Dear Green Places – and the 7 Hills of Edinburgh: Corstorphine

Glasgow, ever the more gallus of Scotland’s twin southern cities, refers to itself as the Dear Green Place, a direct translation from the Gaelic of its name. What, even Castlemilk and Possil Park? Only joshing, Weegie pals, only joshing.

Be that as it may, last weekend, in the company of my sister, denizen of Glasgow’s admittedly leafy West End, we explored a few of Edinburgh’s own green places.

We started – as you should in exploring the city’s leafiest bits – at the Botanics, although on the way from the bus stop I stopped to snap this front doorstep in Stockbridge, which is a fantastic collection of succulents and frankly odd accoutrements. Still, if you’ve got a doorstep like that, why not go for it like this?

Chief amongst the attractions at the Botanics were the Meconopsis, or Himalayan Poppies, shown above. They are absolutely stunning – but also deeply annoying, as we have tried to grow them many times, and the longest they’ve lasted I think has been two years, despite – or perhaps because of – the care and attention we’ve lavished on them.

No such problems for the gnomes at the Botanics (I think it must be gnomes that look after the gardens there: you never actually see anyone working on them no matter what time of the day you go) who have lashings of the damn things, all looking like they’re adorning a Himalayan hillside instead of a bit of Scottish Lowlands boulder clay. If I ever get my hands of one of the gnomes, I’m going to get the secret of growing them out of it if it’s the last thing I do.

And so, the next day, up Corstorphine Hill, in pursuit of my project to walk up and write about all seven of Edinburgh’s hills, if possible before September (I need to get a shift on – this is just the third!)

Corstorphine is the fourth highest of Edinburgh’s seven. In common with most if not all of them, it’s a crag and tail extinct volcano, formed when glaciers moving west to east (much as the prevailing wind does now) went around the hard volcanic plugs of the volcanos, scraping the softer rock and soil before them and piling it up on the lee side. For the geologists amongst you, Corstorphine and the Castle Rock were formed about 50 million years after Blackford. Back when the City Council started the tram works on Leith Walk.

When I say we walked up the hill, I mean it only in the loosest sense: we drove half way up and parked, and then walked the rest of the way. The bit near the summit is tree covered, and is in fact a local nature reserve, well kept, with paths leading to the different high points of the Hill. It’s a beautiful bit of mature woodland, with a very relaxed feel to it: you feel the city drop away into silence below you.

There’s even a wee house in one of the trees for the gnomes. Not sure if they’re the same ones that maintain the Botanics, and they commute. Very possible.

On one side of the Hill, a high fence stretches round the downward slope. We thought at first it was something like an electricity generator, but as it continued on and on we realised it was actually the furthest extent of the Zoo, which you access many feet below off Corstorphine Road. This made sense when a couple, later in our walk, asked us if we could direct them to where you could see the giraffes.

Every so often, there’d be a break in the trees and you could see golfers near at hand, toiling on a very slopy course, and in the distance, the next volcano.

One of the highest parts of Corstorphine Hill gets a mention in Stevenson’s Kidnapped, as the place Alan Breck and David Balfour part ways. The place, which would have been well known to RLS in his Edinburgh days, is called ‘Rest and Be Thankful,’ not to be confused with the high point of the A83, much further north, which is causing a bit of unrest at the moment in terms of what should be the long term solution to the challenges it presents.

We had seen signs on our wanderings over the Hill to a walled garden, and this turned out to be an unexpectedly beautiful and tranquil place. Maintained by a local community organisation, it was an oasis of cultivated garden in the woodland. Clearly lots of work had gone into creating and maintaining this by volunteers, and they’d done a terrific job.

One more hill ticked off. And an unexpected green place we’ll maybe visit again.

Since you’re here…

If you’re looking for some new music, I’d love it if you could give my latest EP, ‘I Still Believe,’ a try. You can download it or, if it’s old school you’re looking for, you can order a CD. The special luxe editions with the guitar picks are all gone though!



    • Hi, yes, that’ll be the one Neil. Next time you come over I’ll take you up Blackford Hill, where you see all these extinct volcanoes rising above Edinburgh, Fife, and the Lothians. It’s really a remarkable landscape.

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