like to visit Stockbridge come along on one of our guided walks. See www.edinburghwalks.com for more details.

Name a Scot who won the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Title….?

Sir Andy Murray?


Yes, but who else?

How about Harold Segerson Mahony, born 13th February 1867.


Mahony came from an Irish land owning family who had a house in Scotland and he went on to win a silver and a bronze medal at the Paris Olympics in 1900 for Great Britain and Ireland, before the independent Irish State came into being. Whilst it is likely that Mahony would have played for the Irish Republic we Scots like to clutch at any kind of sporting success, so I am still keen to call him a Scot as he was born here, at 21 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.

IMG_0393  IMG_0394

Charlotte Square is fine Georgian housing a minutes walk from the West End of Princes Street. Full of the monied elite, other famous residents from the past have been Lord Henry Cockburn, Sir William Fettes, Field Marshall Douglas Haig and (just around the corner) Alexander Graham Bell. The properties in which these people lived – along with others – have been gives plaques, signs or acknowledgements . Until now 21 Charlotte Square has not, and Mahony has been all but forgotten.

Mahoney won the Wimbledon Men’s Singles title in 1896, having previously won the Queens Club championship too. He failed to hold on to these titles at subsequent tournaments, but was obviously a great player with a superb backhand.

Sadly, the ever adventurous Mahony was killed in a bicycling accident in 1905.

Mahoney should be celebrated more and there should be some kind of acknowledgement for this great sportsman.

You can see this house in Charlotte Square as part of a walk with Edinburgh Walks (www.edinburghwalks.com).

What a balloon…!

There are a number of people who have a strong connection with Edinburgh but there is little general public knowledge of their lives and feats.

I thought I would bring your attention to James Tytler.  A great man who worked as a pharmacist/doctor, preacher, artist and editor/contributor to The Encyclopaedia Britannica. But for me the most fascinating thing about Tytler is that he was the first man in the British Isles to fly. He was therefore also known as James ‘Balloon’ Tytler.

James Tytler


Tytler was born a son of the Manse in 1745  in Forfarshire, Scotland. His early life lead him to studying medicine at Edinburgh University. After employment at sea as a doctor and as a pharmacist in Edinburgh’s port of Leith he had run up many debts and moved with his wife to England. He returned to Edinburgh around 1773 with wife and children in tow and took to writing to make ends meet. His personal and working life did not work out well for James and following his marriage failing, things did not look good for him.

However, in 1777 he became the editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica and it appears it was here that he later learned of hot air ballooning and the initial ascent of the Montgolfier Brothers in 1783. His mind seemed to be made up to emulate them in Great Britain and work to raise money and build his Edinburgh Fire Balloon began in earnest. After some difficulty, Tytler succeeded in his plan. The

Grand Edinburgh Fire Balloon

early attempts by Tytler to get his plan off the ground (sorry!) were woeful, but he persisted. On 27th August 1784

Queens Park

at Comely Gardens – which is just to the east of Holyrood House, the Royal Residence in Scotland’s capital – the balloon was inflated with hot air and Tytler got on board the wicker basket. The ropes were let loose and up he rose, the first person to fly on and over these islands. He crossed the area now known as The Queens Park or Holyrood Park (above) and into Restalrig Village around one kilometre away. Those that saw this feat were mightily impressed and his next attempt was made from the same area, this time with the public paying a small fee to watch. This second flight was not as successful and the next was a disaster. The local press were scathing, claiming it to be a farce and the public turned against Tytler.

But Tytler was the first to fly. Italian Vincenzo Lunardi – who was much more of a dashing showman – flew his hydrogen balloon over London 23 days later on the 19th September 1784, but was much celebrated for this flight infront of an estimated 150,000 people. Lunardi also came to Edinburgh and on the 20th December 1785 took off from the Heriot Hospital (now George Heriots School) and landed out on the Forth Estuary.

Tyler’s troubles continued, with bankruptcy and divorce visiting him. Following the French Revolution Tytler  reportedly called for a Republican state to replace the Monarchy and had to flee Edinburgh, ending up in Salem, Massachusetts. On 9th January 1804 his body was found on the shore there. He had been missing for two days having left home in an inebriated state. I was in Salem in 2015, but could not find any public notice or indication of his residence there at the turn of the 19th century.

But Edinburgh has not exactly been overly effusive in it’s memory of Tytler. On the site of Comely Gardens, then an open area

Tytler Gardens

I found that one street of relatively new properties had been named after our forgotten hero of flight. We should be doing more……….


The guided walk “Three Volcanoes” by Edinburgh Walks passes this area where the first flight took place. Please have a look on www.edinburghwalks.com for more information.



A Tenacious Dipper

The weather has been very kind to us in Edinburgh of late. Just last week the local newspaper was telling us that we were in for a ‘warm spell – hotter than Madrid, Spain’. It was to hit the dizzying heights of 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) when it is usually 4 oC (39 oF). Very nice, but ignoring the fact that Madrid is not especially warm at this time of year in any case, so no big deal.

But it gave me the opportunity to walk down by Edinburgh’s main river – aptly known as the Silver Ribbon in the Green – the Water of Leith from Dean Village to Inverleith Park.

Dean Village was an industrial area until not too long ago, and was noted for it’s flour mills in a Royal Proclamation by King David I in the early 12th Century and for it’s noxious smelling tannery’s. Though a lovely place to live now being in the City Centre, these industries along with others helped to kill off much of the life of the river. But the Water of Leith has been recovering in the last 30 years and the walkway adjacent is a pleasant place to take exercise.

On reaching the very popular Stockbridge area which has a relaxed and arty – maybe even bohemian – air, I took the steps by the bridge to go down to the waterside again.

I was especially looking for two creatures that keep me coming back to this spot regularly. One: there have been sightings of an otter on this city centre site. I spoke to someone who saw it crossing the road from one part of the river to reach another. Then I saw a short video of the otter splashing around. But no success today. Two: my favourite bird, The Dipper.

The Dipper is a small, stout little bird with mainly brown and dark plumage and a white breast. As the name suggests it dips whilst standing on the riverbank, looking for its prey. It then goes into the flowing water of a river, goes below and walks on the riverbed against the flow, whilst looking for insect larvae and freshwater shrimp. A fearsome hunter that comes out of the water, then dispatches its catch. And so today, I was successful in spotting a Dipper.

It was sitting on a manmade ledge by a drainpipe only inches from the fast flowing water. The Dipper then jumped into the water and went under. Due to the cleanliness of the water you could just see its white breast moving upstream against the flow, in search for its prey. Up it would come, float downstream, then back in again. Over and over again. What a fantastic sight. (I did manage to get a short video of this, but due to my lack of computer skills can’t get it to load here. Look at my Twitter feed @edinburgh_walks to see it. Sorry!)

Next time you are down in this area – or as part of one of our guided walks with www.edinburghwalks.com – stop by the Water of Leith and have a look for this small, tenacious bird.



The Botanic Cottage

We are very lucky in Edinburgh to have a lot of parkland and open space in which the populous and visitors can enjoy the beautiful views and somewhat erratic weather.

One of these spaces is the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh, 70 acres – or 28.5 hectares – of  open planted garden and parkland which sits approximately one mile from the City Centre. The history of the Royal Garden dates from a physic garden which was founded in 1670 on land to the East of the Royal Palace, Holyrood House. It later moved to a site in what became Leith Walk (via ground now used as the city’s main rail hub Waverley Station) and it was here between 1764-1765 the Botanic Cottage was built.


A two-storey building built at 34 Haddington Place, Leith Walk and was constructed by the Keeper, Dr. John Hope for the first gardener John Williamson. It served as Williamson’s home, the entrance to the garden itself and as a classroom for students during the Enlightenment in the mid-late 18th Century.


Sadly, Williamson was not here for long. He also worked part time as an exciseman and was killed in Edinburgh city centre in the course of his duty in 1780. A memorial stone was placed on the cottage in his memory.

The Royal Botanic Garden moved to their present site in the early 1820’s and the cottage was left behind. It remained in place while all around it houses, shops and laterly, a petrol station was built on the land of the old Physic Garden. By 2007 the building was in a sad state of disrepair and was due for demolition. This was resisted by a small group of volunteers who successfully saved the building and had it moved stone by stone to the present Royal Botanic Gardens. In 2016 the cottage re-opened on this site after reconstruction and looks magnificent.

A piece of Scottish history was saved and it’s place in the story of Scottish Enlightenment preserved.

Please visit the Cottage on your next visit to the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh either on your own or as part of a guided walk with Edinburgh Walks (www.edinburghwalks.com).



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


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.


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.



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