Saturday, 11 June 2016

What is happening in June?

The Royal Highland Show  this year is from 23rd to 26th June and we have some space left so if you are thinking of visiting it go to  and get our best price.

The Edinburgh Film Festival is from 15th to 26th June and a must for Film Buffs.

We are also filling up for August and the Edinburgh Festival from the Parade to the Fireworks at the end. 

Muirhouse Mansion seemed to drive its owners into bankruptcy for a couple of hundred years and I have now found another house did the same. I have not had time to put that into the post.  

Check out the rest of this blog for places to go outside the centre of Edinburgh.  We had guests recently were amazed by Rosslyn Chapel for instance. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Gorgie City Farm at Risk of Closure

Gorgie City Farm, a community farm in Edinburgh city centre is at risk of closure.

I recall visiting it ages ago. If you are coming to Edinburgh please consider giving them a visit. It is not far from us and would keep the kids amused for a while. It's a real working farm.

I personally would rather not see it turned into a block of flats.

On a different topic the royal Highland show is in two weeks, 23rd to 26th June. We are full on the Saturday. We have our tickets and will post the best photos from the day on our facebook page. 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Craigmillar Castle: An overlooked treat.

Craigmillar Castle as it used to be
Imagine your home stripped down to bare brickwork with the floors and roof gone. If you are lucky there may be a room left with a ceiling. When you visit an old castle this is basically what you see. Craigmillar Castle, to the South of Edinburgh, is one of the best preserved late medieval castles in Scotland which makes it slightly easier to imagine it in its heyday when the walls would be covered in rugs or boards and the floor similarly hidden.

The land on which it stands was given to monks by a king then taken away by a later king and given to the Preston family who eventually sold it to the Gilmour family who, when castles stopped being fashionable, put it out to rent, let it become a romantic ruin and eventually entrusted it to the care of the state. Which is why you can now visit it and explore the labyrinth of remaining rooms and spiral staircases.

The Lairds Hall

In the 12th century, around the time of the Norman Conquest of England King David I gave the future site of Craigmillar Castle to the Monks of Dunfermline Abbey. In 1342 King David II gave two thirds of the lands to the Preston family, sheriffs or provosts of Edinburgh. In 1374 King Robert II gave the Prestons the rest of the Land. They then sat on it for a generation or two before building a tower house on the site. This takes the story to around 1425 when a charter notes the existence of the castle ( life was slower those days ). It was the first tower house castle to be built in Scotland and we can assume the Prestons were showing off as much as building a secure residence close to the seat of royal power.

Sir William Preston was a traveler as well as Laird of Gilmerton and Craigmillar. He returned from France around 1442 and, possibly inspired by what he had seen in France, enlarged the castle with a curtain wall. He also brought back the arm bone of St Giles which he presented to the High Kirk in Edinburgh. The family kept improving the castle, doubtless at the suggestion of the current Laird's wife with a chapel dedicated to St Thomas A Becket appearing around 1523. A fishpond shaped like the letter P ( the Prestons do not seem to have been noted for modesty and humility) appeared and is now considered a nationally significant archaeological garden feature. I suspect you did not know gardens could be archeological features.

The castle was burned down by the English in 1544 when Henry VIII tried to force a marriage between his son and Mary Queen of Scots, and was repaired with the domestic ranges in the courtyard remodelled.
The Lairds Hall in slightly better days

In 1660 the Prestons sold the castle to Sir John Gilmour who rebuilt the range in the west as modern accommodation when he became a Judge, this being considered more suitable to his status than an old castle. The Gilmours do not seem to have been noted for modesty either and doubtless had wives with an eye for the latest fashion. I had all the modern conveniences: Drawing room, kitchen, fireplace and a wine cellar. A mere hundred years later the Gilmours moved to a nearby house at the Inch and the castle became a romantic ruin by 1775 and a tourist attraction by the end of the century. Whether there were any souvenir shops or enterprising locals selling genuine stones from the castle, as happened with the Berlin Wall, is unclear. In 1880 they spent a lot of money restoring the castle which queen Victoria visited in 1886. By this time the castle was open to the public every legally possible day. In 1946 they entrusted it to state care and it is now maintained by Historic Scotland.
Staircase down from the roof

Mary Queen of Scots
The Prestons were loyal supporters of Queen Mary and stayed in the castle on at least two occasions, probably having here own accommodation in the East Range, not as tradition would have it, in a room on the second floor. This seems likely as there does not seem to have been a toilet in that room and a queen could be expected, like the Laird, to have an en-suite room.

Mary's visits to the castle led to the area around it being called Little France, because most of her court were French, a name that persists to this day.

Queen Mary never forgave her husband Lord Darnley for colluding in the murder of her secretary in March 1556.

She gave birth to a son, James, a few months later and was seriously ill in October.
She came to the castle late November to recover and plan for James' christening at which time her unhappy marriage was discussed and Darnley's future was discussed with plans including annulment or divorce.

Annulment or divorce would have risked her son being considered illegitimate and she wanted nothing that would damage her reputation

The lords allegedly made and signed the “Craigmillar Bond” a pact stating their intent to kill Darnley. No copy of this exists and nobody knows if Mary knew of the plot and pact. Perhaps it was deliberately kept from her.

In February of 1567, Darnley was ill, most likely with syphilis. The plan was to bring him to Craigmillar where Mary would nurse him. But he refused to go and chose to convalesce in a moderate sized house in a quadrangle attached to the church called Kirk o’Field within the walls of Edinburgh but on the outskirts of town.

On the morning of February 10 his strangled body and that of his servant was discovered outside the house which had been blown to bits with gunpowder.

This act ultimately led to the abdication of Mary’s Scottish throne and her imprisonment and execution in England nearly twenty years later. In 1567 she was abducted, allegedly raped and made to abdicate as Queen of Scotland in favour of her son. This led to a civil war which she lost. Eventually she fled to England hoping her cousin Elizabeth would protect her. In the end Elizabeth had her executed for treason.

Murder and Mysteries

In the early 19th century a secret compartment was found in the basement prison. Inside, walled up and forgotten, was an upright skeleton. Who it was remains unclear. Perhaps a nun who had become pregnant or an inconvenient relative of the Laird, maybe insane. We may never know.
Earlier, in the 15th Century James III was constantly challenged by his brothers John and Alexander. Having been persuaded by an unscrupulous courtier that they were plotting against him he had Alexander imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle and John in Craigmillar.

Both brothers were imprisoned for some time but, the tales go, this did not satisfy James. He dragged John out of prison and brought him to a house in Canon gate, and told a physician to 'bleed' him (as was Medieval practice) to cure some (imaginary) illness.
The 'bleeding' ended in murder. Burly men held down John as the physician cut John's veins, until he bled to death - dying, quite literally, in cold blood.
The murder was designed to look like an accident - but word got out. To try and quell the rumours, James III set up an inquisition and burned a number of women as 'witches', for conspiring with poor John.
By modern standards, families then, especially royal ones were dysfunctional even allowing for the requirements of power in a brutal age.

Keeping intruders out
Today laying mantraps in your house is illegal. When the castle was built it was essential, if the owner wanted to stay alive.
The entrance was at the back of the building which meant intruders had to walk on the edge of a cliff to get to it. If they made it that far they would see a raised drawbridge preventing them from leaping in. If they got past that the defenders had hollowed out a three foot trench above which was a guard room with “murder holes” that let defenders pour molten oil or boiling water on the attackers or shoot arrows at them.
Basically, before cannon became common this was about as safe as you could get. However eventually the English managed to burn it. 
The view from the roof of Craigmillar Castle

Getting there and what to expect

From Princes St take a bus down the Dalkeith Road: Look for a bus going to the Royal Infirmary Little France. At the Royal Infirmary walk back a bit to Craigmillar Castle Road and walk along that road till you see the castle on the left. There is a small car park and the Ticket Office is just inside the gate. You should allow at least 90 minutes to explore the castle.

Signposting inside the castle could be improved (major understatement alert) even with a guide book to help and the toilets are often locked. The tower house is a maze of rooms in which you can easily lose your children or companions. Or yourself. On a windy day the draught on the roof is likely to blow you around if you weigh less than 15 stone or have a high centre of gravity. The view is worth the effort.

If you have seen all the major attractions in Edinburgh and want to see more Craigmillar Castle will form an interesting afternoon excursion. Wear walking shoes.


Saturday, 9 April 2016

Royal Yacht Britannia marks Queens 90th Birthday

The Royal Yacht Britannia is holding special events to mark the Queen's birthdays:
21st April, 11th June and another on 12th June.
If you share either birthday with the Queen you get in free on that day (but presumably not 12th June).
If not, we have a few discount vouchers.
Britannia is at Ocean Terminal, a single bus ride from Badjao Bed and Breakfast.
For more details visit

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Halloween in Scotland

Halloween the shortening of All Hallows Eve, is the night where the barrier between the spirit world and this one becomes extremely thin. It is a turning point in the year when the spirit of winter begins to overcome the spirit of summer. If you are lucky Edinburgh's multiple parks and green spaces are a blaze of defiant colour with a late summer, called, in less politically correct times, an Indian summer and one can roam Arthur's Seat and Calton Hill enjoying the warmth before retreating to a quiet bar and enjoying a whiskey – make it two. If you are unlucky the trees are bare and the leaves are a wet mass huddled on the ground. In which case you can spend longer at the bar and enjoy some of the local beers.

Of course you don't need to come that late. September, after the festival is a good time, transport is back to normal and prices have slid back a bit. Everyone is more relaxed and cheerful. But if you come at Halloween you can catch the ghost tours, maybe encountering the Greyfriars Poltergeist.


There is debate whether Halloween is related to the celtic festival of Samhain but to the dismay of the sort of Christian who believes smiling is a sign of the presence of Satan, it involves a lot of fun, normally ritually denounced by such people every year. Ignore them. The first mention of All Hallows is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, mass-day of all saints) but All-Hallows-Even is itself not seen until 1556, though by old tradition a day starts at sunset the day before: This is why Orthodox Jews have to be home by sunset to observe the Sabbath.

Halloween is typically linked to Samhain (“summers end”) and was the most important of the quarter days of the medieval calendar. Being the last day of Autumn (though nature is never that precise at following human rules) it was a time to prepare for winter. It was also the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen. Since the spirits were not friendly at that time of year (something Mussorgyky used as a theme for Night on the Bare Mountain) the Gaels protected themselves with huge bonfires and sacrifices. In the Western Isles of Scotland the Sluagh, or fairy host was regarded as composed of the souls of the dead flying through the air (like the Wild Hunt of the Northern Tradition), and the feast of the dead at Hallowe'en was likewise the festival of the fairies, who, needless to say, were NOT regarded as sweet six inch tall ballet dancers.

The Christian Holy days All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls day come close enough to Halloween to make it likely these days were chosen to “Christianise” the festival. Also Guy Fawkes day in the UK is 5th November, celebrated with Bonfires and could also be times to coincide with Halloween and mede Halloween less important in England, but not in Scotland, though research is needed here. It was traditionally believed that the souls of the dead roamed the world till until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next. As a result Christians would disguise themselves in masks and costumes, and this has survived as guising.

Protestants, denounced Halloween as papist and contrary to their foul doctrine of predestination, but the Scottish Kirk was more tolerant and it survived. By the end of the 19th century however Halloween had become a children's festival.

Some traditions

The guisers would dress up to avoid recognition by evil spirits, or perhaps to avoid being seen by them, or simply as a way of letting themselves go wild hoping they would not be recognised. A tradition of giving guisers small gifts as sacrifices to placate evil spirits grew up and perhaps became trick or treat. Long before "trick or treat" though, children went round the houses and had to perform a poem or a song or tell jokes before receiving nuts, apples or sweets (candies). In recent years, concern about child safety has reduced the amount of "guising" and the children who do go out seem to think they should get something without having to do a "party piece".

Candles and Lanterns were used to keep the dead away from the living, and in Scotland Turnip lanterns were used (well it was a poor country and you could eat the insides) but later pumpkins (squash to American readers ) became more popular. Placing lanterns, whether made from Turnips or pumpkins round the house continues a tradition of putting skulls outside an encampment to scare evil spirits. Dressing up is more acceptable now it is largely children who dress up, though last year we recall adults in Vampire and other costumes walking (not crawling) from bar to bar.

Ducking for Apples, apples being sacred to the druids, being the fruit that kept the Norse gods from ageing and being commonly considered the fruit of the tree of knowledge, involves removing an apple from a bowl of water without using your hands. Much could be made of the symbology of the Apple, but that is a story for another day and place.

We still have some accommodation for Halloween but better book fast

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The hidden life of Edinburgh's Muirhouse Mansion

Muirhouse Mansion today complete with classically  designed wheelie bins

If you proceed ( in the words of every comic policeman since the force was founded) from Cramond to Silverknowes beach then along Marine Drive as far as the Edinburgh Caravan Club you will see a large building opposite the club that should be a stately home and indeed has the name Muirside Mansion. It has been described as

"an extravagant Gothic Tudor Mansion built 1830-32, with a plethora of ornamental chimneys, windows and gables, full of Gothic detail, and is crowned by a battlemented tower."

The house is a relative newcomer, a mere infant but has already achieved the status of a listed building and is owned by the local council who rent it out. Like a retired sea captain it has an interesting history.


The name Muirhouse probably comes from the Scots for House by the Wardie Muir, a moor with a hint of wetness, since the word muir comes from Old English mōr meaning

barren open country, uncultivated heathery land considered part of an estate; a tract or expanse of heath; a peat moor; a tract of unenclosed common land held by a town or village; a market green[2]

and house also comes from Old English, which is known to have influenced the development of the Scots Language

Muirhouse seems to have started life as a hunting ground for Scottish royalty and may have been a royal residence. Around 1318 Robert the Bruce took some land in Kincardineshire from his loyal supporter Sir William Oliphant of Abergaldie and in compensation gave him the Muirhouse estate, along with nearby Cramond Regis (William's son Walter later married Bruce's daughter). Unfortunately there seems to be no image of this charter online so there is no clue, at least online, what the the estate was called then.

The Oliphants kept the estate for some 300 years. In 1616 the fifth Lord Oliphant sold it to a Judge, Sir William Oliphant of Newton who died in 1628 passing the property to his son Sir James Oliphant, who was also a judge (till he murdered his gardener). Sir James son James then became the owner but having learned bad habits from his father stabbed his mother to death then, sensibly, fled the country. We can infer the family may have been slightly dysfunctional, even by the standards of the time.

In 1630/31 an Edinburgh apothecary, William (or maybe John ) Hamilton, bought the estate: presumably James Oliphant needed the money more than the land. Doubtless there were grumbles from the old aristocracy of the area about Nouveau Riche vulgarians buying the property of decent folk.
William Hamilton sold the estate to John Denholm of Muirhouse whose son Robert sold it to on James Hunter around 1672. Hunter died bankrupt in 1697 and the creditors sold the barony of Muirhouse to an Edinburgh merchant called Robert Watson, and in 1776 debts forced his grandson, General (or perhaps Lieutenant-Colonel) Watson to sell it to William Davidson, a merchant trading in Rotterdam, who gave his name to nearby Davidson's Mains, formerly called Muttonhole.
Old Muirhouse when it was old, from
The Ancient and Modern state of the Parish of Cramond, 1794

Around 1670 the earliest recorded house, Old Muirhouse or Murrais or Murrize was built possibly on the site of an older castle and maybe using bits of it [1]. Who built it is unclear, though given the timeline Hunter must be the prime suspect, with Robert Denholm as a less likely candidate. Note that [4] gives the date of erection of the Mansion of Muirhouse as 1690 and says it was demolished to provide material for the present building. Admirable economy and doubtless ecologically sound but it may have been better not to build the present Mansion.

An engraving from 1794 shows what may be an L-plan tower house, extended to the north with a three storey wing flanked by narrow round towers. It was approached by avenues from the west, north and east, each lined with old oaks, limes and other trees. The main approach was that from the east, where there were gateposts topped off with griffins.
Old Muirhouse was demolished around 1832 or 1833, following the building of a new Muirhouse nearby for Captain William Davidson. The two circular stair towers from the old house were still to be seen as ruins within the garden until they were demolished in 1950 (some say 1954) on safety grounds. The griffin gate pillars were demolished around 1960 by someone with no sense of history or aesthetics. Doubtless a council official since this species seems to have had these qualities surgically removed.
Nothing now remains, and the site of Old Muirhouse lies under Muirhouse Parkway, which was once the eastern driveway to the old house.

The building of new Muirhouse was not without friction[5]. In his autobiography, something all modest people are obliged to write, he wrote of the overseer of the work, a Mr Bell

'In the course of some time I found, but to my great displeasure that the said contractor was actually a very near relation of the architect, who (the contractor) turned out to be, what people call, a complete rascal, - a cheat, - a drunkard, - and, finally, a cut throat, - having patriotically cut his own, and thus dispatching himself, defrauded the hangman'.
There are some indications that William Davidson, having gone bankrupt, staged his suicide by drowning in 1834, but no real evidence for this. It seems that, from around 1660 to 1834 Muirhouse was steadily contributing to bankrupting its owners. In 1870 the house passed to the Earl of Morton.
In 1953 most of the Estate was sold, apparently to the local council. The Griffin topped gates were demolished in 1960. Much of the estate became a notorious council estate such that employers reflexively rejected candidates from the Muirhouse council estate. In 2002 there were plans to turn it into a company headquarters, rather than letting the A-Listed building fall into disrepair.
Wrapping up
This preliminary investigation of the history behind an unremarkable listed building has shown a period from the mid seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century where the house seems to have forced its transfer to new owners by bankrupting them.

Old Muirhouse is gone but mentions of an  even older castle are intriguing, like the older castle seen on old maps of Heidelberg in Germany and suggest a continuity of occupation perhaps going back to Robert the Bruce, but more research is needed. Unfortunately any archaeological evidence is buried under Muirhouse Parkway and records of any rescue excavation are buried in archives somewhere.

The original name of the estate is unclear but something that sounded like Muir House is probable given the influence of Old English on the development of the Scots language.
Today the Mansion is largely disregarded but is said still to boast a large redwood tree in the gardens (assuming the council have not had it demolished). Pictures of the towers and the Griffin topped gates can be found in reference [6] which has mentions of a tunnel leading to the Mansion and a well, now probably lost. Legends of tunnels are common in connection with old buildings so for now this can be taken as folklore rather than fact.
And all this from a staid old dowager of a building.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

Tanfield Hall and the Great Disruption

One bus or a gentle 30 minute walk from Princes St along Hanover Street and down Dundas street will, by virtue of a right bend followed by a left bend at the bottom take you to Edinburgh's Botanical Gardens. On the way you cross the Water of Leith at Brandon Terrace. Just behind the Water of Leith here is the unjustly architecturally acclaimed office complex of Tanfield, a mass of glass and steel surrounded by a garden and bordered by the Water of Leith.

Should you decide to shed your inhibitions about entering the grounds and walk round the garden you may notice the contrast between the modern building and the obviously old stone walls surrounding it and wonder what was there before. You would not guess that Tanfield is the site of about the only thing of interest that ever happened in the area.

Tanfield and its surrounds in Canonmills are, like Cramond, and Newhaven, a place where nothing happens and tends to keep on happening for a long time. Indeed only one thing of note seems to have happened around there and that was the schism of 1843 known as the Great Disruption, when many ministers resigned their livings and and left their parishioners in order to found the Free Church of Scotland.

Background to the Great Disruption of 1843

The background to this is as simple as these things can be.

Church and state have had a mixed relationship since the Middle Ages, if not earlier. Seneca the younger is alleged to have said of Religion

The ignorant consider it true, the educated consider it false and the rulers consider it useful”

and the rulers have always tried to keep control of such a useful tool. Thomas A Beckett was, for example, killed when he began to criticise the monarchy, though most rulers, in Britain at least, preferred to seduce religion and make it part of the Establishment. Henry VIII was the last English ruler to use force to bring the Church under state control after which spiritual leaders rapidly became part of the Establishment and are in Westminster as the Lords Spiritual.

The Church of Scotland had always claimed the right to manage its own affairs and parliamentary and royal interference had been abolished since the 1707 Act of Union. However wealthy patrons could still install a minister into a parish against the wishes of the congregation. The Church regarded this as unacceptable interference, while others regarded is as a matter of property under the jurisdiction of the state. This Right of Patronage had briefly been abolished but restored in 1712. Efforts to abolish it were blocked by the moderate members of the church till they lost control in 1834. The Church then passed an act allowing parishes to refuse a patron's nomination. And later in 1834, as was inevitable, one did and, as was inevitable, the minister concerned went to court.

Not only did the court rule that the Church had exceeded its powers but also that the Church was creation of the state and derived its legitimacy from an act of parliament. You can imagine how the Church liked THAT. The conflict rumbled on till 1843 when Parliament rejected a compromise proposed by the Church.

The Disruption

On 18th May 1843 the Church Split and nearly 200 of the assembly declared UDI and walked out then down to Tanfield Hall in Canonmills where, inevitably, they held a meeting. This was the start of the Free Church of Scotland. The ministers who walked out sacrificed their livings and income. They had to build a church from Scratch. There were tearful partings and in some parishes most of the congregation followed the minster into the new church.

After that the politics got complicated with the Free Church splintering into subgroups and a union with others. It is not clear whether it was like Monty Python's Life of Brian where the main enemy of the Judean Peoples front was not the Romans but the People's front of Judea. By 1900 the situation had more or less settled down and by 1929 Parliament had conceded enough to allow the Free Church and the Church of Scotland to reunite.

Apart from that little or nothing seems to have happened to Tanfield, or if it did it is still to be dug up by local historians. All that is left of Tanfield Hall is the walls round the present glass and steel structure. Even pictures of it are rare, though this one ( ) shows it as rather more interesting than the present structure.