It’s shameful the number of places in Edinburgh that I haven’t been to yet! Even though I run this blog, there are so many spots that I take for granted, and up until recently Gladstone’s Land was one of them.
I used to walk up the Royal Mile every day to work, and every day I would look at the Golden Bird above the doorway to Gladstone’s land and think “I must pop in there for a look”. Well, six years later, I finally did!
Gladstone’s Land is a fascinating tenement building in the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile (near the Castle end) run by the National Trust for Scotland. A couple of floors are rented out as holiday accommodation, but the lower levels have been restored to an enchanting visitor attraction that shows what life in ‘Auld Reekie’ was like hundreds of years ago.
After you buy your ticket, you make your way through into the ‘Luckenbooth’ (or ‘locked booth’). On the ground floor, this room is modelled like a shop you would have been likely to find on the Royal Mile in the 17th Century. The room was manned by a really helpful volunteer who was happy to humour me and talk about what a shopping trip to a place like this would really be like.
You then move from the Luckenbooth towards the back of the building, which goes into more detail about Gladstone’s Land and its history. While it was most likely a shop on the ground floor, it was home to several families upstairs, including an affluent laird who took up several rooms.
The Laird’s Quarters
You reach the laird’s quarters as you reach upstairs, which has been lavishly decorated in fine 17th Century furniture. Once again, the attention to detail in the restoration of this building and the knowledge of the eager volunteers really bring the history to life.
One of my favourite items in the entire building was this wee contraption in the Laird’s office – an antique foot warmer! You simply put a little burning coal in the box and rest your feet on top. I tell you, I could really do with one of these in the winter!
From the Laird’s office, you move through to the kitchen, which is filled to the brim with fascinating old utensils. Here, you’ll also find a cot – with space so tight, it was a pretty common occurrence to have children sleeping in the kitchen.
This is the room where the food was prepared, so you can imagine my surprise when I spotted a toilet in the kitchen as well! It might sound absolutely disgusting now, but the volunteer told me that back in those days, you could find a loo in pretty much every room of the home. Lovely stuff(!)
Finally I took a look in the painted chamber – and they certainly saved the best for last. This rich laird’s bedroom is lavishly decorated in beautiful furniture from the time, but by far the biggest highlight of this room is the intricately painted ceiling:
The picture here doesn’t really do it justice, but the ceiling in the bedroom is incredibly beautiful, and my jaw dropped to the floor when I was told that it was around 400 years old! It’s incredible that such a large detailed work of art painted onto the ceiling has been so well preserved. If nothing else, you should definitely go to Gladstone’s Land to see this!
But to be honest there are lots of little details and surprises that make the £6.50 entrance fee completely worth it. From the little mice hanging around in the porridge, to the intriguing kiddie walker, complete with a doll modelling an old style head protector in case they fall over!
Another nice touch which I really liked were these little jars dotted around the place labelled “smell me” – each one had a scent inside that recreated the smells of Auld Reekie from the times gone by. Some were quite nice… others were less so. Still, it was another ingenious way to bring the history of the city into the imaginations of those who visit Gladstone’s Land today.
While its something that locals might miss, Gladstone’s Land is an absolute treat for everyone who visits from near or far. Their attention to detail has really paid off and makes this a must for anyone who wants to learn more about Edinburgh’s vivid history. If you walk past it on the way to the castle – be sure to pop in!
Gladstone’s Land is at 477B Lawnmarket, EH1 2NT. It’s on the Royal Mile at the end nearest the Castle, on the right hand side after you cross over George IV Bridge. Keep an eye out for the golden bird!