In which other urban centre could you combine geology,architecture, wildlife, flora and fauna, pond life and amazing cityscapes – all within 45 minutes?! We start our route at the gates of Edinburgh Napier University’s Craighouse Campus which is easily reached by bus – most frequently the ubiquitous Morningside No 23. Heading off up on the path up to the left we very quickly leave city for parkland, glancing back down the hill to the splendidly preserved, 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 Craiglockhart Hill – pausing perhaps to watch golfers on the adjacent Merchants of Edinburgh course tackle an exceedingly tricky par 3 on the way.
The views from the hill – south to the Pentlands and north-west to the Firth of Forth to the Ochils are quite stunning.
Almost hidden in the lea of the Wester hill is the historic Craiglockhart Hydropathic Institution complete with its recently acquired titanium covered egg shaped dome. At all points below us there is a gentle buzz as the city goes about its daily business. From here we head north and carefully down the hill where we have the choice of taking the gravel path to our right to shorten the journey or carry forward and into the trees to travel to the pond. Particularly at dawn or dusk this part of the walk, through the 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 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. Information boards provide detail of the wildlife encouraged here through the good work of local people in developing and maintaining the habitat. As we pass the eastern edge of the pond we find a special area of marshland which has prospered under such care. From here we take the sturdy wooden steps and turn right and move along the path behind the houses. Here again we have choices – to stay on the fl at path and move along to its conclusion at Craighouse Road or to turn right again and take the relatively steep path and steps up the hill and back to the grassland to meet the gravel path we crossed earlier.
After a few 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. From here we can see further east than before – across the playing fields of George Watson’s College below us, to the houses of Polwarth and Merchiston, on to Blackford Hill and then north to Castle Hill and the spires of the Royal Mile. Often this is a quite unexpected panorama for the visitor and one that is enjoyed by locals too. From here we move back to the path and can inspect the grand gothic and chateaux life form of the former Thomas Clouston Clinic – now the centrepiece of Edinburgh Napier University’s Craighouse Campus. We are lucky to 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 normal treatment was altogether darker. On a sunny day the orange and yellow sandstone glistens and its towers and ornate chimneys stand almost in 3-D against a bright blue sky.
From 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 Craiglockhart Local Nature Reserve (LNR). Just as we benefi t from the foresight of the Munroes – the local landowners who planted 250 years ago – future generations will surely benefit from the development of the LNR which is part of the Craiglockhart Hills Urban Wildlife Site managed in partnership by Edinburgh Napier University, the City of Edinburgh Ranger Service and the Friends of Craiglockhart Woods and Nature Trail Group –
please see their website at www.craiglockhartwoods.org.