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.
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!
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
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 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.
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!
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.
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!