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Colinton Village: Where History, Nature, and Inspiration Abound

In that forest to and fro

I can wander, I can go;

See the spider and the fly,

And the ants go marching by,

Carrying parcels with their feet

Down the green and grassy street.

I can in the sorrel sit

Where the ladybird alit.

I can climb the jointed grass

And on high

See the greater swallows pass

In the sky,

And the round sun rolling by

Heeding no such things as I.

Through that forest I can pass

Till, as in a looking-glass…

-Robert Louis Stevenson, The Little Land

How can you not be inspired by the beauty of Edinburgh and Scotland? On a recent, sun-drenched winter morning, we headed out on an “explore and discover” mission to the Edinburgh suburb of Colinton. We were looking for the comfort of some old ‘friends’ and we certainly found one on this trip.

Just a short bus ride from the centre of the city of Edinburgh, you reach the quaint village of Colinton. It’s history dates to the 11th century as there has been a church situated at the current Colinton Parish Church location since 1095.

Our starting point was Spylaw Park. It really was a glorious morning and others were out enjoying the weather as well. The frost glistened across the park with the rich, green grass peeking through. Dogs played everywhere, including Millie- a beautiful spaniel that bounded continuously after her beloved tennis ball.

We stopped and spoke with Millie’s gran, Elisabeth, for a spell. In typical friendliness that flourishes throughout Scotland, she kindly told us about her time in Colinton. She has spent her whole life in the village, and you could see the nostalgia wash over her face and her eyes soften as she mentioned how things were in the past.

She pointed out the old mill for Scott’s Porage Oats and the nearby Spylaw House. Originally, Spylaw House was a mansion built by James Gillespie in 1773. Gillespie was a snuff merchant and owned the snuff-mill in Spylaw. The House has now been converted to flats. We were grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Elisabeth because it gave us a better sense of the history in the area which she proudly shared.

We continued wandering through the park and realised we had a magnificent view of the arched bridge. If you visit Colinton, make sure to take the time to go down into the park. Otherwise, you cannot truly appreciate the architecture and history that encompasses the area.

We decided to continue along and came across a tunnel. It was icy cold as we ventured further and further along. Interestingly, the nearby signage indicated that the path and tunnel were all part of the former train line- the Balerno Branch. Historically, Colinton was a day-trip location for residents from Edinburgh who would often take the train to the village to relax and have a picnic at Spylaw Park. The height of its popularity was in the 1920s and 1930s. However, passenger services to the village ended in 1943 with freight services continuing until 1967. Ultimately, the tunnel and path became part of the Water of Leith Walkway.

We eventually made our way over to the Colinton Parish Church and

were delighted when we ran into our old friend and ‘visitor’ of the blog- Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS). He spent time in Colinton as a child visiting his grandfather who was a minister at the church. There is a lovely statue of RLS as a child with his dog. It depicts how he always loved to carry two books- one to write in and one to read.

There is a 'Walk with Robert Louis Stevenson' route that you can take in order to tread in his footsteps and experience what he did as a child. Many of his poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses are said to have been inspired by his time in Colinton, and there are informational plaques scattered along the route that quote these poems.

We continued our walk with RLS and journeyed back to the Water of Leith. The moss-covered stone wall that lined the path beckoned us to forge on into the dell. We didn’t really know where we would end up, but that’s part of the thrill and adventure of exploring, right?

The ancient forest was spectacular, and, even in winter, life was clearly breathing throughout. Ferns and ivy covered the trees and were surprisingly abundant and lush. It was incredible to think that a major city existed just beyond the border of the serene woods. Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine the child, Robert Louis Stevenson, exploring this very forest. I’m sure it was just as magical for him as it was for us as evidenced in his poem, The Little Land, quoted at the top of the page.

After a great deal of wandering, we finally made our way back to the village, and took a much-needed rest. If you are in Colinton, make sure to check out the Spylaw Tavern which has a great selection of ales and comfort food classics including Scottish ale-battered haddock with hand cut chips and ‘award-winning’ steak pie. It’s a nice place to relax and recharge after a long morning of exploration.

Our walk about Colinton revealed why so many writers and poets have been inspired by Edinburgh and Scotland. The friendliness of the people, the history of the area, and the incredible beauty of the natural surroundings only confirmed our love of our city and all it has to offer.

We are thrilled that we are in the position to share this beauty with you through this blog, as well as with our tours. If you are coming to Edinburgh and interested in exploring some of the Colinton sites described above, please check out our website and contact us to book your private tour today.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!

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