Granton Castle’s Secret Walled Garden.
“As part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, Dig It! 2017 worked with partners across the country to celebrate Scotland’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites with six unique events. Now it’s time to unearth six of our equally extraordinary Hidden Gems”
Read the full story on the Dig It 2017 – Scotland in Six webpage
There’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained in the search for a hidden gem. Scotland has many, but they rarely stay hidden in the ‘happy snappy’ world of smartphones and social media worship. It’s inevitable; some places are just too good not to share.
I love taking myself off on adult-sized treasure hunts around Scotland, collecting memories of scenic delights, curious ruins and deserted beaches. My discoveries typically involve far-flung locations; tiny towns, forests and islands. My latest find however, couldn’t have been more different.
The not-so scenic route.
The secret site which I recently visited is the epitome of a ‘hidden gem’, and it certainly isn’t on the typical tourist trail. Or any trail for that matter.
It started with a short bus journey from my Edinburgh flat. I arrived at a familiar location nearby, and in true modern-day explorer-style referred to the digital map I’d been provided with to navigate my way to the site. I wandered into the industrial estate, taking in the local landmarks on route; Edinburgh College, Morrisons and Scottish Power.
There was no obvious way in, but I luckily bumped into one of the community group who guided me to the entrance.
An unlikely tip-off.
I first heard of this secret location some months ago. It was a hairdresser who tipped me off; none other than my best friend, Mhairi. One of her clients is involved in the project, and Mhairi knew this was exactly the kind of story I’d be interested in.
I responded with something about the lines of;
“Really? I’ve never heard of it! There was a _____ in______?! No way”
Coincidentally it appeared in the shortlist for the ‘Scotland in Six – Hidden Gems’ campaign, so I naturally snapped it up as my mini-mission.
Welcome to Granton Castle Walled Garden.
I stepped through the bolted wooden door, and was met by a jungle of jaggy nettles.
I was standing in a secret garden at Edinburgh’s waterfront in Granton, thought to be one of the oldest walled gardens in Scotland. The garden was once a horticultural haven brimming with colour and plant life.
It was used recreationally by the Victorians, and was later maintained by the owner and gardener John Smith. Following his retirement, the garden fell into an unfortunate state of neglect.
The walled garden belonged to Granton Castle, which was first mentioned in history in 1479. As is the story with most Scottish castles, Granton Castle changed hands throughout the centuries, being altered and enhanced to suit the owner’s taste. It later fell to ruin, towards the end of the 18th century.
Where it is completely unlike other castles is in the way that it was destroyed. Granton Castle didn’t fall under siege, nor was it damaged in battle. The tale of its demise isn’t dramatic or romantic. It is in fact ridiculous.
After needle-in-a-haystack style digging through hordes of files relating to the castle, it was discovered that its demolition in the 1920s was due to an error with the paperwork. Yes, seriously. Over 450 years of history, gone. Talk about “oops”.
The walled garden remains however, so all is not lost.
The Future of the Garden.
After years of campaigning relentlessly, the ‘Friends of the Granton Castle Walled Garden’ local community group have gained access to the forgotten site and have begun what will be a slow but hugely rewarding restoration project. The group hope that they can retain the garden for public use, and they are working on a 5–10 year plan to achieve this.
The visuals below – by local landscape architect Ellie Clarke – are a glimpse into what the garden could become in the future.
A local development company has other ideas however. They submitted a bid to build luxury townhouses on the site in 2003, but recently withdrew their proposal following opposition from the community group. The site remains on their radar however, so the group may have to prepare for battle further down the line; thankfully there will be no bloodshed required in this type of 21st century battle!
In the meantime, the community group have started with a single section of the garden which they estimate will take a whole year to clear. They are currently contending with a mass of weeds and the resident rabbits making a nuisance of themselves.
They’ve also come up against some health and safety concerns, from the loose rocks falling from the wall to the poisonous hemlock which has grown in a few spots around the garden. They have persevered regardless, and currently spend two days a week working tirelessly on what is evidently a mammoth task. The groundwork which has gone into the project so far is admirable.
Cast your vote!
I am still in disbelief that there was once a castle so close to home, which was destroyed and basically forgotten. I bet I’m not the only one either! Thankfully, I’m now in on the secret of the walled garden, and have been lucky to visit right at the start of its transformation.
The garden has the potential to be a peaceful yet thriving community hub, rooted in history and located in the most unassuming of modern surroundings. I’m so excited to see the progress of the garden in the coming months and years.
The historic significance of the site can’t and should not be ignored. I sincerely hope that it remains in public hands, and wish the group every success in pursuing this.
Thanks so much to Kirsty – who is the Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden chairperson – for showing me around. I’ll definitely be back!
The walled garden is not open to the public at the moment, however they are hoping to host public visits in September.
Follow the dedicated Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden on Facebook for updates on the progress and any planned events.