The golden street with a royal seal of approval

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AS the limousine ploughed through the traffic, a regal voice piped up from the back seat, "take a left along here, I want to go down Ann Street".

They were familiar orders to the Royal chauffeurs, who became used to the unusual detour on the way home to Holyrood Palace.

Legend has it that the Queen Mother loved the feel of the elegant Georgian street, so reminiscent of the world of her youth.

She liked to be driven along its stone setts – often with a young Prince Charles sitting beside her – soaking in the quiet and calm.

Today the appeal of the Stockbridge street is increasingly widely recognised.

Long known to the Capital's establishment as one of the city's most desirable addresses, it was named this week as one of the six most exclusive streets in the UK.

A study of the country's "golden postcodes", by the County Homesearch Company, found the street was immune to market downturns thanks to its enviable location and impressive townhouses.

So who lives there and what do they make of life in arguably Edinburgh's most desirable street?

Walking along the quiet street, it is no surprise to find BMWs, Range Rovers and the occasional convertible parked on the roadside. Properties here, after all, change hands for more than 1 million.

Two of the newer residents are Lady Sara Johnston, 73, and her husband Sir Raymond, 78, a retired investment manager.

The couple have lived in Ann Street for the last three years, since moving from near Loch Lomond.

Lady Sara enjoys the views to Fife from her back windows and walks her two dogs in the neighbouring Dean Gardens.

All residents are keyholders for the gardens, as well as being members of the community association the Ann Street Society.

"We like it very much," she explains, "We knew several people in the street who recommended it to us. Everyone is very friendly. It's a bit like living in a village because it has gardens front and back."

The extensive front gardens are indeed the striking feature which mark out the two and three-storey Georgian townhouses from so many others in the New Town.

It is perhaps one of the reasons for the strong community spirit, which brings together the lords, ladies and gentlemen of the neighbourhood to sing carols along the street each Christmas Eve.

The front gardens and low fences mean people talk and get to know each other.

The community singing was for 19 years organised by Dilly Emslie. "We meet at the far end of Ann Street – usually 70 or 80 people turn out," she says. "We have a get-together afterwards with mulled wine in the Dean Tennis Club. It's a lovely way to start Christmas and for people to see each other."

Dilly and her husband Derek, the judge Lord Kingarth, both in their fifties, have lived happily in their four-bedroom house for more than two decades.

"We had looked quite widely," says the mother-of-three. "It had to be within walking distance of Parliament House for Derek and we wanted a main door and a little bit of garden.

"The best thing is the peace and the fact we have these small gardens. We have foxes and birds, but apart from that it's very silent. It's a lovely community."

Across from the Emslies, George Montgomery, 78, is one of the street's best-known faces.

"I'm the grandfather of the street," he announces proudly. "I've been here 44 years and it's very comfortable."

Retired from the hotel industry, George was brought up in nearby Carlton Street and bought his home for its situation, architecture and gardens.

"In the 1950s you couldn't get mortgages for old Edinburgh properties because the building societies didn't believe it was a worthwhile investment. I didn't get a mortgage at first when I married, but I always wanted to come back to this area. I refer to it as Stockbridge, though many people say New Town. It depends whether you want to sound snobbish or not," he laughs.

Property expert Scott Brown of Warners says homes in Ann Street are so sought after that many change hands without ever going on the open market.

"It's a lovely grand old street," he says. "While you have other exclusive streets like Easter Belmont or Barnton Avenue, they don't have the Georgian splendour of the New Town.

"What makes Ann Street unique is that it's traditional old Edinburgh New Town. Ann Street has always been well known – there's always been a cachet."

However, Scott points out a few disadvantages to the street. "Parking is murder and the homes are not very family-friendly. The majority are very tall and narrow, with very small rooms."

Wendy Cook, 43, agrees the street has parking issues. "Car parking is a complete nightmare," she frowns. "Lots of people have lots of cars per household and there are not enough spaces."

But, there are no other downsides for Wendy and her husband Jim, who live with their three children at the Water of Leith end of the street and run a property business. "The location is what I like best. It's bang in the middle of the city but you wouldn't think it."

Margaret Stephenson moved to Ann Street with her partner Dr Carl Atkinson in 2002.

"It's such a pretty street," says Margaret. "The houses are lovely and there's a good community spirit – it's like a village within the city. It's so peaceful and yet I can walk to Princes Street."

Another recent incomer is graphic designer Claire Hegarty, who lives with partner Michael and two-year-old daughter Grace.

"Everyone is lovely here," says Claire, 41, who came up from London a year ago, "It's a very small street in that everyone knows everyone else's business – but in a good way."

And she has heard the story, well-known in the area, about the Queen Mother's fondness for the street.

"It's a nice story," she says.

So is it a special place to live? "I do feel extremely privileged," she smiles. "Everywhere is beautiful."

ARTIST'S VISION THAT BECAME 'THE MOST ATTRACTIVE STREET IN BRITAIN'

WHEN Scottish painter Sir Henry Raeburn drew the designs for Ann Street in 1817, along with architect James Milne, he decided to name the row of houses after his wife, Ann Edgar.

The A-listed properties were originally sold for between 200 and 1200 and were some of the first to have front gardens.

The street was described by Sir John Betjeman as the most attractive in the whole of Britain, while author JM Barrie, pictured, creator of Peter Pan, was so charmed by the setting that he based his 1902 novel Quality Street on it.

But Ann Street's literary legacy doesn't end there. It was once home to author Christopher North, the pen name of John Wilson, one of whose published volumes was an idealised portrait of the "Ettrick Shepherd", James Hogg.

North's regular house guest was Thomas de Quincey, the infamous "Opium Eater". Addicted to an ounce of laudanum a day, he would entertain the writer's other guests with his impressive wit until the drugs took their toll.

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