The first thing I do each morning is look through the window and try to determine the likely weather for the day. Edinburgh is not known for predictable weather, and you are often subjected to all four seasons on a daily basis. I still try though.
Windy and overcast. A perfect day to head to the ancient fishing village of Cramond, which is actually the first place I was told to put on my must see list for Edinburgh, yet has managed to escape my explorations for almost two years now. It was time to venture out and see what all the fuss was about.
After spending what seemed like the better part of the morning finishing off a couple of things at home, I headed out shortly after 10am; walking roughly north-west which would take me through the centre of town. In the interests of time (I wanted to be in Cramond sometime around lunch) I took a bus once I reached Charlotte Square. The bus zigzagged its way through the villages of Orchard Brae, Craigleith, Blackhall, Davidsons Mains and Barnton; all of which have melded into the evergrowing City of Edinburgh over the years.
I hopped off the bus shortly before reaching Cramond New Bridge, and the surrounding village of the same name. Ive always held a fascination for bridges. (Did I ever mention no, another time. In the interest of brevity I'll stay focussed on Cramond for now). The bridge is a small concrete structure, straddling the River Almond just south of the old bridge, which was not designed with four lanes of fast-moving traffic in mind. The River Almond Walkway runs along the eastern bank of the river, and I followed it from the bridge to within a few streets of Cramond Village.
The street names in this part of the world are, at first glance, often more than a little unusual; though generally quite descriptive of the area in times past. The most notable of these (in Cramond anyway, a look at a random part of an Edinburgh street map will give you some idea of what I mean) was Fair-A-Far Shot. There's undoubtedly a lot of history behind that name, but I'll have to come back to that one.
Shortly before arriving at the village I passed Kirk Cramond, which proudly stands atop what was once a Roman fort. Nothing remains of the fort except a knowledge of its location, designated by coloured gravel indicating the former walls of the structure. Most of the small items that were discovered nearby now live in the Museum of Edinburgh (formerly the Huntly House Museum), Canongate.
Continuing down the slope toward the village proper, I came to a short row of buildings, a walkway and the waters edge. To the south, where the River Almond grows widest before meeting the Firth of Forth, quietly sat a number of small boats waiting patiently for a Summers day and a chance to explore the Firth. To the north sat Cramond Island, reachable without a boat only for a few hours at a time during low tide. Unfortunately that meant that it would remain mysterious for now.
I decided to head back to the short row of buildings, which included the promise of caffeine in the shape of Cramond Coffee; possibly the smallest café I have ever seen. After refuelling (coffee and cake - the sugar hit was just too tempting) I headed back up the hill to the Roman fort site, and toward Cramond Tower.
Cramond Tower was, well, somewhat shorter than I expected. It was little more than a house built slightly higher at one end, and I had little difficulty making the decision to walk right past it. I followed the path past the Kirk toward Cramond House, but after a few hundred metres elected to see the church from the other side, and headed back to the main road.
Not wishing to head back the same way I headed east along Gamekeepers Rd, which is now flanked by large sheep-filled paddocks. The other sign that this area is some distance from the once small town of Edinburgh is the frequency of aeroplanes passing overhead at reasonably low altitudes on their way to nearby Edinburgh Airport.
Continuing east, now with sheep on one side of the road and Bruntsfield Links on the other (it's a very green pocket of Edinburgh) I saw a couple of signs for Lauriston Castle. Lauriston Castle is a large Edwardian house, and as nice as that may be, it just isn't what I picture when I hear the word castle. Along with Cramond Island, Lauriston Castle awaits another day of exploration.
I headed through Davidsons Mains, past the stores which had managed to incorporate Main into their title. To add to the theme, they were located on Main St. Escaping The Mains (just one of the titles given to the area by locals, and more polite than many of the terms employed by regulars of the nearby high school) I headed up Corbiehill Road toward Blackhall. Here I found sanctuary (well, a place to put my feet up for five minutes) in the form of Blackhall Library. Just enough time to sit down and read an article on solar energy in the current issue of NewScientist before moving on.
Further along Queensferry Road I came to Craigleith Retail Park, which sported the usual combination of supermarkets and fast-food outlets. I grabbed a drink and a rather unhealthy looking (but supremely tasty) pork pie and headed on towards the village of Dean.
Dean Village is one of the few old villages of Edinburgh that has managed to retain its character through years of urban growth. It is as if Edinburgh has simply expanded around it, leaving the wonderful stone buildings and superbly constructed bridges largely untouched. One of the few concessions to modernity, and this on the outer edge of the village, is the Gallery of Modern Art. I toyed briefly with the idea of visiting the gallery, but the number of young children in school uniform was enough to discourage me. Instead I continued along Belford Road and stopped at Belford Bridge.
Belford Bridge is one of many stone bridges which crosses the Water of Leith, a narrow strip of water that winds through numerous villages and eventually empties into the Firth of Forth at Portobello. Nearby is another stone bridge that has faced the test of gradually increasing traffic flow with barely a whisper - the Dean Bridge. This is where a large part of Edinburgh's traffic is unceremoniously dumped in the West End, ready to make the crawl along Princes St, or escape into the back streets.
The idea of escaping into the back streets myself proved too tempting, and I made my way through the Circuses, Mews, Streets and Places of the New Town. These streets contain some wonderful examples of 18th and 19th century Scottish architecture, yet manage to avoid the floods of tourists which patrol the length of the Royal Mile for most of the year.
I returned to the modern world around the top of Broughton St, where it runs into Leith Walk. Shortly after passing the St James Centre (formerly the magnificent St James Square, now a mediocre-at-best shopping centre) I spied one of the few saving graces of the area the St James footbridge. The bridge replaced an earlier one which had little more charisma than a cardboard tube; the new bridge having been constructed only a few months ago. The new bridge is a superb, flowing design, with a subtle bend around the centre so that it snakes its way from shopping centre to carpark, rather than following a predictable straight line. The sides of the bridge are open, with just enough of a transparent railing to prevent pedestrians spilling over onto the traffic heading up to Princes St. This openness extends to a narrow strip of roof above the centre of the walkway. Beautiful.
Keen to avoid the traffic as much as possible I headed down to Calton Road, which traces the base of Calton Hill parallel to the Royal Mile. Calton Road ends opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is perfectly situated near my flat. After walking around 15km, I was looking forward to a good nights sleep.
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