THE parish of Duddingston is of very irregular outline; and might have been nearly a rectangle, but for a triangular elongation on its eastern side, and the attachment of a westward stripe to its south-west angle. On the north, from the east base of Arthur’s Seat to the sea, it is only 1½ mile long; but on the south, from Salisbury Green on the west to Magdalene-Bridge on the shore, it is 3¾ miles. Nearly the whole of its surface is dressed in the richest garb of cultivation. A fertile soil, well-enclosed fields, a varied surface, the beautiful demesne of the Marquis of Abercorn, and a delightful intermixture of lawn and tillage, of water-scenery, rows of plantation, and fences of shrubbery, render it an attractive environ of the proud metropolis of Scotland. Pow Burn and Braid Burn enter it on the south-west, and, after forming a confluence, diagonally intersect it, and diffuse in their progress many beauties of mimic landscape. The united stream is conducted through the pleasure-grounds of the Marquis of Abercorn, in an artificial canal, and afterwards traverses a romantic little dell, and passes on to pay its tiny tribute to the sea. Duddingston loch – the subject of the present illustration – spread out at the south-east base of Arthur’s Seat, and measuring about 1¼ mile in circumference, smiles joyously amid the opulent scenery around it, and in winter allures crowds of skaters from the neighbouring city to its glassy bosom. On the north-eastern bank of the lake rises the fine Grecian form of Duddingston-house, surrounded by gardens, plantations, mimic temples, and various adornings indicating united opulence and taste. A little eminence, surmounted by the venerable-looking parish-church, under the south cope of Arthur’s Seat and overlooking the lake, commands a wide expanse of beautiful and picturesque scenery. Overshadowed by the bold precipices of the neighbouring mountain, and shut out by it from every view of the magnificent and crowded city at its further base, a spectator feels himself sequestered from the busy scenes which he knows to be in his vicinity, or he hears their distant hum dying away on the breeze, and disposing him to enjoy the delights of solitude; and he looks south-east and north over a gorgeous panorama of elegant villas, towering castles, rich valleys, undulating hillocks, groves, ruins, and a plenteous variety of scenic tints and shading, till his vision is pent up by the Pentlands and Lammermoor, or glides away with the sinking sea into the distant horizon. Many of the scenes and objects within his view- such as Craigmillar castle – crowd his mind with historical recollections; and others – such as the peopled shores and the laden waters of the frith – portray to him the enterprise and refinements of a modern age. Whether in the seclusion and loveliness of its own immediate attractions, or in the exhibition it gives of the wide landscape around it, softened and ruralized by the intervention of the mountain-screen of Arthur’s Seat hiding Edinburgh from the view, the little eminence of Duddingston is captivating in its attractions, and draws to its soothing retirement many a tasteful or studious citizen of the metropolis to luxuriate in its pleasures. The pedestrian approach to it from the city possesses allurements of its own, to heighten the attractions of the resort; leading by a pleasant path through the king’s park, and under the basaltic columns of Samson’s ribs, overhanging the tunnel of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith railway.
Though the parish, in its present state, is not excelled in the loveliness and exuberance of cultivation by any district in Scotland, and may compete with the finest spots in the rich champaign of England, it was, so late as 150 years ago, an unreclaimed moor, covered with sand, and variegated only by the rankest and most stunted shrubbery and weeds. About the year 1688, the proprietor of the estate of Prestonfield was Lord-provost of Edinburgh; and, better acquainted than his contemporaries with the value and fertilizing powers of city manure, he availed himself of ready and thankful permission, to carpet and enrich the sterile soil of his property with the accumulations of the yards and streets of the metropolis. So successful was his astute policy that, arid and worthless as his lands had been, they speedily became the first which were enclosed in the vicinity of Edinburgh, and are still esteemed the best grass pastures about the city, or perhaps anywhere else in Scotland. About the year 1751, the Earl of Abercorn, proprietor of the estate of Duddingston, compensated in vigour what had been lost by delay, in imitating the successful movements on the conterminous property; and having subdivided his estate into commodious farms, and enclosed and beautified it with hedgerows and clumps of plantation, expended £30,000 in rearing the architectural pile, and spreading out the array of water-embellishments and landscape decorations, which preside in its centre. Coal of excellent quality abounds in the parish, and finds a ready market in the metropolis. The strata of limestone and ironstone which run north-eastward through Edinburghshire, traverse the parish, and dip into the sea near its eastern extremity, and are said to look up again from the surface on the opposite coast of Fife. Clay of so pure a kind has been found as to be material for stoneware, and for crucibles capable of sustaining without injury a very high degree of heat. On the coast, in the interstices of rocks and stones, have been found curious and rare vegetable petrifactions; some of them resembling the finest Marseilles quilting, and others formed of reeds and shrubs known to be indigenous only in tropical countries. Small pieces of chalcedony and porphyry, and large masses of agate, have been picked up on the beach; but may now, it is presumed, be vainly sought for, after the peering searches of numerous virtuosos of a former generation. Marl of different kinds, of great richness and in much plenty, has been found in Duddingston loch. Indigenous plants of upwards of 400 species, and exhibiting a curious and interesting variety, allure the botanist to gratify his taste, and admire the interminable displays of creative skill and beneficence, round the banks of the loch, and along the roots and skirts of Arthur’s Seat. The Fishwives’ Causeway, forming the north-east boundary of the parish, and once a part of the great post-road to London, bears marks of considerable antiquity, and is supposed to be a remnant of those regular roads, converging to Holyrood-house, which Mary, of debated memory, patronized as a means of soothing or of benefiting her turbulent subjects. At the mouth of Duddingston burn have been found, buried in a deep stratum of clay, and from bark to core as black as ebony, the trunks of large oak trees, – remnants, it is supposed, of the King’s Forest, in which the inmates of the monastery of the Holy Cross had the privilege of nourishing their hogs. The Figgetwhins, formerly a forest, stretching over a considerable territory – sold in 1762 or 1763 for only £1,500 – and now in part the opulent and beautiful tract around Portobello, and in part the site of that extensive and smiling suburb of the metropolis, are said to have been a place of shelter and of rendezvous to Sir William Wallace and his copatriots, when they were preparing to attack Berwick. Monteath, the secretary of Cardinal Richelieu of France, David Malcolm, an essayist, a celebrated linguist, and a member of the Antiquarian Society about 1739, and Pollock, professor of divinity in Aberdeen, were all ministers of Duddingston. The parish is cut, through its western wing or stripe, by the Edinburgh and Dalkeith railway, and is intersected from west to east near the shore by the Leith branch. It is traversed also by the great turnpike from Edinburgh to London, by way of Berwick.
Duddingston contains the parliamentary burgh of Portobello, the villages of Joppa and Easter and Wester Duddingston, and the hamlets of Duddingston-mill and Duddingston Salt-pans. Easter Duddingston is situated in the eastern angle of the parish, on a rising ground near the sea, and consists of a few plain cottages inhabited by labourers. Wester Duddingston, on the north side of the loch, was once populous, and contained 30 looms; but now, though neat in appearance, and beautiful in situation, surrounded by gardens and plantations, and so attractive as to draw to its villa-like cottages summer-residents from Edinburgh, is very small. At the east end of it a house still stands in which Prince Charles slept on the night before the action at Prestonpans. Nearly opposite Lord Abercorn’s gate, stood a memorable thorn-tree, known as Queen Mary’s tree, perhaps one of the oldest thorn-trees in Scotland, and of the greatest dimensions, being about 9 feet in circumference. It formerly stood within the park, but on widening the carriage-road, it was brought outside, and then several fissures appeared in the trunk, through which the elements of air and water were fast consuming the venerable tree. The road-trustees had these fissures filled up with stone and lime, and had it otherwise protected, but the violence of the gale on the 25th of May, 1840, pulled it up by the roots, laying it along a shattered and withered trunk. It is said that the Duddingston thorn existed so far back as 1107, when it was one of the landmarks of the property on which it grew.