If you have spent any time in Edinburgh you will no doubt have seen the sights – the castle, the Palace, Arthur’s Seat and more. If you haven’t please do check out my itinerary for a long weekend in Edinburgh. But if you are you’ve down the sights and want something a little different, then keep reading – for i’m going to show you dragons, dragoons, clocks and cottages – all within sight of the Castle and pretty much all of them you will have walked past! Most of these gems are featured on my free Old Town Edinburgh Walking Guide.
- The Dragon’s of Wardrop’s Court
- The Heart of Midlothian
- Princes Street Flower Clock
- The Gardener’s Cottage
- Body Snatcher Watchtower
- Binn’s Clock
Let’s start at Castle Hill, walking down the Royal Mile. Just before we get to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern pub, you will see the entrance to Wardop’s Court.
The Dragon’s of Wardrop’s Court, Royal Mile
Look up and see a pair of blue dragons. Handcrafted in the late 19th Century, this pair were crafted by J.S. Gibson. But don’t walk past just yet – head down the alley to find another pair of dragons, created separately by Arthur Geddes – son of Patrick Geddes who was an influential town planner and biologist.
As you can see from my pictures, this place gets crowded on busy days. Today there was a falconry display which is why it was so crowded, and my picture was cropped!
BUT without the crowd I wouldn’t have stopped and spotted the dragons!
Keep walking down the Royal Mile. Take care when crossing the road onto the cobbled courtyard outside the impressive St. Giles Cathedral. Look down on the cobbles to see the Heart of Midlothian.
The Heart of Midlothian, Royal Mile
This stone mosaic marks the sight of the old Tolbooth which was demolished back in 1817. Local tradition is to spit on the heart for good luck, although it may have originally been a sign of disgust at the executions which used to happen in the building.
‘Lothian’ is the province in which Edinburgh lies. Now we have East and West Lothian but ‘Midlothian’ remains. The local football team ‘Hearts’ take their name from this mosaic – their full name is ‘The Heart of Midlothian FC.’ Not to be confused with a great Marillion song called ‘Heart of Lothian’ (lead singer Fish is from around these parts.)
Find it on the High Street (Royal Mile) just before St. Giles Cathedral as you walk away from the castle. (map link)
Princes Street Flower Clock
The Flower Clock in Princes Street Gardens, at the bottom of the mound, was the world’s first flower clock back in 1902 when it was planted to mark the coronation of King Edward VII.
Every year the flowers are replanted in different themes giving the eagle eyed tourists, and locals a beautiful and timely sight. This year’s display celebrates the centenary of the Flying Scotsman Train.
Find at the entrance to Princes Street Gardens at the corner of Princes Street and the Mound. (map)
The Gardener’s Cottage
Just down from the flower clock is Gardener’s Cottage. Not much is known about this quaint little cottage in the middle of Scotland’s capital city. It has featured in some Scottish TV programs and now remains a quaint ‘folly’ within the gardens.
I always knew there was something there until this week. From the clock, it looks hidden by the hedge but wander down the 20 odd steps to get there and you can be transported to the countryside. It looks somebody lives there, which is interesting because the gardens are closed and locked at dusk every night? Do the inhabitants get locked in too?
Find it in Princes Street Gardens, next to the Mound. (Map)
If you walk West from the cottage you’ll pass a lovely elephant sculpture that again I hadn’t seen before. Keep walking all the way to the end by the Ross fountain. Now head leftish (but don’t cross over the railway) and go into St. Cuthberts Kirkyard to see the round ‘rook style’ tower.
Body Snatcher Watchtower
This was built to guard over St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard (or Kirkyard to give it the Scottish name) at s time when grave robbing was big business. Now it’s just some offices but still looks interesting. Back in 2016 you could have rented it for 1,000 a month. Not sure I’d want to work there and certainly not sleep there!
I spent 20 years walking past this building and only discovered what it was three years ago!
Find it on the corner of Lothian Road and Kings Stables Road. (map)
Wander back down Lothian Road towards the Johnny Walker experience.
Look up as you walk past the Johnny Walker Experience and you will see an ornate clock in the shape of a castle. Known as Binn’s Clock (after the department store that was once here before it became Frasers.)
This clock has had a revamp thanks to the Johnny Walker redevelopment. The clock, loved by locals have kilted Highland figures marching out at seven minutes and 37 minutes past the hour. It is reported that these odd times are a specific Highland tradition.
The pipers will first appear just after the hour to the tune of “Scotland the Brave”, and just after half-past to “Caller Herrin.” Cool!
Find it on the corner of Princes Street and Hope Street (look up!) (map)
So that’s five hidden gems you’ve probably walked past. There are plenty more in Edinburgh that require a little more walking – like St. Bernard’s Well on the Water of Leith or the Anthony Gormley statues further down the river, but we’ll leave those for another day.
Edinburgh is a fabulous city, with still more to discover. Just don’t forget to look up!