By Craig Neil
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Underneath the streets of Gilmerton in Edinburgh lies Gilmerton Cove, a secret underground series of passageways and chambers that were carved into the sandstone by hand. To date, no one knows who built them. Or why.
Discover this fascinating historic tourist attraction with this guide which includes an overview and visiting advice.
|Address:||16 Drum St.,
|Opening Hours:||October to March there are tours at 12 noon on weekdays and at 12 noon and 2 pm on weekends
April to September there are tours at 11 am, 12 noon, 2 pm, and 3 pm on weekdays and at 12 noon, 2 pm, and 3 pm on weekends
Tours are available by appointment only
|Admission Price:||£7.50 for adults
£6.50 for students or visitors aged 60 and over
£4 for children aged between 5 and 16
£20 Family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children
|Parking:||Roadside parking around Drum Street|
|Facilities:||Audio visual display|
1: Gilmerton Cove is a unique attraction in Edinburgh. The only similar attraction I can think of is the underground vaults tour operated by Mercat Tours.
2: This is a real hidden gem that most tourists don’t know about. If you want to see a side of the city that’s well away from the crowds this is the place to visit.
1: You have to book in advance to view the caves so don’t just turn up on the day expecting to get in. Visit the official website to make a booking.
2: Getting to Gilmerton Cove by public transport takes around 30 minutes. From Princes Street take the number 29 bus. There are bus stops on Drum Street on either side of the attraction.
3: If you’re looking for other attractions in the area I recommend taking a drive to Vogrie Park which is a real gem when it comes to child-friendly attractions.
Alternatively, drive to Dalkeith Country Park which is a large woodland area featuring lots of country walks, a superb shopping centre, and a very good play park.
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.
Take a trip down into the murky depths below Gilmerton and you’ll find surprising features like a fireplace, a well, and even a blacksmith’s forge carved into the rock as well as stone tables and benches.
It’s a mystery that’s baffled experts for over 200 years and I have a feeling it won’t be solved for many more years to come.
What I really like about Gilmerton Cove is that it’s one of those tourist attractions that can be classed as an Edinburgh hidden gem so it makes a nice break from the ultra-touristy attractions you’ll find all over the city centre.
In fact, I bet you can ask any visiting tourist about the subterranean cavern and they’ll say they’ve never even heard of it.
Hopefully, this state of affairs will change now that Gilmerton Cove is included in the incredibly popular Edinburgh City Pass – which you can order through the link in the Tickets and Opening Times section below.
Once you venture deep underground you’ll be able to see for yourself what this archaeological mystery is all about. Was it a witches’ coven? Or some kind of secret meeting place? Did the Romans build it, or is it even older than that? Druids? Who knows?
You’ll just have to make your own mind up when you book your tour down there…
Discover the story of Edinburgh in my article: Edinburgh – A Thousand Year History.
The caves as we see them today are the result of an 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 the traditional mining cottage above as a visitor centre.
What’s collectively known as Gilmerton Cove is actually a network of seven chambers and numerous passageways beneath the streets of the suburb, which although old (possibly even ancient) only opened as a tourist attraction in 2003.
Entry is through a typical worker’s cottage from Midlothian’s mining past and it’s there where you’ll gain your first insight into what makes the attraction so unique.
The cottage houses several audio-visual displays that depict the many theories behind the origins of Gilmerton Cove and also educate 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.
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, yet local stories are rife with tales of druids and witchcraft practices that took place there.
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 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.
Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:
Edinburgh – 350 Explorer.
Edinburgh – 66 Landranger.
OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
Things to do nearby
Dalkeith Country Park. Via King’s Gate, Dalkeith EH22 1ST. 9-minute drive. One of the largest country parks in Midlothian. Dalkeith Country Park centres around Dalkeith House (not accessible to the public).
There are lots of paths that run through woodland and open fields. The newly-installed Restoration Yard visitor centre includes shops and cafés. A large children’s play park – Fort Douglas – is located alongside the River South Esk.
Craigmillar Castle. Craigmillar Castle Rd, Edinburgh EH16 4SY. 6-minute drive. A medieval castle located 4 miles from the city centre that was often used by Scottish royalty (including Mary Queen of Scots).
The castle has several gardens, a tower house, a large courtyard and modern conveniences like a shop and toilets. Craigmillar Castle Park surrounds the castle which has a variety of woodland walks through it.
Blackford Hill. Observatory Rd, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ. 14-minute drive. A hillside nature reserve close to the centre of Edinburgh. The hill is home to the Royal Observatory and the Hermitage of Braid – a 1700s estate home and gardens set in dense woodland.
Mavisbank House. Polton Rd, Lasswade EH18 1HY. 9-minute drive. One of the earliest examples of a Palladian-style villa in Scotland. Mavisbank House was constructed in the 1720s by John Clerk, one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment.
It is partially in ruin but a private trust is attempting to restore it to its former glory. The interior of the house is currently inaccessible to the public.
Frequently asked questions
How do I get to Gilmerton Cove?
Address: 16 Drum St., Edinburgh, EH17 8QH
Directions map: Google Maps
Is Gilmerton in Midlothian or Edinburgh?
Gilmerton is a suburb of Edinburgh.
How much is Gilmerton Cove?
Tickets for Gilmerton Cove vary by age and group number. Visit the official website for the current prices.
What visitor facilities are there at Gilmerton Cove?
Visit the official website for updated information on available facilities.