For the second time this year we have Russian visitors staying with us, on this occasion my girlfriend’s brother and niece, so today we decided to go on a bus tour to show them around Edinburgh.
Yana’s brother is particularly interested in architecture, so rather than going on the City Sightseeing bus tour we usually take, which passes all the main tourist sights in the city centre, we opted instead for the Edinburgh World Heritage Official Tour, which concentrates on the architecture of the Old and New Towns.
We set off on foot for Waverley Bridge, where the bus tours leave from, and while we were waiting there for our bus we spotted an interestingly-dressed pair who appeared to be shouting at passers-by. One can never be sure at Festival time whether or not the “characters” one sees are Festival performers advertising their shows, or just oddballs. In this case I’m fairly confident it was the former!
The tour heads north across Princes Street onto St Andrew Square, at the centre of which is the Melville Monument, commemorating Henry Dundas, the first Viscount Melville, a politician and one of a long line of lawyers.
The bus turns briefly along George Street, then across Thistle Street and onto Dundas Street, also named for Henry Dundas, which has magnificent views all the way down to the River Forth and Fife beyond.
After descending part of the way down Dundas Street, the tour continues with a circuit around the grand New Town terraces of Abercromby Place, Dublin Street, Drummond Place and Great King Street, before returning to Dundas Street to climb the hill back to Queen Street.
The route took us back onto George Street again, having missed out a section where The Famous Spiegeltent has taken up residence outside the Assembly Rooms for the duration of the Festival, and on to Charlotte Square, passing through the West End and onto Queensferry Road, crossing the Dean Bridge, more of which later.
We got off just after the Dean Bridge, and walked around to Dean Path, which took us down into Dean Village. Originally named Water of Leith Village and sited outside the city boundaries, it has very old origins, dating back to at least the 12th century, and was a centre of flour production, having several grain mills powered by the Water of Leith.
One of the most striking buildings is the Well Court, a development of buildings around a central courtyard. Built in the 1880s as social housing, it features a tall tower on one side.
Although most of the buildings in Dean Village have been converted from their original uses to residential, clues to their origins remain. On opposite sides of the Dean Path, just before the Dean Brig crosses the Water of Leith, are an old school and an old mill, both now converted to flats.
Looking up to the north-east from the Dean Brig, the Holy Trinity Church can be seen high up on the gorge through which the Water of Leith flows.
Opposite the end of the Dean Brig is the Old Tolbooth, built in 1675.
The Dean Village still has a village-like feel despite having been swallowed up by the expansion of Edinburgh, and is very picturesque.
Over the Dean Brig, we turned left onto Miller Row, and followed the road around as it passes under the Dean Bridge. Built between 1829 and 1831, it was one of the last bridges built by Thomas Telford. Consisting of four wide arches, it rises some 32 metres (106 feet) above the Water of Leith, and provided convenient access to the land to the north-west of Edinburgh for the first time.
We were now on the Water of Leith Walkway, a path that follows the Water of Leith along much of its length, and offers pedestrians a leafy bypass of the city streets above. It also provides the opportunity for some city centre wildlife spotting, and it wasn’t long before we saw a heron.
We stopped for a picnic lunch next to St Bernard’s Well, a mineral water spring now housed within an 18th century Italianate temple-like structure. The is named after St Bernard of Clairvaulx, who is said to have once lived here in a cave close by.
A bit further along the path the New Town architecture appears once again from behind the trees.
We climbed up from the Water of Leith Walkway on the edge of Stockbridge, and had a wander around the shops and Stockbridge Market, passing on the way an old house on Gloucester Street that would later be the home of the landscape painter David Roberts.
From Stockbridge we made our way through the New Town streets of India Street, Moray Place and Ainslie Place, back to Charlotte Square where we rejoined the bus tour. The bus took us back over the Dean Bridge, under which we’d passed earlier, and out Queensferry Road as far as Stewart’s Melville College, before looping back around between the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Dean Gallery.
The bus then re-crossed the Water of Leith at the much smaller Belford Bridge, before continuing along Palmerston Place past the imposing presence of St Mary’s Cathedral.
The bus then cut it’s way across the architecturally slightly less interesting south-west of Edinburgh and into the Grassmarket, entering the Old Town for the first time, Edinburgh Castle rising high above.
I didn’t take many photos on the way through the Grassmarket, nor as the bus climbed up to the National Museum of Scotland and Greyfriar’s Bobby. I did snap a picture of one the unicorns that marks the entrance to The Meadows however.
On a second pass through the Grassmarket (due to a rockfall on Johnston Terrace the night before) I was a bit more snap happy, and the streets were abuzz with people out enjoying Edinburgh in the sunshine.
We passed the bottom of one of Edinburgh’s most picturesque streets, Victoria Street, which twists its colourful way up the hill to George IV bridge.
At the end of this second circuit of the Grassmarket the bus emerged onto George IV Bridge, passing between the Central Public Library, designed in an Arts and Crafts Style by Sir George Washington Browne, and the more modern, almost brutalist National Library of Scotland by Reginald Fairlie.
We then passed the top of Victoria Street, the bottom of which we had seen a few minutes earlier.
At the end of George IV Bridge we crossed the Royal Mile onto The Mound, where Olympic Rings have been set up for the duration of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The Mound is also occupied by the prominent headquarters of the Bank of Scotland.
Descending The Mound we reached the terminal of the tour, Waverley Bridge, from where there is a great view of another of Edinburgh’s iconic buildings, The Balmoral Hotel.
On the opposite side of Waverley Bridge is the magnificent Scott Monument.
We got off the bus and headed up onto Princes Street to satisfy that other need of many tourists – shopping! On the way we were afforded another view of the Scott Monument.
As much as it pains me to go into Marks and Spencers, one thing that can be said in its favour is that there are great views over Edinburgh from the upper floors.
Inevitably one shop turned into several shops, and that was all we had time for before dinner at La Piazza in the West End. After dinner, the the sun was starting to set beyond St Mary’s Cathedral.
Next to the Cathedral is the small castle of East Coates House.
Built in the early 17th century by the Lord Provost, it was originally a small tower house, although it has been added to and extended over the centuries.
It is decorated with numerous carved stones, some of which appear to have come from an earlier building.
At the south-eastern end of the house the corners of the gable are topped off with bartizans with gun loops.
We walked around to the entrance of the Cathedral, which as well as the usual arches is carved with grotesque figures.
The sun was well and truly setting as we made our way along Melville Street, the pink hues reflected in the large Georgian windows.
The view from Queensferry Street of the setting sun was quite spectacular, and a great way to end a great day.
Edinburgh Bus Tours operate several different sightseeing bus routes around Edinburgh.