It’s almost impossible to walk anywhere in Edinburgh without being surrounded by history. Seeing as the area was settled as early as 8500BCE, a hill fort (Dun Eidyn*) was established prior to the 7th century CE, and the city has been Scotland’s capital since the 15th century, that’s hardly surprising. I absolutely adore Edinburgh’s history, and how accessible it is to even the most un-academic of visitors. It only made sense to share some of my love of the city with you all, even if it’s just so that poor Alex gets a break from my constant stream of fun facts.
Seeing as we’re lucky enough to live in the beautiful Dean Village, that seemed like the most sensible place to start.
Dean Village has been around since at least 1128, and was first mentioned in King David’s founding charter of Holyrood Abbey (1145), where the revenue of one of the mills of “Dene” was granted to the abbey. Originally known as the Village of the Water of Leith, the name Dean Village comes from the Old English word for a deep valley: dene.
Separate from the city of Edinburgh until the 1820s, Dean Village was a primarily industrial village, made up of various mills built up along the Waters of Leith. Between 1125 and the 1800s, the 11 mills of Dean Village provided the grain required to feed the city of Edinburgh. Entering the village from Stockbridge, you walk up a little path known as Miller Row. Currently home to offices, a castle-esque building created in 1912, and a few old stone walls, Miller Row originally housed many of the village’s mills, including Lindsay’s Mill (1580), Mar’s Mill (1580), and the six story Jericho granary (1619). All the buildings are gone now, but you can still see three of the Mill Stones from Lindsay’s Mill, brought to the village from France in the late 1500s in the old mill’s location.
Coming out of Miller Row, you reach the intersection (if it can be called that) between Bell’s Brae and Hawthornbank Lane. Bell’s Brae is a steep cobbled path that leads up to the West End of Edinburgh (with a little bench half way if you need a sit). At the bottom of the path is a large yellow building, Baxter’s Tollbooth, built in 1675. Baxters, or bakers, controlled Dean Village until the 1800s, as it was their mills that provided the income and jobs in the village. There are many carvings in Dean Village commemorating these Baxters, including one above the old entrance that states “God Bless The Baxters of Edinburgh Uho Bult This Hous 1675“. The tollbooth, like most of Dean Village’s buildings, is now all private residences.
Next to the tollbooth is the oldest actual residential house in the village, built sometime during the 1600s. It’s still a house (or a few) today, complete with window boxes brimming with yellow and purple flowers.
The main way to get across the Waters of Leith in Dean Village was, for a long time, Bell’s Bridge. The bridge dates back to at least the 1640s, with a datestone from 1643 still visible as you approach the bridge from Miller Row. The carving depicts two crossed peels (the boards used by bakers to remove their bread from the ovens), reads “Blessit Be God For Al His Giftis’. The view from the little bridge is absolutely lovely, with the river stretching away on either side. There are almost always tourists taking photos on the bridge, but if you arrive early enough in the morning or late enough in the evening the view is clear.
After crossing Bell’s Bridge, you’re greeted on the right by West Mill, an imposing building built in 1805 to replace the earlier mills on the other side of the river. It’s currently residential flats, but it still has the lovely old carving at the top of the building, and definitely feels imposing and mill-like.
Opposite the mill is the old school house, built in 1875 for the children of Dean Village. By the 1800s, the village was a bustling industrial hub, with textile mills, tanneries, and blacksmiths lining the banks of the river. It was open as a school until 1965, when the general abandonment of the village led to its closure.
Turning left after the school takes you onto another lovely cobbled lane. If you continue down the lane, you reach Damside. Now another residential area, Damside was originally where the mill lade (a man-made channel to bring water to the mill) ran.
Before you reach Damside however, the stone buildings of Well Court loom above you to the left. If you were paying attention in earlier posts, you’ll know that Well Court was built in 1884 to house local workers. Financed by local figure John Ritchie Findlay, the accommodation included a large hall for socialising and schooling children, as well as an open communal courtyard. The entire structure was restored by Edinburgh World Heritage Trust in 2007, which is great for Alex and I because that’s where we now live. It’s an awfully popular location within Dean Village, with people often lingering in the courtyard to take photos of the beautiful buildings around them.
Heading back to the left down towards the river from Well Court is the iron footbridge crossing the water. Built in 1889, it actually crosses the river at the original ford point of the Water of Leith. The footbridge gives more beautiful views of the river, including a stunning angle of Well Hall.
Across the bridge is Hawthornbank lane, complete with yellow-rendered houses built in the 1800s. Walking up a small hill (by Edinburgh standards) to the left leads you back to Bell’s Brae and Miller Row. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can wander up the little lanes and see where you end up.
Overall, Dean Village is a beautiful part of the city, steeped with history and maintaining its own unique character. It’s also still a bit of a hidden gem, and well worth the visit. It can also form a part of a longer walk, it sits neatly on the path between Stockbridge and the Galleries of Modern Art, although the Waters of Leith Walkway stretches all the way from Balnero to Leith if you’re up for a really long walk!
*Extra fun fact: Dunedin in New Zealand is named after Dun Eidyn aka Edinburgh