There are places worth visiting in the suburbs, with the Firth of Forth, the Zoo, and open land among the options. Here is a selection.
On the west side of the city, on the traditional route to Glasgow, is the suburb of Corstorphine. It was popular in the middle of the twentieth century with commuters, and it was more affordable than Davidson’s Mains on the other side of Corstorphine Hill. I had a great-uncle who lived there. His career path was quite extraordinary. When he left school, he was apprenticed to a carpenter. One of his jobs took him into a place which, though on his doorstep, he had never visited — Edinburgh Zoo. He tried to run away from his employer and work at the zoo, he was so taken with the place. The zoo authorities did a deal with his employer: if at the end of his apprenticeship, he was still interested, the zoo would buy out the carpenter’s interest. Uncle Tom joined the zoo as a resident carpenter … and retired as Head Fish Keeper. When I was a child, at least one Bank Holiday weekend each year involved a trip to the zoo (and free entry, being lifted over the turnstiles by Uncle Tom). There were no pandas then, but we did walk around the zoo with the penguins. The zoo is on a steep hill: crafty visitors take the little road train to the top and walk back down.
On the far north-western corner of Edinburgh, Cramond is lapped by the Firth of Forth, and there is a tidal causeway out to Cramond Island, and the intrepid may walk along the coast path to the Forth Bridge at South Queensferry. Inland to the east is Lauriston Castle, latterly more a country house than a fortress, which shows how a comfortable middle-class family lived during the reign of King Edward VII.
A walk (2.5km) through the southern part of the Old Town, meeting the body-snatchers and a friend of Charles Dickens.
Start from the west end of Princes Street, and take the left footway of Lothian Road. At the corner of King’s Stables Road, you will pass a tower — this was the lookout tower to try to catch body-snatchers such as Burke and Hare, who would dig up newly-buried corpses and sell the bodies to the anatomists at the university. Pass the Usher Hall (concert hall) and cross over Bread Street. Pass Lloyds Bank offices on your left, and keep going ahead until you reach the Meadows. Turn left on the path just inside the Meadows and follow it for 250m, then bear off right on a path which leads to the Pavilion café.
Turn left to follow a path back across the Meadows to the Meadows Compass (sculpture) and continue northwards. Cross Lauriston Place and follow Forrest Road to the little satue of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who sat for years at his master’s grave in the Greyfriars churchyard. The cost of erecting the statue was met by Angela Georgina Burdett‑Coutts (who was later ennobled in her own right by Queen Victoria as Baroness Burdett‑Coutts). She was a remarkable philanthropist, and was one of the wealthiest heiresses of the Victorian age, the second barrel of her name coming from the Coutts banking family.
An early foundation was a modest property in Shepherd’s Bush as a safe residence for women who had, in the words of the day, “fallen into immorality” — that is, into thievery or prostitution. The co‑founder was none other than Charles Dickens. Burdett‑Coutts was also a founder of what is now the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, endowed three Anglican dioceses in Australia, Canada and South Africa, and she also pioneered social housing enterprise in Columbia Square (Bethnal Green), She helped Turkish peasants in the wake of the Russo‑Turkish War, and set up a sewing school in Spitalfields for women affected by the collapse of the silk trade. She was president of the RSPCA. All this, and much more, was achieved out of her inheritance (which was cut by 60% when she married a foreign national in 1881).
Continue past the dog, and follow George IV Bridge to the Royal Mile at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern.
Take the train to Dalmeny, and walk down all the steps to sea level, under the Forth Bridge. Alternatively, buy tickets to Inverkeithing and return to Dalmeny to experience crossing the bridge twice. Right at the bridge is the Hawes Inn. This was the inn where Robert Louis Stevenson set the abduction of David Balfour in Kidnapped: Balfour was Stevenson’s mother’s maiden name (and one of his own middle names). There are other restaurants and cafés along the road to the centre of South Queensferry, where you can avoid the steps up to the railway and catch a bus to Edinburgh.
Water of Leith
The Water of Leith rises in the hills to the south-west of the city and flows into the Forth at (no surprises here!) Leith. There is a walkway all along the river. Here is a short section (2.5km).
From Haymarket station (train, bus, tram), cross to the other side of the road and turn left. Take the second road on the right (Coates Gardens) and keep to the left footway. Continue ahead onto Eglinton Crescent, passing typical grand houses (and the German consulate). Turn left onto Douglas Gardens and left to cross Bedford Bridge. On no account consider the Britannia Hotel at the bridge. Just beyond the bridge, turn sharp right to descend to the river. Turn left to follow the riverside past a weir and on to reach a bridge. Do not cross the bridge: turn left to enter Dean Village. Turn right at the junction (still on Damside), then turn right to cross the river on Bell’s Brae Bridge. On the other side of the river, bear left to follow Bell’s Brae (not Miller Row right next to the river) out to the main Queensferry Road. Turn right and follow the road all the way to the west end of Princes Street.