For most visitors, Edinburgh is the Royal Mile and Princes Street. It is a castle on a rock and a royal palace, narrow passages and a floral clock. Tourists seldom stray away from these central areas, and with so much to see in such a concentrated area, this is quite understandable.
But Edinburgh and its surroundings has so much more to offer. Nestling between the Pentland Hills and the Firth of Forth, it sits in a location of dramatic beauty both within the city and without.
Walks in Edinburgh
Nothing demonstrates this better than a walk along the upper stretches of the Water of Leith. Though barely outside the city centre, this bubbling river has cut a deep valley through the igneous rock, with the trees and buildings seeming to cling precariously to the sides while the city streets cross on narrow bridges high above.
South of the city centre lies The Meadows, a large area of open grassland that is well worth a wander on a pleasant day. Originally intended as common grazing land, it has now become the haunt of students from the University, who flock here on sunny days to lounge on the grass to study or play ballgames.
Meanwhile to the North lies Leith, the city’s main port and originally a separate town. Somewhat notorious for its association with Irving Welch’s Trainspotting, the area has worked hard to reinvent itself as an avant-garde centre of culture. The Leith Shore is a bustling area of restaurants and bars in the evening, but the area has its charms during the day as well.
Leith Links is renowned in the history of Golf, being the location where the future King James VII and II is said to have played the world’s first international golf match against two English courtiers for the rights to claim the game as their own invention. Later the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, who played on this land, were the first to codify the rules of the game.
West of Leith is Newhaven Harbour, where ultramodern apartment complexes stand next to quaint harbourside cottages. To the East is Portobello, Edinburgh’s own seaside resort, a town founded in the 18th century by sailors and pirates.
Walks outside of Edinburgh
One of the most popular excursions outside the city for visitors is to Roslyn Chapel, a location already highly popular even before Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code and the dubious connections to the Knights Templar created a huge boom in visitors. However, those visitors usually arrive by car, wander around the church and leave again. Few visit the neighbouring Roslin Glen Country Park or the ruins of the nearby castle.
Only a stone’s throw from here is Mavisbank House, an early 18th century Palladian villa that has fallen into a state of disrepair but whose former glory shines through the decay. Reached only by long walks across an expanse of overgrown grounds. It nonetheless rewards the effort.
Probably the other most abiding image of Scotland for most people is the Forth Rail Bridge, constructed in the late 19th century and one of the great engineering achievements of its day. Together with the two later road bridges across the estuary a walk around South Queensferry provides excellent views of this structure, but for a more dramatic sight, viewing the three bridges from high ground is hard to beat, making a coastal walk around Dalkeith House one of my favourite walking routes in the country.
A-Z Edinburgh Hidden Walks is the perfect way to explore the city in a new light. It features 20 walking routes in and around the city, including lesser-known gems and popular circuits.