Pedestrians on Drum Street rush by overhead blissfully unaware of the historical treasure that lies beneath their feet. The Cove at Gilmerton crossroads is one of Edinburgh’s secret landmarks, a stunning underground cave that has been obscured from city folk and tourists alike for to many years now.
The Cove has long been subject to historical rumours, historian feuds and a number of facelifts. But, unlike Edinburgh’s other tourist attractions, The Cove sadly has not been able to entice enough visitors through its doors. So why has it failed to capture the imagination of the public? Cove tour guide, Margaretanne Dugan, explains why she thinks this is.
She says, “The City of Edinburgh Council spent a lot of money around five years ago exuviating and developing the site. However three years ago, one of the main water pipes in the area burst and The Cove was severely flooded and had to close down. So the hype around the opening evaporated. But Rosslyn Tours and The Gilmerton Trust have been trying to get this place open again.”
The Cove’s history is remarkable and has had many historians at loggerheads over its origins. It is widely acknowledged that a local blacksmith by the name of George Paterson was the first man to live in the Cove. Paterson claimed that he carved the site by himself between 1719-1724. Though he did live in the area with his four sons, many archaeologists that have studied The Cove refuse to believe that one person would have been able to do the work that Paterson took credit for.
In fact, over two hundred years ago, F.R Coles, an assistant museum keeper, spent three days in The Cove with J. Balfour Paul and George Good to try and establish its origin. He believed that the Cove’s passages had been carved over a hundred years before Paterson was alive and he cemented this claim by saying that pointed tools had been used to shape the Cove, not the modern chisel.
Margaretanne says, “It would have been physically impossible for Paterson to carve the Cove. All the work that can be seen in The Cove could not have been done by one man.”
Historians have speculated that The Cove has been used by everyone from The Knights Templar, to Covenanters, to people simply with a thirst for liquor (drinking was forbidden in Scotland on a Sunday for many years). The mystery of The Cove may never be fully known but what is certain is that it should be seen, as it is a piece of South Edinburgh’s mystical history. Local historian, enthusiast and employee of Inch House Community Centre Andy Wanstall believes that Gilmerton’s historical past in relation to the rest of the city is greatly untapped.
“The Cove is just one of the great places to visit in the area,” he says. “A few years ago a tour company took over the running of The Cove and we all thought that it was going take off. Then something happened to the grant that they received – it’s a very sensitive subject what became of the money. But now Margaret is doing the tour and hopefully she is very successful.”
Margaret hopes The Cove can be incorporated in the Rosslyn Chapel Tour to attract more people to the site. Meanwhile, Gilmerton’s labyrinthian underground may be one of Edinburgh’s great mysteries but unless it is able to pull in the tourists, it may be lost in time. That would be a travesty for the area as it would signal the forsaking of a historical site of major significance.
South Edinburgh News >