Duddingston Village to hold own festival

India Young enjoys the surroundings of Dr Neil's Garden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
India Young enjoys the surroundings of Dr Neil's Garden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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WALKING around Duddingston village can often feel like taking a step back in time. Its narrow, cobbled streets and grand homes overlooking the picturesque 12th century church, Arthur’s Seat and vibrant freshwater loch could be taken straight from a Sunday night period drama.

And that’s without even mentioning the friendly, bustling local pub – which it is thought to date back to 1360 - and its 
decades-old skittles team.

Described as a “wee jewel”, Duddingston has maintained its quaint village feel despite being the next door neighbour of the busy built-up residential areas of Craigmillar and Portobello.

And now, for the first time, all things Duddingston are to be celebrated during its very own festival.

The village will be throwing open its doors to visitors to showcase what it has to offer.

And, according to the man behind the festival, that is “so much in such a small place”.

Duddingston resident Stephen Harvey came up with the idea last October to stage a festival in the village and has been overwhelmed by the amount of community spirit it has attracted. Local residents have been eager to get on board, and next weekend’s free festival boasts an impressive mix of events and performers, including headliner John Hegley, performance poet and comedian.

Amongst the activities on offer, there will be free bowling sessions at The Sheep Heid Inn – which is also having a real ale festival that weekend – events for children, hula hooping, guided tours, storytelling, an art exhibition and live music 

Visitors to the festival will also be able to get a guided tour round the little-known Dr Neil’s Garden – often referred to as Edinburgh’s Secret Garden. Created by doctors Andrew and Nancy Neil in 1965 out of waste ground, it is one of the Capital’s best-kept secrets and has won numerous horticultural awards.

Festival organiser Stephen, a poet and self-confessed “aspiring writer”, enlisted the help of well-known Fringe performer Hegley in the pub last year, and says most of the people taking part in the Duddingston Festival have been more than willing to volunteer.

“John Hegley was up for a gig and we went for a pint afterwards and I said ‘if I do this festival, will you come and perform?’ and he said yes. He’s a really nice guy.

“When I started looking into the history of Duddingston, I found out that James IV used to have huge tournaments in 
Holyrood Park lasting a month. He had a tournament of the Wild Knight and the Black Lady in May 1508. I was talking to a friend, Professor Ian Campbell from Edinburgh University, about it and he’s now giving a talk about it during the festival.

“That’s just what’s happened with this festival – everyone has offered to get involved. It’s absolutely not my festival, it’s a community festival. It might have been one person’s brainchild, but it takes a whole village to raise a child.”

The 61-year-old adds: “Duddingston is just a fantastic space. When the road is closed it’s just like the village would have been several hundred years ago.

Other highlights of the festival include storytelling sessions in Dr Neil’s Garden and around Arthur’s Seat by Donald Smith, director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

“It’s very much a local initiative of people who live in Duddingston, or are connected with Duddingston,” says Mr Smith.

“The reason I’m up for being part of it and supporting it is I think Duddingston is a very special little place within Edinburgh. It still has its own identity. It’s a wee jewel.

“There’s still a number of people who live in the village, but there’s an awful lot of people who journey there. It’s a wonderful destination point.

“And, of course, The Sheep Heid Inn – which claims to be the oldest tavern in Edinburgh – is a wonderful place to stop for a pint after a walk or a cycle. The church in Duddingston is also an interesting example of a church which is still genuinely at the centre of its community.”

n The Duddingston Festival takes place on May 24-25. Visit 
www.duddingstonfestival.org.uk for details.