Learn the history behind Scotland's ancient castles and buildings
16 Drum St.
Telephone: 0131 6662035
Prices and opening times
Gilmerton Cove is only open by appointment, so prior booking is essential.
The cove is not suitable for children under 5, and children between 5 and 15 must be accompanied by an adult
|Tour Times||Winter Tours (October-March):
Monday – Friday: 12pm Tour, Saturday & Sunday: 12pm & 2pm Tour, Summer Tours (April-September):
Monday – Friday: 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm Tour, Saturday & Sunday: 12pm, 2pm, 3pm Tour
Underneath the streets of Gilmerton, an ex-mining village not far from the city centre, lies one of the strangest unsolved mysteries in all of Edinburgh. Here you will find an underground series of passageways and chambers that were burrowed into the sandstone by hand, although for what purpose remains unknown to this day. Gilmerton Cove is one of those tourist attractions that can be easily classed as one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems, as although it’s well known amongst locals, ask any tourist and they will likely say they’ve never heard of it. But a short bus ride to Gilmerton is certainly worth the time if you want to experience another side to the city that was previously hidden from view for many years.
The caves as we see them today are the result extensive restoration thanks in part to both the City of Edinburgh Council and the Gilmerton Heritage Trust, who in addition to excavating the caves restored a traditional mining cottage above as the visitor centre. The cottage houses many interesting audio-visual displays that depict the many theories behind the origins of Gilmerton Cove while also educating visitors about the history of Gilmerton. You will even learn about the ghosts that haunt the passageways and the network of undiscovered tunnels that are believed to stretch far beyond some of the collapsed walls.
Many of the underground chambers contain stone benches, tables and even a Christian chapel, and yet stories abound of druids and witchcraft practices that were suspected of taking place there hundreds of years ago. Interestingly, a recent survey using ground penetrating radar has shown that the caves are much larger than previously thought, maybe up to twice the size than previously estimated. So what reasons could there be for a network of caves in Gilmerton? Perhaps they were simply the location of storage vaults for the wealthy, or maybe they were a secret gentlemen’s drinking den. Although their purpose still remains a mystery you can at least come up with your own theory after taking a visit underground.
Several theories exist as to why the caves were dug, ranging from being used as a secret hiding place for outlawed Covenanters (a religious group who were persecuted in the 17th century), to a secret network of storage chambers for illegal whisky. What we know for certain is that the caves were inhabited by George Paterson, a blacksmith in the 18th century who was recorded as being charged on several occasions for allowing alcohol to be drunk there on the Sabbath. However, whether he dug the caves out on his own or simply moved into them after they had been previously abandoned is unknown.