We are extremely lucky to live in a city which boasts so much ‘wilderness’ inside its boundaries. Here we take a peak at one of our favourite places – the Hermitage – or the Hermitage of Braid to give it its Sunday name.
It is on a Sunday that the Hermitage and the nearby Blackford Hill come to life. There are few cities where its citizens can enjoy woodland trails which take in such a diversity of tree – elm, ash, sycamore, oak, birch, rowan, beech and horse chestnut. You may also find conifers such as larch, scots pine and western hemlock.
The variety of species, age and size of trees provides habitats for a wide range of birds and animals e.g. woodmice, voles, shrews, rats, rabbits, foxes, and bats. Birds include green woodpecker, tawny owl, tits and finches plus warblers and the spotted flycatcher in summer.
As well as the wildlife there are also intriguing glimpses to the past life of the Hermitage area. Inside the gates from the lodge house in Braid Road, as we follow the Braid Burn, we can find some trappings of ‘estate’ life in earlier times – the substantial Dovecot, an Ice House and also a Water Pump – all of which serviced the needs of the inhabitants of the grand mansion house, or Hermitage House as it is now known. The present house was built for Charles Gordon of Cluny and was completed around 1785.
The design of the house, with its turrets and mock battlements, is said to be in the image of Braid Castle, all record of which appears to sadly have disappeared.
The current custodians of Hermitage House are the City of Edinburgh Countryside Ranger Service. The Ranger Service not only looks after important wildlife sites, but provides opportunities for people to enjoy these special places. This involves everything from the preparation of management plans, to designing educational programmes, offering opportunities for communities to participate in looking after their countryside, leading guided walks and events. Hermitage House hosts the Ranger Service Visitor Centre in which you will always find exhibitions showcasing current themed activities.
As we move east along, then away from the burn towards Blackford Pond we find the Midmar allotments which have been a hive of activity since Victorian times when our forbearers were encouraged to grow their own vegetables. Between the allotments and the pond we find an extremely interesting Wetland and Woodland Patch which has been created by the Friends of Hermitage and Blackford Hill to improve the wildlife and amenity value of this previously neglected little corner.
If we are feeling a little more energetic there is then the gentle climb up the side of the hill, perhaps skirting or exploring, Blackford quarry and its rock formations of some geological significance and on to enjoy the view. And what a view ! – from Corstorphine Hill to Arthur’s Seat – a great swathe of our city laid out in front of us. The same basic view enjoyed for hundreds of years by those in who’s footsteps we have just trodden (give or take the occasional crane!)