THEY are some of the most sparking jewels in the crown of the “Athens of the North” - but are shunned by many visitors to Scotland’s capital.
Now a major new campaign is underway to persuade more tourists to flock to the bottom section of the Royal Mile.
Attractions in and around the Canongate are joining forces for the first time to attempt to reverse a trend which sees visitors turn off the Royal Mile after taking in landmarks like Edinburgh Castle, the City Chambers and St Giles’ Cathedral.
Tourist organisations from across the city are being given a guided tour of the area tomorrow, while an afternoon of free public events is being staged on Sunday in a bid to raise the profile of what has been dubbed “the glorious half mile to Holyrood.”
Our Dynamic Earth, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish Poetry Library, the Museum of Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament are among the organisations which have banded together to form the new Canongate and Holyrood Initiative, which has published a new trail highlighting some of the area’s historic and cultural highlights.
These also include the Canongate Kirkyard, where poet Robert Fergusson and economist Adam Smith are buried, the latter’s former home at Panmure House, which currently undergoing a major restoration, and the Tollbooth, which dates back to the 16th century.
The action group has been formed in the wake of plans by the City of Edinburgh Council, which runs the Museum of Edinburgh, to explore the curbing of traffic levels and expansion of pavements in the Canongate in a bid to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, which is helping to organise both events in the next few days, said the area - which dates back to the formation of Holyrood Abbey in 1128 - was one of the most fascinating in the city, but “deserves much more attention.”
This Sunday’s events, which run from 1-4pm, will showcase how the area has been home to everyone “from Queens to rebels, courtiers to beggars, and indigent debtors to the wealthiest in the land.”
Tomorrow’s tourism industry showcase, billed as a familiarisation visit for the Canongate and Holyrood, is described as a chance to experience “an area rich in culture, history and outstanding architecture.”
David Hicks, communications manager at the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, said: “The Canongate and Holyrood comprise one of Edinburgh’s most fascinating areas, a key part of the World Heritage Site rich in history and characters. However much of the area remains over-looked by visitors. Now its institutions and attractions have come together to celebrate and promote the area.
“The Canongate is a key part of the World Heritage Site with many fascinating stories to tell, so it certainly deserves much more attention.
“As well as the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it has some of the most important historic buildings in the Old Town, places such Moray House and Acheson House. It also has interesting nooks and crannies such as Bakehouse Close and White Horse Close. The aim of the new trail leaflet is to highlight some of these places, and encourage residents and visitors alike to explore what the area has to offer.”
Last year the city council unveiled plans to transform the fortunes of the Royal Mile, following years of criticism of its condition.
Traffic bans, widening pavements, clamping down on “tartan tat” shops and bringing neglected closes back into use have all been identified as priorities for the next few years to turn the thoroughfare from an under-achieving tourist attraction to the “world’s best cultural living street”.
Key measures still being discussed by the local authority include banning motorists from the stretch of the Royal Mile between Niddry Street and St Mary’s Street and new traffic calming measures near the Scottish Parliament and the Queen’s residence in the city.