The Out About Scotland complete guide to Gilmerton Cove
Category: Historic site
Suitable for ages: 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 7 out of 10
About Gilmerton Cove
Underneath the streets of Gilmerton – an ex-mining village not far from the city centre – lies one of the strangest unsolved mysteries in Edinburgh. It’s here where you’ll find an underground series of passageways and chambers that were carved deep into the sandstone by hand, although for what purpose remains unknown to this day.
This attraction is one of Scotland’s most unusual heritage sites as it’s hidden beneath a nondescript house in an otherwise unremarkable street, but the subterranean caverns are definitely worth taking the time to discover.
It’s also one of those tourist attractions that can be classed as one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems, as although it’s well known amongst locals you can ask any tourist and they’ll likely say they’ve never heard of it.
Once you venture deep underground you’ll find carved fireplaces, a blacksmiths forge, and even tables and chairs. But why are they there? This archaeological mystery has baffled researchers for over 300 years but you can come up with your own theory as to the purpose of the tunnels when you book a tour.Read more...
Things to do at Gilmerton Cove
The caves as we see them today are the result of extensive restoration thanks in part to both the City of Edinburgh Council and the Gilmerton Heritage Trust, who in addition to excavating the tunnels restored a traditional mining cottage above as the visitor centre.
The cottage houses several audio-visual displays that depict the many theories behind the origins of Gilmerton Cove and also educates visitors about the history of Gilmerton. You’ll 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.
While you can’t explore the underground tunnels on your own you can at least join one of the daily tours that take you deep into the mysterious cove with a knowledgeable guide who really brings the story of this strange place to life.
It’s genuinely interesting and a little bit creepy too, so if you fancy seeing something that’s different to the usual tourist traps I highly recommend you visit Gilmerton and take a trip underground.
The history of Gilmerton Cove
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.
One thing 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. But whether he dug the caves out on his own or simply moved into them after they had been previously abandoned is unknown.
Many of the underground chambers contain stone benches and tables and there’s 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 that was originally 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 to this day it’s good fun trying to make your own mind up about the reasons for digging these secret passageways.
What I liked about this attraction
- It’s a unique attraction in Edinburgh.
- This is a real hidden gem that most tourists don’t know about.
My top tips
- You have to book in advance to view the caves so don’t just turn up on the day expecting to get in
Address and directions map
16 Drum St.,
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 TourSummer Tours (April-September):
Monday – Friday: 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm Tour, Saturday & Sunday: 12pm, 2pm, 3pm Tour
Getting there: Bus stop nearby
Getting around: Stairs, Uneven paths
On-site conveniences: Conveniences available in the area