Doon Dene

Down deep, down into the Dean Village we go today. First, here is the tollhouse that guards the bridge that spans the Dean Gorge, linking the higher city. A plaque on it:

All I can read of this is '1619'

Though the bridge was designed by Thomas Telford, in the 1800s. Here it is from above;

Take a breath here, the air will be different down in the Dean

Mark it; you will see it from below a little later. We take the left turn, hugging Bell’s Brae that runs down the side of the tollhouse, a much taller building than it first appears. Tall and thin, stretching down to the floor of  the valley.


The village of Dean, of the gorge, ground the grain for Edinburgh’s bread. There have been mills here since at least the time of King David the first, in the 12th century. At some point during the hard years of the 20th century, the mills fell silent and the village decayed. Now, the remaining mill buildings have been restored as residential, and the village is prosperous, but as if fallen asleep.

That’s D forging ahead. The yellow building has this above one door:


And this above another, bricked up entrance:

The symbol in the left of the centre of the wreath is a baker's paddle with loaves on it

The Water of Leith, which ran the waterwheels of the mills, now runs smoothly by, a rusted colour that laps over the weir.

On the other side of the village bridge

See those houses at the top of the picture? They are houses of the New Town, on the terraces, looking out. The New Town, if you don’t know the city, was built between 1765 and 1850, and has UNESCO world heritage status. It is stately and steely and rich and cobbled, but does not concern us now.

Let’s explore the village. There are a few people out, walking their dogs, taking pictures. It’s a clear day and windless, though down here, perhaps there is a natural break from the North Sea Easterlies which scour the higher city.

A better view of the stratification of the town

Rooftops above a paved courtyard, where the only signs of life was from the washing on the line, and even that motionless.

Though there is more to see of the village, it feels like a good idea to take a walk by the Water, following the flow towards its mouth – though we won’t reach it today.

There is our bridge...

...and there is our tollhouse, the roots of it reaching into the tangle of undergrowth lashed to the cliff

Pass under the bridge, look back:

The air sweet here, smelling of the soil and growth, and on one tree there are last year’s catkins hanging, still holding their yellow colour. Walk slowly, looking at the ivy-covered walls. Ahead, a cupola:

To a well, we think, to the Lady of Cups and her pet snake. The path continues above a short promenade where others are walking closer to the water. But we are nearly at the opening of the valley, led into Stockbridge, the area that will join us to the New Town again.

There is one last thing: We stand on the last bridge of the day, one we do not need to cross. Just for the looking back. And in the water, a man:

As mysterious as the lady of the cups and snake

But even more ambiguous in his expression and position. Supplicant? Memorialising the long human impact on the Water? Speaking to all of us who get to live with our feet out of the cold river? I’ve made his image older, because I found his expression a little too haunting, and this softens it. I do not want you to go away with a feeling of melancholy. I’m sure he chats to the lady or the snake, from time to time, asking for a sip from the well, and she tells him stories from the time when the millstones turned and carts and horses clattered along her path.

Now it’s time to climb the hill homeward, but you know your own way from here.



Filed under 2012, Edinburgh, Scotland, The Now

18 responses to “Doon Dene

  1. Okay, this is dangerously serious. How come I have lived in Edinburgh for…eight years now, and never seen any of this stuff? That is just ridiculous.

    What beautiful pictures!!

    • Thank you Bethany – I lived here as a teenager for six, and never made it then, so you’re not alone. It is really pretty, and only about ten minutes on foot from the west end of Princes St.

  2. Wonderful reminders of my happy year in Edinburgh.

  3. macdougalstreetbaby

    I have a smidgen of Scottish blood in me and have always dreamed of visiting the country. These pictures remind me of what lays in store. Breathtaking.

  4. I love how the atmosphere is so drenched in history. And all the stone buildings and structures, beautiful!

  5. LOVE that mysterious man in the river! Very eerie.
    And the bas relief (?) stonework– the only place I’ve seen stuff like that in the US is on old grave markers on the east coast.

  6. That last statue terrifies me only minutely less when I saw it was a statue and not a desperate man.

  7. The man in the river is so strange and mysterious. I can imagine how he must look on a moonlit night, upright in the water, a lonely sentinel on watch.

  8. What a beautiful walk! Thank you. So lovely to escape from Italy’s craziness into the deep haunted green.

  9. Pingback: Love Letter 4 – Spring « Schietree

  10. Just stumbled across this and love your photographs – I used to walk from Leith to Dean Village often but haven’t for a while – thanks for the prompt to revisit that habit! The man in the river is an Antony Gormley statue – there are six along the route of the water of Leith, beginning with a half-submerged man coming out of the pavement by the Modern Art Gallery and finishing with one solitary man in Leith Docks by Ocean Terminal, looking over the entrance to the docks. They’re quite a sight!

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