South Of The Royal Mile
Start: West Bow.
Time: About 1 1/2 hours.
Best Times: Daytime.
Worst Times: Late at night.
The walls surrounding the medieval city of Edinburgh (first erected as much to deter smuggling as to protect inhabitants from enemy armies) were generally expanded to include more ground each time the fortifications needed improving. So, eventually they extended past the original Old Town boundaries to include surrounding districts such as the Grassmarket and ancient routes such as the Cowgate. This walk combines parts of Old Town with the historic settlements south of the original burgh, an area now dominated by the University of Edinburgh.
Start the walk at:
1. West Bow
Initially this street zigzagged right up the steep slope from the Grassmarket to Castlehill. With the 19th-century addition of Victoria Street, however, it links more gently with the Royal Mile via George IV Bridge. The combination of Victoria Street and West Bow creates a charming and winding road with unpretentious shops, bars, and restaurants. At the base of the street is the West Bow well, which was built in 1674. To the west is the Grassmarket.
But our walk goes southeast from Cowgate. Head up Candlemaker Row to:
2. Greyfriars Church
Not the church you see ascending Candlemaker Row, but to the right at the top, Greyfriars Kirk was completed in 1620. It was built amid a cemetery that Mary, Queen of Scots proposed in 1562 because burial space at St. Giles Cathedral was exhausted. Although Greyfriars was the first post-Reformation church constructed in Edinburgh, by the middle of the 17th century, it was being used as barracks. In 1718, the original tower exploded when gunpowder stored in it (a remnant of the 1715 rebellion) was ignited. After this point New Greyfriars was added to the western end of Old Greyfriars. The kirkyard has a bit of the infamous Flodden Wall, built after the Scots' disastrous defeat by England in 1513, and is full of 17th-century monuments and gravestones. Its most celebrated plot, however, contains a 19th-century policeman whose faithful dog, Bobby, reputedly stood watch for 14 years. Bobby's statue is at the top of Candlemaker Row, just outside the pub named in his honor.
Cross George IV Bridge to Chambers Street and the:
3. Museum of Scotland
Directly in front of you as you leave Greyfriars is the impressive and modern Museum of Scotland. It was designed by architects Benson and Forsyth and constructed mostly with sandstone from the northeast of Scotland. Opened in 1998, it was purpose-built for exhibitions that chart the history of Scotland: the land, wildlife, and its people. Next door is the Royal Museum. Chambers Street is named after a 19th-century lord provost (the equivalent of mayor), whose statue stands in front of the museum's Victorian Great Hall. Farther down off Chambers Street on what is today Guthrie Street, Sir Walter Scott was born.
Continue east on Chambers Street to South Bridge, turn right (south), and at this corner is the:
4. Old College
The 1781 exteriors of the University of Edinburgh Old College have been called the best public work by leading Georgian architect Robert Adam. The university was first established in 1583 by James VI (James I of England), and this "Old College" actually replaced an earlier one. Of course, today modern buildings with university classrooms and offices have overtaken these premises for most faculty and students. Construction of the quadrangle of buildings here was suspended during the Napoleonic wars. William Playfair designed the Quad's interiors in 1819. In the southwest corner is the Talbot Rice gallery. On nearby Drummond Street is one of Robert Louis Stevenson's favorite saloons -- the Rutherford Bar -- and a plaque commemorating his admiration for it is at the corner. Across Drummond Street there is more literary history -- but of more recent vintage. A cafe once there on the second floor is reputedly where J. K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter series.
At Drummond Street, South Bridge becomes Nicolson Street. Continue south on it to:
5. Nicolson Square
The impressive neoclassical building you pass on the left (across from the modern Festival Theatre) before arriving at Nicolson Square is the Surgeons' Hall, designed by William H. Playfair in the 1830s. Nicolson Square dates to 1756, and the buildings along its north fringe apparently were the first to be built here. The monument in the square is called the Brassfounders' Column, designed by James Gowans in 1886.
Take a Break -- Along the north side of the square, Kebab Mahal (7 Nicolson Sq.; tel. 0131/622-5214) serves up inexpensive but tasty and generous portions of Indian food. Its simple and unpretentious surroundings draw a real cross-section of Edinburgh: professors, students, construction workers, and visitors to the nearby central mosque.Alternatively, you might try the cafe called Elephants & Bagels at the west side of the square.
Leave the square at the west on Marshall Street, turn left (south) on to Potterrow, turning right (west) at the parking lot entrance and Crichton Street to:
6. George Square
Almost entirely redeveloped (and arguably ruined) by Edinburgh University in the 20th century, George Square originally had uniform, if less than startling, mid-18th-century town houses. It predates the city's New Town developments north of Old Town, and some of the early buildings are still standing on the western side of the square. The park provides a quiet daytime retreat. The square was named after the brother of its designer, James Brown, and not a king. The writer Walter Scott played in the park as a child.
Exit the square at the southwest corner, turning right (west) into:
7. The Meadows
This sweeping park separates the southern suburbs such as Marchmont, which were largely developed in the 19th century, from central Edinburgh. The area once had a loch, but today it is a green expanse crisscrossed by tree-lined paths. At the Western end is Bruntsfield Links, which some speculate entertained golfers in the 17th century and still has a short course with many holes today.
Turn right after a short distance (at the black cycle network marker) on to a wide path for pedestrians and bicyclists -- Meadow Walk -- and follow it north to:
8. Teviot Place
The triangle of land formed by Teviot Place, Forrest Road, and Bristo Place is a hotbed of university life today, with its cafes and bars. To the right (east) is the Medical School. To the left (west) on Lauriston Place is the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. George Watson's Hospital on the grounds dates to the 1740s, but Scots baronial buildings superseded it in the 19th century, adopting the open-plan dictates of Florence Nightingale.
Walk west on Lauriston Place to:
9. George Heriot's School
Heriot was nicknamed the Jinglin' Geordie, and as jeweler to James VI, he exemplified the courtiers and royal hangers-on who left Scotland and made their fortunes in London after the unification of the crowns. Heriot, at least, decided to pay some back by bequeathing several thousand pounds to build a facility for disadvantaged boys here. Of the 200-odd windows in the Renaissance pile, only two are exactly alike. Today, it is a private school for young men and women.
Continue on Lauriston Place to the edge of the campus, turn right on Heriot Place, and continue down the steps and path called the Vennel to the:
On your way to the Grassmarket, a small district and famous street with a tree-lined median strip, just at the top of the steep steps of the foot path called the Vennel, is another piece of the Flodden Wall. It was part of the southwest bastion, indicating how the Grassmarket was enclosed in the fortified city by the 16th century. Now home to loads of bars and restaurants, the Grassmarket -- in the shadow of the castle -- held a weekly market for more than 400 years. The Grassmarket also was the site of public gallows until the 1780s: A place where zealous Protestants -- known as the Covenanters -- were hung, as was Maggie Dickson who, according to legend, came back to life. She has a pub named after her today in the Grassmarket. At the nearby White Hart Inn, both Burns and Wordsworth are said to have lodged.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.