A green, tranquil refuge from the noise and bustle of Edinburgh hidden behind the high stone wall of Duddingston Kirk on the slope between picturesque Duddingston Village and the shores of the loch. It is the perfect “secret garden” of flower-filled crannies and nooks with little benches where you can sit and gaze at the lake and recharge after the hectic city. It is a lovely place to go to unruffle your feathers or have a romantic picnic on one of the hidden benches where you can steal the occasional kiss without observation. I’ve been there many times over the years and in all seasons and it is always quiet, so quiet that I’ve sometimes wondered what’s wrong – wrong with the world, the citizens of Edinburgh, the tourist guides – and then just been terribly grateful. The arrangement of conifers, herbaceous borders, hedges, little bridges and ponds is even more glorious when you have them to yourself!
For me the garden a place to think and dream, to work out what to do next, to savour a good coffee, read a book, persuade myself that it will all be alright, and to remember in an often tragic, often depressing world that there is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things…
The Garden Room café in the kirk garden helps support the garden which no longer receives funding from the National Trust for Scotland although why it doesn’t is beyond me. It is by far the prettiest and most peaceful place in Edinburgh and, in my opinion, deserved every penny it ever got. You can also help support it by buying plants and there are usually some on a table by the café.
The ladies who work here are delightfully friendly. The opening times are 10am to 4pm daily but check the website before going because they may change with the seasons. The garden itself is open from 10am to dusk.
It all began back in 1965 when Dr Nancy Neil and her husband, Andrew, also a doctor, were offered Duddingston Kirk’s mediaeval rubbish dump after they lost their allotment in Morningside. It had been used over the centuries for grazing calves and geese but with its steep slope, volcanic rock, and poor soil it had never been used for growing crops let alone ornamental plants. The Neils set to work clearing it removing almost 10ft of debris despite not being able to get in any mechanical diggers or other vehicles. It sounds almost too much for two people, even with the help of friends and patients, but love and persistence won out and today there is an ornate garden of colourful, individual terraces descending from the kirk’s own grounds down to the shores of the loch with its waterlilies, swans, ducks, and chattering moorhens. On the edge of the loch you can see the Thompson Tower, an elegant, purpose designed storehouse for curling equipment back in the day when curling had to be played on frozen waters in winter.
Finding it: Old Church Lane, off Duddingston Road West, EH15 3PX. You can either walk through the Manse gates turning right into the garden or, between 10am and 4pm, through the Garden Room café at the entrance to the church.
By car: The church has a car park onDuddingston Road West immediately before the turn into Old Church Lane with 50 spaces and a gate into their own garden which leads to Dr Neil’s Garden. If you don’t park in the church car park you can drive a little further down Old Church Lane to a small car park for Duddingston Loch.
By bus: Lothian Region Transport No.42 stops outside the church (timetable). The nearest point on the timetable is Craigmillar Crossroads but ask the driver to let you off at Duddingston Kirk.
Walk: A variety of routes through Holyrood Park following the signs for Duddingston Loch heading south-east.
Disability access: The toilets have wheelchair access but on the whole the rest of the place doesn’t. You can get in and park yourself with a view of the loch and that’s about it. If you use sticks to walk or are bit unsteady, have joint disease, etc, be very, very careful with the paths going up and down between the top of the garden and the loch because although some have long, shallow steps there are almost no railings or anything to grab on to. The church garden though and the area around the Garden Room is flat and manageable.
Nearby: Commonwealth War Graves in the church cemetery.
The Sheep’s Heid Inn which is the oldest pub in Edinburgh and, apparently, the Queen’s ‘local’ when she’s staying at Holyrood Palace!
For a few more photos of the garden, please visit my Dr Neil’s Garden Pinterest board.