Gilmerton Cove – Edinburgh’s Mysterious Attraction

Despite extensive historical and archaeological research, the origin and purpose of Gilmerton Cove remains a mystery. In the past Gilmerton was a mining village accommodating the families of local limestone quarrymen and coalminers, but is now a suburb on the outskirts of the vibrant city of Edinburgh in Scotland. Gilmerton Cove consists of a series of underground passageways and chambers beneath the suburb’s streets which have evidently been hand-carved from sandstone, by whom and for what purpose have been matters for debate and speculation, giving rise to a host of theories.

From 2000 to 2002, archaeologists made an extensive investigation of Gilmerton Cove, removing some rubble which had been blocking some of the passageways and chambers and discovering steps leading to a rear entrance. It soon became evident to researchers that Gilmerton Cove had been used by different people over the years, and although they recovered a variety of artifacts from different time periods in the last three centuries, any conclusive evidence of the cove’s origins could not be found.

The Gilmerton Heritage Trust, together with the City of Edinburgh Council, restored the cove and set up a visitor’s center in an old cottage which also serves as the entrance to Gilmerton Cove. After viewing the audio visual information on display, visitors can explore the labyrinth of passageways and chambers, imagining what it must have been like to live there and reflecting on the theories put forward as to the origin and purpose of Gilmerton Cove, maybe even coming up with a new theory or two.

The most popular theory of Gilmerton Cove’s origin is that it was hewn out of the limestone by a blacksmith named George Paterson over a period of five years, being completed in 1724 to serve as his home. In 1897, assistant keeper of Edinburgh’s Museum undertook an intensive inspection of the cove and concluded that a large portion of the cove had been completed at least a century prior to the work Paterson carried out on it. He based his conclusions on a number of factors, including that the cove had been picked out of the stone with a pointed implement and not a chisel such as would have been used by Paterson.

While its origins remain shrouded in mystery, it is believed, depending on who is telling the story, that Gilmerton Cove has been used for everything from a venue for liquor-soaked carousing to a meeting place for a secret society of influential men. Whatever the truth may be, Gilmerton Cove is a fascinating place to visit and if you are exploring Edinburgh’s attractions you should considering adding this mysterious attraction to your itinerary.