This walk – it’s more of a ramble really – always provides a reminder of how fortunate we are in south west Edinburgh. Where else could you combine geology, architecture, wildlife, flora and fauna, pondlife and amazing cityscapes – all within 45 minutes?
Our route starts at the Craighouse Road pedestrian gates of the former Edinburgh Napier University’s Craighouse Campus which is easily reached by the ubiquitous Morningside No 23. The University sold the site in 2013 and it currently awaits the outcome of planning process. The main vehicle gates stand barricaded. Inside it is amazing to see how quickly nature has reclaimed the ground – what was once manicured lawn is now meadow!
Heading off up on the path on the left we very quickly leave city for parkland, glancing back down the hill to the splendid, pink-harled Old Craig which was built around 1565. Soon we enter a canopy of trees (sycamore, elm, beach and ash) and rhododendron bushes and city life is even further behind us. After a few hundred metres we go left through a gap in the dyke and continue up through the gorse bushes to the open grassland of Easter Craiglockart Hill – pausing perhaps to watch golfers on the adjacent Merchants of Edinburgh
course tackle a tricky par 3 on the way.
The views from the hill – south to the Pentlands, west to the Ochils and north to the Forth are quite stunning. At all points below us the city goes about its daily business. From here we head carefully down the hill where we have the choice of taking the gravel path to our right to shorten the journey and travel back through the grounds or carry forward to the woods ahead to travel on to the pond. On this part of the walk, through trees planted by the landowner almost 250 years ago, we are accompanied by birdsong. The writer and his
dog have also on more than one occasion been joined at dusk by an inquisitive tawny owl.
Down the hill and past the tennis centre we come to Craiglockhart Pond – built by our Victorian predecessors as a place for recreational boating. A favourite spot for young and old. Informative boards provide detail of the wildlife encouraged here through the good work of local people in developing and maintaining the habitat. The gaggle of cygnets are testimony to this effort. At the eastern end of the pond we take the sturdy wooden steps, turn right and move along the path behind the houses. Here again we have choices – to stay on the flat go back to Craighouse Road or to turn right again and take the relatively steep steps up the hill to loop back to the gravel path we crossed earlier.
After a hundred metres if we leave the path at the pine trees and walk along the grass to a rocky outcrop we come to another viewpoint. The tree canopy has grown and obscures the view to the east a little now but from here we can see across the playing fields of George Watson’s College below us, to the houses of Polwarth and Merchiston and on to Blackford Hill and north to Castle Hill and the spires of the Royal Mile. From here we move back to the path and can inspect the grand gothic and chateaux life form of the former Thomas Clouston
Clinic – formerly the centrepiece of the University’s Campus and whose fate is now with the City planners.
We can enjoy the benefit of Clouston’s then radical approach to the treatment of mental illness – providing buildings and grounds that created an environment to stimulate recovery – in an era when the standard treatment was altogether darker. Fom here it is a short journey through the grounds to our starting point.
The walk described is one of several routes through the land which is part of Easter Craiglockhart Hill Local Nature Reserve (LNR). Just as we benefit from the foresight of the Munroes – the local landowners who planted the woods 250 years ago – future generations will hopefully benefit from the protection of the LNR as part of the City’s Urban Wildlife Plan.
The LNR is supported by local people who formed the Friends of Craiglockhart Woods and Nature Trail Group – please see their website at www.craiglockhartwoods.org. Please
also visit the website www.friendsofcraighouse.com for updates on the Craighouse development process