Tuesday, 3 July 2012

What to see in The Old Edinburgh Fishing Village of Cramond

Cramond, a former fishing village in northeast Edinburgh has been one of the most desirable areas in the region since about 8500BC when nomadic hunter gatherers came to where the River Almond (of course they did not call it that) joins the River Forth (They did not call it the Forth either) to feast on the oysters and mussels. Nothing much seems to have happened till 142AD when the Romans arrived and built a fort and then built the Antonine Wall across Scotland, leaving a gap between the wall and the fort. The six acre fort took 500 men to build and included a harbour. Military planning was the same then as now and a decade or so later the fort was abandoned and the troops ordered to retreat south to Hadrian's wall, which was easier to defend. The Romans came back briefly around 208AD and left in 211AD. They would have stayed longer but Emperor Septimus Severus who ordered the reoccupation died in 211 and the next year one his sons killed the other (So much for family values), became Emperor and ordered the troops back to Hadrians Wall. The outlines of the buildings comprising the fort can be seen just off Cramond Glebe Road on the way to the seafront. Perhaps the most interesting find from here is the Cramond Lioness, a sculpture of a lioness eating part of a man. Excavation of the fort is ongoing so if you visit two years in a row the chances are the information displayed will be different.

Again not a lot happened for a while but Cramond Kirk claims to be the site of the oldest church in Scotland, dating to around 600AD, though the earliest surviving part of the church dates to the 1400s. Gravestone spotters will note the prevalence of Masonic insignia on the older tombstones. The kirk was rebuilt several times, starting around 1656 when the renewal would have taken account of the differences between Presbyterian and Catholic forms of worship. The church nearly lost its bell in 1651 when Oliver's Army (Cromwell that is) removed it and the congregation appealed successfully for its return.

The third attraction in the area is Cramond Tower, a tower house dating to the 15th Century, abandoned for a while then restored and now  apparently occupied by a work from home taxidermist.

From the harbour you can walk inland up the River Almond past the remains of the old iron mills and enjoy the mirror like surfaces of the old mill ponds to Old Cramond Bridge. At the time of writing this is the only crossing point since the ferry is out of action. Keen anglers have also been spotted fishing the weirs.

If you do not want to walk inland you can check the safe crossing times and walk the ¾ mile long causeway to Cramond IslandAbout half way across the condition of the causeway deteriorates and you need to be careful.
The Causeway to Cramond Island with wartime anti submarine defences 

The tide rises faster than you might expect, and it is not uncommon for visitors to be stranded on the Island once the tide starts rising, especially as the Island is larger than it looks from the mainland However some people plan ahead in order to have a party on the island, with perfect privacy, when the tide is high. Given that the weather can change rapidly warm clothes, if only carried in a backpack, are essential.

Although Cramond Island is uninhabited today , the earliest evidence of humans found anywhere in Scotland turned up on the island in the form of discarded hazelnut shells, carbon dated to 8,500BC. These are though to be the remains of a meal enjoyed here by a band of mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Surprisingly there is no trace of Roman occupation of the Island. It has been intermittently occupied and, during the first world war part of the island was taken over by the War Department as part of the defences of the Forth, and the entire Island was requisitioned in the Second World War and the military left a lot of traces, though the neighbouring island of Inchmickery is almost covered in military defences. The concrete teeth next to the causeway were military defences designed to stop anything that floated passing south of the island at high tide.

Cramond is a fascinating area. It is about 30 minutes drive from the Bed and Breakfast but if you wish to go by bus you have to take a bus from the centre of town. Once you arrive it is about ten minutes walk to the shore. The main place to eat is the Cramond Inn which has recently (2012) been receiving very bad reviews. There is however a small coffee shop, which closes at 1630, at the harbour.

For photographers the sky can be impressive and makes a great complement to the sea or the sand-flats exposed at low tide. The buildings in the village and the walk up the Almond also offer opportunities.

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Finally note the Scottish sense of humour. The public toilets (non smoking!! and closed at 6pm) include a disabled toilet but our party failed to find any means of access other than steep stairs. But it was a rainy day so we may have missed something.

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