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……….




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.


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.


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



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


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!


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



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…


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



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





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



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 [email protected] 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


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.


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.



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