Edinburgh’s Jacob’s Ladder to be reborn after £150,000 makeover

Its origins as Edinburgh’s “stairway to heaven” date as far back to the 18th century when it was deployed as a route for burial processions.

Tuesday, 26th February 2019, 12:56 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th February 2019, 1:01 pm

But the short cut between the city’s Old and New Towns, which leads to some of its best-known Enlightenment landmarks, was almost abandoned in modern times due to its derelict and unsafe condition.

Now, however, Jacob’s Ladder, the 140-step pathway carved into the volcanic rock of Calton Hill, has been reborn after a £150,000 makeover.

It has been lit up for the first time in its history in a bid to shed its unsafe reputation and “eliminate any dark corners and hiding places,” while its crumbling steps and walls have been completely restored.

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February 2019. Jacob's Ladder reopens after refurbishment by Edinburgh World Heritage. The steps join Edinburgh's Old and New Towns by connecting Regent Road and Calton Road. Picture: Tom Duffin

Overgrown vegetation and unsightly graffiti have also been removed using environmentally-friend chemicals to ensure the historic stonework was not damaged.

Named after Jacob’s dream sequence in the Bible, the route - which links the Scottish Government’s headquarters, Calton Hill and the old Royal High School with Calton Road and Waverley Station - first appeared on a city map in 1784.

However although it is thought to have existed long before then, as the Old Calton Burial Ground, the first major development on the hill, dates back to 1718.

The graveyard is the final resting place of philosopher David Hume and mathematician John Playfair.

Picture: Tom Duffin

One of its best-known features is a statue of Abraham Lincoln, created as a memorial to the Scots who fought for the Union cause in the American Civil War.

The restoration was led by the Edinburgh World Heritage trust, which launched a fundraising appeal three years ago amid warnings that the pathway had “fallen into a poor state of repair.”

A spokesman for Edinburgh World Heritage said: “The stonework repairs included repointing, replacing broken sections and remolding areas close to the new railings.

“Stonemason apprentices from St Mary’s Cathedral’s workshop were also involved in repairing the walls.

Jacob's Ladder reopens after refurbishment by Edinburgh World Heritage. Picture: Tom Duffin

“The lighting for the pathway has been designed to improve personal safety and eliminate any dark corners and hiding places.”

EWH director Adam Wilkinson said: “The ancient wynds and pathways of Edinburgh, each with their owns stories and associations, are an important part of our rich cultural heritage.

“We want to encourage everyone to use these pedestrian routes, including closes, paths through burying grounds, and wynds, as they go about their daily business and perhaps explore their city a little in the process.”

Neil Gardiner, convener of Edinburgh City Council’s planning committee, said: “I would encourage anyone able to manage the 140 stairs to go and check out the spectacular views and hidden stories from the past that make this such a great short cut down. This project is a great example of the preservation work carried out by Edinburgh World Heritage.

Picture: TSPL