This Edinburgh New Town Walk is an easy historical walking tour to the Dean Village, the Water of Leith, Stockbridge and through the streets of Edinburgh’s historic New Town.
Start of the Walk
Like a great many of my walks this walk starts from outside the Caledonian Hotel at the west end of Princes Street.
If you want to find out more about the history of the Caledonian Hotel, read my blog Edinburgh Old Town and Arthur’s Seat
From the hotel cross the road at the pedestrian crossing. Proceed down Queensferry Street past three sets of traffic lights until you come to the Dean Bridge. At the side of the Dean bridge you will find a small cobbled street with a steep incline called Bell’s Brae.
At the bottom of Bell’s Brae you will come to the Dean Village and the old bridge across the Water of Leith. This has become a favourite with Instagrammers.
The Dean Village was known as the Water of Leith Village and was the site of grain milling for 800 years. The old mill buildings have now been converted into flats as has the old victorian school building.
From the Dean Village proceed dwon Miller Row and follow the Water of Leith Walkway to Stockbridge. Look out for the old mill stones before you pass under the Dean Bridge. The bridge was designed by Thomas Telford and opened in 1833.
The Dean Bridge featured in the second book in the Lewis Trilogy “The Lewis Man” by Peter May where a dare by children from the children’s home (now the Dean Gallery) results in a tragic fatality.
Edinburgh New Town Walk – St Bernard’s Well
Follow the Water of Leith on the left down the path until you come to St Bernards Well. The well gets its name from St Bernard of Clairvaux who is said to have lived in a cave nearby. The story goes that the well was discovered by a group of schoolboys in 1760 whilst out on a fishing trip. The site was bought by Lord Gardenstone in 1789. Lord Gardenstone was a staunch campaigner against slavery.
The Greco Roman temple structure was designed by the Scottish painter Alexander Nasmyth in 1789. The dome is topped with a golden pineapple and the statue in the middle is Hygieia the Greek and Roman goddess of health. Over the doorway you will find the insciption “Bibendo Valeris” meaning; drink and you will be well.
The locals thought the well had healing powers and believed the mineral rich spring water was a cure for muscle pain, arthritis and even blindness.
The well was eventually closed in the 1940’s as the water was found to contain arsenic.
Edinburgh New Town Walk – Stockbridge
Like the Dean Village, Stockbridge was originally another village on the banks of the Water of Leith and was originally separate from the city of Edinburgh. The painter Henry Raeburn owned the adjoining estates of Deanhaugh and St Bernards and commissioned the bridge in 1801.
With the expansion of the New Town, Stockbridge became a hangout for artists, poets, writers and musicians which helped shape the culture of the area which survives today. Stockbridge has a Sunday market and a number of speciality shops, cafes and restaurants which are well worth exploring.
At the bridge and the traffic lights turn right and proceed up Glanville Place and North Circus Place. On your left next to the Royal Bank of Scotland Branch you will find a small street Circus Place. Walk up Circus Place with its attractive little houses on either side.
At the end of Circus Place is St Stephen’s Church.
St Stephens Church
St Stephens Church was designed by the architect William Henry Playfair and built in 1827. If you would like to learn more about William Henry Playfair and the buildings he designed in Edinburgh read our blog.
The first minister of the church William Muir opened an evening class in the church vaults to educate the illiterate.
With declining church congregations the Reverend Ian Dunlop raised money to alter the church in the 1950’s adding an upper gallery, main hall with stage and additional meeting rooms.
Today the church is used for community events and is a performing arts venue.
Edinburgh New Town
At the end of Circus Place turn right and proceed up cobbled St Vincent Street and Howe Street. On the left as you walk up the hill look out for the wide cobbled Northumberland Street a classic example of Georgian Architecture. As you reach the second set of traffic lights you come to Heriot Row.
Heriot Row and Robert Louis Stevenson
Number 17 Heriot Row was the home of Robert Louis Stevenson. In 1857 at the age of 7 Stevenson moved to this house with his family. His bedroom overlooked the gardens and a small islet in the middle of the pond may have been the inspiration for the novel Treasure Island.
There is no doubt that the city of Edinburgh had an influence on Stevenson’s creative imagination. The gas lamps which can still be seen on Heriot Row offered some comfort to the young Stevenson who was said to be frightened of the dark.
“For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! Before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!”
(from ‘The Lamplighter’, A Child’s Garden of Verses)
Proceed west along Heriot Row with the gardens on your left. Many of the houses on the opposite side of the road are home to high court judges and advocates. Look out for some of the name plates on the doors.
Edinburgh New Town Walk – Moray Place
From Heriot Row continue into Darnaway Street and turn left into Moray Place. This a quiet cobbled street with one of the longest Georgian Terraces in Europe known as the Moray Feu. The area was part of the Moray Estate which included Drumsheugh house and large gardens lying between Charlotte Square and the Water of Leith.
In 1822 Francis Stuart 10th Earl of Moray commissioned the architect James Gillespie Graham to draw up plans for 150 large townhouses to be accompanied by large private gardens on the slopes of the Water of Leith. The scheme was completed in 1858. Planning rules regarding the lifestyle of the residents made the area very exclusive and attracted wealthy buyers. Lord Moray himself took one of the largest properties at number 28 Moray Place.
The Earls family names still adorn the street signs. Look out for names such as Ainslie Place named after the Earls wife Margaret Jane Ainslie. Great Stuart Street was named after the Earls family name, Stuart.
If you would like to learn more about one of Edinburgh’s most exclusive streets click on this link and watch the BBC Programme “The Secret History of our Street”.
Continue up Forres Street toward Queen Street. As you cross the road you will see facing you the Catherine Sinclair Monument. Sinclair lived at 6 Charlotte Square as a child and at the age of 14 became secretary to her father.
She began writing children’s books and is most remembered for Holiday House a story about two anarchic children. Her other activities included charity work establishing cooking depots in Edinburgh. She was also credited with the discovery of Water Scott’s authorship of the Waverley Novels which had been written anonymously.
Catherine Sinclair died in 1864 and is buried in St John’s Episcopal Church (opposite then Caledonian Hotel)
Continue up the slight incline into Charlotte Square and turn right.
Edinburgh New Town Walk – Bute House
Bute House if the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister. Number 6 Charlotte Square was designed by Robert Adam. It was bequeathed by the Marquess of Bute to the National Trust for Scotland in 1966.
Between 1970 and 1999 it served as the official residence of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Since July 1999, on the establishment of a the Scottish Parliament, Bute House has been the home of the First Minister.
The four storey building contains a cabinet room, offices, reception, sitting room and dining room. The second and third floors are the First Ministers’ private residence.
The First Minister often holds press conferences and media briefings and has hosted the occasional Prime Minister.
Next to Bute House the National Trust for Scotland’s Georgian House Museum is well worth a visit.
Walk through the square. Hope Street will bring you back to the West End, the Caledonian Hotel and the end of the walk.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and this small tour of Edinburgh’s New Town. This is an easy walk which can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
To help you plan your trip to Edinburgh and decide what you want to see when you get here. Click on the link to purchase a few guide books you may find useful.
BBC The Secret History of our Streets