Family: Can you unravel the mystery of Gilmerton Cove?

AS a youngster I was an avid Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries fan, while Eve and Hope, my daughters, are Scooby Doo aficionados.

So we all jumped at the chance to explore a subterranean cave system, and attempt to discover the secrets of Edinburgh’s Gilmerton Cove.

From the outside you wouldn’t know it existed, and having driven across Gilmerton crossroads countless times I never imagined what lies beneath. Sandwiched between the Ladbrokes and the veterinary surgery is a series of hand carved passageways and chambers, 12ft below street level.

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The entrance is through a visitor centre adapted from a traditional mining cottage. Restored and preserved by Gilmerton Heritage Trust and the City of Edinburgh Council, it has recently reopened and been getting rave Trip Advisor reviews. Information boards explain the various theories, but archaeological and archive research raises far more questions than it answers. One theory suggests this place is the final resting place of the Holy Grail.

After hard hats have been donned you head down a spiral staircase, where rooms lead off from a main passageway. The walls and ceiling have been tooled by a sharp point and the ceilings vaulted. There is a well which has been carefully carved but, oddly, doesn’t reach the water table. There is also a forge which has been carved out of sandstone, but is unuseable, as stone explodes if heated.

There are stone seating areas with what look like tables in front of them, with a carved bowl on one. Carved initials and symbols can been seen with the aid of torch light, adding to the legends and stories. George Paterson, an 18th-century local blacksmith, lived down here with his family, and he may have used the cove as an illegal drinking den. He was charged at Liberton Kirk, accused of selling liquor on the Sabbath. His defence was to say his wife must have let people in the back door without him knowing – I suspect the long-suffering Mrs Paterson was not very amused. Cheeky fellow.

Alternative theories suggest that the cove was a secret tunnel system stretching from a nearby large house, a refuge for persecuted Covenanters or even a smugglers’ lair, but no one really knows for sure. Throughout the tour you are escorted by Margaretanne Dugan – she’s an expert on all the tales and stories but welcomes any of your ideas which might help explain Gilmerton Cove.

I’m sure I could have easily unravelled its mysteries myself – if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids.

Tours by appointment only, maximum number of 12 people per tour. Tickets cost £5 for adults, children and concessions, £4. Tel: 0845 894 5295, visit or email [email protected]; not suitable for under fives.