Little-Known Places - Calton Hill, Edinburgh

On previous visits to Edinburgh I remember seeing what, to me, looked like a version of the Parthenon in Athens as well as other monuments and what also reminded me of a small temple overlooking the city but I couldn't exactly tell you where these were. Well I now know that they are in a park called Calton Hill which we decided to walk to and around one Sunday. Like much of Edinburgh it's up a pretty steep hill but it's well worth it and we were blessed with some fantastic weather that day, so good that I even got to top up my fading Singapore tan just a little.

View from the top

Calton Hill is one of Edinburgh's main hills right in the city centre. It was formed by violent volcanic activity 340 million years ago and then further shaped by glaciers during the Ice Age. Records for the area show that in 1456 James II granted land by charter to Edinburgh which included this area of the city. With this charter James II granted the community of Edinburgh this area for performing tournaments, sports and other warlike activities. The area was also used for open-air theatre performances. The town council of Edinburgh purchased the hill in 1724 establishing it as one of the UK's first public parks and in 1775 the first path was constructed around the hill.

Looking Towards the Firth of Forth

From the top of the hill (more climbing but it's good for your legs honest) you can, on a clear day, like we were lucky enough to enjoy, get some great views across the city towards Arthur's Seat and out to the Firth of Forth. We were lucky to have gorgeous weather but I can imagine it being a little bracing at times when the weather isn't so kind. Still, somewhere I'd like to go back to at different times of the year to compare. There's a nice little coffee stall at the top to warm you up if you aren't so lucky. As the weather was so great though when we went it was nice to sit outside, enjoy the coffee and people watch for a little while. Whilst we were sitting there I noticed that there was also an art installation of some kind at the city observatory (right next to the coffee stall), built towards the end of the 19th century, one for another time possibly.

View Towards Arthur's Seat

As I mentioned there are a number of monuments and buildings at the top of Calton Hill making up just a part of Edinburgh's stunning and recognisable skyline. One of the most identifiable there is the National Monument of Scotland, the one that looks like the Parthenon in Athens which it is actually modelled upon. It is Scotland's national memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, construction started in 1826 but due to a lack of funds was left unfinished in 1829 earning it various, some may say unkind, nicknames over time. Despite that and various subsequent attempts to complete the monument it has been left unfinished and stands magnificently above the city.

National Monument of Scotland

The hill also houses the Nelson monument which, rather obviously from the name, is a commemorative tower built in honour of Lord Nelson. It's easy to spot from a long way off from Calton Hill, it was built at the highest point of the hill and I've noticed since that you can get a great view of it from Princes Street. It was built between 1807 and 1815 to commemorate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and his death at the same battle. It is designed in the form of an upturned telescope, obviously a nod to Nelson's naval career. Later the time ball on the top was added and it was used as a time signal to shipping in the Leith harbour. You can go into the monument for a small fee but we opted not to that time. The weather was just too lovely!

Nelson monument



Dugald Stewart monument

Also on top of Calton Hill is the Dugald Stewart monument which to me has always looked a little like a small ancient temple, I now know that it was indeed modelled on a monument also from Athens. This is a memorial to the Scottish philosopher of the same name. He was a professor at the University holding the chair of moral philosophy from 1786 until his death. The Royal Society of Edinburgh (Scotland's national academy of science and letters) commissioned the monument and selected its site in 1830. From this part of the hill we decided to make our descent back to street level and walked back into the city.

These that I've mentioned are only a couple of the many monuments etc. at Calton Hill but having looked at these, wandered around a little and stopped for coffee our afternoon had flown by. Definitely somewhere to head back to again before too long, for the other monuments, the views and the changes as we head from summer in to autumn.

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