Stewart's Melville College

A Sneaky Peek through Open Doors in Edinburgh

If you were wondering what all the blue balloons and banners were doing tacked up on door frames throughout the city; this past weekend was Edinburgh’s turn to open doors to about 127 of its buildings as part of the Scotland-wide Doors Open Days.  I look forward to this every year but each year something comes up and I’ve never actually been to an event – but this year, FINALLY I made it!!  There was so much to see and do and some of the buildings were only open one day or for limited hours so we kept our tour to the north side of the city.  I loved seeing into the buildings and green spaces that make Edinburgh so unique but what I loved most was  meeting the people who care for these spaces and buildings so passionately.  Without them, these spaces could be lost for everyone.  So, even if you choose to visit a building that is normally open, during the Doors Open Day event you may get treated to free talks and tours that are worth any time you may need to que up to get inside.

In the 2 days we managed to see:

  • a private Mews house at 33 Circus lane.  This had a huge queue but the 30 minute wait was rewarded with a tour by one of the architects from the project who gave insights on the planning requirements and inventive design features that brought light and a sense of space that turned a old storeroom with a disused underground vault into 2 bedrooms and a bathroom.
  • An impressive Georgian Townhouse on Broughton Place that is being privately converted from offices back into a family home.  We got to meet the family who was lovingly restoring all the original features but still creating a warm, comfortable home.
  • The private Drumsheugh Baths Club on Belford Road.  I didn’t even know these existed!!  I loved that they have kept the original integrity of the baths and changing rooms (where they seemed to put heritage over comfort!!) but what I loved most was the views over the water of Leith and the beautiful setting within the village of Dean.
  • Not on our list, but right next door (and decked out in the welcoming blue balloons) to the baths was the home of the Edinburgh Society of Musicians.  We wandered in and were greeted with the sound of music being played on a stunning black Steinway piano (one of two in the cosy reception room).   Lots of people opted to partake of the tea, coffee and cakes that were on offer in the small lounge and relax for a bit and enjoy the music.
  • Luckily this weekend was one of the nicest, warmest, sunniest days of the year so we had a meander around the Water of Leith and Dean Village before heading over to Stewart’s Melville College.  We have seen this ‘Hogwarts’ like building from the street so were keen to have a peak inside.  The only way to see inside was by joining a 45 minute tour led by the vice principle.  He was such a wealth of information, on the building, the history of the college and on the current philosophy of the school.  How lucky are the students that get to go to such a compassionate, forward thinking institution!!
  • Finally we made our way to a Georgian Mansion at Rothesay Terrace, currently converted into a hotel by the B+B Group (no points for coming up with a unique name for your hotel!).  I didn’t have the address written down and my phone battery died so we weren’t sure how to find it.  Luckily, EVERYONE on the streets seemed to be participating in the Doors Open Day so we spied someone with a brochure and kindly asked for help finding the next address.  Turns out they were headed there too!  The building was amazing!!  High, ornate ceilings, wood panelling, gigantic windows, 3 staircases – its hard to believe this was built as a family home.  Until you learn that is was built for the owner of the Scotsman Newspaper – and it looks a lot like the interior of the Scotsman Hotel.  I guess he didn’t believe in separating his home and work life!  We spent quite a lot of time on the little terrace of the back of the dining hall enjoying the glorious sunshine and the views of the Water of Leith.

We only had a few hours to spare on Sunday but we still managed to see:

  • 62 Montgomery Street.  Two of the top floor flats had loft conversions designed by the same firm.  Again there was a 30 minute queue (I guess we’re not the only ones who like to have a nosey in people’s private homes) but it was worth it to see how much space was created from the small attic.  The main floor living space in both flats retained all the original features but the conversions were sleek, modern and cleverly designed.  Huge windows with doors the slid open gave amazing views over Arthur’s seat and Calton Hill.  Definitely Jealous!!
  • Edinburgh Printmakers at 23 Union Street.  This is open to the public but we never went in before.  The gallery has prints available to buy but the real treat is to go upstairs and have a peak into the enormous working space.  Vaulted ceilings and lots of light make this a fantastic creative space with tonnes of equipment – and there are classes and workshops to give anyone a chance to join in.
  • Last stop for us was the auction rooms of Lyon and Turnbull, 33 Broughton Place.  Again, this is open to the public during auctions or viewings but as we have never been and it was on our route we popped in.  The building, originally a chapel but looks like a theatre,  is beautifully maintained and we were quite stunned at the quality of the items they had on show for their next auction.  Definitely on the to do list for cold, rainy winter days ahead.  Especially with the basement café stocked with goodies from Valvona and Crolla.

A great big thanks goes out to Doors Open Days for organising opportunities throughout Scotland to explore buildings and spaces that may otherwise be unavailable to the public.  Nationwide, the Doors Open Days event is organised by the Scottish Civic Trust, with the local Edinburgh event organised by the Cockburn Association.  The events are free but if you want to help support and maintain these spaces you can become a member of the Cockburn Association, which is an independent charity that aims to conserve, protect and prolong Edinburgh’s architectural heritage.


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