Walk 67: Dean Village, Edinburgh, Town Walk: An Oasis in the middle of a bustling city

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.5 miles (3.75km)

Time to walk: Only about 1.5 hours

Difficulty: All on hard paths

Parking: Plenty around

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc en route

Map of the route: None

Another walk that we did when working up in Scotland in June 2016 &, whilst we thought we knew the centre of Edinburgh, we didn’t realise that this little gem existed

We’ve published a few walks round this beautiful city so will just crack on with today’s, especially as the weather was foul, so apologies for the poor quality of photos

So…waterproofs on against the “dreith” &…

“Let’s Walk!

1. Today’s weather was simply awful, but we grin & bare it as this is a walk we’ve been told is a bit special. It’s part of a longer walk known as the ‘Walk of Leith’ which follows the river through the city down to the port

Our walk starts from the far west end of Edinburgh’s famous shopping avenue, Princes Street, outside an equally famous department store…Frasers

Over the road’s St John’s Church…

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The church was dedicated as St John’s Chapel on Maundy Thursday 1818 with construction having begun in 1816. It was designed by the architect William Burn the previous year, at the remarkable age of only 25

2. Next door’s the iconic Caledonian Hotel

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The Caledonian Hotel was constructed between 1899 & 1903 as part of the city’s railway station & was conceived as a rival to the North British Hotel at the other end of Princes Street. When first built, the hotel had 205 rooms with decor in the style of Louis XV. The grand arches at the front of the hotel also provided access to the train station below. The red sandstone facade has been a city landmark throughout the hotel’s history

Princes Street Station was closed & demolished by 1970. This provided room for expansion of the hotel. The original station clock, pre-dating the fire of 1890, is preserved in the hotel

The Caledonian was purchased by the Hilton Hotel chain in 2000 & a £24 million refurbishment in 2011 put the hotel within the luxury flagship Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts brand. The hotel’s restaurant is named The Pompadour & is overseen by double Michelin star chefs Chris & Jeff Galvin

3. With your back to the department store, turn right & cross over the lights & then right again down Queensferry Street. You can see what the weather was like…

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Queensferry Street’s full of independent restaurants & coffee shops, but this weather looks set so best foot forward

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l’escargot blanc’s menu looks right up our rue!

4. Cross the end of Alva Street & turn left into the broad expanse of Melville Street. This area, known as Edinburgh’s West End is quite an exclusive mix of residential & business properties including quite a few wealth management companies. It should have been a spectacular vista leading down to the cathedral, but today it was somewhat lost in the mist…

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The houses all have an array of fine wrought-iron work & lights outside them

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5. Turn first left into Stafford Street & head for the large church at the end…

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The church was established in January 1808, when Christopher Anderson, a young Edinburgh businessman, began evangelical work in the Pleasance area of the city. By 1816 his Pleasance church was too small & he bought Charlotte Chapel, recently vacated by a Qualified congregation which had joined the Scottish Episcopal Church & then moved to St John’s Church, on Princes Street. Anderson was pastor until 1851 & membership peaked at 232 in 1873, although many more attended services. Membership began to fall due mainly to emigration & by 1901 the church had no minister & only a small congregation. Joseph Kemp, of Hawick, who was appointed pastor, began a revival, holding open-air meetings in Princes Street. Membership rose once more & in 1907 plans for a new building were prepared. The Rose Street church building was built at a cost of £7,250 & opened in 1912 with seating for exactly 1000

As of the 29th of May 2016, the church family moved to new premises at 58 Shandwick Place. Over 700 people gathered for their first service after a 4-year development programme

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6. Turn back along Stafford Street & then first left into the delightful William Street…

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This is a cobbled area where the colourful, stylish boutiques & some much-loved pubs & bars combine to create a bohemian feel to this part of Edinburgh

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About halfway down turn left into Walker Street…

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 At the end pop into the gardens to have a look at the imposing Gladstone Memorial. William Ewart Gladstone was a British Liberal politician. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times, more than any other person, & served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times. Gladstone was also Britain’s oldest Prime Minister. He resigned for the final time at the age of 84 years

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7. Come back out of the gardens & follow Coates Crescent…

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…past the Scottish HQ of the Girl Guides

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The restaurant on the corner looks ‘interesting’. It’s the Indian Cavalry Club which offers smart Indian dining in refined club room – tiffin anyone? Have to say though the menu does look a bit exquisite

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8. At the end turn right & then right again into Manor Place where the cathedral’s on the left now…

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…crossing over the road & looking for a passage down the side of the church – it’s marked ‘Private’ but ignore that

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We’ve now finally arrived at St Mary’s Cathedral which is a cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Built in the late 19th century, it’s the seat of the Bishop of Edinburgh, one of seven bishops within the Episcopal Church, part of the Anglican Communion. It was designed in a Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert Scott

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9. At the end of the alley turn right into Palmerston Place past the front of the cathedral. Unfortunately we couldn’t go in as there was a concert taking place – rather unfortunate as you can see from the picture below the weather was now simply dreadful & we were struggling to keep the camera dry

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10. Carry on over the crossroads. The building on the corner’s The Arthur Conan Doyle Centre which is home of the Edinburgh Association of Spiritualists

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The building has a dedicated “psychical research unit” to “research psychic phenomena & encourage people to learn about their psychic awareness.” The church’s John Blackwood said: “Everybody thinks ‘Spiritualism is only about talking to dead people’. People often confuse us up with occultism, fortune telling, superstition – all of which we don’t believe in. We’re trying to get the message across that Spiritualism is a religion like any other. Our services are normal services like any other church, but we’re quite inclusive & diverse as a religion, encouraging people to understand that all religions have something to offer & what is more important is how people relate to what they perceive to be God.”

“We’re very keen to bring people in who are experienced in those fields & can help with inquiries from the public. We get it all the time – people phoning up saying ‘My house is haunted’ or ‘I’ve seen something I’m unsure about’ so psychic researchers can go in & see if there’s any truth in these experiences or indeed if it’s a figment of their imaginations.”

“About eight out of ten cases reported to us are genuine – something that you can’t put down to the fact that someone else is causing it or can be rationally explained. That doesn’t necessarily mean to say it’s a spirit. It’s possible that your own psychic energy can cause, for example, things to move or for you to see apparitions. Such phenomena is particularly common where children are going through difficult times or indeed puberty. A big part of what we want to do is find out more about these kinds of phenomena.”

Interesting!

11. Cross over at the lights & turn left down Douglas Crescent, following it as it bends left…

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Upon reaching the next corner with the red postbox, cross the road & go through the gap with the signpost between the arrows

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12. Now it’s time to descend into a quiet, magical part of this city…The Water of Leith

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The river’s at the bottom of the steps in a ravine passing through Edinburgh. Our way is to the right

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The Water of Leith is the main river flowing through Edinburgh to the port of Leith where it flows into the sea via the Firth of Forth

It’s 22 miles long & rises in the Colzium Springs at Millstone Rig of the Pentland Hills. It travels to the old harbour at Leith. The nearest it gets to Edinburgh city centre is at Dean Village, where we’re heading, the site of old watermills in a deep gorge

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There is a Water of Leith Walkway beside the river for the 12.25 miles from Balerno to Leith. The route forms an attractive haven for wildlife, passing through areas of woodland, often well separated from roads. For some distance the walkway follows the route of former railway tracks, the remains of tunnels, bridges & other features

13. This is a stunning little stretch & you’d have no idea you’re in the middle of a bustling city. Cross over the metal bridge…

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…& continue along the other side of the river

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14. As we approach the weir, ahead is the dramatic Dean Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford

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It carries the roadway, 447 feet long & 39 feet broad, on four arches rising 106 feet above the river. The bridge was the last major work before retirement of the Telford & was completed in 1831 when he was 73 years old. Before the bridge was built, the river had been crossed since medieval times at a ford & later by a single-arch stone bridge near the same spot

It was fun watching a mother duck teaching her young ones how to get up & down the weir

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15. Unfortunately just past the bridge we were faced with a path closure due to a recent landslide in the gorge so were diverted over the bridge

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This was somewhat disappointing as we were only a matter of a few hundred yards from the Village of Dean & would now have to approach it through buildings. If the path is open when others walk, we recommend you follow it

16. We however pass through the houses & turn right up the hill…

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…turning left at the top & then branching off left again down the side road, back towards the river

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Turn left at the bottom to arrive at where we should be

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17. Walk out onto the bridge over the river & stand & admire what is one of the most photographed scenes in Edinburgh, although it probably looks better if the sun’s shining – welcome to the beautiful Village of Dean

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Dean Village (meaning ‘deep valley’) is a former village was the centre of a successful grain milling area for more than 800 years. At one time there were no fewer than eleven working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the Water of Leith. The mills of Dene were first mentioned in King David I‘s founding charter of Holyrood Abbey c.1145, in which he granted one of his mills of Dene to the Abbey

Due to the development of much larger & more modern flour mills at Leith, Dean Village’s trade diminished. For many years, the village became associated with decay & poverty, & it reached a low point by around 1960. From the mid-1970s onwards it became recognised as a tranquil oasis, very close to the city centre, & redevelopment & restoration began, converting workers’ cottages, warehouses & mill buildings. This included development on a cleared former industrial site on the north side of the river, which we’ll see shortly. The area has now become a desirable residential area

18. Cross to the other side of the river & head up the hill…

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Turning right & then enter the courtyard of the old mill…

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19. Come out of the area & walk towards the stone bridge over the river…

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On the right here’s the old Edinburgh School Board building, still complete with its bell

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20. We’re now treated with another superb view from the stone bridge looking back towards the one we crossed earlier…

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21. The weather’s really starting to close in gain now so continue up the hill to the junction with the main road…

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…& head straight on back into Queensferry Street once more. Now it’s a simple case of following this street back to the junction with Princes Street & the Frasers Department Store where we began

Soaked…soaked to the skin, but still very happy to have found this jewel in the middle of Edinburgh. It’s a place we’ll definitely revisit, maybe as part of walking the length of the city part of the Water of Leith walkway all the way down to Leith

Probably best to do on a sunny day though!

Go Walk!