WITH plans to improve the Royal Mile out for consultation, the future for Edinburgh’s most historic thoroughfare is bright – and in the Canongate it could also be orange.
One idea being discussed as part of the Royal Mile action plan is extending the cobbled road surface, which currently runs from the Castle as far as St Mary’s Street, down to Holyrood.
And there is some evidence that the original cobbles – or setts – in the Canongate stretch of the Mile were a different colour from the grey setts used for the rest of the street.
Historical accounts record “grey and orange granite setts” being brought to Edinburgh from Aberdeenshire. Euan Leitch, assistant director of the Cockburn Association, said he had heard descriptions of “reddish” stones being used in the Canongate.
And he said it would offer “some continuity” if that part of the street were cobbled in its original colour. He said: “Anecdotally, we have heard the Canongate setts had a red tone. I remember talking to a labourer who had worked on digging up cobbles in the Canongate and he spoke of them being a reddish colour, suggesting the Canongate had been treated differently from the rest of the Royal Mile.
“There is also evidence orange setts were imported to Edinburgh, which may imply the Canongate was laid in orange at one time. If it was orange setts originally, it would give some continuity to have them again if they were available.”
Conservation architect James Simpson said he strongly supported the reinstatement of traditional setts in the Canongate. “I would not feel strongly about the need to match the colour to what it had been, but if it was established there were red setts and that could be done, fair enough.”
Malcolm Fraser, the architect behind the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the Royal Mile, said he would not worry about the colour. He said: “What happened in the past is interesting, but we shouldn’t let it reduce our options today.”
And he said he had reservations about cobbles. “They’re not particularly easy to walk over.”
Planning convener Ian Perry said it was the council’s long-term ambition to restore the Royal Mile to its original character. He said: “In the recent past it has been treated as two different streets, the old historic bit at the top and the more modern part down to the palace. We need to redress the balance and treat the Mile as one street. Putting setts down would help in that process.”
Councillor Perry declined to comment on the colour issue, but council sources indicated the question of the colour of the cobbles could be considered as part of the consultation.
THE Royal Mile would not be the first historic site to change colour in a return to its roots.
In 2003, a £1 million refurbishment of Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirk saw its sombre grey roughcast walls repainted in mustard yellow, the colour Historic Scotland said they would have been when the church was built in the 1600s.
And the 16th century Great Hall at Stirling Castle swapped its grey stone exterior for bright yellow finish in 1999 when the walls were limewashed and new harling installed as part of a £20m programme to
restore the castle to its former glory.