Posted on 5 October, 2011
On the final weekend of ‘Doors Open Days‘ (Saturday 24th September), I went to Edinburgh with my OH and daughter to visit some of the buildings open on Calton Hill.
As we looked up to the top of Calton Hill from Waverley Station, we could see the Martyrs’ Monument in Old Calton Burial Ground and the Governor’s House.
To get to the top of Calton Hill, we walked up the steps of Jacob’s Ladder.
This is one of the things that I love about Edinburgh . . . these little hidden staircases that transport you from one area to another.
As we were walking up the east side of Calton Hill, we came across this cairn built by the keepers of the Vigil for a Scottish Parliament.
And just past the cairn, were the Nelson Monument and the National Monument.
Yes, you are seeing that photo correctly . . . it’s a little elephant! Isn’t he lovely?
The views from the top of Calton Hill are stunning and I was surprised by how far we were able to see that day. Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags in the first photo and if you look closely at the second photo, you can see the Forth Bridge (in the middle, along the horizon).
The first building we were there to visit that day was the Old City Observatory.
This building was designed by Scottish architect William Henry Playfair in 1818 and was inspired by the Greek temple of the Four Winds. This observatory is where the first Astronomer Royal, Professor Thomas Henderson worked from 1834 until his death in 1844.
Inside there was so much to see: the original telescope, the original pulley system for moving the telescope and observatory dome and the original clock.
I was particularly fond of the old photographic plate at the end of the telescope.
You wouldn’t believe how much I learned in this observatory! First of all, that astronomers use stars to tell time as the sun isn’t always precise, but the stars are. I also found out that there was a time ball installed in 1853 on the top of the Nelson Monument that drops every day at one o’clock and was originally used by ships in the Firth of Forth to set the time on their clocks. I did know about the One O’Clock Gun that is fired most days from Edinburgh Castle, but hadn’t realised that this was added later as ships couldn’t see the time ball on foggy days.
On one of the outer walls of the observatory, there’s a memorial plaque for Professor Thomas Henderson, first Astronomer Royal appointed in 1834.
Not only is the observatory itself beautiful, but the view of the city from the side of Old Observatory House is quite something, too.
As we walked from the observatory and onto our next location, we passed these two monuments:
The first one is the Dugald Stewart Monument. Another design by architect William Henry Playfair, this time inspired by the Greek Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. Dugald Stewart was a famous writer and philosopher and was also a key player in the Scottish Enlightenment. The second one is the Nelson Monument, a commemorative tower built in honour of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson to commemorate his victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and his own death at the same battle. The time ball was installed on top of here in 1853.
Next building on our agenda that day was the Burns Monument.
This monument was completed in 1831 to house a life-size marble statue of Robert Burns. The statue is no longer inside the monument and is now kept in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The design for this monument was again based on the Greek Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, but this time the architect was Thomas Hamilton who had designed the Burns Monument in Alloway.
Next stop was the Old Calton Burial Ground.
The burial ground was opened in 1718 and is the resting place of several notable Edinburgh persons.
The burial ground is also the site of the Political Martyrs’ Monument . . . a 90 ft obelisk of grey-black sandstone inscribed with the names of the Scottish Martyrs (five men who were imprisoned for campaigning for parliamentary reform in the late 18th and early 19th centuries).
The last building we had planned on visiting that day was the Old Observatory House.
This was was built by James Craig between 1776 and 1793. It was the home of the Astronomer Royals after briefly being used as an observatory before the completion of the new building (Old City Observatory). It was based on the idea of a romantic picturesque castle occupying the site of the present walled enclosure.
I fell in love with this building and took a lot of photos of the interior! This is the downstairs sitting room:
I don’t think I could get fed up looking at the views from those windows.
The other two rooms on this floor were the dining room and the kitchen. The dining room was a large circular shaped room with windows all around and a large table in the middle. The kitchen was fairly small though.
Upstairs on the top floor, there was a second sitting room
and two bedrooms
I would love to sleep in that 2nd bedroom . . . the view out of the windows are just wonderful! The next three photos were also taken on the top floor and show the hallway between the sitting room and one of the bedrooms, the bathroom and the staircase.
Down on the ground floor, there’s another two bedrooms
This building is available to rent through the Vivat Trust, so if any of my knitting friends would like to book it and invite me there for a knitting retreat, I would be most grateful!
After lunch, we walked down through North Gray’s Close to get back to the car.
Just like Jacob’s Ladder, this is another one of the things that I love about Edinburgh. I could wander up and down these closes in the Old Town all day long. I always find myself peering in the buildings and wondering how old they are and what it must have been like to live there. This probably isn’t the best close to show off, but there was a bit of a ‘disagreement’ taking place in the next one along, so we couldn’t walk through there. One of the better known closes is Mary King’s Close under the Royal Mile.
And the last couple of photos of Calton Hill, taken as we were walking across North Bridge.