Tiny tunnel attraction buries Castle in popularity stakes

Margaretanne Dugan checks out Gilmerton Cove's Tripadvisor rating on her phone
Margaretanne Dugan checks out Gilmerton Cove's Tripadvisor rating on her phone
Have your say

WHEN it comes to tourist attractions, Edinburgh has plenty to offer.

Visitors flock every year to see world-famous sites, such as Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, visit Edinburgh Zoo or marvel at exhibits in the newly-revamped National Museum of Scotland.

But it seems all of these pale in comparison when compared with the delights of Gilmerton Cove.

The little-known site is currently listed as first amongst the city’s top 157 attractions on travel website Tripadvisor, above the Castle, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Arthur’s Seat.

Its true origins remain unclear but that hasn’t stopped visitors consistently rating the reputedly haunted labyrinth as “excellent” online.

Stories and legends abound regarding the exact purpose of the series of hand-carved passageways and chambers that lie below the busy Gilmerton crossroads.

Many believe it to be an illicit 18th-century drinking den, whilst others claim it to be a refuge for covenanters or a smuggler’s lair.

The council-owned property is only insured for 12 people and tour guide Margaretanne Bugan, who also operates Rosslyn Tours, believes this is what makes it so special.

Margaretanne said: “We only open if we have a booking but we’re definitely seeing more and more interest, especially from overseas visitors. To be the top-rated attraction in Edinburgh is fantastic for such a wee place.

“We’ve been asking visitors to leave some feedback on Tripadvisor for the past eight months and obviously they’ve been doing just that.”

Edinburgh City Council began to develop the site in 1998 after buying it for £1 from bookmaker Ladbrokes and, following £100,000 worth of restoration work, the council reopened the site as a heritage centre in 2002.

The cove, which can be reached from the centre by a stone staircase, consists of a 40ft passage with rooms off each side. Some of the rooms, which are lit by skylights, have carved, domed ceilings and rock-cut benches and beds.

At one time the cove was thought to be an 18th-century drinking den, but historical and archaeological research led to claims that it was more likely to have been the workplace of an 18th-century blacksmith.

However, further work then uncovered proof that George Paterson, previously thought of as a blacksmith, was in fact an illicit bar keeper.

Margaretanne added: “All of the tunnels haven’t even been explored as it is unsafe to do so.”

Former council leader Donald Anderson was key in acquiring the funding to open the site in 2002.

He said: “I knew it would never be a massive attraction because you just can’t get lots of people through the tunnels. I did think it had a role as a high-quality niche attraction, and so it has proved.”

A VisitScotland spokesperson, said: “We are delighted that visitors continue to rate this as one of Edinburgh and Lothians best attractions.”