Saturday, 17 October 2015

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Walking to Duddingston, where we're all 'Jock Tamson's bairns'

When we walk to the village of Duddingston from our house in Abbeyhill, we take the royal route through Holyrood Park, skirting the Palace of Holyroodhouse and following the dramatic skyline of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags. This is the route Mary Queen of Scots used to take when she travelled to her 'country retreat' of Craigmillar Castle.

We leave the spires and tenements of Edinburgh's Old Town behind us, walking through the parkland where monarchs used to hunt, though the old track is now a metalled road.

The volcanic flow of Samson's Ribs soon looms up on our left. On our right runs the disused line of the Innocent Railway, now a walking and cycle track. Beyond is Prestonfield Golf Club, laid out on the former grounds of Prestonfield House, now a hotel. The current building dates back to 1689. Originally erected in the 12th century, it was rebuilt by the same architect who built Holyrood House, after it was burnt down by students during the Reformation.

Soon Duddingston Loch comes into view, down on our right, surrounded by wild vegetation and a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. It was here that in 1775 local men dredged up a hoard of broken swords, spears, deer horns and human skulls, which is now on display in the Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. The objects seem to have been deliberately thrown into the lake during prehistoric times as votive offerings.

There were Bronze Age settlements on Arthur's Seat and a lake
dwelling built on piles in the loch itself. In later years, an Iron Age fort was built on Dunsapie Hill, just behind Duddingston. Indeed, if you look carefully, you can still see the terraces our ancestors dug on the slopes above the village so that they could grow their crops.

Soon we pass through the walls of the Park and into the village itself. It has long been swallowed up by the City of Edinburgh but for centuries it was a separate township. Its inhabitants earned their living by gathering reeds from the loch and weaving them into a coarse fabric which they sold in local markets. Up until the eighteenth century, villagers also worked in coal mines and on the salt pans, for we are not far from the Firth of Forth. Mills were eventually built along the banks of the small river and towards Craigmillar, Some nineteenth century industrial buildings remain but have been converted to other uses.

So this lovely village, which nowadays is such a desirable place to live, was once a settlement of poor labourers and craftsmen, who supplemented their meagre income by living off, and selling the surplus of, their small market gardens.

Of course, some aristocrats also lived in the area, for they were the landowners. Indeed there are a number of 'big houses' nearby, though all now converted to other uses. The Earl of Abercorn, for example, built Duddingston House in 1768. The House lies in what was once extensive park land but is now Duddingston Golf Course. The beautiful mansion and its stable block have been restored and converted into a centre for companies involved in property development. You can find the entrance to its tree-lined drive through gates on Milton Road.

Round the corner, on Willowbrae Road is another mansion, Lady Nairne's House, the original attractive 'cottage' now a Beefeater restaurant attached to the unattractive block of a Premier Inn.  The Nairns were ardent Jacobites whose lands and titles had been forfeited as punishment. Lady Nairn wrote some of Scotland's best known ballads, for example 'Charlie is my Darling'. George IV returned their property and titles after hearing one of her compositions.

Bonnie Prince Charlie himself (Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender) took up residence in Duddingston during the Rebellion of 1745, staying in the main street (the Causeway) in what was then a tavern. His army camped on what is now Duddingston Golf Course. From there, they travelled the short distance to Prestonpans where they roundly beat the Government forces. The house has been renovated by the Duddingston Preservation Society and is now in private use.

There still is an inn in Duddingston, however, the mediaeval Sheep Heid, at the other end of the Causeway. It is one of the oldest in Scotland, though rebuilt and extended over the years. It is well worth a visit, for it serves excellent food.

Just outside the walls of Holyrood Park and overlooking the loch is Duddingston Kirk. You may just be able to make out its tower, half-hidden by the trees which have grown up around it. The white building on the left is the Manse.

However, before we can enter the kirkyard, we must pass the Gatehouse, which doubles up as Session House. This imposing building was built in 1834. Here two elders of the Kirk Session (the church's governing body) were required to keep watch for 21 nights after an internment to prevent body snatchers removing the corpse and selling it to doctors at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary for dissection. Most graveyards in Edinburgh have similar buildings, for body snatching was a very lucrative business.

On the right hand side of the gate is a loupin-on stane, for the gentry and prosperous farmers to use when mounting their horses, However, they were unlikely to make use of the set of jougs on the wall behind. This metal contraction was used to punish those unfortunate poor villagers who had committed minor offences.

The church which lies beyond the gates was founded in the 12th century, on land originally belonging to the monastery at Kelso in the Borders.

You can still find some reminders of the church's early years, for example, the outlines of old windows. However, one of its most beautiful features is the round Norman doorway, with markings around the curve.Below are very worn carvings of two figures: Christ on the cross and a figure with a sword - a Roman soldier or St Paul with the 'Sword of the Spirit'. These are all that remain of the original rich decoration.

Inside, the appearance of the church reflects its use and development over the centuries. Many of the original features were removed during the Reformation: the galleries and Prestonfield Aisle added in 1632. The laird, the Earl of Abercorn, his family and household would have occupied a now demolished gallery at the east end, the Laird's Loft. (You can see a surviving Laird's Loft at Abercorn Church on the Firth of Forth.) The Hamiltons, who lived at Prestonfield, sat in their own gallery on the left.

The Norman chancel arch is made of red sandstone from nearby Craigmillar. You can still see the old mason's marks, if you look very carefully. Apart from a handful of interesting tablets, the most notable features are the windows. The window to the right of the pulpit is a stained glass memorial to Rev John Thomson, a much loved minister who died in 1840. His kindness to his parishioners, whom he called ma bairns, and his diligence in serving them over 35 years gave rise to the well-known Scottish expression We're a' Jock Tamson's bairns.

John Thomson was also a successful painter and was good friends with a number of well-known legal, artistic and literary figures. One of the more famous of these figures was Walter Scott, who often stayed at the Manse at Duddingston and who had recommended Thomson for the charge. Many of Thomson's friends were artists and writers. He himself used the upper floor of a tower in the Manse garden, still called Thomson's Tower, as a studio.

However, Duddingston was also known for a very different reason. It was the home of curling, a Scottish sport invented in mediaeval times. In curling, players slide heavy polished stones across ice towards a target marked on the surface. Edinburgh's curlers used to meet on the Nor' Loch, below Castle Rock, where Princes Street Gardens are now. However, the Nor' Loch was drained when Edinburgh's New Town was built,so they moved the sport to Duddingston Loch in 1795. The Club met in the lower floor of Thomson's Tower and it was here in 1803 that the rules of curling were first agreed.

The Loch wasn't just used for curling, of course. It was also the home of Edinburgh's Skating Society and is featured in one of Scotland's most celebrated paintings, The Skating Minister. The painting is almost certainly by Henry Raeburn and depicts the Reverend Robert Walker, Minister of Canongate Kirk from 1755-1808, skating on Duddingston Loch. You can see it in the National Gallery of Scotland, on the corner of The Mound and Princes Street

Sadly, nowadays the loch no longer freezes over. It still looks as beautiful as ever, however. One of the best ways of viewing it is from the grounds around the church, now known as Dr Neil's Garden. This lovely garden was developed by Nancy and Andrew Neil, local doctors, and now carried on by the Duddingston community. The community also works other gardens within the village.

From Dr Neil's, we go back into the Kirkyard to say goodbye to some of the villagers from the past. Here they are, their graves clustered around their church, the more prosperous below tombstones, the poorer in unmarked graves.

Some slabs bear skulls and crossbones, momenti mori. Some are attached to the church wall, to be as near to the chancel as possible. The wealthiest of all lie within in solid structures like miniature houses, lining the walls of the kirkyard.

But now it is time to say goodbye to the dead lying in this peaceful village graveyard and to return to our own home. We close the gate quietly behind us and set off back again across Holyrood Park.

These photos were taken on a number of different days, as there is so much to explore in Duddingston village.

I couldn't have written this post without drawing on a number of sources, in particular the very interesting guides to both Kirk and village produced and sold by Duddingston Kirk. While you can visit the village at any time, the Kirk is only open during weekends in August, unless, of course, you are going to a service. The volunteer guides are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, with a wealth of stories to tell about the kirk and its parishioners.

If you have enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in the following:

Following Mary Queen of Scots to Craigmillar Castle

To begin at the beginning: Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park

Walking to Abercorn and recalling Philip Larkin