Gladstone’s Land – Travelling through time in the Royal Mile

The golden “gled”, Scots for hawk – perhaps the meaning of Gledstaine

Recently I went on a guided tour of the National Trust for Scotland’s Gladstone’s Land on the Royal Mile. My tour guide was David, our informative and enthusiastic volunteer . He gave us fascinating facts, stories and insights as we walked through this 17thcentury tenement.

The Royal Mile in the 1600s

Arches from the 1600s. You reach the apartments via the stairway on the left.

We started the tour outside, under Edinburgh’s only surviving 17thcentury arched store frontage.  It’s quite something to imagine the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh in the 1600s. People would along the markets on the mile and buy their wares from under these arches.  There was a quality grocer and a cloth shop on the ground floor. The basement housed a tavern – I suppose the equivalent of our coffee shops today – especially people thought beer was safer than water!

Spices were a rich man’s treasure
magnificent bed head

My first discovery was just how crowded the Royal Mile was at that time.  It was very much des res for the wealthy, at least on the middle floors, with the poorer taking up the top and bottom floors.  Gladstone, however, built his land for rich tenants, as you can see by its opulent décor.  The extensions along the narrow closes were testament to the shortage of housing and the desirability of the area.  This six-storey building was once considered a skyscraper. Later, buildings of thirteen storeys extended down the steep banks towards what is now Princes Street gardens. The difference in population density between the upper and lower halves of the Royal Mile is quite stunning.  People wanted to live near the Castle, in the Lawnmarket, because it was within the city walls. Down towards Holyrood Palace was the Canongate, and it wasn’t part of Edinburgh City.

The Royal Mile – the black vertical lines are the buildings along the closes – quite a contrast to the leafy suburbs of the Canongate!

When merchant Thomas Gladstone built his tenement block for rental, it was not only a sign of his commercial success (and fortuitous marriage!) It also qualified as a very Nice Little Earner! Edinburgh was at one time the most densely populated city on Earth!

The wooden shuttered half windows show the high price of glass at the time

Stepping back in time

Vivid, sumptuous ceiling beams – perhaps with hidden meaning?

Inside the building, the painted ceiling beams are vivid and clear after many decades hidden from daylight by plaster coverings.  There are still a few wall drawings to see (found underneath 14 layers of paint!) The NTS has made some new impressions to give a better idea of the surroundings.

Walls would have been decorated in this style

The number of people living in such small spaces is hard to conceive of by today’s standards, especially given the lack of running water and sewage facilities.  The stories of  “Gardyloo” give a quite different meaning to Edinburgh’s nickname of “Auld Reekie”.

Changes as the New Town develops

There’s also a room that goes “forward” in time to the 1800s. Most of the wealthy had decanted to the New Town to the North of Princes Street, but some still kept a pied-a-terre for business purposes.  Quite a change in lifestyle – but not for the poor who were left in the Old Town as it became more and more cramped and squalid.

Painting from the 1800s. As was the custom for rich people of the time, the artist came and painted the landscape directly on to the wall.

How to visit

Interesting footwear – and more practical than they seem!

I’ll not steal David’s thunder by telling his stories. But finding out about Witch Prickers, open plan loos and strangely designed footwear are just some of the reasons to visit Gladstone’s Land.  There’s also a link to the Darien Company, whose failure led to the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England.  Thank goodness the National Trust for Scotland rescued this building from demolition in 1934!

Gladstone’s Land is a short 19 minute stroll from Anthemion Apartment Edinburgh, or you can go by bus in 13 minutes by taking the 23 or 27.

Visits are free for National Trust for Scotland members.  In high season, it’s worth booking your tour in advance, as places are taken up very quickly.

Duddingston Village – rural beauty!

Duddingston Village

Just on the other side of Arthur’s Seat is Duddingston Village, and it’s a great trip out. Whether you take the bus (No 44 from Dublin Street leaves every 10 minutes) or, on a gloriously sunny day like we had, go for a walk across Holyrood Park, it’s a beautiful place to visit.

The view from Salisibury Crag to Edinburgh city and across the Firth of Forth

Holyrood Park – wilderness in a city

The walk through Holyrood Park is in itself a pleasure, and you feel that, only a few minutes from Edinburgh and the Royal Mile, you’re already in the countryside. The landscape walking between Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat is stunning – and there’s quite a choice of routes depending on time and energy!

daughter unleashes inner Rafiki!

Walking down the path towards the edge of Duddingston Loch and into the village, the first thing you’ll come across is the Sheep Heid Inn. Make a mental note – we’ll come back to here.

Duddingston Kirk – praise and punishment

gardens of Duddingston Kirk

Head towards Duddingston Kirk, a lovely old church overlooking the Loch, and have a wee look round. Only the south wall of the 12th century building remains. The rest was constructed in 1631 and then in relatively modern times: 1825!

The Norman Arch

The archway on the south side was the original front door (now blocked up). Inside the church, there’s still a Norman arch from the original building. The arch, with typical Norman chevrons, would have separated the nave from the chancel. The sandstone came from nearby Craigmillar quarry, now a park just beside Craigmillar Castle. If you look closely you can still see the masons’ marks.

At the entrance to the church is a gatehouse. This building sheltered the guards who kept watch for body snatchers in the 1800s. (You’ll also notice that quite a lot of the graveyards have fences round them, for the same reason!) On the wall to the right of the gate, have a look at the jougs these were iron collars and chains, used from the 1500s to the 1800s as “instruments of correction” for public shaming. In front of the wall is a loupin stane (Scottish for leaping stone) to assist congregation members to mount their horses when leaving the kirk.

Duddingston Kirk

Everything stops for tea!

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Garden Room attached to Duddingston Kirk – this is a lovely wee café, with nice outdoor space, very friendly volunteer servers and the most fantastic home baking! Enjoy a cuppa and a cake!

Dr Neil’s Garden – and …….. breathe!

Splendid flowers at Dr Neil’s Garden

A new arrival at the garden!

Stunning flowers and landscaping

After your wee rest at the Garden Room, follow the signs to Dr Neil’s Garden (you can also access this by going through the gates of the Duddingston Kirk Manse, and turning right.) This is just a joy! In 1963, two general practitioners, Drs Nancy and Andrew Neil – so it should really be the Drs Neils’ Garden!) took the land from grazing to grace. They encouraged their patients to come and help, as they believed that this would be good for them both mentally and physically – and indeed you can feel its benefit today. There are beautiful conifers and some lovely shrubs. We enjoyed the spring bulbs, but were just a bit too early for the peonies, which promised to be stunning.There are some interesting herbs in the physic garden, which volunteers built after the deaths of the doctors in 2005, and as we walked through the garden the scent of some of the flowers was wonderful.

The only building in the garden is Thomson’s Tower, an 1825 construction by William Henry Playfair. He built it for the Duddingston Curling Society and they used it for storing their curling stones (lower level) and meeting (upper level). Artist and minister Rev John Thomson also used the upper level as a studio, and it is from him that the tower gets its name.

The garden is well worth the journey to get there, a real oasis of calm and beauty. It is maintained mainly by volunteers through the Dr Neil’s Garden Trust, so please do think about making a donation.

Follow in the steps of royalty – Sheep Heid Inn

After walking around so much, it’s time to quench that thirst, so head back to the Sheep Heid Inn. This is a great wee place – very old feel (and so it should have!), nice and cosy inside and a sheltered inner courtyard for sunny days. The menu is far from ancient, so it’s a lovely lunch stop, or a wee glass of Prosecco.   The pub itself as been around for a long time, although the actual date is disputed. What we do know is that King James VI of Scotland visited here in 1580, gave the pub a rams head snuff box. The Earl of Rosebery bought the box at auction several centuries later, but a replica still sits behind the bar.

Follow the sign!

And my, has it seen some history. As well as Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James VI, covenanters and their enemies stopped here in the 1500s, and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army stayed in Duddingston village 100 years later as they prepared for the Battle of Prestonpans. And royalty may still pop by – like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2016!

A more modern development is the 1870 skittle alley, the last of its kind in Scotland, and you can pay by the hour to use it during the day. Best to book in advance.

That’s it! A full day, lots of nice sights, time to go home!

Craigmillar: The Other Edinburgh Castle

Everyone who knows Scotland knows about the Castle at the top of the Royal Mile. But what about the castle, three miles southeast of Edinburgh, that looks upon its more famous neighbour?  Craigmillar Castle has plenty of stories to tell!

The castle viewed from the west

Craigmillar Castle

The modernised west range

Recently we had a wee explore of Craigmillar Castle. The oldest part of the castle dates back to the early 1400s, and over the next 250 years the owners extended and developed it. It has links to the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots.  She came here after the murder of her secretary and rumoured lover, David Rizzio. It was here, too, that others plotted to kill her husband, Lord Darnley

Pretty eerie dungeon, complete with en-suite!


I just loved that I was able to delve into the different areas of the castle. It was fun to imagine what they must have been like at the time. There are some pretty good information boards, but for children and the young-at-heart, climbing winding staircases, and stepping into old dungeons is a fun activity in itself!




Extensions and mod cons

The castle itself probably began with the Tower House, still in existence.  The then owners, the Prestons, built it in 1400. There are quite a number of coats of arms and other signs of their tenure. Then in 1440 the grandson built the fortress-like walls that surround the ancient castle. In 1510 another family member built the less military-looking outer walls, enclosing a much bigger garden.

The banquet hall. To the right, a lovely seating area at the window

In 1544 the English captured the castle (along with its unfortunate laird!) They further extended the building with an east range, and it was here that Mary, Queen of Scots likely stayed.

In the mid 17th century, the Prestons sold the castle to the Gilmours, who built the west range. However, they wanted modernity and comfort that the castle couldn’t provide.  They abandoned it and went off to their nearby new-build, Inch House. (It’s still around too, and the locals use it as a community centre.)

The Castle Today

The inner courtyard

Amazingly, a lot of the castle still survives and it is a great place to visit and explore. A great family outing or one just to savour on your own!

The climb up to the top of the tower is worth it for the views – across the forth, over Edinburgh Castle, towards Arthur’s Seat – fabulous!

View from Craigmillar to Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat


From Anthemion, it takes about 20 minutes by car. There’s also a bus to the nearby royal infirmary (No 24 from Howe Street) that leaves every 30 minutes. Craigmillar Castle is now run by Historic Scotland, who also run Edinburgh Castle, and members have free admission.

Prices and Availability

Poppy Day Comes to Edinburgh

Poppy Day

Anyone visiting Scotland (and indeed the UK in general) between now and 12 November will no doubt notice that many people are wearing red poppies. The Answer is Poppy Day.

Remembrance Sunday is the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the end of the First World War, when Armistice was declared in 1918 on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Poppy Day Adam Smith

Why Poppies?

As a symbol, they come from the 1915 poem “On Flanders Field” by Canadian Lt Col Dr John McCrae. He saw the poppies popping up as the first signs of life on the muddy battlefields of Ypres. The poem inspired Moina Michael, an American teacher, to have disabled ex-servicemen make and sell silk poppies. A member of the French YWCA, Anna Guerin, saw how these poppies could support ex-servicemen and families affected by the war. She spread the idea to Canada, New Zealand and Australia. In 1921 she met Field Marshall Earl Haig, and persuaded him to adopt the poppy for the British Legion.

Poppies move to Britain

The Legion ordered 9 million poppies for the first Poppy Day in November of that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately.  The demand was so high that Scotland did not see many of these poppies for sale, and in 1926 Earl Haig’s wife set up a poppy factory in Edinburgh for Scottish sales.

The Edinburgh Connection

When you walk along the Royal Mile, look out for Panmure Close. The entrance has wrought ironwork poppies on top. This close was the location of the poppy factory from 1931 to 1965. The factory has now moved to Warriston in Edinburgh, and poppies are still made there by hand by disabled ex-servicemen.

The photo shows the entrance to Panmure Close. On the left, the plaque to the poppy factory. On the right is a plaque to the Adam Smith, pioneer of political economy, who lived in Panmure House for 12 years!  Edinburgh does indeed have a multi-layered history.