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Stockbridge Scotland

The Village Of Stockbridge

Just a ten-minute walk from downtown Edinburgh, Stockbridge stands apart, a small
village with green spaces, rich history and a cosmopolitan edge.

BY STEPHEN MCGINTY

Walk with me, if you will. It is a bright day in early winter and, though bitterly cold, the low sun is dazzling, igniting the honey coloured stone of George Street into a fiery bronze. It is difficult to even look up at the castle, perched on its dark crag, without first shielding one's eyes. Yet today the fortress and the Old Town are not to be our destination; instead we're turning down North Castle Street and heading to that most beautiful and bohemian of quarters, a community of handsome buildings, curved crescents and eclectic shops of which it was once accurately said: this is "Georgian Edinburgh with its tie loosened."

Stockbridge is my favourite part of one of my favourite cities. As a Glaswegian I'm frequently expected to advocate the rough and tumble of my native town over the chilled perfection of the Scottish capital, but it's an argument I can never quite bring myself to make. For in terms of sheer physical beauty, Edinburgh has always been Cinderella, which, unfortunately, tends to cast Glasgow as her less physically fortunate sibling.

One of the benefits of this area of Edinburgh is its proximity to what is now the city's centre, both the prim affluence of George Street and the proletarian popularity of Princes Street. Granted, I am indeed a brisk walker, a habit picked up from my mother as a toddler, but it takes less than ten minutes to stroll down to St. Stephen's Church, the grand structure designed by William Playfair in 1827, which marks the eastern "gateway" to Stockbridge. Apparently, the clock pendulum is the longest in Europe, though I must be honest and say that I've never felt the need to verify this bold claim. (The physical footprint of Stockbridge has always been difficult to accurately define, according to locals. One resident once said that it began at Sax Shaw's stained glass studio and home in Howe Street and ended at Thomas Carlyle's house in Comely Bank.)

The streets I'm about to contentedly wander are less than 200 years old, for in comparison to the wynds and alleys of Edinburgh's Old Town, Stockbridge is but a young pretender. From the rotunda of St. Bernard's Well I walk up towards the street around which the area evolved. Where I now tread was largely open fields in 1813 and belonged to Henry Raeburn, the artist and son of a local yarn boiler, who had married Ann Leslie, a rich widow of a landowner, and, as a result, now found himself with two estates, Deanhaugh and St. Bernard's, which he was keen to develop. The planning and construction of New Town, which had begun in 1766, had proved so startling a success that Raeburn saw no reason why he couldn't develop handsome properties of his own. Together with the architect James Milne, they designed a stunning street of townhouses, which he named after his beloved wife.

Today Ann Street is the most expensive and desirable address in Scotland. Pale stone, dark slate roofs, white linteled windows, these terraced homes have collectively been described by Sir John Betjeman as the most attractive street in Britain, and J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, was so taken by the setting and surrounding area that he based his book, Quality Street, published in 1902, on Ann Street.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © P. Dodds & Keith Fergus / Scottish Viewpoint