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Edinburgh's Elegant New Town

A walk in the footsteps of literary giants.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Busy city streets

Landscape Elegant Georgian townscape

Suggested map AA Street by Street Edinburgh

Start/finish NT 257739

Dog friendliness Keep on lead, not allowed in Botanic Gardens

Parking Several large car parks in central Edinburgh

Public toilets At Waverley Station

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1 From the tourist information centre, turn left and walk along Princes Street. Just after you pass the Scott Monument on your left, cross the road to reach Jenners department store, Scotland's answer to Harrods. Continue along Princes Street, then take a right turn up Hanover Street.

2 Take the second turning on your left and walk along George Street to Charlotte Square. Then turn right and right again to go along Young Street. At the end, turn left and walk down North Castle Street to reach Queen Street.

3 Cross the road, turn left, then right down Wemyss Place and right into Heriot Row. When you reach Howe Street turn left and, before you reach the church in the middle of the street, turn left and walk along South East Circus Place. Walk past the sweep of Royal Circus and down into Stockbridge.

4 Cross the bridge, then turn left along Dean Terrace. At the end, turn right into Ann Street. When you reach Dean Park Crescent turn right and follow the road round into Leslie Place and into Stockbridge again. Cross the road to walk down St Bernard's Row (it's almost opposite). Follow this, then bear left into Arboretum Avenue.

5 Follow this road as it leads you past the Water of Leith and down to Inverleith Terrace. Cross over and walk up Arboretum Place until you reach the entrance to the Botanic Gardens on the right. Turn left after exploring the gardens and retrace your steps to reach Stockbridge again.

6 Turn left at Hectors bar and walk uphill, then turn left along St Stephen Street. When you reach the church follow the road, then turn left along Great King Street. At the end, turn right, then immediately left to walk along Drummond Place, past Dublin Street and continue ahead into London Street.

7 At the roundabout turn right and walk up Broughton Street to reach Picardy Place. Turn left, walk past the statue of Sherlock Holmes, then bear left towards the Playhouse Theatre. Cross over, continue left, then turn right into Leopold Place and right again into Blenheim Place. At the church turn right, walk up the steps and turn left at the meeting of paths.

8 Go up the steps on the right, walk over Calton Hill, then turn right to pass the canon. Go downhill, take the steps on your left and walk down into Regent Road. Turn right and walk back into Princes Street and the start.

Don't worry, I'm not going to take you through some dreary 20th-century housing scheme. Edinburgh's New Town was built in the 18th century and is an elegant development of wide airy streets, punctuated with sweeping crescents and lined with soft grey Georgian buildings. It was a planned development, designed to move the focus of the city away from the filthy, overcrowded streets of the medieval Old Town. It was laid out in the mid-18th century by James Craig, a young architect who won a competition for the design. It is separated from the Old Town by Princes Street, the main thoroughfare and once the smartest shopping street in Scotland. In later years Robert Adam contributed to the development, notably designing Charlotte Square in 1791.

Houses in the New Town were soon the most coveted in the city and became the haunt of the Scottish literati. Literary associations abound. Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows (1908) was born at 30 Castle Street in 1859; Robert Louis Stevenson grew up at 17 Heriot Row; Percy Bysshe Shelley stayed at 60 George Street with his runaway teenage bride in 1811, and Sir Walter Scott once lived at 39 Castle Street.

The city seems to hold a fascination for writers and many historic meetings have taken place here - including that between Walter Scott and Robert Burns. The war poet Wilfred Owen often came into Edinburgh while he was recuperating from 'shell shock' at nearby Craiglockhart War Hospital. One of his early poems was entitled Six O'clock in Princes Street. It was at Craiglockhart that Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, already an acclaimed poet, who encouraged him in his writing and made amendments to early drafts of some of his greatest works. Owen left Edinburgh in 1917 and returned to the Front, where he died on 4 November 1918.

Another New Town location, Milne's Bar on Hanover Street, was a favourite haunt of several of Scotland's most influential modern poets. Hugh MacDiarmid and his two friends and drinking partners Norman MacCaig and Sorley MacLean are just some of the figures who used to meet here in the last century, and the pub walls are still covered with their memorabilia.

In the latter stages of this walk you will pass a statue of Sherlock Holmes, a tribute to his Edinburgh-born creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived near by at 11 Picardy Place (which has now been demolished). Conan Doyle studied medicine at Edinburgh University and modelled his fictional detective Holmes on one of his former lecturers - Dr Joseph Bell. Bell was an extremely observant individual and combined his instincts with science to help the police in solving several murders in the city. Many believe that Conan Doyle assisted Bell with his work in this capacity - acting as Dr Watson to his Holmes.

While you're there

Ann Street in Stockbridge is said to have been the inspiration for J M Barrie's novel Quality Street (1901) and was (perhaps still is) one of the most desirable addresses in Scotland. Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium Eater, used to visit No 29, the home of Professor John Wilson, who frequently hosted writers and artists here.

Where to eat and drink

Apart from Milne's Bar on Hanover Street there are plenty more pubs and bars to choose from in the New Town. George Street, which is lined with designer stores, has several bistros and restaurants, while down in Stockbridge you can relax in a coffee bar like Patisserie Florentin, which serves great cakes, or have a light snack and a cappucino in Maxi's or Hectors.

What to look for

The Royal Botanic Garden covers 72 acres (29ha) and contains many plant species that were discovered by early Scottish botanists. Plants were originally grown here in order to research their medicinal qualities. In spring the grounds are full of rhododendrons in bloom, while the glasshouses contain exotic palms, orchids and cacti.

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